5 simple steps to boost your digital hygiene in 2017

January is a good time to stop making excuses and get your digital life in order. Here are five inexpensive, money-saving, aggravation-reducing ways to maintain tech, and protect yourself and the environment in the New Year.

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I'm not big on New Year's resolutions. Let's face it, no one keeps them.

Instead of resolutions, here are five simple ways to help you save money, avoid digital disasters, and get your personal technology into top-flight condition. None of the tips are complicated, and I've used them all during the past few years so I know they work.

Audit digital subscriptions

These days, many digital services have auto-renew subscriptions. It's wise to regularly check your credit card statements to see what you're billed for. You may find a charge for a streaming-video service, magazine or newspaper you forgot about but still pay for. You don't have to get all compulsive about it, but you might even put reminders on your calendar to cancel services before trial periods expire or keep a list of all of your paid subscriptions. If nothing else, the list will come in handy at tax time if you itemize deductions.

Buy (and use) a can of compressed air

This one sounds goofy, I know, but the vents on your laptop and the spaces between keys on your keyboard collect what technical experts call "schmutz." Clogged vents can cause overheating, and that can kill your laptop. Junk inside a keyboard can cause keys to jam. A 3.5 ounce can of compressed air costs $4.99 at Best Buy, and Amazon charges $7.34 for a 12-ounce option. Both are a lot cheaper than the new laptop you'd need if you fry your system's motherboard.

Find a password manager to love

Hacking is an epidemic today, but most folks simply aren't going to make and keep track of different passwords for every site. No one can track dozens of passwords without writing them down somewhere, and that, of course, defeats the purpose. But a good password manager can be a lifesaver.

I use LastPass, and its free version now let's you share your passwords across multiple devices. LastPass finally supports Microsoft's Edge browser, as well as Chrome and Firefox. The service generates complex passwords for each site you visit and stores them in what it calls your "vault." You only need to remember one master password. A couple more password mangers that get good reviews are LogMeOnce and 1Password.

Backup, backup and backup again

You've heard it over and over again, but many users are left without their data, music and photos when a drive fails or malware corrupts their systems. Backing up can be a pain, but so can locking your door and keeping your money in a bank. If your digital stuff is important to you, you need to back it up to the cloud or buy a roomy external drive — or both.

I use Google Drive, and it offers 15GB of free storage and 100GB for $1.99 a month, while Microsoft OneDrive gives you 5GB for free and 50GB for $1.99 a month. Upload speeds are generally slow, so the first time you backup to the cloud will likely take a while. Another option is to buy an external drive. A 2TB drive (or 2,000GB) now costs well under $100, and most of them come with software to automate the backup process.

Recycle old electronic junk

By now, most Americans recycle newspapers, bottles and cans, but many old electronic devices still wind up in a landfill. That's a real problem, because they contain heavy metals and other pollutants than can get into the water table. Instead, take them to an electronics recycler. Most cities have them. To find yours, simply Google "electronics recycling" in your community and you'll quite likely find more than one. If you ditch an old smartphone or over-the-hill PC, make sure you wipe the hard drives and get rid of any personal data.

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