30/05/2024

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15 Money-Saving Tips for Laptop Buyers

17 min read
15 Money-Saving Tips for Laptop Buyers

If there’s one complaint I’ve heard most often in my years of reviewing laptops and providing laptop buying tips, it’s this: “Why are they so expensive?” That answer could be an article series all its own, but today I come with a message of hope for the frugal laptop buyers: With a little planning and patience, you can get our favorite laptops for a lot less than their sticker prices.

I’m not just talking about scouting out big sales events like Black Friday. For the careful shopper, big savings are available year-round, whether through student discounts, coupon codes, shopping clearance models, or refurbished products. Armed with these laptop buying tips and tricks, you may never pay full price for a Windows laptop or MacBook again.


Before You Shop: Know What You Want and Need

Before we start talking about saving money, let me stress that the best value is the product is not necessarily the laptop that is discounted the most, but the laptop that satisfies how you will use it. No discount will change even the best laptop’s features or capabilities, whether that’s giving you the battery life you need or the fast-paced gaming you crave. You can figure out these basic parameters and priorities by navigating the different categories of laptops and finding the one that’s the best fit for you. Our laptop buying guide selection can also help you with everything from choosing a laptop brand to picking out the right laptop processor, along with top picks across every subcategory.

You should also consider which operating system you’d like to, well, operate in. The three major operating system options are Microsoft Windows 11, Apple macOS Ventura, and Google ChromeOS. Each operating system has its key helpful features, areas of focus, and shortcomings, so be sure to read our impressions of each operating system for more information.

Laptop deals

At any given time, you’ll find deals on all kinds of laptops.

Ready to shop? You’ll want to consider which features are essential and which you’re okay doing without. If you’re willing to do without a third USB-C port or are fine with a full HD screen instead of one with 4K display resolution and basic 60Hz screen refresh rates, you can find an excellent system that’s cheaper than something with the very latest specs.

Also consider which apps you’ll need access to and which versions, which will be different depending upon which operating system they’re accessed from. Microsoft Office is a fine example of this in that it works somewhat differently on a Windows laptop versus a MacBook Air or Chromebook.

Finally, consider your primary use for the laptop: Is it for video editing? Is it a business laptop? Do you need a beefier gaming laptop? Or are you just after one of the new MacBook Pro models?

There is no perfect laptop, but finding the right machine will dramatically increase the value you get because it’ll do what you need it to. And that’s not just an immediate concern, because a laptop well suited to your uses will feel useful longer than one that feels like a compromise. The right machine is a better value in both the short and long term. With our help, making use of our laptop buying advice is easy, thanks to our handy guides and hand-picked lists of the best notebooks of the moment, from cheap laptop options like Chromebooks to premium ultraportables, top gaming laptop options, and high-end mobile workstations.

Though we have plenty of recommendations for budget laptops and cheap gaming laptops, there’s no need to compromise if you want a more premium model. Our smart shopping tips will help you save no matter what kind of laptop you want, so focus on your real needs and the features you’re going to use. Once you have a clear idea of the capabilities you need, it’s time to start shopping.


1. Put Some Guardrails on Your Shopping

The obvious place to start when looking to save on a new laptop is to check out the latest deals. Our reviews are a great place to start, not only for learning about individual models and their features and performance but also for comparison shopping. Part of each review is a list of current prices and retailers, letting you start your hunt right from within the review.

Review pricing on PCMag.com

Here’s what PCMag’s helpful comparison-shopping tools look like.

We also provide a regular roundup of the best laptop deals, and you can even subscribe to our Daily Deals newsletter to get the latest sales info delivered straight to your inbox. If you have a pretty good idea of what you’re after, it pays to keep an eye on these sorts of listings so you can pounce on a discount before it’s gone.

Finally, we host a broad selection of laptop buying guides across several subcategories. You can find those on our dedicated laptop buying guide page.


2. Get Real Specific About Specs and Model Numbers

One word of warning: As you peruse different online and brick-and-mortar stores, be sure you’re actually looking at the same laptop make and model. It’s all too easy to get confused by models with similar names but different specs and think a notebook is a bargain at one store, only to buy it and realize its lower price reflects a less powerful processor, a smaller solid-state drive, or missing features you thought were included.

Don’t be fooled. Sometimes (especially around major sales events like Prime Day or Black Friday) a laptop retailer will partner with a laptop manufacturer to offer a store-specific model with slightly different specifications and a unique model number. This gambit lets them get around price-match guarantees, since that exact model isn’t sold at other stores.

