There is a lot of misconception out there, that you have to pay a lot to buy and run a computer/laptop.
Firstly, purchase a computer for the job you require it to do, not what it is able to do. If you are just checking emails, surfing the internet, writing the odd letter, you don't need a high specification machine, a basic machine is more than capable of dealing with any of the above tasks, speedily and efficiently. This fact alone could save you hundreds of pounds. If you require more oomph, think about it is to be used for and buy as good a specification as you can afford.
Don't necessarily go to the big out of town shops to purchase your machine, either. If you can get a bargain there fine. Use them to get an idea of what you are looking for, the specifications that are available. Then come home and compare them to other sites online, find a machines specifications enter them into the search engine, you might be surprised at how much cheaper you can find it or similar on the internet.
Good sites, in my opinion, are Ebuyer.com and Argos Ebay outlet - the two, that I regularly look at. Also don't be afraid to look at the reconditioned equipment on the big websites, You will possibly find the model you are looking for, greatly reduced because of "cosmetic damage", a repair that has been rectified, even the box has been opened after an internet sale and has been returned. You still get a full warranty etc. so your rights are unaffected.
If possible pay for your big goods on the internet by credit card as this gives some more protection. Certain companies e.g. Tesco, Argos also have outlets on Ebay which are selling off older stock, again with full warranties etc., again at some really good prices.
Another option is to buy(or build one) a machine with no operating system and add one yourself. This option could save you hundreds of pounds, as there are free operating systems which if you are up to a little bit of a challenge will work just as well as "Windows".
When it comes to software, don't let the seller (if you decide to go to the big stores) make you believe that you have to buy the software they are recommending as the chances are there are cheaper or free alternatives which will be just as good if not better than the Big Names. An example here is antivirus software. While the big names are good at what they do, there other options. There is one antivirus program called Vipre which lasts the lifetime of the computer, you pay once and don't have to keep renewing it yearly. This would be ideal on a brand new machine, as the likely hood is the machine should last you a number of years. A single investment ( have found it for as little as £16) makes this a good buy. There are also some good free programs like AVG free, Panda Cloud antivirus, Avast , Comodo and Microsoft Security Essentials are the ones I would be more inclined to recommend. (My own view is that no antivirus software is infallible, while it is supposedly better to have paid software as they have more tools etc., they can possibly let nasties through too). I fixed lots of computers which have had the the expensive software programs and still have become infected. Common sense should be employed when surfing the internet and opening emails, don't click on links that you are not sure about and don't open emails that you think are strange.
Another area here is "office software". There are alternatives to Microsoft Office. Openoffice, LibreOffice, Lotus Symphony are just a few of the programmes, which are all free, and do the same jobs (i.e. letters, spreadsheets, presentations etc.) and compatible with Microsoft Office.
90% of jobs that you want to do on your computer can be done using free, safe software that is available if you are prepared to put a little bit of effort in. The results are also usually better than having used software you pay for. This goes for jobs like photo editing, video editing and so much more.
There are also many tools which people don't realise are available to them. If you have a hotmail email address, you have access to Microsoft Office online, on Skydrive, which is a free online version of the £90 software you buy in the shops. You can write your letters, presentations etc. online and store them there too. Your hotmail address also gives you access to 25 gigabytes (gb) (a lot) of space to store your pictures etc. as a backup. If you have a gmail(google email) address you can access Google Docs etc.
One website Adrive.com allows you 50gb (lots more) space, for free, on the internet which allows you to back up pictures, music, documents and so on. Some older computers did not even have hard drives this big.
Another useful tool which allows you to synchronise files across different devices e.g. Computer, mobile phone(e.g. iphone,or android phone), tablet (ipad or android tablet), is Dropbox. When you save a file to this program it synchronises with all the devices it is setup on and the information is put onto these devices as soon as they connect to the internet.
There are many more tools like this which can make your life easier and don't cost anything, so please don't be fooled into thinking that you have to spend a fortune.
If you require more information, please feel free to contact me. I want to help.