“You must spend money to earn money.” Exactly what every start-up wants to hear, right? No. And unfortunately, it’s no different for authors. Computers are essential for your writing career. True, you could write your book on paper, but if you want to publish, you’d still need to type it eventually. But computers are expensive, and we’re back to cost. One way to get that price tag down: buying a refurbished computer for your writing.

dog wearing glasses while writing on refurbished computer
Image credit to Cookie the Pom on Unsplash.

I know. I know. You’ve heard horror stories about people buying their tech refurbed. There are all kinds of scams and pitfalls. This is true, but it’s also true that, if you do your homework, you can snag yourself a lovely little machine that works like new for a fraction of the price.

How do I know? I’ve done it, and I’m going to walk you through my 3-step process for buying refurbished computers for writing (or anything else).

Step 1 for Buying a Refurbished Computer: Decide What You Want

This might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s actually very important. There are hundreds of options out there, and narrowing down the search before you start will help the whole process feel less overwhelming. Do you want a PC, or are you more of a Mac person? How much RAM do you need (I suggest at least 8GB if you really want things to run smoothly)? How about USB ports? If you’re old-school and love flash drives, you’ll want enough for those, plus a mouse, keyboard, and any other miscellaneous stuff that needs plugging in.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Make a list of specs as you go, and I suggest organizing the list by what you absolutely need and what would just be nice to have. You may not find everything you’re looking for in one machine, so take the “nice to haves” and maybe do some extra research to see what your options are if you find a machine that has everything else you need but lacks this one negotiable thing.

Seem like a lot of work? It can be, but you’ll thank me for this step once you’re into Step 2.

Step 2 for Buying a Refurbished Computer: Research Products

Once you decide on the machine you want, the next step is to browse your options. To do this, I started at Amazon refurbished. Your feelings about the shopping giant aside, it was a great place to see a lineup of machines from various refurbishers, as well as to check out a few reviews of both products and companies.

This is where the list you made in Step 1 comes into play. When I was searching for my first refurbished computer, I browsed through Amazon refurbished and discarded machines based on ever-tightening criteria. I was in the market for a laptop and made sure I checked the hypothetical “laptops” box to show laptops only. I didn’t want to spend more than $300, so anything over that went bye-bye. I wanted a specific brand (I had an ASUS once, and it was a nightmare), so anything outside my brand got passed over.

When I had a list of computers in my price range from the right brand, I dug into the specs. I’m a USB person, so anything with less than 6 got the boot. After seeing my boyfriend’s solid state hard drive work laptop in action, I was done with serial hard drives (side note, I love my SSD, and I’m never going back). I’m a screen reader user, which means the number pad comes in handy, but finding a laptop with a number pad was tough. Since it wasn’t an absolute necessity, I decided I could do without.

And so on it went until I had a narrowed-down list of machines, each offered by a few different refurbishers. Then, more research!

woman doing research on Macbook in bed
Image credit to Windows on Unsplash.

Step 3 for Buying a Refurbished Computer: Research Sellers

If it isn’t obvious at this point, much of this process is research. If you’re wondering why, it’s to avoid a massive headache later. Remember that old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure? That isn’t just something your parents said to get you to stop hanging upside-down from the monkey bars. If you do the research ahead of time, you are a lot more likely to buy a refurbished computer for your writing career and beyond, and less likely to buy a piece of junk that will quit on you after 20 boot-ups.

With that in mind, here are a few best practices in terms of browsing sellers.

Don’t just buy from the first seller with a good rating

It can be tempting at this point to give into tiredness. You just want a computer so you can get going on your epic novel. Do not rush this process. If you’re buying from Amazon, look over the seller’ pages, but don’t stop there. Do these companies have websites? What do other reputable sources say about these refurbishers? You want this machine to last a while, so make sure you’re getting something that’s, well, built to last.

