How to make splurging on a digital camera pay for itself over and over again

jeffkuo · March 16th, 2008

This is a guest post by Boston Gal, from Boston Gal’s Open Wallet, a single 30-something Bostonian who is seeking enlightenment and control of her Net Worth.

This past August my 5 year old Kodak digital camera finally stopped working (it may have had something to do with my dropping it on the pavement – twice) and I splurged on a new Panasonic Lumix camera and 2GB card for $180.70 (yes, I checked, and that is how much I spent!) When I say splurge, I mean I could have purchased a cheaper camera – something for about half the price, but when I considered how many ways I put my digital camera to work, paying more for better quality and features seemed easily justifiable.

My digital camera has frequently been pressed into service as my photo copier. Just tack a document up on a cork board at eye level, take a high resolution photo, download to desktop and print. Yes, a bit complicated, but when you don’t have a copier or a scanner handy the digital camera is a great record keeper (just ask any 1950’s or 60’s spy who used to do this with a camera concealed in a lipstick tube).

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I used my digital camera recently to successfully fight a parking ticket. A meter maid had the audacity to ticket me when I still had a few minutes left. Lucky for me I had the camera in my car and took a few stills of the time and used the little movie feature to record the scene. My appeal, complete with photos and link to video was approved and the city of Boston did not get my $25. Right there I saved myself enough to cover the price of the 2 GB card.

Lastly, before I leave you with a bulleted list of other ways you can put your digital camera to work for you, I recently discovered a time saving tip. When heading off on a trip, I took a few moments to use my digital camera to document my parking space location at central airport parking. This time, when I returned from my trip, instead of wondering around trying to remember which level I had parked on, I was able to quickly scroll back through my trip photos to find the ones directing me to my car. That experience alone makes my new digital camera worth almost any cost!

Now for the promised list:

• Document the contents of your home for insurance purposes (or document your friend’s house with the much better furniture and stuff in it – kidding!)

• Take photos of your treasures to sell on EBay or Craigslist (anyone interested in a once-functioning Kodak digital camera?)

• As a way of peering into dark corners you might not want to stick your face into (is that a bat up in that eave? Let’s let the digital camera’s telephoto lens and strong flash take a look-see…)

• Moving and need to remember what you put in the boxes but don’t want to mark the outside of the cartons being handled by strangers with revealing notes such as “family treasures”, “underwear”, or “contents of medicine cabinet” – then document them with photos and just number the boxes to correspond.

• Getting ready to tackle a repair which requires that you take apart a multi-piece device and not sure you will remember how to reassemble? Take photos as you remove each piece to give yourself a visual breadcrumb trail to follow when putting it back together.

If you have additional tips or ideas leave them in the comments!

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  1. Jake Stichler

    Hah, you thought you splurged? I bought a Canon Rebel XTi a while back for $600 or so. I almost got the chance of a lifetime to make it pay for itself – I was contacted by a cousin, who does marketing and SEO for a dance/choreography company with the offer to go with him up to Toronto for a big multi-day event they were having, to do photography. The deal was, if I did a good job at that event, they would have bought some of my photos, and possibly hired me on to travel to these events all around the country. Unfortunately, my portfolio apparently wasn’t dazzling enough for his boss, so I didn’t get to do, well, anything. 🙁

  2. 20s Business

    Taking a picture of your parking spot is a great idea. I have a friend at work that takes a picture of his spot at the airport with his iphone before business trips. He swears by it.

  3. When we were having our house built I took photos of all the electrical and plumbing lines before the walls went up. When it came time for some repairs, at least I knew where some things were without having to tear down the entire section of wall.

  4. Jason,
    I did exactly the same thing, and when I went to install a gas dryer in my house, I knew exactly where to cut into the drywall to find the gas pipe.
    I sell stuff on ebay and craigslist for fun and profit, lots of stuff. My Sony Cyber-shot camera from 2001 is up to DSC06021.JPG which is a lot of use!

