How to Upgrade your Tech without Breaking the Bank

Save some money while getting the job done

Caleb Rogers
Aug 16 · 6 min read
Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash

Here’s how I saved money on my recent tech upgrades and how you can, too.

The first step is to ask yourself, “What do I really need?”

It’s tempting to want all the things, and even to say that you need all the things. The latest and greatest computer components are featured in blog posts, review articles, and YouTube videos created by people with millions of subscribers. These new CPUs, GPUs, memory, ultra-fast solid-state drives, and huge 4K HDR 8K blah blah blah whatever piece of hardware will solve all your problems and make your life awesome!

But will it?

What about your phone? How new is it, and are you currently on a payment plan that you have to pay off before it’s truly yours?

I get it…I’m still paying off my iPhone X I acquired almost two years ago. I got an interest-free loan from Verizon, so it’s the same as saving up to purchase it with cash except you have the phone to use now. The downside is that I have a bill for it every month.

What about when it’s paid off? Should I turn right around and repeat the process with a shiny new XS… or XI or X Super Plus Plus that comes out next?

Ask yourself what you want your tech hardware to do.

Take my phone, for example. It’s an iPhone X with 256GB of storage, and I’ve had a case on it since day one. The screen has a few micro-scratches on it from normal pocket wear over time, but I can’t even see them unless I hold the turned-off screen up to the light at certain angles. I’ve never run out of storage space, and it’s plenty fast for everything I do (standard reading, typing, video watching, game playing, spouse arguing stuff).

There is no reason for me to upgrade my phone. It’s good. It gets the job done, so it stays. Once it’s paid off (in three months), I just won’t have that $47 bill to pay each month. Money in the bank.

But what about those fancy gaming computers?

And now to my recent desktop computer upgrades. This is where I could have spent a lot of money but didn’t. Feel free to use these techniques when it’s time to upgrade your computer to the latest and greatest gaming components.

First, some context. I build this computer back in early 2012. I got a nice Cooler Master HAF 922 case, AMD platform CPU and motherboard, a generation-behind video card because it was cheaper and got the job done, and then just some standard RAM, hard drive, and a mid-grade 600 watt power supply unit.

It was nothing special, but I could play games on it, and with some pretty good detail. After a few months, I upgraded my old 17 inch CRT monitor to a nice LG 21 inch 1600x900 LCD panel. This was when 1080p monitors were affordable, but hey, I got this one for $150 and it looked great. I used that monitor until just a few days before I started writing this in August 2019.

I had been shopping around Amazon and Costco, looking at 4K monitors because they are reasonably priced. Did I want to spend the money on one of those, or did I want to go with a 1440p widescreen, or maybe just a cheap 1080p monitor that would get the job done?

I wanted bigger and better, but I didn’t have to have the best and most expensive.

My brother recently upgraded his dual monitor setup and had one of his old ones just sitting around. He said it was, “Acting as a divider.” Dividing what besides dust on top of a cabinet, I don’t know.

I asked him if I could buy it from him. He said it was some old 1080p thing from 2008. Since I had purchased my 1600x900 screen many years ago, this was an upgrade. I offered $25 or whatever for it and he said to just take it.

And like that, I had a 24 inch Dell 1900x1200 60Hz monitor for free.

Again…does what you have get the job done?

Let’s look back at early 2018 for a moment. I was using those same PC components I put together in 2012 until I had some insane chain reaction failure that took out my motherboard and graphics card at the same time. Maybe it was a short or something…I don’t know for sure. Until that point, my GPU was a Radeon HD 6870.

I replaced the dead hardware with an inexpensive motherboard, a latest-generation locked i5 (it was cheaper and I have no real interest in overclocking), and 8GB of RAM. I planned to just forego gaming for now and use the on-board graphics so everyone could browse the web and such.

A friend from college had an old Radeon HD 6950 laying around, so he took pity on me an offered to send it to me. The card is a step up from my recently deceased GPU, so I was in the same position. It has served me well, and even though a brand new card would be fantastic, that second-hand card from an old friend got the job done.

Even though the ancient video card functioned moderately acceptably, it was time for a new card. It won’t cut it on newer games at the higher resolution of my new-to-me monitor, and older top titles I’ve got have to be played at lower settings.

But what new card should I get?

At the time, the best card I could buy was a GeForce RTX 2080Ti for about $1200+. I started poking around and asking myself what do I need and what will get the job done?

With that fancy expensive card, I could do some sweet 4K gaming, VR, and anything that could be thrown at me for the next few years.

But do I need all that? I don’t even have a 4K monitor.

Can I do HD and VR gaming passably with a much cheaper card? I’m thinking a good price range would be $200–250. That’s a price that doesn’t break the bank and doesn’t force my other financial goals to take a hit.

I need a card that gets the job done and plays well with all the hardware that I’ve already got. That means my power supply along with its non-modular plugs, and my monitor that only has a DVI connection. There will be no HDMI or display ports in this computer’s near future.

I was first drawn to the GTX 1660Ti, which seemed like a decent card and an attractive price point of about $260. A little more than I want to spend, but still affordable. The problem is that the cards I looked at didn’t have a DVI output port. Back to the card listings…

A cheaper card, but still all-around good performer, caught my eye. The RX 590 8GB priced just over $200. I checked the review sites and watched a couple of YouTube videos testing its performance on various games.

It all looked good, so we appear to have a winner!

So why go with that card instead of something more powerful? It’s all about spending the least amount of money to get the most amount of performance from your computer hardware.

I asked myself what I needed to purchase to do what I wanted to do, which is to have fun. To do that frugally, I needed to find the sweet spot between fun and overkill-wasted-power-potential. Why spend $1200 when I can save a grand and still have just as much fun?

Sure, more power is great, but using a PC for gaming is all about fun. And when my wife uses it to design houses or my daughter watches science videos to help with her school work, are they going to need super graphics rendering power? I think the $200 card will meet everyone’s needs nicely.

When you’re shopping for computer parts, a new phone, TV, or any other consumer tech, ask yourself if you’re shopping for what you need or if you just want something because it’s cool to have.

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