Pick up a refurbished machine. Computer makers, including Apple, offload these items for highly discounted prices—often about 25 percent off—on their websites, says Brian Barrett, a reporter for the technology blog Gizmodo.com. "Like new models, these products usually carry a warranty,” says Barrett. "And they go through strict quality control, too."
More from RealSimple.com
Don't be brand loyal. Most machines are similar to one another in terms of quality, including brands that you might not be familiar with, such as Asus and Acer, which can sell for hundreds of dollars less than leading names, says Dylan Tweney, a senior editor at the tech website Wired.com.
Skip the extended warranty (usually). If a desktop is going to break, it will probably do so within the manufacturer's warranty period. A laptop, however, is more fragile and often requires repairs later in its life, so a warranty good for three more years can save you money down the line. But don't buy it from a store or the manufacturer; get it from an independent provider, like Squaretrade.com. For example, you'll pay $130 at a retailer, but only $50 online. And consider getting a warranty with accident coverage. You'll pay 50 percent more for this protection, but you'll be covered if you drop your machine.
Don't buy more memory than you need. The minimum amount of RAM that comes with most computers is enough to handle basic tasks, such as e-mailing photographs and watching a video, says Barrett. If you need to perform more advanced functions, such as video editing, find out how much more memory you will need (the software should say how much is required), then upgrade at a lower cost (typically $50 to $200) after you buy your computer.