  5. Mr. Debtbeater

    As a family that’s always shared pictures with relatives, we’ve eliminated nearly all development and postage by using our digital camera the last couple years and using email.

    For grandmas that don’t like using computers for pictures, we can still use Walgreen’s or other 1-hour photo places where we can submit our digital pictures of choice and have them ready and waiting at their nearest store (in a different state) for pick-up for only a few cents per picture.

  6. Mr. Debtbeater has the right idea…our family has saved hundreds of dollars by going digital. Services like Shutterfly and Walmart photocenter has been a true boon.

    Far cheaper that traditional film development and cheaper than doing it at home on a photo printer(24bucks per cartridge, no thanks).

    My wife does wedding photography, and going digital has saved us ton in that realm also. And because of the savings she’s able to offer far more to her customers than a traditional wedding photographer. Even the ones that have gone digital, still keep their old prices, gouging couples. She undercuts, because she can and still make out like a bandit.

  7. EmilieD

    We use our camera to comparison shop for furniture and big ticket items for our deck. We hit four or five stores to look for what we need, shoot photos of the pieces and their price tags, and then bring the images home to mull it over in the space before we buy. Doing this, we often find that the less expensive option will work just as well as the pricier ones. For example, we decided to go with a pair of side tables at Pottery Barn that are $500 less than the Crate and Barrel ones we fell in love with at the store.

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  9. I did something similar recently – when I was having trouble reaching behind my new LCD Tv to take down the serial number… and I didnt want to bother with shifting it down from its spot alone…
    —- using a digi-cam worked wonders though I had to make several attempts before I got a shot where the image of the flash didn’t hide the details I needed…

  10. I’m a working pro photographer, so I can certainly agree that a digital camera can pay for itself. And everything else you own.

    One of my best ideas ever though, before I was doing only photography for a living, was to use my camera to take pictures of any kind of work schedules I had when I was working at a coffee shop (or, for that matter, calendars of events, etc.) This saved me the effort of writing down all my hours and days, but also quickly gave me info for who was working the same days, so if I needed off, I knew who I shouldn’t bother calling. Pretty simple, but worth the time saving.

    I think it bears mentioning though that you made a good move by getting something nice, but not outrageous. I know several people who recently bought multi-thousand dollar cameras because they liked photography, but found they they could have gotten everything they needed for $500 or less.

  11. I’m a part-time photographer and my camera has paid for itself and more because the nature of my job. I do similar things like taking pictures of where I have parked so I can remember when I get back from my trip and another good thing to take pictures of is maps when you go on a hiking trail. Usually at hiking trails they have a big board with a map at the start of the trail, I usually take a picture of it so that I know my way back in case I get lost, which happens a lot because I like macro photography and I tend to wonder off trails a lot.

  12. Niall Kane

    We recently woved into a new house, and my wife went shopping for tiling, curtains etc, and photgraphed the types she liked in the shop and saved me having to go to the shop to look at them and agree. Yeah 🙂

    Also in work, in the past i often had to account for my time at a particular location (eg for billing), i would take a photo just as i arrived, (i needed to take other photos for work too) and would take a photo as i left. the date and time stamps on the photo would prove i was there as long as i said i was, no arguements.

  13. c s kim

    If I’m in a big parking lot, I’ll take a picture of whatever is marking the area I’m in. This is especially good for Dodger games.

    Also, I document what my family does all year and make photobooks for affordable holiday/birthday gifts. This is also a time saver because I can do it all online and have it sent to my house.

    Also use it for shopping–for example, I just purchased a new TV. I took pictures of the price tags at several different stores and was able to compare the deals.

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  15. I handle rental property and I take photos of the entire property before the new tenant moves in. When we do the pre move-in walk through I give them a written checklist and all the photos on CD. When they move out I take photos of the condition of the property. If I have to deduct money from the cleaning deposit for a problem, I have the documented before and after pictures to justify it. Hard for them to argue with the photographic proof.

  16. Using your digital camera to record your parking spot at the airport is a great idea! 🙂


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