Monday Q&A | Computer & Software Recommendations, plus Wardrobe Staples

Every other Monday, I answer questions that my readers send me. If you have a question you’d like me to answer in a future Q&A post, just leave me a comment here or email me (thefrugalgirl [at] gmail [dot] com) and put Q&A in the subject line. I look forward to hearing from you!

What type of computer, printer, word processor, and spreadsheet program do you use? We’re going to be in the market soon and your frugal expertise would be helpful.

-Molly

Well, my computer specs won’t really be that helpful because I have a desktop that Mr. FG built especially for me (this is a perk of having a husband who is in IT!) It’s got mirrored hard drives on it so that my pictures are always automatically backed up, and it’s got a ton of storage for said pictures.

I also have a very small laptop that I use solely for financial things. It’s set up to be muoy secure.


(This is not my financial laptop.)

The printer I own is a Canon Pixma. It does both photos and text very well, and each ink color is a separate cartridge, which means that you can use each one until it’s gone rather than having to replace a whole cartridge when one color runs low. I’ve owned a number of Canon printers, and my one complaint is that after a few years, the print head seems to go south, and a new print head tends to cost as much or more than a new printer. It doesn’t look like my particular printer is still sold, but there are quite a few Pixma printers to choose from, and you shouldn’t have to spend more than $100 to get a good basic printer.

The word processor I use (and the one I used to write my ebook) is just Microsoft Word. You can get it plus several other programs on Amazon for $99.

Though you didn’t ask, I use Outlook every single day, and you can get that with the Microsoft Office Home & Business 2010 . I can hardly imagine handling my email load without Outlook.

Lastly, I’m sorry to tell you that I haven’t made a spreadsheet in probably 18 years, so I have no great recommendation there. I’m positive my readers will, though!

I’m wondering…what are your wardrobe staples? I’m looking to revamp and simplify my closet, and thought I would ask you about your favorite brands and styles, and possibly take advantage of holiday sales :)

Bonnie

Oh, gosh…I’m probably not the best person in the world to answer this question, since I’m not exactly a high-fashion kind of gal! And since what looks good on one person might not look good on another, it’s a little hard to give recommendations to other people.

I tend to keep my clothes pretty simple, which does keep things more in the frugal realm. I also generally prefer styles that aren’t super trendy, and that means I can wear my clothes for quite a while without them going out of fashion. Because I’m not out in the workforce, my wardrobe doesn’t need to be very fancy, and that also helps to keep things inexpensive.

Pants

During the winter, I mostly wear jeans (we’re a jeans-wearing family!), which I love because you can dress them up or down. I don’t think I paid full price for any of my jeans…they’re from Goodwill, clearance racks, and outlets, or have been purchased with gift cards or store coupons. So, I’ve got a mish-mash of brands and can’t recommend one in particular!

Tops

For shirts, I tend to stick with basic long-sleeved knit shirts (one lucky day I found two at Goodwill that just needed a teeny bit of mending), and when I’m cold, I put on a fleece jacket or pullover (my Old Navy clearance fleeces are holding up really well.) I also have two basic button-down shirts and some fine-gauge sweaters for when I want to dress my jeans up a bit more.

Footwear

I am mortally opposed to wearing athletic shoes with jeans, so in cold weather, I generally wear ballet flats (the ones I fixed with Shoe Goo!), low heels, my equestrian boots (which I love with the burning passion of a thousand suns), or some Skechers Mary Janes.

Let’s see…what else? I have a few scarves, one black purse, and a black pea coat (which I consider to be a wardrobe essential).

So, I guess I’d say that my winter wardrobe staples are

  • jeans (bootcut and skinny)
  • long-sleeved knit shirts
  • fine-gauge sweaters
  • non-athletic footwear
  • a classic pea coat

And to get these things without paying an arm and a leg, I recommend shopping clearances (this is a GREAT time of year to find winter clothes on clearance), thrift stores, or watching for a good sale.