Read reviews and review subtexts

“5 stars, excellent!” Sounds pretty, but in reality, doesn’t actually say much. Reviews are about more than the number of stars, and they’re even about more than the text itself. Ever read a book review that rated the book 1 star and then said something like “I thought this was romance but it isn’t,” even though the book wasn’t in any romance categories and had a blurb that didn’t really even suggest a romance plot? That review doesn’t say “this book was bad; don’t read it.” It says “I, the customer, didn’t bother checking what category this book was under or reading the blurb, and now I’m pissed because it isn’t what I wanted.” I’d cry for that person, but they brought their dissatisfaction upon themself.

Same goes for computers. If someone gives 1 out of 5 stars and then complains that they stomped on their computer and couldn’t get a refund, that’s really not the company’s fault at all. If there is a string of 1-star reviews that all say the company does shotty work and then disappears when you contact them, don’t buy from that company. On the contrary, if there are all five-star reviews that say the company is great in very little detail and with grammatical errors, wonder where those reviews came from. Nothing is perfect. Expect someone to not like something, even if there was nothing wrong with it, but also recognize what’s a bad review and what’s someone just trying to blame someone for their own mistake.

Don’t immediately dismiss based on price

You get what you pay for (I’m rolling with the old adages today). While this is true, it also implies a relationship between two variables that isn’t necessarily in existence. Just because something is priced lower, doesn’t mean it’s of poor quality. And just because something is expensive, doesn’t mean it’s quality stuff. You get what you pay for, true, but you also get what the company gives you, regardless of price.

Read the fine print

I’m not just talking about the returns policy (though, that is also important). Know what you’re getting, both in terms of what the computer comes with and your options if what you get isn’t what you wanted/doesn’t work. Figure out what action you can take under these circumstances and decide what consequences you’re willing to live with. In addition to the returns policy, see if their products come with a warranty and for how long. Do they take products that are “dead on arrival” back? If you’re buying through Amazon, make sure to examine policies from both Amazon and the individual sellers. And if there is an issue when your product arrives, make sure you make contact/take action within your window of opportunity. Again, nothing is perfect. A product could get damaged in transit or may have slipped through the quality control cracks. Be prepared if that happens.

A quick note on warranties: Look at the price and what you’re getting as compared to the price of the product. If you’re paying $300 for the product, and the company offers a 1-year warranty that only covers certain things for an additional $120, that’s nearly half the product’s price for something that may not be useful at all. If they offer a $20 warranty on your $300 product that covers accidents, parts, failures, etc., that’s something to consider. In addition to price relativity, think about your lifestyle and plans for the product. If it’s just going to sit on your desk and the warranty primarily covers accidents, don’t put your drink beside the power supply. Many accidents can be prevented by taking a minute to realize “hey, if I reach for my coffee and knock it over…it will spill all over the shiny new refurbished computer I bought to write my epic novel.”

*moves coffee* One problem solved. (And if you do spill your coffee on your computer, don’t go leave a 1-star review about how the computer didn’t hold up to having 16 ounces of fluid dumped on it.)

man drinking coffee while working on laptop
Image credit to KAL VISUALS on Unsplash.

Wrapping Up

Bottom Line: Research, research, research. I know it isn’t as much fun as inventing the quaint town for your cozy mystery or creating the race of flying panda bears for that fantasy epic, but it is just as useful and potentially much more critical to your writing career. (Though, the flying panda bears do sound pretty awesome, just sayin’.) If you knuckle down, do the research, and gather information, you can buy a refurbished computer for your writing that truly works like new.

And if you do decide to buy new, you really should do all the research anyway. Remember that ASUS I mentioned a few paragraphs ago? I bought that new without doing my research, only to find out that it’s propensity to randomly power off was a well-known issue that I could have avoided if I didn’t just buy the first nicely priced laptop in the store. Lesson learned.

If you are looking to buy refurbed, I’ve had great luck with TekRefurbs. I bought both a desktop and laptop from them, and both run like dreams. Fast, free of bloatware, and built well—I recommend them as a place to start, but definitely do your research and don’t just take my word.

This post is part of the Writing Tips Collection. Hop on over for more about the craft and business of authorship.

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