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Setting Up a Home Office on a Budget

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Home offices have become common in recent years. For those of us who don’t want to spend too much or simply can’t afford to, there are ways to set one up on a budget — without raiding your employer’s office supplies cabinet. 

Here is how to score great deals and even freebies for some of the most-used home office items, and where to look for additional deals.

Download free calendars and planners

Instead of spending money planners or calendars for yourself and the rest of the family, print them for free from Vertex42.com or OrganizedHome.com.

In addition to calendars and planners, Vertex42 also offers free spreadsheet templates for Microsoft® Excel®, OpenOffice.org, and Google Docs.

Cut your printing costs

Try changing your printing habits, says Denise Winston, a money and time saving expert, speaker and blogger at Moneystarthere.com.  One easy way to do that? Change your font type. “Choosing a different font could yield more pages per ink cartridge,” she says.

When you run out of ink, refill your existing ink cartridge rather than buying a new one.  “You can buy ink by the litre which is probably the biggest savings you can get, reducing your printing costs by up to 90%,” says John Scott, CEO of IQComputers.net. If you have an inkjet printer, do print a couple things out every few weeks to keep the nozzles wet. Otherwise you may need to replace the cartridge which is an unnecessary expense.

Other common ways to save ink include printing in draft mode or in gray scale or black ink only. Printing double sided, on the other hand, will help you save printer paper.

Explore garage sales

They’re a great place to find cheap supplies, says Francine DiFilippo Kent from Arcadia, Fla. She recently bought several packages of paper, file folders, a box of staples, an electric stapler, two boxes of ball point pens, highlighters, fine point mirco pens and a desk tray. Her total tab? $10.

Garage sales are also a great place to look for office furniture: why spend a fortune on a new desk or office chair when you could probably find one in great condition at a fraction of the price?

Buy in bulk and buy early

If you don’t want to take a chance with second-hand office supplies bought off a garage sale, head to a warehouse club like Costco or Sam’s Club. Better yet, if the item you picked up at the store is damaged in any way, ask for a discount. (Make sure that the damage has not deemed the item useless, of course.)

Also, check out your local dollar store: they tend to have great prices on pens, pencils and notebooks. And if you go to Target (TGT) in June or July, you will get great prices on school supplies that you can use for your home office. Staplers, whiteout and notebooks all start going on sale during this time.

“End of year clearance sales are ideal as well,” says Mike Allen. He is the President & “Chief Executive Shopper” of ShoppingBargains.com, a coupon and deal site for some 2,000 online retailers and eBoss123.com, which focuses on coupons and deals for business products and services. “A lot of office supply retailers are competing for our tax deductions before we close out a tax year. Don’t forget to sign up for Staples Rewards and take advantage of their bonus specials and rewards check benefits,” he says.

Use technology

“There are many things we purchase for the office that have been replaced by technology if we just get in the habit of using them,” says Scott. Take the good old sticky notes, for example. Why spend money on those bright-colored office regulars when there are “literally hundreds of different digital sticky notes for your computer,” Scott says. You will clear up paper from your physical desktop and make sure you never again lose a sticky note, only to find it months after you needed it.

Don’t use the fax machine

You will easily cut your monthly business telephone line costs, says Scott. “We dropped our fax line and have yet to find a business that couldn’t email us what they wanted to fax. It saves us $780 annually in phone line, plus additional savings in paper, toner and the interruption to physically get to the fax machine,” he says.

If you absolutely must have a fax, consider adding a “smart ring” to an existing line, it costs about $5 per month. Also, use a computer modem to receive faxes so they come straight into your computer, avoiding the usage of paper.

Or use a fax service suggests Allen. “I use RingCentral Fax and get a toll-free fax number and 500 fax pages for just $7.99 per month (I buy the cheaper annual plan). He says he doesn’t have to pay for long distance and can fax from any of his desktop applications, and receive faxes via email when he travels. Other fax providers like RapidFAX and eFax offer similar services.

Track expenses for free

Mint.com offers free expense and income tracking features in addition to helpful graphs, mobile apps and tracking investment tools. Use this free software to get your office expenditures — and overall finances — in order.

Buy offsite

Don’t shop for office equipment solely at office equipment retailers. You could actually score better deals at other stores, including Amazon.com, Buy.com or Overstock.com, Allen says. “I find that unless I need the cutting-edge model, I can usually save a lot of money by buying an older or closeout model,” he says. Don’t be afraid to purchase refurbished items, either. For discount computer equipment, Allen recommends Geeks.com.

There is a lot of competition for businesses that need printing services for business cards, letterhead, rack cards, brochures, stock imagery for ads, flyers, and promotional materials, so entrepreneurs are bound to find a deal. “I find that iStockphoto offers a huge assortment of very high quality, yet inexpensive imagery (sometimes less than $2 for web use). OvernightPrints.com is quick and produces high quality products,” Allen says.