_____________________________

Readers, do share your thoughts! What computer/printer etc. do you like, and what do you consider to be wardrobe staples for winter?

Comments

  1. The Mrs says

    OpenOffice blows Microsoft out of the water for word processing and (my much loved) spreadsheets. It’s free, and I’ve been using it heavily for four years with no problems at all. Files are saved in Microsoft compatible formats, so file sharing with others is seamless. I can’t recommend it enough as someone who got very tired of shelling out money for programming!

    -Sandi

    • Alice says

      Seconding this – since it’s free, you can try it out and see what you think, and you can always pay for Microsoft if you really need to. (The only issues I’ve ever run into are hiccups if I’m collaborating on files with other people for work – some of the formatting/formulas aren’t 100% the same in Open Office and Microsoft, but we’ve always been able to make it work. If you’re going to be doing a lot of that, though, be sure to do some test runs before any deadlines creep up!)

      • Molly says

        We use OpenOffice now, and I have had a rough year with the spreadsheets program. It is not playing nicely with the Linux setup we have (which is my husband’s choice of operating systems; I don’t like it) and freezes/won’t save too often for my liking.
        Which operating system do you use?

          • The Mrs says

            I would also add that I use open source email and web browsing too, Thunderbird and Firefox, both by Mozilla, and love them.

            Love: it’s not too strong a word for free (good) software.

        • Battra92 says

          As an IT guy, I have no problems running Linux. If you like it and know what you’re doing it’s a fantastic OS. The newer flavors of Ubuntu aren’t so hot, though.

  2. Shana says

    I have to concur on the athletic shoes with jeans. In fact, the only time that I put them on is when I’m working out… then they go straight back in my gym locker.

  3. Candice says

    A HUGE wardrobe staple for me is dressy skirts that can be worn throughout the year. I can wear them in the summer with plain pantyhose or without hose. And in the winter, I can wear them with tights and high boots. I get a ton of use out of these items, more than my dress pants most of the time.

  4. says

    I have had a Canon printer for seven years and have been very happy with it, I like that you only have to replace one colour at a time, and mine also prints double-sided, so that saves paper.

    I’ve been searching op (thrift) shops for a pair of equestrian boots like yours, but they all seem to have high heels, which I don’t like. I may have to bite the bullet and buy them new :(

  5. says

    Considering I live in Norway, with long cold winters, everything that contains wool is greatly desired, i.e. Wool undergarments, wool scarfs and gloves, and wool socks are great winter staples to have in a winter wardrobe, because then I can use jeans and cardigans all year arround, by layering with wool underneath:-) this saves a lot of money, as wool products, preferably a mix of merino wool and silk, or cashmere, so that it wont itch, lasts for practically alifetime, as long as you wash it gently and take care of it.

  6. says

    For back-up storage (computer), you can also go the route of cloud storage or an external hard drive. My son needs to have a good deal of his work backed up, and happily uses both. But for work that really matters to him, his portable external hard drive is his choice for back up. It’s about the size of a paperback book and you can get a decent one for about $100 retail. I bought one for him for Christmas a few years ago, and paid about $80 on sale.

    For wardrobe, my favorite pieces are classic blazers. I can wear them with skirts and look very polished for a meeting or church, or with jeans and look casual-nice. Classic ones never go out of style. One of my favorites belonged to my mom in the late 1970s! I find them at thrift shops in very good condition, frequently.

  7. Tina Ray says

    I agree that a peacoat is an essential part of a woman’s wardrobe. I just recently found one at the Goodwill that is black with faux fur collar and sleeves. $12.99 (plus $5.79 for the dry cleaning). Absolutely love it. About 90% of my clothese are 2nd hand. I do have to dress up for work and the cost of new clothes for casual and dress is just too expensive not to get 2nd hand.