Sometimes, these “store exclusive” models will be pleasantly well-equipped surprises; sometimes, they’ll cut corners or ditch features for the sake of a lower price. Maybe it’s plastic instead of metal construction, or a non-touch screen or a non-backlit keyboard. If a machine seems extra cheap, it’s worth digging into the particulars, finding the model number, and comparing product specifications to make sure you’re really getting a bargain.

The takeaway from these warnings is that you should pay attention to both the specific model (identified by the model and part numbers) and the specifications you want. A missing port, or Wi-Fi 5 support instead of Wi-Fi 6, might not make much difference to your satisfaction, but it could be the source of significant savings.


3. Wait for Seasonal Sales

If you want the newest models, it’s worth shopping in the spring. That’s the most common (though certainly not only) time that laptops are refreshed with new processor versions (largely Intel Core and AMD Ryzen chip refreshes), sometimes with new integrated graphics hardware. New versions of Nvidia’s and AMD’s dedicated graphics chips sometimes appear in sync with the CPUs, too, but not always. But for the biggest savings, you’ll want to worry less about product launches and more about seasonal sales. If you have the luxury of waiting to buy, you can take advantage of several sales that come and go throughout the year.

The biggest seasonal sales occur in the spring, late summer, and late fall, first for Father’s Day and the end of the school year (sometimes advertised as Dads & Grads), next for the back-to-school period of July through September, and finally for the holiday shopping season that traditionally kicks off the day after Thanksgiving (Black Friday through Cyber Monday, though increasingly that sale frenzy starts to ramp up even sooner).

Black Friday deals

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are the year’s biggest shopping holidays.

These are major sales periods that come around like clockwork every year, so if you’re eying a new laptop, it might be worth waiting a couple of months for one to take place. Again, though, mind the precise details of the models you are looking at. As we noted above with retailer-specific models, sometimes big retailers will offer Black Friday-specific variants of known laptops that may differ in some slight or greater degree from models they have been selling previously.

Three-day weekends are also popular sales days, with stores offering discounts over Presidents’ Day weekend, Memorial Day, Labor Day, and the Fourth of July. While these holiday sales may not have as many deep discounts on big-name products, they’re still fine opportunities to save on cheaper products such as Chromebooks and computer accessories, which often get discounts as loss leaders.


4. Don’t Forget Prime Day(s)

We’ve mentioned a big sales event that doesn’t line up with any particular holiday or school schedule: Amazon Prime Day. Launched to commemorate the shopping site’s 20th anniversary, Prime Day has become a recurring mega-sales promotion—and other stores have responded with competing annual sales, making it an ideal time to shop for bargains, if you’re an Amazon Prime member.

Amazon Prime Day

Amazon Prime Day rivals even Black Friday in terms of deals.

Amazon Prime Day is more flexible than predictable, but your best bet is to count on it happening sometime in mid-July. However, 2022 actually had two big Prime-themed sales events, the “classic” Prime Day in July, and a Prime Early Access sale in October. Just look for our news coverage whenever Amazon makes a formal announcement.


5. Look for Product Launch Bargains

Less regular, but just as big a savings opportunity, are the discounts that surround product launches. When a new laptop is about to come out, vendors and retailers will often mark down the older model during the lead-up to the launch. This lets sellers clear out old inventory to make room for the new, and gives you a chance to save big.

Apple MacBook Air M2 (2022)

You’ll even find deals on MacBooks around the launches of new models.

Apple products, in particular, see lucrative deals just before and just after a new model makes it to stores. The company’s schedule isn’t tied as closely to industry changes and calendar events as other manufacturers’ are, so these sales can crop up any time of year.

Even when there’s no wider sale to take advantage of, there are several ways to save a buck. Discounts can be found all over the place, if you know where to look, and keep track of when new laptop-processor or mobile-GPU families are poised to launch. The time in the run-up or in the post-launch is the bargain-hunting window for the previous-generation models. To that end, tracking rumors related to the not-yet-announced launch of a new CPU or GPU family can help you spot markdowns on older machines coinciding just before the launch. You’ll need to do some detective work, but the patterns are clear year in and year out.


6. Always Compare Prices

Much of the hassle of comparison shopping can be eliminated by using a price tracker app. Whether you’re waiting for a particular laptop (like the MacBook Air) to fall to a specific price point or just want to make sure you’re not overpaying when you click Add To Cart, these apps can be quickly set up to alert you to price drops on any products you’re watching.

Price comparison apps

We’ve found several price comparison apps to be helpful.

Easy and free to use, an app like ShopSavvy or a website like CamelCamelCamel can be invaluable in helping you figure out whether you’re getting a great price, or just the same deal as everybody else.


