If you're determined to own cutting edge tech gadgets, it can drive you to the poor house. Every year, there is a flood of new "must-have" Apple gadgets and Macs, Android smartphones and tablets and a plethora of PC laptops and desktops.
Even picking just a few new high-end items can rack up big credit card bills if you aren't careful.
Here's a little secret: You don't always have to buy the latest and greatest. With technology moving so fast, gear that's less than top of the line or latest generation is usually more than good enough for most users' needs.
A good example is the iPad 2. Sure, the newest 3rd-generation iPad has a faster A5X processor, a gorgeous Retina display and 4G LTE cellular.
You may want it, but do you need it? For average Web surfing, video-watching and other tasks, the iPad 2 works just as well. Apple has even equipped the iPad 2 with a slightly better A5 chip than it had when it debuted. The Wi-Fi-only iPad 2 is $399 compared to the $499 new iPad.
Buying a 12- to 16-month-old refurbished Mac from Apple will save you significant change and offer you plenty of computing power for the next two or three years.
A refurbished MacBook Air is discounted $140 or more over a newer model when you buy direct from Apple. You'll have no worries about condition, and mid-2011 Airs feature dual-core i5 processors — more than everything you need.
Have a Mac monitor and keyboard you're happy with? Save the cost of new ones plus an additional $80-$150 when you buy a refurbished 2011 Mac mini. It will also have a dual-core i5 — so you're definitely not "settling" when choosing it over buying brand new.
If you'd rather have the all-in-one iMac, you can still save $200-$250 on refurbished early 2011 models, and that will net you a quad-core i5 chip.
The next iPhone will be released this fall and the contract price is expected to be $200. That means you'll start seeing markdowns on the current flagship iPhone 4S. Sprint started the ball rolling earlier this month offering it at a $150 price tag with a two-year contract. Expect the competition to follow soon.
The iPhone 4 dropped to $100 with a contract when the iPhone 4S launched. It's possible that the 3GS will be retired, and that the iPhone 4 will become the free-with-contract phone. That would be a pretty sweet deal. Best Buy is currently selling a refurbished contract iPhone 4 for $50.
On the Android front, new and very capable smartphones come along every few months, and they're offered free or very cheaply. Just make sure that any phone you buy is running Android 2.3 or higher.
The 3G HTC Rhyme from Verizon, for example, is free with a 2-year contract, but it has better specs than a formerly high-end Droid Pro. For $50 and a contract, you can step up to the LG Lucid with 4G LTE.
Over at AT&T, you can get the 4G LTE Pantech Burst for just $1 on a two-year contract. The carrier also offers the LG Nitro and HTC Vivid for $50 — both are 4G LTE.
T-Mobile phones operate on the HPSA+ 4G network. The Samsung Galaxy S Blaze 4G ($100 with contract) debuted earlier this year. It packs a dual-core processor and has a nice 4-inch screen.
Although Sprint offers some good Android phones, the carrier lags behind AT&T and Verizon in bringing 4G LTE to the speed-hungry masses. If you do live in one of the few Sprint 4G cities, the LG Viper can be a good choice — it's free with a contract and a new line of service.