  8. Jared says

    Dell makes great computers. I highly recommend them. I buy them for my company regularly. Office is a great set of programs like Excel. For email I suggest Gmail. You can use it just like Outlook and have access to it on any device as well.

  9. Sarah says

    I wear jeans almost exclusively, so for me it is important to find a really great fit. Also, cardigans become a real necessity in Winter. Dressy cardigans can be worn with jeans and nice shoes/boots to make a cute outfit for going out. Simple everyday cardigans keep me warm and make it possible to keep wearing short-sleeved shirts through the cold months. That way I don’t need to buy a set of long-sleeved shirts/pullovers for Winter.

  10. Molly says

    One, I was SUPER excited to see my question this week! Thanks!

    Re: wardrobe staples: I’m a big fan of Not Your Daughter’s Jeans (NYDJ), which I found at Goodwill once and look really good on me. Especially for $8. I also like Gap long-sleeved shirts and ones from LL Bean and Lands End. Mens LL Bean jeans are a staple for my husband – especially the flannel-lined ones. I like the Old Navy tank tops for layering underneath. Target has some fleece zip up sweatshirts I like a lot this year.

  11. Sydney says

    We have a Brother printer that was thrown in for free when we bought a computer off craigslist. It handles about 40 pages of print a day (husband is in law school) for the last two years, and has yet to need new toner or ink (though we don’t print in color).

    As for clothing – I must second Blonde on a Budget: wool is a staple of my winter wardrobe, and I live in central Texas! I am a huge fan of SmartWool products. As with most clothing, these pieces are pricey, but will last for many years. They can usually be found online for a discount (don’t forget to use Ebates!) I have had some SmartWool socks for 5+ years and I wear them almost daily. Though the soles are worn thin, they still keep my feet warm and dry in the office or on an all-day hike!

    I also agree that buying clothes secondhand is the way to go. This allows me to have some nice work clothing that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford such as wool skirts, nice dress pants, and a blazer. It also encourages me to buy a few quality pieces of clothing and take good care of them, rather than having lots of cheap clothing that only lasts one season.

    Finally, if you work outside the home (or just want something dressy), I’ve found that a pair of black pumps are invaluable even in winter. I usually buy mine off the clearance rack at Dillard’s.

  12. says

    I loooove my Mac and won’t go back to a PC ever again. They’re more expensive for sure, but the hardware lasts longer than a PC so I think it’s worth it. Plus, in the 3 years I’ve had my Mac it hasn’t frozen or crashed once, which is much more than I can say about my previous PC (which, granted, was a Compaq which isn’t a great brand anyway).

    • Battra92 says

      IT guy here who has a Macbook, desktop PC and couple Linux laptops at home plus supports over 100 PCs every day.

      I will challenge your notion of Mac hardware lasting longer than PC hardware. I have a six year old Mac at home that runs just fine but here at work I have business class laptops of the same age that run just fine as well. The problem is that people compare $1,400 Macs with $400 Acers. (though I’d state Macs are at least 20% overpriced)

      Also, if you open the hood on a Mac, it’s a PC in a white case. ;)

      A lot of poorly written third party software and hardware drivers give PCs a bad name. It’s all about personal preference.

  13. Sarah says

    During the past couple of years I have been relying a lot on google for both email and for word documents/spreadsheets/etc. If you are not hesitant to use the cloud for your documents, I have found this to be a great system. I can access any of my emails/documents/spreadsheets from any computer I happen to be using at the moment, as well as from my iphone (editing is a bit harder on there, but viewing them is simple!)

    As a completely free option with 5GB free space for google drive (documents) and 10,330 MB free space for email – it seems to be one of the best options that I have found. There is a tool that looks like it would synchronize files to a folder on your desktop, but I have not tried that yet.

