Working from home is one of those double-edged swords. On the one hand, you've got the entirety of your home available to you at any point in the day, including your computer, kitchen, TV, and more. On the other hand, you've got the entirety of your home available to you at any point in the day, including your computer, kitchen, TV, and more. The home office doesn't have all of the amenities of a big corporate affair, but you can get as close as you can on a pretty light budget.
Toss the ink and go laser
Even in this digital age, I still find myself printing out a lot of documents for record keeping, e-mails to leave next to my keyboard as to-do reminders, and the stick figures I draw in Photoshop. Most office documents like e-mails are black-and-white, requiring less ink than most other documents. However, that inkjet printer will still need to be fed ink faster than Audrey II from "Little Shop of Horrors."
The solution to all your black-and-white document woes is to get a personal laser printer. Not only are they pretty cheap (you won't spend more than $200), but the toner cartridges that laser printers use can pump out multitudes more black-and-white documents per toner cartridge than an ink cartridge. Toner is more expensive than ink, but the value is astronomically better.
Check out my list of laser printers that won't cost you a fortune. You'll save money on ink and not feel horrible when the little "low ink" light starts blinking (when in reality, you know there's a whole lot more ink in that cartridge)!
Office suite software
You're not going to get much work done if you're not typing into some kind of productivity suite of software, are you? Of course not. Corporate America's favorite office suite is aptly named Microsoft Office, which includes such software giants as Word and Excel. The home version of Office runs about $150, although you can find it cheaper elsewhere. But we're on a budget, right? (Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)
Google Docs is a great free alternative to Office if you're doing simple document and spreadsheet creation, document sharing, and general drafting. The suite is simple but effective, linking with your Google account for seamless integration with your Gmail account. The spreadsheet application is not as powerful as Excel, but it gets the job done. Also, everything is handled online, so as long as the computer you're on has internet access, you'll always be able to log in and get your work.
Open Office is a free office software suite from Oracle that does its best Microsoft Office impression. For the desktop user, having a suite of programs like Open Office that can be used while offline is a great tool, and these word processing and spreadsheet programs have the kind of great feature sets that you would expect from a paid product. Open Office is a great choice if you want to go the free route.
My final recommendation, ironically, is Microsoft Office. At $150, it's still an investment, but it is the staple program suite for getting stuff done around the office. Bigger business users might have to buy a different license than the standard, but for home stuff, the regular pack is sufficient. Excel is by far my favorite spreadsheet program, and I don't know how I could live without it.
Backup on the cheap
Backup solutions come in all shapes and sizes, from the massive, constant online backup services to simply dragging files onto an external hard disk. Well, I've got a simple and cheap backup solution for you that allows you to take your office with you anywhere.
Backup solutions on the Web are awesome because even if your physical backup drive dies, you still have all your information up in the cloud. If you're the kind of person who likes having your backup hard drive next to you at all times, I think I can help.
First, you'll need an external hard drive that's big enough to hold all of your documents. Don't skimp on the storage space — you never know when you'll need more, and external hard drives have come down considerably in price.
For a backup utility, use the software that usually comes with your hard drive. I love a free application from Microsoft for Windows PCs called SyncToy. SyncToy is a simple program that lets you create folder pairs that, when prompted, sync to each other. That's it — simplicity. With this utility, you can make a perfect backup of your information whenever you plug in your external drive.
Simple, basic, effective
While you toil away in your home office, struggling to turn off the TV and ignore your pesky house pets, the last thing you want to worry about is office costs. Do yourself a favor and save some cash with a laser printer, free or inexpensive software, and a cheap backup solution that works simply and succinctly. You might even be able to give yourself a raise.
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