Whenever you buy a new cellphone, computer, tablet or something similar there is a hidden cost that you need to consider: accessories. If you want to fully accessorize something like an iPad or the Galaxy Tab, you might end up spending more for the accessories than for the device itself. Case, screen protector, stylus, dock, video cables and so on, it all adds up quick- especially if you buy the first you find. The profit margin for the tablets themselves are often low, especially for brick and mortar stores, so they try to make up for it by overcharging for accessories. Read on to see ho you can save quite a few bucks by getting accessories on the cheap.

Do it yourself

You’d be surprised what you can make yourself for very little money if you just use your imagination. Find the cheapest “little bit of everything” store you can and go through the shelves looking at items thinking what they can be used for, not what they are designed to be used for. The tripod stand I made a week ago has turned into my most useful and cheapest accessory for the iPad, and it works perfectly. There are dozens of ways to turn simple items into accessories, here are a few tips:

  • Want a book style tablet case? Use a book! There are lots of hard cover notebooks available in office supply stores and similar places that give you the entire outside part of a book style case for a couple of bucks. Take out the paper, add a few cheap L-shaped wooden profiles like this guy did and you have yourself a Dodo style case. Depending on how much extra you add (such as a faux leather cover or microfiber lining) and where you shop you can probably get off with $5 on such a case. Best of all, you can make it fit YOUR tablet so you don’t have to have one of the most popular devices to find a case that fits
  • Want an envelope style tablet case? Use an envelope! While paper envelopes will disintegrate quickly, an envelope shape is very simple to duplicate by using something like an old sweater and turn it into a nice padded envelope case using a sowing machine. Alternatively you can get a plastic folder for a buck or so at any book store and line it with something soft. There are also many document cases out there that will fit a tablet.
  • Want a stand? Get a business card holder! Seriously, they work great for holding a tablet. If you know how to work with wood, you can also create something that will do the job from a piece of wood quite easily. If you need a stand that holds the tablet at a better angle for typing, you can basically use any object that will prop it up the the right angle- a bean bag for juggling is one example.
  • Want a dock? You already have most of it. Seriously, if you want a dock for syncing and charging you already have the charger and cable part- all you need is a stand. You can either just use a stand and the cable individually, or somehow attach the cable to a stand. Many people have made stands/docks that make the iPad look like a monitor, either with wood or metal. Personally I’ve made several different docks over the years, ranging from a Viliv S5 keyboard dock to simpler wooden stands/docks. If you don’t specifically want audio/video output on the dock, you can get a long way with just what’s included in the box and some scrap you find around the house.

All hail China

Chinese manufacturers will rip off anything. And everything. I an pretty sure I could find a clone of my dog if I just looked at the right sites. As annoying as that can be, it can be a good thing when it comes to accessories. Let’s face it, a fake leather case shouldn’t cost $50. A dock shouldn’t cost $30, and the same goes for a USB cable and those awful Apple earbuds. And in China, they don’t cost that. The most famous site that sells such products is DealExtreme, but there are a lot of others, e.g Focalprice. They all tend to offer free shipping which they can do because they ship from Hong Kong where postage is cheap. Shipping times are often very long though, a week if you’re lucky and 3 if you’re not. It’s cheap though.

As with original accessories the availability depends on how popular the device is, which means mostly Apple devices but occasionally something else as well. DealExtreme recently got a few accessories for the Galaxy Tab including silicone skins, fake leather cases, screen protectors and USB cables. They also have similar items for the Kindle, and there are also a lot of universal accessories like Bluetooth keyboards, various standard USB cables etc. They even sell tablets, if you can call them that, but I would stay far way from those and save up from a brand name tablet instead. With prices around $2 for screen protectors, $7 for cases etc it’s hard to beat and you often get good stuff, but you might end up with cases that don’t fit 100% (especially cutouts etc). Normally it’s decent though, especially for the price (and with free shipping). You should order a month in advance though it you plan on buying a tablet…

MSRP? What MSRP?

Last but not least, don’t pay MSRP unless you really want something. If you pay attention and browser around, you find accessories much cheaper than the MSRP. ThinkGeek is selling the Speck Candyshell for$20 right now, to name one example I stumbled upon lately. Unless you’re looking for original accessories, it’s likely you can find a product cheaper if you look around. Some offers are really good, giving you brand name accessories for so low that DIY solutions and Chinese ripoffs aren’t worth it- that’s the kind of deal I would recommend, at least for some things.