Think you need a Kindle or Quicken? Think again. These handy pieces of software can fill in for much more expensive alternatives.
But here are some lesser-known stars of the free-software universe. In some cases they can even take the place of expensive hardware.
Burn CDs and DVDs: If all you want to do is whip together a mix CD or archive some video files onto a DVD, pricey disc-authoring programs like Nero and Easy Media Creator are probably overkill. Instead, try InfraRecorder, which uses a simple Explorer-style interface to help you burn, baby, burn.
Estimated savings: $100.
Read e-books without a Kindle: Much as I love e-books, I'm not a fan of Amazon's Kindle. Why shell out $359 on a bulky, ungainly piece of single-purpose hardware when I can use the hardware I'm already carrying? I'm talking PDAs and smartphones, which I can pack with mainstream fiction and nonfiction titles from services like Fictionwise, eReader (which is powered by Fictionwise) and Mobipocket. Sure, the screens on phones are small, but they're also backlit -- great for reading in bed. iPhone users can even download new books on the fly, no PC required, using the free eReader and Stanza apps. Estimated savings: $359.