Hooking up a Home Office for Less

Not to long ago I had to bite the bullet and setup a home office. Don’t get me wrong, sorting bills and writing emails on my sofa was fun. But there came a time when I had to get serious and start working from a single, organized location. Hooking up a home office is pretty popular these days. Many of my friends have either started a little home operation or set aside a separate area for computer stuff.

A fledgling home office doesn’t have to be an expensive operation. Some things are worth spending bucks on while other items can be bought for beans.

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Here’s how I hooked up my home base on a budget:

Clutter bug:

I hate clutter. Nothing dooms a home business like unorganized client lists, messy paper piles, and cluttered customer orders. Start your start-up right with good storage. Having your paperwork filed and organized is critical to staying sane.

Office filing systems can be expensive, but they don’t need to be. A commercial-grade setup with steel cabinets, industrial shelving, and sturdy construction can be found for less by locating local business moving shop or shutting down. Downsizing companies will often sell near-new shelves and filing cabinets for dirt cheap. Also, there are stores specializing in used office gear but be careful as these consignment shops take a cut for the convenience.

Since I didn’t require heavy-duty gear, I decided to go Swedish and shop at Ikea. The best place to shop at Ikea is not upstairs with the cute installations and packaged places, but rather the “damaged and discontinued” goods area near the tills. I scored all my shelving for 50 percent off in this damaged goods nirvana. My storage unit was marked down since the packaging was mangled, but the unit itself was in pristine condition.

Take a seat:

Buy a good chair. Your most important ASSet will thank you. Your back will thank you too. Many geeks swear by the ultra-expensive Herman Miller chairs, butt these are overkill. My suggestion is to pull up several chairs and take a seat. Trying before buying is key. Take care and only buy from shops with a good return policy, in case you need to be cheeky by sending it back.

Desk job:

Height is the most important consideration when buying a desk. With repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) being common amongst the computing type, you’ve got to work at a table height healthy for your body. If you don’t want to slit your wrists from working to the bone, then steer clear of cheap plastic laminate covered tops. This stuff can splinter over time! Save some big bucks by passing on tables boasting integrated cable management systems, storage, and CPU holders. All these extra features are gimmicks. If you’re buying the chair and table separately, be sure to bring the chair to meet the table before closing the deal. It’s best to test the two together before going into business. The wrong fit will doom your desk days.

OK Computer!

I hate computer sales dudes. They always make me feel like a dud when I enter a futuristic shop looking for computing gear. I avoided spending big bucks on a new machine by just upgrading my memory for $100 bucks. For most office tasks, the computer you already have will be more than enough. If it’s running slowly, just feed it some memory.

If your computer is circa 1980s, OK get a computer. But know what features you need before hitting the shops. If you’re not careful, it’s easy to spend a small fortune with little to show for it. Unless you are computing to analyze the chemical structure of pharmaceuticals, or track and calculate the orbits of hundreds of satellites, take a pass on latest and greatest technology.

I bought my computer for much less by buying a refurbished model a few years ago. She’s still running strong and I saved a bundle.

Screen scene:

Get a decent monitor and save your eyes. Flat panel LCD monitors have recently dropped significantly in price. A large good quality monitor can now be had for a few hundred bucks. Keep in mind that extra “features” such as integrated speakers and extra connections will add to the price without improving picture quality. Another thing to watch out for is some higher-end monitors require upgrades to your computer to work. My advice is to wait for a big sale, and then buy from a store with a good no-questions-asked return policy. Take a pass on the extended warranty.

Mouse trap:

Do you really need a wireless Bluetooth keyboard with wild and wonky buttons? How about a wireless laser mouse that scrolls fifteen different ways? I didn’t think so. Pass on the cheese and get a mouse and keyboard that won’t trap you. If you’re into the split ergonomic keyboards, by all means get one. But remember it’s just a keyboard, not a toy.

Irked by ink:

Don’t get inked by falling for the budget $50 printer only to find replacement ink cartridges cost $40 bucks. I gave up on printers years ago when the price of ink exceeded the price of the printer. I pass on the print jobs by sending my stuff electronically. If I’m in a fit to print, I head on down to the local big-box print outlet and ink away. I’ve found its cheaper to have the store professionally print it out. If you really need to print, find a solid black-and-white laser printer on sale and skip the fancy color hungry models.

Free your software:

I’ve tried to write something fun and sexy about office software but I just can’t get a word up. Most computers these days come pre-bundled with Microsoft’s Office offerings. If you’re not an Microsoft Office dweller and don’t want to spend a fortune on software, there are a few free alternatives.

Ever heard of Open Office? It’s a FREE “productivity suite” which looks and works a lot like Microsoft Office. Open Office reads and writes in the same formats as Microsoft Office. By default though, Open Office saves to its own file format.

If you have a fast internet connection and like the ability to access your documents from anywhere, Google Documents offers an online word processor and spreadsheet application. Google Documents are not as feature-rich as Microsoft’s applications, but they work quite well. With Google, be aware that all your documents are stored on Google’s servers. Some people may be a bit wary trusting an external company in this way.

Home is where the heart is:

Setting up my home office cost me small potatoes. My biggest expenditure was my chair. No butts about it. What are your tips for setting up a home office on the cheap?

Your two cents:

  1. Angelique November 6th, 2012

    Thank you for the ideas! Another thing I do is keep binders containing my four major areas: crafting/gifts, budget, work, & coupons. It cleans up all my paper & keeps me highly organized. I bought them at the thrift store. Each binder has a sleeve so I can change the folder label as needed.

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