    My only frustration so far has been that there are a few options that the spreadsheet system lacks, but for most of what I use it for it hasn’t been a big deal. (And once again – its completely free, so if you find that you don’t like using it then you haven’t lost anything…)

  14. Michelle says

    I, too, own a Canon Pixma (MP780 is my model), and I, too, have had trouble with the Print Head every few years. BUT instead of replacing, I’ve learned that it needs some cleaning… moreso that the “automated” cleaning that the printer utility runs. Remove the ink cartridges and then remove the print head. Run some water over it until the water runs clear, and clean the print head areas with Q-tip. Re-load everything back into the printer, and it’s as good as new again! I’ve done this twice with our printer (now 7 years old), and it’s still going.
    And I sincerely hope I haven’t now jinxed myself!! ;-)

  15. Kris says

    I think the smartest place to start with wardrobe concerns is to determine what your needs are. I work in health care and wear scrubs so my wardrobe needs are different than someone who is in business, for example.

    That being said, I think every woman needs a few basic dressy pieces which can be used for weddings/funerals/etc. And if you can get them second-hand, great, but it may be worth your while to purchase quality pieces that fit well. A black, straight, knee length skirt and a pair of black dress pants will get you through most events. They are classic, slimming, and don’t show the dirt! You can coordinate them with summer and winter tops and if you want to try a trendy top or sweater (on clearance, of course!), it’s simple to do. A classic white well-fitting blouse never goes out of style. Pumps with a small heel are also a classic. For a more casual look, a similar skirt & pants in khaki is a good option.

    I kinda sorta hear you on the no-sneakers-with-jeans thing, but I gotta say that what you do to your feet when you are young will determine what shoes you will be forced to wear when you are older! Women are notorious for forcing their feet into shoes which do terrible things to them. I compromise on this–I wear more supportive shoes for errands or all-day walking but something that looks nicer if I’m meeting a friend for lunch. I recently discovered Skechers GoWalk shoes and they look nicer and are fairly supportive, if that helps!

  16. says

    I have a desktop computer too – it’s about 6 years old. It works for me since CatMan is the ubergeek and I’m a geek in training, we’re able to update & repair it ourselves which saves a great deal of money.

    Has anybody tried Open Office software? It’s supposed to do pretty much everything that Microsoft Office does (word processor, spreadsheet, database etc.) only it’s free. (I use Microsoft Office which I get for cheap via a thing for programmers that CatMan participates in through Microsoft, but if I didn’t have access to it that way I’d probably try Open Office.)

    I’m with Kristen on the clothing thing, only I buy almost exclusively used. I sort of go into shock when I see what people charge for new clothing these days! There’s the added advantage that it’s pretty easy to sort out the quality stuff when buying used because anything that was gonna fall apart after one wash or two already has by the time it makes it to the thrift store! And in my opinion it’s fit that matters, not brand.

    My one exception to both the new & the brand name thing is shoes – I wear Birkenstocks almost exclusively because they are pretty much the only brand I’ve found that is actually shaped like my feet are, and at this point in my life I’ve decided that having sore feet is simply not something I’m willing to put up with anymore! But you can find pretty good deals on Birks on eBay, and since the Birkenstock footbeds are all the same I can buy online with confidence that it will fit.

  17. says

    I have been thinking more and more about wardrobe staples lately, since I am trying to develop a basic mix and match wardrobe. I think for winter, a couple of cardigans or button-up sweaters are essential, since you can put them over summer tops and still be nice and warm. I also like scarves. I like layering, and of course they are practical from a warmth perspective. Boots are a necessity for me too :)

  18. gail says

    We find Outlook just about perfect,too.Just ordered a new Dell on line.
    I gave up the sneakers when I was about 12. Now, at 66, I have also abandoned t-shirts–except perhaps under a jacket or cardigan–, jeans (it’s khakis and black pants now), and hoodies. I do wear comfortable SAS lace-ups, but they feel and look better to me than sneakers.
    Essential are Mary Janes for dress, the black pants, khakis, polos for really hot days, cardigans, blazer, 3/4 sleeve shirts for all seasons, and walking shoes, light and dark.

