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How to not pay for any services, the subtle art of penny scouting

Table of Contents

The paradigm of freedom and opensource

We've all been there, searching for the perfect service at the perfect time.

Maybe it was for our own amusement, maybe it was for a startup. Who cares! The important thing was to avoid paying for anything, that was it. So how did it go? Did it work out?

Didn't think so, and that's ok, because we come to a point where we realize that, most of the times, you get for what you pay, and as bullshitting as it may sound, we shouldn't be afraid to admit that free services are not always good services. So, how do we understand what, how and when to use freebies instead of paid solutions?

Di Caprio knows a lot about startups

As simple as it may seem, it surely isn't an easy task. I've seen free services that were surely better than paid ones but needed selfhosting, so that means that you would have had to take care of the platform on which you'd have hosted the service. That's a lot of stuff to think about.

So we said a lot of stuff already, but not a single useful thing? How so?

Let me repeat myself, better said than done. Finding good services that are free or with a good starting plan is not a task one should undertake with ease of mind. In fact, I'd advise you to ask around before committing to any free or paid services whatsoever, because it might happen that maybe whatever you're working on is tuned for a certain package you've chosen but comes a moment where that package does not suit you anymore and switching to another one can be a pain in the ass.

How to choose the best online services?

Now a days, pretty much any startup or SaaS offers their products or services for free or has a very generous free tier to an extent. Usually, especially for products that were born from open source projects, pricing is set only for enterprise solutions or helpdesk. You know, the contact sales for enterprise button that gets spammed in every pricing tier component.

So, how do we manage our money to make sure that our time investment in learning, startupping or whatever it is we're doing gets the best ROI (return on investment)?

It's simple. We just try stuff.

  • First, take a closer look at the problem and make sure you understand and identify the source of it

  • Second, ask your friends in the profession or other random professionals that you trust if they already encountered the problem, how they solved it and if they used any particular tooling

  • Third, whether you found it on your own or were told to, take a look at the solution and the pricing it might have

  • Fourth, think about your product and if it would be problematic to integrate new platforms or change services at any moment. This is very important, you don't want to build your databases on a proprietary db that you can't use anywhere else, right?

  • Fifth, you found your platform and are ready to create an account and use the free service or free tier of it. Think again. Take another 10 minutes to look for an alternative.

Now, the important step here is for you to be able to tell whether you're choosing a product based on just talks or if you can measure the product availability, reliability and technical strengths.

To make an example, you might be tempted to choose NextJS to build your blog and host it on Vercel (this blog is built like so), but maybe you have a starting blog that doesn't want to worry too much about technical aspects and you want to be free to change your graphics without calling for a software engineer for any little detail. Well, NextJS is surely fast and beautiful to use but definitely not the best for the case. I'd advise Webflow or Wordpress, instead.

Here are a few free services, or with a generous free tier, that I use almost everyday, be it at my job or for the 404 community:

The goodbye

I hope you found this article useful and to your liking and if you have any requests, drop a message on one of my social media accounts or open an issue/start a discussion on github, on this repository!

As always you can find me on Twitter, listen to my Podcast on Spotify and add me on LinkedIn to talk professionally (yeah, right)