Pick up any newspaper or log onto any news website, and it's there in black and white. Tough times are all around, and no amount of stimulus is making it go away any time soon. Everyone's watching pennies, and life on a budget is becoming the way of life for most folks. Technology can help lots of people save money in their day-to-day life, but what happens to people who can't afford the technology in the first place? Keep reading, unless you couldn't afford to pay your electric bill or you sold your computer to buy dinner.
The poor get poorer
There are so many ways that being connected can help your bottom line. If you can't afford to get online, you're basically screwed out of these benefits. If you have the money to get online, you're in luck. Trying to save money? You can comparison shop for everything from groceries to a new gas-sipping hybrid. You can see what gas station has the lowest prices in your area, or sign up to get coupons from local stores and restaurants.
Need to travel? That's where some serious money-savings are available. Most airlines charge you extra if you buy a ticket over the phone, and can you imagine the premium you would pay a travel agent if you couldn't buy your plane tickets online? Numerous websites are waiting to save you money on hotels, rental cars and flights — Travelocity, Priceline, Expedia, Hotwire, Orbitz, and if you're too busy to try them all, Kayak will compare for you.
Even basic utilities offer savings online. In my area, if you pay your utility bill over the phone, there is a significant "convenience" fee. I don't know about you, but there's nothing convenient about having to pay extra. There is no such fee if you pay online. Sure, you can pay by check, but even then, there's the cost of the stamp.
These are the good times
Even how we have fun has changed. You can take out a second mortgage on your house if it hasn't been foreclosed to get the cash to take your family to the movies, or watch them online, many times for free. Instead of paying for cable or satellite TV, you can watch many of your favorite shows online. Our very own Syfy has online shows available right here. Can't afford a computer or the cost to get online? Guess you're heading to the theater, paying for rentals, and paying for cable.
Reading is fundamental
Times are tough, but imagine what could happen if this economy sticks around. Technology is changing how we shop, how we're entertained, and even how we read. For a while Amazon's Kindle was the only game in town, but now more and more e-readers are for sale, and more and more book titles are available electronically.
Other media are also becoming more popular in the form of electronic files. Magazines on newsstands are becoming more and more elusive, and the newspaper biz is struggling as well. Folks on a budget could probably afford the change to buy the local paper, but what happens when they're only available electronically? How will low-income people look for jobs?
What happens when books, magazines and newspapers are only available online? What happens to libraries? What happens to children whose families can't afford computers and Internet connections when libraries no longer have books for them to borrow? Will libraries loan e-readers? It's a grim scenario — poor children don't learn to read outside of school, so the odds are stacked against them from an early age.
Get a job
There are some things that, no matter what's going on in our lives, we won't give up. I'll get a second job before I give up my TiVo. And honestly, I can't afford to get rid of the Internet. There are ways around it: Use the computers at the library, get your free Wi-Fi at Starbucks or any of the growing list of locations with hotspots, use a computer where you work. Because let's face it, most of us can't afford to give up our computers.