7. Join a Club for Membership Discounts

Another way to find a discount is to show some loyalty. Whether it’s a membership-only store like Costco, a retailer insider program like Best Buy’s My BestBuy, or the Best Buy TotalTech membership, these programs can save you money long term. 

Costco is well known for its members-only deals, and while the warehouse store doesn’t offer Black Friday-level discounts year round, it usually comes in at or below other stores’ prices. But Costco customers also get a few unique perks such as free extended warranties, no-questions-asked returns within 90 days of purchase (with no restocking fees), and free technical support through a concierge service provided for the life of the product.

Best Buy

Best Buy has more than one savings sign-up program available.

Retailer memberships like My BestBuy are a different story. You sign up for a rewards program and in return you get extra savings at purchase, exclusive deals via email, and access to coupon codes that can save you on purchases, shipping, and accessories.

Some, like Newegg’s customer newsletter, aren’t memberships per se so much as sign-ups to get company emails, which include promo codes, deals, and early previews of special promotions. One pro tip in this vein: Designate a “burner” free email-account address for signups like these, so they don’t overwhelm your primary email inbox.

Other memberships involve subscription fees, like Best Buy TotalTech and Amazon Prime. While these memberships are mostly sold on the appeal of perks such as free shipping and services like Prime Video or special tech support, they also come with exclusive sales and discounts. It may not be worth signing up for a membership solely to score a deal on a laptop, but if you’re already a member, it’s worth looking for any deals on the system you desire.


8. Hunt for Coupon Codes

Another great way to shave a few dollars off the price of a new laptop is with a promo code or coupon. Coupon codes can unlock everything from free shipping to percentage discounts on specific items. While a quick Google search for coupons or promo codes might help you find a useful savings opportunity, coupon-code aggregation sites take a lot of the guesswork out of finding currently valid codes and knowing exactly what each code is useful for.

Coupon codes on PCMag.com

PCMag provides coupon codes for online shopping too.

You can find collections of coupon codes right here at PCMag or through a coupon code site like RetailMeNot (which is owned by PCMag publisher Ziff Davis). Alternatively, you can sign up with your preferred retailer for regular offers and get coupon codes emailed directly to you. (Check out our guide to finding coupon codes online.)


9. Stretch Your Dollar With Browser Extensions

Similarly, you can use browser extensions like Honey or RetailMeNot’s Deal Finder, which automatically apply relevant coupon codes and other savings opportunities.

You can find several shopping extensions in our collection of the 100 best free Google Chrome extensions. And if you don’t want to keep a shopping extension after you make your purchase, let us show you how to add and remove browser extensions.


10. Master Your Credit Card Rewards

Another way to save a lot on a big-ticket purchase like a new laptop is to sign up for a retailer’s own credit card. You’ll often get a 10% or 15% discount with your first purchase, which can net you a couple of hundred dollars on more premium laptops like the MacBook Pro.

However, this is one strategy to be approach with caution. First-purchase savings are designed to tempt you to sign up for cards, but most retailer-specific credit cards have relatively high interest rates, low credit limits, and steep annual fees. Also, some are only good at that specific store! This is all on top of the hit your credit score may take by opening another account.

Online shopping with a credit card

Credit card rewards can help save some money on big purchases.

A better option is to use a regular (non-store-specific) credit card with a healthy cash-back offer. Some cards deliver significant cash back on every purchase, while others generate rewards such as frequent-flier miles and gift cards. These may not net you a big discount at the register, but the other rewards might be worth it.

As an extra bonus, many credit cards offer optional purchase protections, covering your new laptop against accident or theft, or even extending the warranty beyond the manufacturer’s standard 12 months.


11. Shop Smart With Student Discounts

If you have a high-school or college student in your home, or you’re currently taking classes yourself, you can save a bundle with student discounts. With steep discounts offered by both manufacturers and retailers, this might be the easiest savings tip on this list to leverage, if you qualify.

Simply search the web for the name of your preferred retailer or manufacturer, and you’ll quickly find its student discounts page. Usually, all that’s necessary to save 10% to 20% is a valid educational email address.


12. Don’t Write Off Old Models

Even if you can’t find a sale and don’t qualify for a student discount, you can usually save a significant amount any time of year by shopping for one of last year’s laptops. In addition to scoring deals in the weeks just before or after new models are introduced, you can almost always find some older (more than six months old) notebooks on clearance.

This might mean giving up on the latest buzzwords or capabilities, but if you’re moving up from an old laptop that’s already four or five years old, you’ll be so pleased with the performance of, say, a 2022 12th Generation Intel Core chip that you won’t really miss the slight extra processing power of an equivalent-level 2023 13th Gen Intel Core processor. Plus, you won’t find many features available today that weren’t on the market eight months or a year ago.

