I admit it: I’m a gadget addict. I like little devices that do neat things. At the same time, I also like to save money. What is a poor modern man to do with these two conflicting interests?
Simple. I buy gadgets that can pay for themselves (and even see a bit of return) over the long haul. This usually means I look for energy-efficient gadgets, but it also means that I try to evaluate things in terms of whether or not they can potentially return money to me. What’s nice is that many of these gadgets that save me money in the long run make a great deal of environmental sense as well.
Here’s a list of twenty five neat items I’ve found that can save a lot of money, along with their cost and the amount of time that it will take before their extra cost is paid for by their utility. Since they’re gizmos, they make for great gift ideas, you can use the argument that “this will save money” when suggesting the purchase of one of these items to your significant other. In fact, I actually started this list as justification to my wife for a few items I wanted to buy for myself.
1. Filtered Water Bottle
Sample Model: Katadyn Exstream Personal Water Bottle Purifier
Price: $39.95 + $32.95 cartridge refills
Time Until Break Even: 180 days of daily use
If you drink a bottle of water each day (as you should), but you buy bottled water instead of drinking tap water, you can pay for this nifty device in half a year. You can fill it from any tap and the internal filtering device will clean the water for you, eliminating viruses and bacteria. Thus, each day you use this bottle, you pay off a little more.
2. Battery Charger
Sample Model: Rayovac Universal Battery Charger
Time Until Break Even: How many kids do you have?
My son has a bevy of toys that just gobble batteries. It seems like every day I’m dropping more and more batteries into these devices. Thankfully, a battery recharger can trim the costs down really quick. Just take your Rayovac AAs, toss them in this, plug it in, and they’re good to go again. It’s absolutely perfect for parents that have children with lots of battery-powered toys.
3. “Smart” Power Strips
Sample Model: SmartStrip LCG4
Time Until Break Even: 60 days
If you use a desktop computer at home, it won’t take long until this device is a money saver for you. Simply plug in your main unit into the control outlet and all of your other peripherals (monitor, printer, speakers, etc.) into the other outlets. Whenever you power on your computer, the other devices power on; whenever you power off your computer, the others power off. Even better, it actually functions as a switch, so when your main unit powers off, there is no phantom “standby” electricity being drawn to the other peripherals. Not only will you save money on the powered-down peripherals, but you’ll save money from the lack of phantom charge.
Sample Model: Oster Classic Beehive Blender
Time Until Break Even: 6-12 months
A quality blender (like the one above) can save tons of money if you use it regularly. You can switch to grinding your own herbs, spices, coffee beans, and so on. A regular kitchen user can make back the price on herbs alone if they buy fresh herbs and grind them in the blender for long-term storage. Plus it’s invaluable for making drinks at home when you have guests, which ends up being much cheaper than a night out on the town. Get a good one, though, so it will chop and cut what you want.
5. Electricity Usage Monitor
Sample Model: Kill-a-Watt Electricity Usage Monitor
Time Until Break Even: 3 years
With this device, you can see how much of a phantom load your powered-down electrical devices are still pulling through the wall outlet. If you discover devices that are pulling a significant load, unplugging them (or using an appropriate device to stop the drain) will save you money over time. This device is also useful for figuring out how much power various home devices are draining and, with some quick calculations, exactly how much it’s costing you.
6. Flash Drive
Sample Model: Kingston Data Traveler 1 GB
Time Until Break Even: 1 month
I find countless uses for my flash drive, the best of which is for an emergency backup of key files. A flash drive has saved my cookie during hardware crashes and it has also saved a lot of money in terms of burning CDs for software installation packages off the network. In short, it’s invaluable.
7. High End Solar Calculator
Sample Model: Texas Instruments TI36X
Time Until Break Even: 2 years
I like to keep one of these in my pocket for doing calculations at the grocery store. Which package is the better deal per unit? It’s always a good idea to figure this out before blindly making a purchase at the store. Plus, with a solar calculator, you don’t ever have to worry about batteries or anything else – just keep using it.
