Get the most for your gear-buying dollar

It’s as inevitable as the turkey hangover the day after Thanksgiving: There’s a hot new camera, game system or MP3 player everyone wants for the holidays, and that demand causes the price to stay high. What’s a budget-minded technophile to do? There are a few things you can do to keep your tech budget in check—and nearly all of them involve the Internet.

As part of our annual Gear Guide, we’ve rounded up some tips to help you get the most out of your gift-buying dollar this holiday season.

Do your research

Use your RSS reader to keep on top of retailers’ best tech deals. There are two handy categories of bargain-hunting sites you can follow: deal aggregators, which collect sales notices across the Web, and deal-a-day sites, which offer one item on sale daily, so long as supplies last.

Some of the most useful deal aggregators are:

  • Ben’s Bargains : This site aggregates the Web’s best tech deals and allows you to track specific products and vendors.
  • Deal News : In addition to a dedicated tech deals section, the site also offers coupons for specific tech vendors, including the Apple store.
  • Newegg.com : This vendor has a reliably varied inventory and dramatic price reductions.
  • Spoofee : This site isn’t purely tech-oriented, but it does a great job compiling deals from Amazon, Buy.com, GoGamer and other tech retailers.
  • Stootsi : Its Apple category offers a wide variety of new and refurbished goods.

And the deal-a-day sites you’ll want to follow include:

  • Apple DOD : This site offers lots of accessories and peripherals—in other words, great stocking stuffers.
  • Cowboom : It offers one tech-related deal per day, but don’t rule out the rest of the site’s inventory.
  • Deadly Deal : The site also offers giveaways; recently, visitors scored free iPod earphones.
  • New Day New Deal : There are a lot of entertainment-related deals here, from Wii accessories to multimedia speaker systems.

Finally, check out the inventory on refurbishment sites. Start with Apple—under the Special Deals section of its online store, you’ll find links to their refurbished Macs and iPods, as well as clearance items.

Throw yourself on the mercy of strangers

Alternately, you can try your luck with Craigslist or eBay. Depending on how much demand there is for the product you want, you may be able to get your gadget for a substantial discount off the retail price.

There are some things to keep in mind when dealing with individual sellers. First, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be getting what’s listed, and it can be a struggle to get your money back. Second, it’s up to you to do due diligence. If the gadget you want comes with software (for example, a digital camera or a scanner), make sure the seller provides proof that they’ve got installation disks and a software license number so you’ve got a usable gadget. If you do go the Craigslist or eBay route, don’t forget to ask about packaging and documentation.

Think outside the (shrinkwrapped) box

Finally, keep an eye out for gadgets that pack a bang for the buck. For example, the Flip Mino HD videocamera (Get best current price) is a lightweight, versatile and comparatively inexpensive portable videocamera. It’s a definite best-in-class bargain. Visit your favorite tech products-review site and see which items are lauded by the reviewers as a great deal.

Finally, don’t buy a gadget just for the sake of giving someone a toy to unwrap under the tree. While a photo printer may seem like the perfect gift for the grandparents, that $89 bargain you snapped up at Best Buy will end up costing a lot more in the long run owing to ink cartridges. In the case of photo-mad relatives, it might be more economical to give the gift of a Snapfish account.

[Lisa Schmeiser is a freelancer writer who also runs the Dollars & Sense personal finance blog at SFGate.com.]

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