For almost as long as there have been home computers there has been the belief that you needed a printer to go along with it. But let’s rethink that idea—do you really need a printer at home?
Everybody’s situation is a little different, so maybe you need to print stuff off all the time. Maybe not though. If you are like me, you use a printer no more than a few times a year. If so, I believe that all the free technology available to home users today can make skipping the expense of a home printer both practical and possible.
Price of Printing
First, let’s look at how much it costs to print from your computer. Printers themselves aren’t too bad and you should be able to find a decent home printer for $50-$100 or less. Here are a couple of affordable and reliable printers to buy, according to Consumer Reports.
That isn’t bad, but the real expense when it comes to printers is the ink, not the printer. It isn’t uncommon at all for the ink to cost as much as the printer. At a retail store the ink for my home printer costs $40. There are a couple of shops in my town that will refill the cartridge for me, but even a refill costs $15. Watch this video for tips on lowering the cost of printer ink.
Those ink cartridges don’t last very long either. The cartridge might say it has enough ink to print hundreds of pages, but that is only if you print quite a bit. I find that even if you don’t print a lot, the ink goes bad and needs to be replaced every 6 months or so after you install it.
Now think about how many pages you print in that 6-month period. If you print hundreds of pages, your price per page isn’t too bad. I don’t use my printer very much and would estimate I print less than 10 pages every 6 months. That means that even if I refill my cartridges instead of buying new ones I am still paying about $1.50 per page for ink! That is pretty expensive, and I think it is an unnecessary expense.
What do we really use printers for?
To see if a printer is really necessary in your home office, let’s look at the most common use of home printers.
1. Keeping records - Although some people may feel more comfortable keeping backups of important records in paper form, I just don’t think it’s necessary. There are numerous free cloud storage solutions that make sure you will have access to your documents no matter what happens. I keep very few paper files anymore as I have most of my documents scanned and kept online on sites such as Google Drive, Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, or Finovera.com.
2. Boarding passes - While checking into your flight and printing a boarding pass from home before you leave for the airport is convenient, there are other options that are just as convenient. Many airlines have gone paperless and allow travelers to use an electronic boarding pass on their smart phones or tablets. Those that don’t usually have kiosks where boarding passes can be printed out at the airport without having to wait in long lines.
3. Forms - The most common use of my printer is to complete forms which must be filled out, signed, and returned to banks or other companies I do business with. The good news is that there are simple ways of filling out these forms electronically, which might just make your printer obsolete. The newest free version of Adobe Reader, which is called Adobe Reader XI, has everything you need to complete forms without your printer.
Filling out forms in Adobe Reader XI
While most people think of PDF documents as static documents that can’t be edited, even the free version of Adobe makes filling out PDF forms simple.
The “Sign” tab found on the right hand side of the Adobe Reader XI screen has the options to both add text and place a signature onto your completed form. To test it out, I created a sample PDF form and used these tools to fill it out and sign it.
Here is the sample form. Filling it out with text was super easy. All I had to do was click the “Add Text” option click where I wanted the words to appear and then start typing. Adding a signature was almost as simple. I clicked the “Place Signature” option and this box full of options appeared.
There are a couple different ways to create a signature, but I used the "Draw my signature" option. I simply used the mouse to draw a signature in the box. It didn’t come out quite as nicely as a written signature would have, but I think it’s good enough to be legal. After clicking accept you can move the signature to wherever it needs to be on your form and resize it to the correct size. Here is what my sample form looked like when I was finished.
Now that forms can be completed 100% online, a printer isn’t really necessary anymore. After being completed and signed the form can be submitted either through email or through a free efax service such as GotFreeFax.com or FaxZero.com.
Don’t forget about your local copy shop
Even if you use all these tricks I am sure there will still be the odd circumstance when you need to print something. When this happens, you still have your friendly local copy shop to turn to. Having to run to the copy shop frequently wouldn’t be convenient, but if you need to print something no more than a few times per year, then it is a great option and it costs much less than the $1.50 per page I figured above.
Can you get by without a printer?
Everyone uses a printer a little different, and for some not having a printer would be a major pain. But for those that print only a few pages a year not having a printer would save you money both on the cost of the printer as well as the ink refills, and it would save a little space in your home office as well. What do you think? Could you get by without a home printer?
Andy Prescott is a CPA and the author of ArtOfBeingCheap.com, a website he describes as an instruction manual to saving money. Andy enjoys spending time with his family, travel, and finding new and exciting ways to pay less for stuff.