8. Efficient Power Supply
Sample Model: Antek EA 380
Time Until Break Even: 1 year
A high-efficiency power supply not only protects you from electrical faults, it also ensures that your devices drain electricity at the minimum rate, which means your power bills go down. If your home has any sort of questionable power distribution, this device is essential for protecting your electronic equipment, but even if you have normal power, you can save money with this gadget because of the power drain that it reduces.
9. Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs
Sample Model: GE Soft White Spiral T4
Time Until Break Even: 4 months
CFLs can easily save $100 a year, they look a lot cooler than ordinary bulbs. The simple fact of the matter is that by merely replacing a regular bulb with a CFL, you’ll save about a dollar per bulb every two months or so.
10. Efficient Shower Heads
Sample Model: Niagra Conservation Earth Massage Showerhead
Time Until Break Even: 10 months
High efficiency showerheads save money by reducing the amount of water that needs to flow through your hot water heater. An average American household can save as much as 15,000 gallons of water per year by installing high-efficiency shower heads. Even better: that’s 15,000 gallons of hot water that your heater doesn’t have to heat, cutting down on your energy costs as well.
11. Fuel-Efficient Scooter
Sample Model: 2006 Vespa PX 150
Time Until Break Even: 4 years
A high-efficiency scooter is perfect for people who have a relatively short work commute that’s just a bit too far to walk every day. Leave that car in the garage and travel on a scooter. Plus, you can scoot around town and quickly run errands on this thing. Of course, a bicycle is even less expensive, but scooters are much faster and won’t leave you sweaty when you arrive.
12. Solar Outdoor Lighting
Sample Model: Silicon Solar Innovision LED
Time Until Break Even: 180 evenings
This is a great choice if you want to light your yard and patio in the evening but don’t want to spend on electricity all the time. Solar powered outdoor lighting will provide adequate lighting for much of the night after recharging themselves during the day. Their design incorporates solar panels, a nice geek factor, and they can provide wonderful low light in the evening, perfect for a nice ambience.
13. Dance Dance Revolution
Sample Model: DDR Extreme 2 ( peripherals)
Time Until Break Even: 8 months ($25/month gym fees)
If you use the gym for a cardio workout, cancel your gym membership and get a home video game system, DDR, and a good quality dance pad. The game itself provides all the motivation you need, you have to be in pretty good shape in order to play the game for extended periods. I lost about 20 pounds playing DDR instead of going to the gym once upon a time.
14. Self-Cleaning Electric Shaver
Sample Model: Braun 8995 360 Complete
Time Until Break Even: 8 months of daily shaving
A top-quality self-cleaning rechargeable electric shaver saves significant money for each shaving over disposable razors and shaving cream. Although there are still upkeep costs (recharging, a rare replacement of the blades, and facial wash), the costs are much less than what you’ll incur with shaving cream and blades. Plus, you get the unbridled joy of owning a new gadget.
15. Espresso / Cappuccino Machine
Sample Model: Gaggia Carezza
Time Until Break Even: 80 visits to a coffee shop
Do you stop by Starbucks each day to pick up a fresh cup on your way to work? If you invest in a decent cappuccino / espresso maker, those visits can go right out the door; you can make it at home and it tastes at least as good as the stuff at the shops, especially chain ones like Starbucks where they have the “process” down to an art form. Plus, once you get used to using it, you can experiment a lot with different beans and grindings and make some truly sublime homemade coffees.
16. Programmable Thermostat
Sample Model: Honeywell 5/2 Programmable Thermostat
Time Until Break Even: 6 months
If you have central air conditioning, you need programmable thermostats. They provide very precise temperature control and can be programmed to automatically lower your air conditioning and/or heat use while you’re not home. Just program it and forget about it; it will automatically adjust things for you so that you aren’t wasting electricity and money.
17. Coin Sorter
Sample Model: FastSort Electric Coin Sorter
Time Until Break Even: 2 years
Most banks will no longer count change for you, but they will accept pre-rolled coins as deposits. CoinStar, on the other hand, will cash out change for you, but they have a 10% surcharge. Why not just sort and roll them yourself? Keep this device on the dresser, dump in your pocket change each night, change the rolls in and out (the device comes with a bunch of coin rolls), and when you go to the bank, take in a bunch of coin rolls and deposit them. Over time, the device pays for itself over the amount you would lose using CoinStar.
