How To

Get Connected! 8 Tech Tools and Tips For a Tough Economy

Not long ago, Mint.com received a great mention by Kevin Tofel on his site, jkOnTheRun. His article “8 Mobile Tech Tools And Tips For A Tough Economy” suggests ways that can give us a leg up during these challenging economic times. Check out these online tools and tips to help you become more organized and efficient in our increasingly connected world.

Having my father get laid off from his state government job a few weeks back has kept me busy. He’s not what I’d call tech-savvy, although he’s learning along the way. So I’ve spent quite a bit of time with him over the last two weeks: setting him up with one of our extra notebook computers, getting fast Internet service, and sorting out plans for the future. It hit me that right now there’s quite a number of folks in the same boat as the economy has been in a slump for the past eight months or so. Long time readers and fellow geeks can probably bypass the rest of this post, but I’ve gathered some mobile tech tools and tips for the more mainstream consumers in our audience. All of these are the direct result of helping my Dad get organized and empowered…

financial budgeting software, budget help

1. Never, never, never rely solely on a work e-mail address.

The few online accounts that my father had used his work e-mail address for credentials. As a result, when he couldn’t remember passwords for his stock portfolio, online bills and work pension website, all he could do was attempt to reset the password. Sounds great in theory, but the password reset instructions were sent to his work e-mail address, which of course, he no longer has access to. As a rule of thumb: unless you have to use a work e-mail address for a website (like your company’s internal 401k site, for example), always use a personal e-mail address. This way, if you lose access to the work-specific e-mail, you can still access your accounts.

2. Set up a personal e-mail account with a professional-looking address.

This is the obvious follow-up to the above rule and there are plenty of options. I set my father up with a free Gmail account, but you can go with Yahoo!, Hotmail or a number of other free e-mail providers. I recommend one that offers web-based access so you can read or send e-mail from any computer. Also: you’ll likely use that e-mail address for a long time to come, so keep it relatively professional looking. I’ve interviewed many folks for corporate jobs and the ones that had an e-mail address like “hotmama_36D@yahoo.com” went to the bottom of the pile. Your e-mail address is your personal brand, so keep it professional and simple.

3. Own a personal computer, preferably a notebook.

My father had an old clunker of a desktop that he wanted me to set up. It was so bad that it simply wasn’t worth using, so I re-imaged a two-year old notebook we had here and he’s using that. Using a notebook over a desktop gives you the advantage of being mobile; something you’re likely to be more of if you’re looking for a job. You don’t want to be unproductive while sitting around between job interviews or networking appointments. You also don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to get a notebook; there are many capable devices in the $200 to $600 range like the Asus Eee PC and HP Mini. Ideally, you need something where you can comfortably work on your resume, pay your bills, manage your money, search for a job and stay in touch with people. If an inexpensive notebook looks too small, add an inexpensive keyboard and mouse. My father has only used desktops, so an external mouse and keyboard helped him overcome his “fear” of notebooks.

4. Get connected.

My father had no Internet service when he lost his job and in the past, he’s been a dial-up user. We opted to set him up with FiOS at $40 a month. He could have gone completely mobile with a wireless broadband connection like I have, but we didn’t want a two-year commitment and the price was 50% higher. Still you need some type of connectivity. In the past few weeks, he’s been amazed by how much information he has access to with an Internet connection. Most of us take it for granted, but here’s an example of how “in the dark” he was. He actually made a long distance call to a former co-worker to find out what town a certain school district was in. Of course, I had the information on my screen using Google before the person he called could find the info in their Rolodex.

5. Find free hotspots.

In a tough economy, you’re watching your money, so if step four is too expensive, why not use free WiFi access near you? Check your local library and coffee shops as many offer Internet access at no charge. Also consider a WiFi access plan like one from Boingo: for $22 a month or roughly half of a home Internet service, you can use WiFi at nearly every McDonald’s, Starbuck’s and major airport. This is another reason I suggest owning a notebook rather than a desktop. If you do have Internet access, even for a short time, consider bookmarking JiWire’s WiFi directory to help you locate hotspots.

6. Store information online.

Some folks will rightfully argue that keeping sensitive data with a web service is a no-no, but there are safe options. Storing key info online like a resume provides you access to that information at practically any computer in the world. If that notebook battery dies in the coffee shop just before you sent off your resume to a promising job opportunity, you can still access it on any other PC. This ties in with the web-based e-mail tip above as well. Services like Box.net and Microsoft Windows Live SkyDrive offer more than ample storage for free.

7. Set up job agents.

I keep telling my Dad that you have to use the computer as a tool. Now that he has an e-mail address, I’ve suggested he go to some of the bigger employment websites like Monster and CareerBuilder. Most sites like this let you create a profile with your skill-set or a type of job you’re looking for. By providing that professional-looking e-mail address to these sites, they’ll do the job search work for you by sending you new job postings that match what you’re looking for. Why look through pages and pages of job listings when computers can do that for you? That frees up your time to focus on other challenges.

8. Manage your money online.

I don’t just mean bill-paying here (that’s a given), I mean for you to truly manage your money. If you’re in a tight spot financially, don’t you want to know where every penny is going? Consider a free money management service like Mint. Once you get set up, you don’t even need to enter in your transactions as Mint will put them from your financial institutions automatically. Then Mint has the data to show your spending trends so you can determine where your money is going. You can also budget your funds with spending limits in Mint; the service will send you e-mail reminders when your funds hit a specified limit or if your spending exceeds the target you set up.

These are just a few of the lessons Dad has learned so far. Again, regular readers have their finger on the pulse of mobile tech, but it’s evident to me that we’re in the minority. Please don’t hesitate to add more tools, tips and tricks for those that are new to our world!

 
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