The best way to shop for slightly older models is to see what’s on clearance from different outlets and look up the reviews on PCMag and other sites. A highly rated laptop from last year is still a sound buy, and the review will also help you get a sense of how good a deal today’s sale pricing is.


13. Save Big With Refurbished Laptops

If you really want to dig deep for savings, you can buy used laptops. And the best way to buy used electronics isn’t eBay or Facebook Marketplace—it’s buying refurbished models direct from a manufacturer or retailer.

Refurbished or rehabilitated laptops aren’t merely used hardware. They’ve been checked out, cleaned up, and repaired (if needed) to bring them back up to like-new standards. Some are store returns or leased models, but others are unopened or open-box models that have barely been touched. Reputable refurbished products are not only inspected, wiped of old data, and spruced up with a fresh installation of pre-installed software, but also certified to meet exacting standards of quality and function.

Even the best restored laptops come with a few caveats, however. First, you don’t know the machine’s back story. It could be a virtually untouched return in its original packaging, or a broken or flawed unit repaired after a lot of hard use. The extra wear and tear means it’s not uncommon to get a notebook with visible scratches and dings, and the usable life of a refurbished system can be a bit of a question mark. To mitigate this, we recommend buying from a reputable refurbisher that provides some sort of warranty or extended service coverage.

Refurbished technology

Buying refurbished products can save you lots of cash.

Your best bet is to check directly with laptop manufacturers first for their refurb offerings of the moment. Because the company made the device in the first place, it’s generally best able to perform comprehensive repairs and provide exactly the same software preload. Plus, it is the most likely candidate to sell a refurbished unit with some sort of guarantee or warranty.

The next best option is a retailer-refurbished laptop. Major outlets like Best Buy offer refurbished gear for sale all the time, though their repairs may be done with generic parts or less complete software packages. However, if you can get a refurbished unit with a warranty plan, the in-store service and repair options go a long way toward providing peace of mind about buying a used product.

Third-party refurbished products are more of a gamble. Independent repair shops and eBay businesses might do just as good a job as the big names, or might not even take the time to wipe the keyboard crumbs off of a used laptop bought in a bulk sale. Without the support infrastructure that manufacturers and retailers provide, the long-term prospects of a no-name refurbished system are murkier. It’s still a valid way to score a low price, but you do so at your own risk.


14. DIY Discounts: Upgrade After Purchase

Another strategy to get more bang for your laptop-shopping bucks? Find a model you want, but buy a slightly cheaper configuration and upgrade the memory and storage yourself. This definitely requires more hands-on expertise, but it can save you a fair amount even when you factor in the cost of your own RAM and SSD. (Check out our part-by-part laptop buying guide for upgrades.)

The logic of this trick is simple. Manufacturers charge more for systems with additional memory and storage space because relatively inexpensive RAM modules and drives are an easy upsell. Because the average laptop shopper doesn’t know these parts are often user-upgradable or doesn’t want to take the trouble, adding memory and storage at purchase time invariably costs more than the actual difference in component price.

SSD for DIY upgrades

Many laptops feature upgradable storage and memory.

The big drawback here is that you need to know whether a system can be upgraded after purchase. Many laptops, particularly ultraportables, use fixed or soldered-down components instead of RAM and storage drives installed in swap-capable sockets or slots. Glued-down parts and hard-to-open chassis can make changing out parts impossible, so make sure to do your research before purchasing. You need to find the exact model you’re thinking of buying, and then learn which parts can be upgraded after purchase. Only then can you research how much those parts cost to determine whether the savings are worth your time and elbow grease.

In some instances, doing your own upgrades can save you a bundle. But the payoff varies widely from one laptop to the next.


15. Don’t Balk at Bundle Deals

Finally, don’t write off deals that bundle a laptop with other accessories or peripherals, even those that don’t discount the notebook’s original price. A bundle deal is like ordering a burger but getting fries and a drink for free; it’s a relatively inexpensive upgrade for the seller but a welcome bonus when you’re already thinking of getting new gear.

Commonly bundled products include laptop sleeves or carrying cases, mice, keyboards, headphones or gaming headsets, flash drives, and similar peripherals. Some deals include full versions of software, which can be a big improvement on the trialware or “lite” versions pre-installed on base machines—but only if it’s software you’ll actually use.

Microsoft Surface Pro 9 bundle

Microsoft often bundles its Surface Pro tablets with accessories.

The bottom line is that a bundle deal can be a handy bonus if it includes something you want or need, and it can save you a chunk of change even if the laptop itself is not discounted. The best part of shopping for bundle deals? You can usually still get a discount with coupon codes, student pricing, or credit-card rewards or cash back.

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