18. Efficient Space Heater
Sample Model: Honeywell HZ-315
Time Until Break Even: One cold winter
Small, efficient space heaters can save a lot of money because they allow you to not have to spend lots of extra energy keeping some rooms heated (such as the bathroom). Instead, just put in a space heater and turn it on when you take a shower. It’s substantially cheaper than keeping that spare room heated. Plus, you can use them when working in the basement or other rooms that you don’t bother to heat, or in the bedroom at night if you lower the house heat during the nighttime hours.
19. Solar Christmas Lights
Sample Model: Silicon Solar LED Christmas Lights
Time Until Break Even: 2 Christmas seasons
Instead of buying strands of electric lights for outdoor Christmas decoration, get a set of solar LED Christmas lights. They eat no electricity as they charge up during the day, come on automatically in the evening, and stay on most of the night. You can just set them up and let them be with no maintenance cost or effort at all. The start-up cost is a bit high, but the cool factor of LED solar Christmas lights, the energy savings, quickly makes up for it.
20. Remote Control Power Strips
Sample Model: Lacrosse RS-204
Time Until Break Even: 2 years (depending on use)
Quite often, we find ourselves plugging lots of lights and decorations in during the Christmas holidays, and it becomes a hassle to power them all off and on, so we often leave things on more often than we’d like, sometimes even overnight. To solve this problem, install a remote control power strip. This device can be turned on and off by remote control, meaning that you can have all of the cords out of the way and flip the Christmas tree lights on and off with just a button click.
21. High Efficiency Washing Machine
Sample Model: Whirlpool Duet Front-Loading High-Efficiency Washer GHW9150P
Time Until Break Even: 3 years
If you buy a large-load high efficiency front loading washing machine, you’ll do many fewer laundry loads per month and each load will take less water than before. A machine like this can easily save $10 over a regular machine in water usage in a family home per month; even better, a large load machine will save a lot of time. Given the cost of a normal low-end washer, it should only take three years or so for this machine to pay for itself.
22. A Laptop
Sample Model: Dell Inspiron E1505
Time Until Break Even: 1 year
Now that laptops have reached a usability and reliability standard that approximates desktops, it becomes a serious choice whether or not to replace a desktop with a laptop. If you make the leap, you’ll find that the energy savings are tremendous. I often run it from battery at home and charge it using available outlets in other places, such as the local bookstore, meaning I have very little home energy use from the laptop. It won’t take long for this savings to make up for the differences in cost, you’ll have all of the laptop portability advantages.
Sample Model: TiVo Series 2 80 Hour Dual Tuner
Price: $49.99 + $9.95 a month
Time Until Break Even: 6 months
If you have cable and a TiVo, your needs for DVD purchases and rentals will almost disappear simply because of the plethora of programming you’ll be able to watch commercial-free. This will begin to save you money before long, it will give you a much greater control over what you watch on television – I skip a lot of programs simply because of the commercials and the inability to pause them to chase my child.
24. A Hybrid Car
Sample Model: Toyota Prius
Time Until Break Even: 5 years
If you compare a hybrid side-by-side with a non-hybrid, the hybrid costs more up front. The savings, though, kicks in over the life of the car with much lower fuel costs. Plus, it has a great “geek factor” and it’s a solid environmental decision.
25. A Residential Windmill
Sample Model: Skystream 3.7
Price: $8,500 (including installation)
Time Until Break Even: 8 years
If you want to be “king geek” in your area, few things will top this. $8,500 will get you a windmill on top of your house, which can, by itself, take care of almost all of your home electrical needs. It looks like a high-tech antenna up there, quietly whirring away, using the wind to provide your juice. For an average household, the device will pay for itself in eight years; after that, it’s all gravy. Plus, you’re helping the environment by almost eliminating your load on the power grid.
Sometimes, you can buy gadgets to save money.