I am writing to you from my parents’ poolside deck in Northern California. The backyard faces an open golden hillside where deer, coyotes and the occasional skunk wander by. Over the years, this annual trip has included quite a bit of tech support: setting up a new computer, finding a monitor replacement and answering an assortment of internet, operating system and email questions. But this trip has been different.
My dad has subscribed to online support from the Geek Squad for $90 a year, and has mastered the process of scheduling one-on-one support from the local BestBuy. My mother has always been the more tech savvy of the two, and she’s humming along on her laptop and an iPhone 4 that she refuses to upgrade — ”I love my phone!” she says every time I suggest she trade it in for a more recent model. So no tech support needed from me. However, this time, I learned several new things from them that I’d like to share with you.
First up is OverDrive, a library card app that my mother uses frequently. In fact, she no longer buys books for her Kindle, but checks them out of her local library instead and saves a lot of money. While this app has been around for quite some time, it hasn’t received much attention. My mother recently heard about it from a friend who also happens to be a librarian. As soon as I get home, I’ll be visiting my neighborhood library to sign up for this digital card and break my habit of tapping the buy button in the Books app on my iPhone as soon as I finish a book.
Like with a standard library card, you must visit your local branch to apply for the card. You have a limit on the number of books you can check out at one time and a due date for when the books must be returned, both of which are determined by your library’s policies. Once you’ve set up your account, you can browse your library’s inventory from your personal device. If a title is available, it will be automatically downloaded to the app on the device you specified at signup; if not, you will be put on a waiting list and you’ll receive an alert that it has been added to your library when a copy becomes available. When the book is due — poof! —it’s gone. No worries about late fees. OverDrive is simply a library facilitator, a way to borrow books from your local library through a digital interface.
Second is a recommendation from my dad who is a busy consultant working from home. He uses an HP printer and has added a subscription for ink. Once Instant Ink is set up with a compatible HP printer, the company sends ink when it detects your printer is running low. The monthly fee includes ink, shipping and recycling. Subscription prices are based on how many pages you print each month with no difference for color versus black and white printing. For instance, you’ll pay $4.99 to print up to 100 pages a month and $1 for every 10 pages over your limit. The plan is free for those who print 15 or fewer pages per month.
And our third recommendation is a joint one involving a virtual credit card. There are several companies that offer these cards, including the app Final. The app ties to your regular card, but allows you to generate a 16-digit card number, security code and expiration date for an online purchase. You can choose to create a merchant-specific card for purchasing a subscription that will recur over time or a “burner” card that can only be used once, which would be useful for making a one-time purchase from an unfamiliar online retailer.
The beauty of a merchant-specific card is in how easy it is to cancel a subscription. Instead of trying to cancel online, which can often involve multiple steps like online chats, emails and phone calls, and even then you may still not be able to cancel your subscription. With Final, you simply cancel that card and you’re done. My mother said she’s grateful she will never be hoodwinked again into buying a skin care cream that automatically ships every month at $79 plus tax and shipping!