Printing invitations, photos, shipping labels, and other paper items from a home computer is one do-it-yourself activity many people erroneously adopt in an effort to save money. While printing from home rather than buying in a store can save money in some cases, it may actually cost more in others. Those who believe they are always saving by printing from home may minimize or overlook the cost of ink and paper in their calculations.
A search for ink-jet printer cartridges and all-purpose paper on Walmart.com (which, for better or worse, is a store where a typical bargain shopper will be likely to buy these items) yielded a broad range of prices. The most expensive and least expensive brand-name cartridges both cost about 2.5 cents per page to print (based on the estimated page yield stated in the product descriptions). Spot-checked prices for other cartridges had per-page prices of more than 3 cents. (If your printer requires more than one cartridge – say, black and color – you have to add those prices together.) One off brand had a much lower price, just over half a cent per page. Another reputable online retailer, 247inktoner.com, has compatible ink and toner cartridges at a fraction of the cost of the name brand cartridges.
All-purpose paper bought by the ream, also on Walmart.com, cost an additional penny per page. The lowest price for photo paper (fifty 4×6 sheets) was sixteen cents per page. At Staples.com, the bestseller list includes Avery shipping labels. They cost $11.99 for a 25 sheets of 30 labels each – 48 cents per sheet. Specialty papers, such as those used for resumes and invitations, also add to print-at-home costs.
So how can you keep printing costs as low as possible? The most obvious answer is to print less. You can accomplish this goal several ways:
Ask yourself if you really need to print. If you need a hard copy to carry with you, give to a client, or keep as a historical record, print. If an electronic copy of a document is equally practical and effective, skip the hard copy.
Get it right the first time. Before you print anything, proofread it carefully. Check the page margins, font, and other relevant details. By catching errors before you print, you can avoid printing documents multiple times before getting a perfect copy.
Send away for photos. Even buying the lowest-priced photo paper and ink from Walmart.com will cost you more than 16 cents per 4 x 6 photo. Several online photo sites — Snapfish, York Photo, even Wal-Mart — offer better quality prints at lower per-photo prices. Even after shipping costs (which you can avoid or decrease by taking advantage of special offers), it pays to send away. Plus you don’t have to deal with the frustration of photos not printing correctly or printers breaking down.
Copy and paste. Put the relevant information from a web page or email into a word processing document before you print so that you don’t waste ink on header information, ads, and other details you don’t need.
Practice your handwriting. Rather than print out driving directions, confirmation numbers, or other short bits of information, go low-tech and write down the details you need on a piece of scrap paper.
Once you’re printing as little as possible, you can look for ways to reduce the cost of materials.
Don’t buy address labels. Instead, print addresses on plain paper and stick them to envelopes with shipping tape. Some frequent shippers recommend taping over the top of labels, anyway, to keep them from falling off en route, so why bother paying for that extra adhesive on the back of the paper?
Print addresses directly on envelopes to completely eliminate the need for extra paper. Many printers take at least #10 envelopes (larger envelopes may be a bit difficult to run through properly). It may take a few tries to figure out the right way to insert them.
When possible, print on both sides of the paper.
Consider buying refillable ink cartridges or refilling regular cartridges. Refilling can save you a good deal of money, but some customers say that refills cartridge are hard to use, messy, less effective than new cartridges, and prone to clog printers.
Look for good deals & stock up. As with most products, the prices of ink and paper are not fixed. Clearance sales, closeout stores, and even yard sales may have these products at significantly lower prices. When you find a great price, buy as much as you know you will use and have room to store.
A few pennies per page may not sound like much, but they add up to more than what you might realize, especially when you habitually print a lot from your computer. By decreasing both the number of pages you print and the cost of printing materials, you should be able to notice a difference in your home office expenses.
Image courtesy of sondratheloser