Saving Money Without Being Cheap

npDo you think you got a great deal on your new printer? Don’t be fooled into believing that the price tag tells all. Whether it’s a fax machine, cellular phone, 800 number, laser printer, color inkjet printer, or photocopier, most office technology has hidden costs that can swallow a budget.

Printers, fax machines, and copiers suck up toner cartridges. ink, and thermal paper. Your first cellular bill could put you off from ever using the phone again. Even toll-free numbers have hidden costs that will make you question their usefulness in providing your customers with easy access.

The key to avoiding after-purchase sticker shock is to research thoroughly before you make a purchase, no matter how minor. Accepting a free cellular phone may seem like a bargain–until you end up paying hundreds of dollars a year more than if you had chosen another carrier that didn’t offer the freebie. Buying an inexpensive printer might seem ideal, until you start to shell out dollars for new cartridges. A drip at a time, these expenses bleed your budget dry over the course of a year.

Sure, you’re busy. You don’t have time to check out alternatives that could save money. There are hundreds of printers on the market, scores of fax machines and copiers, as well as three major phone companies, each with hundreds of rate plans. Every printer company makes models for every situation: light duty for the home user, medium duty for small and home offices, and heavy duty for large offices. But if you go into a computer–or business-supply store and ask for a printer for your small office, you’re likely to be asked, “How much do you want to spend?” Follow our advice and you’ll be able to respond: “Now? Or a year from now?”

 

LASER PRINTERS

Normally, you think about two things when you buy a printer: speed and print quality. After all, that 600dpi laser printer costs only $200 more than a 300dpi model and it cranks out six pages per minute (ppm). You get better looking text and graphics for a small initial added cost. Right? But consider that your annual budget will have to support the extra cost per page in toner and paper consumables that comes with the higher-end model.

At 600dpi, a laser printer uses significantly more toner to cover a page than a 300dpi unit. After you consider paper and toner costs, expect your text pages to run 10 cents per page versus 5 cents per page with a 300dpi printer. Run off as few as 25 pages per day and you’re printing 6,000 sheets a year–and paying $600 for toner and paper. You’re also paying $300 more per year than you would have with a 300dpi model.

You can reduce that hit somewhat by taking one smart step. Some people chuck out their cartridges at the first sign of spottiness on their pages. Don’t. Printers use up toner in the middle of the cartridge sooner than at the ends. You can get as many as 500 more pages out of a toner cartridge if you take the cartridge out of the printer and rock it from side to side when it starts to run low. Rocking evens out toner inside the cartridge and gives it a new lease on life. Keep another toner cartridge handy, but save your money by holding off on replacing your old one until it’s truly empty.

COLOR INK-JET PRINTERS

So, think that you can save $150 by going with a less-expensive ink-jet printer? Even though these inexpensive machines can add color to your business life, expect to pay about 18 cents per page for black-and-white text in draft mode on a color ink jet as opposed to the 5 cents per page you’d spend on a 300dpi laser and 70 cents per page for top resolution in color. If you print just 25 text drafts a day, you’ll spend $3.25 more per day with that “inexpensive” color ink jet.

Ink-jet printers are much more costly to operate than laser printers for a number of reasons. The best ink jets for small business spray ink onto your page from four cartridges-one each for cyan, magenta, yellow, and black–through tiny nozzles. When you run out of ink, you’ll find a shocking difference in price for replacement cartridges. Those for the Canon BubbleJet Color 600 cost as little as $10 each. Those for Canon’s Bubble Jet Color 800, 820, or 880 run $40 each. That means you could pay as much as $160 to replace all your cartridges at once.

These cartridges are only good for 600 to 850 pages at 5 percent coverage–about half of what you get from the lowest-end toner cartridges for laser printers. And that’s only when they’re printing in draft mode. If you’re doing full-page graphics for a presentation, expect your cartridges to run out much sooner.

Paper and transparencies are another area to watch. Many high-end color printers only achieve their 720 by 720dpi print resolution when you use special coated paper that costs close to $2 a sheet! Transparencies are similarly expensive. Make sure your image is perfect using draft mode with regular paper before printing it on special stocks.