  19. Ted S. says

    Next time you answer questions, would you tell us what type of cookie sheets you use? My wife bought the golden colored (don’t know brand) of bread pans you recommended and raves about them pretty much every time she uses them (which is weekly). However, her cookie sheets are useless, bend when hot and she complains a lot about them. I’d like to get us some new ones but am unsure as to brand. (P.S., lest I look like a total cad, I want to announce that she makes the bread and cookies and cakes, but I am the one who makes the dinner virtually every night because I get home first!) Thanks.

    • Kris says

      My America’s Test Kitchen cookbook recommends the Vollrath 17″ x14″ cookie sheet and the Chicago Metallic Professional cookie sheet. Hope that helps. My mom bought me 2 industrial-style cookie sheets years ago & I love them but have no idea where she got them or the brand. I have had bad luck with any bakeware with a non-stick surface–the dark surface makes my baked goods brown too quickly and it just doesn’t stand up. How could anyone who wants to buy good quality bakeware for his wife be a cad???

  20. Battra92 says

    As an IT guy, I can recommend OpenOffice for home use if you don’t want to pay for it. Lotus Symphony from IBM is built on OpenOffice but I find its interface is much nicer.

    Check with your work’s IT dept if you work for a big company. You might be able to get a huge discount on MS Office. I got Office for all of $12 through work!

    Individual hardware is too difficult to give random recommendations to. What works for me, but not be enough for you or may be WAY too much for you. It’s all in what someone wants to do with it.

    As a lapsed photographer, I never EVER printed out my own photos with a printer. Adoramapix.com (no affiliation) produced better prints than I ever could and they cost less than the printer cartridges and photo paper. This was after my local lab closed down.

    As for fashion and stuff, I’m just saying Converse All Stars (low tops) and leave it at that. ;)

  21. says

    I wear jeans and athletic/tennis shoes all of the time. I love it. There I said it!! LOL however…………….I’ve had 2 surgeries on my right foot. One of those surgeries was a major major surgery. I’m talking 3 different casts, and not walking for a very long time. I still have 2 screws in my heel to prove it. I find that my Brooks running shoes are pretty much the only ones that are comfortable. Your whole body gets out of alignment when you don’t walk correctly. I do wear Clarks shoes to work, they are comfortable but not as much as my Brooks. When you’ve spent as much money and time, such as physical therapy, as I have on your feet you will wear what feels best and forget how things look. Sometimes I wear my Brooks to work when my foot feels a little wonky. I do not scrimp on my footwear due to my problems. I like to buy the shoes when they are on sale though. That helps a little bit.

    • Kristen says

      Huh. That’s an interesting concept. I wonder if this might be killing good bacteria along with bad bacteria, though. I don’t suppose that’s a big problem with bread, but I wonder if it might be with other foods.

    • says

      I noted that they said it wouldn’t keep the bread from going stale or rancid, just from sprouting mold. How long can a loaf of commercially produced bread keep from going stale?

  22. Leah says

    My staples are a pair of jeans, a couple of really nice tops, a sleeveless black dress, and black flats.

    I have always kept my wardrobe to the bare minimum I thought I could get away with. We don’t go out a lot and if I have the day off I’m in my jammies and covered with flour or water or whatever I’m doing.

  23. says

    Hi Kristen, I was wondering why you decided to not go with a bagless vacuum? We have a bagless central vac and I love not having to buy bags! For one thing they are so expensive and when we had an Electrolux that used bags I would open the bag, dump the ‘dust’ and seal it back up with duct tape to use it again! (You could only use it one more time) But the bagless system is easy to use – and cheaper (No bags)
    I must say that I am not too thrilled with the central vac which we have in our new house but Julia wanted it, so we got it! I thought that the Electrolux was fine and sure enough it is a pain hauling about 50 feet of hose all over the house!

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