 

CELLULAR PHONE SERVICE

Every cellular provider has dozens of rate plans, but the cheapest is not necessarily the best. One cellular provider that we looked at had monthly rates as low as $30 for 30 minutes each month. But if you spend 120 minutes a month on the phone, you would pay 40 cents a minute after your prepaid time is used up. In the end, it is cheaper to buy the provider’s $59 plan that includes 150 minutes a month.

Some cellular providers have what is called “calling party pays.” That is, you only pay for calls you make. Any call you receive is paid for by the person who originated it. Although economical, want to guess if your customers will like being charged to call you? It is, however, a great way of discouraging calls, provided you make sure your customers know they are on the hook for the call.

Judicious use of your cellular phone will help cut down costs. Never make cellular calls when you could use a calling card from a pay phone or a client’s phone.

800 NUMBERS

An 800 number is a very inexpensive way to make your small office look like a contender and encourage long-distance customers to call you. The cost of maintaining an 800 number varies by region, but most users pay a flat fee of 12 to 18 cents per minute. However, look at how your phone company rounds your calls. A call that takes two minutes and one second is rounded up to the nearest billing rate. If you’re on full-minute billing, you pay for a three-minute call. At 18 cents a minute, you’re charged 54 cents. But on six-second billing, you’d pay only 38 cents for the same call.

The downside of 800 numbers is that you pay for every call–even wrong numbers. Industry spokespersons estimate that the number of misdials on 800 numbers is between 2 and 5 percent of all calls. This is partly due to the “recycling” of 800 numbers currently going on. Because 800 numbers are mostly allocated, phone companies press unused numbers back into service in as few as 90 days.

If you get an 800 number tomorrow, it was probably in use by another company just a few months ago. You may have people calling you–on your dime–looking for a defunct software company in Texas. The good news is that calls to wrong numbers tend to be short and they decrease over time as people realize that the company is no longer at that number. Congress has approved a new set of toll-free numbers: the previously unused 888 exchange. Holding out for an 888 number will help you avoid wrong-number calls to your toll-free line.

FAX MACHINES

The advice on printers also goes for fax machines. The cost of fax machine consumables varies depending on the technology you use. Thermal-paper fax machines are still on the market because their purchase price is less than those of plain-paper units. If you only receive a few faxes a month, they’re fine. But you’re paying between 4 and 10 cents per page for the special rolls of paper that these units need to do their job. Plain-paper fax machines actually cost slightly less to operate: 4 to 8 cents per page.

Over two years, a more expensive plain-paper unit could pay for itself if you printed out more than 22 pages a day–admittedly a pretty high volume for a small office.

Even after you’ve chosen your fax technology, the cost of consumables will vary– so it always pays to do your homework. For instance, in addition to its toner, the Brother Intellifax 3500 ML plain-paper fax machine needs a $200 replacement drum every 4,000 copies.

 

COPIERS

 

Buying a copier makes unjamming one seem effortless by comparison. But whether you buy new or used, rent, lease, or rent to own, get ready to keep paying when you bring a unit home. Buying a personal copier such as the Xerox 5222 for a small office will cost $450. However, you’ll end up paying 7 to 8 cents per page. You’re almost better off buying a sheet-fed scanner and using your laser printer.

Although buying a large copier is always cheaper than buying several small ones, a medium-range copier such as Xerox’s 513 model costs $1,200. You’re paying up front to get its 1-cent-per-page copying capability. You might be better off renting or leasing, if you can ensure the cost per page doesn’t rise dramatically. Copier manufacturers have a variety of lease options that could easily bamboozle you into paying significantly more than necessary.

Also keep in mind that manufacturers often overstate a copier’s maximum capacity. A duty cycle of 1,000 sheets a month assumes steady usage–not a few sheets a day for three weeks followed by 200 sheets a day for a week. Make sure you get a unit that can handle significantly more than your intended volume.

If you already own an older copier, weigh the cost of keeping it versus buying or renting a new one. Take the cost of last year’s maintenance, add on the cost of power, paper, toner, and drum replacement, and then divide by the total number of pages. If you’re paying more than 5 cents per copy, think about replacing your copier.

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