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It’s easy to think that the best way to save money is shoving it under the mattress and not spending it. Sure, that works — to an extent. But, as the saying goes, sometimes, you have to spend money to save money. If you’re willing to front the cash, some purchases really can help you salt more cash away in the long run.
But be wise. A hybrid car will save on gas, but it’s a fairly large purchase and splurging on a hybrid may not be an expense you can afford. A full-coverage warranty will certainly protect you if an appliance stops working. But, if you fork out for warranties for everything you buy, you’ll overspend long before that oven actually breaks.
Here’s a guide to 30 purchases that really can help save money, if you let them. Happy savings!
1. Produce keeper
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If you’ve ever had to throw away once-tempting strawberries or beans that dried up in your fridge, you may need a reusable container known as a produce keeper. This gadget is different from regular storage containers. It’s usually designed to elevate produce, promote air circulation, and trap and absorb ethylene gas, all of which slows spoilage. Your fruits and veggies will be happier, and you’ll get your money’s worth on produce — a fresh idea for sure.
For more tips on food storage, read “Food Storage 101: How to Save Almost Anything.”
2. Smartphone protector
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Smartphones serve as cameras, web browsers, calculators, flashlights — oh, and phones, too. Drop one, and the day or so it takes to get it fixed may seem like an eternity. That’s why it’s worth protecting it with the thickest, strongest case you can afford. (I like the sturdy OtterBox Defender series, but make sure it’s not too thick for your pocket or purse.) No more phone repairs — so worth it.
3. Window insulation kit
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Try touching one of your windows on an icy December or January day. If it feels like an ice cube, check out an indoor window-insulation kit. Shrink-wrapping your windows may sound goofy at first. But, when applied correctly, this easy fix can lower your winter heating bills by making your home more energy-efficient. To apply, cut the kit’s film to fit your windows, position it with included mounting tape and use a blow-dryer to remove any wrinkles. Read the instructions carefully. Hot stuff!
4. Electricity usage monitor
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If you’ve ever dreaded an electricity bill, knowing that bad news was coming, this solution is for you. An electricity usage monitor, like the simple-to-use Kill-A-Watt monitor, pictured above, tells you exactly which appliances in your home are sucking away the most money. You plug it into the wall, then plug the appliance you’re concerned about into the monitor. (I used it to see if our outdoor holiday lights were going to hand us a Grinch-like surprise come January — and was pleased to learn they weren’t that pricey.) But try it out on a batch of your appliances: Maybe it’s time to toast your old toaster for something more economical.
5. Oven thermometer
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Many ovens simply don’t report their temperature accurately, resulting in wasted money over burned or undercooked food, not to mention the endless frustration. Solve that problem for as little as $6 with a simple oven thermometer. It sits on your oven rack or hangs from it, giving you a true reading on the heat. Now you’re cooking!
6. Coupon book of local deals
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Local coupon books go by different names: Seattle and several other cities, for example, offer Chinook Book, and the Entertainment book is nationally known for many regional editions. If you can’t find a local version, call your nearest Girl Scouts or high-school football family to ask if their organizations sell one. The coupons vary, but you’re likely to find deals on two-for-one meals, movie ticket bargains and specials on entrance fees for local attractions like aquariums and zoos. Lights, camera, savings!
7. Insulated lunch bag
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Brown paper bags are so passe. An insulated lunch bag help keep that lunch you packed at 6 a.m. perfectly fresh when you finally get to it at 1 p.m. Whether you’re stashing a perfectly balanced healthy meal or a Lean Cuisine and a bag of chips, an insulated lunch sack will encourage you to pack your own meals and skip the Burger King line.
8. Food vacuum sealer
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A food vacuum sealer may sound like something only restaurants and stores would have, but for less than $200, you can own on, too. The machine vacuum-seals plastic around the food you want to freeze or store, allowing you to cook it on your schedule. Cut your food waste, save money and have fun using it, too. You might find yourself starting to buy meats in bulk just so you can shrink-wrap them, all portioned out and ready to freeze.
9. Reusable water bottle
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This is a no-brainer: Don’t wash away money buying disposable bottles of water for every run or gym workout. The cost adds up and the endless flood of plastic bottles is terrible for Mother Earth. Get a reusable water bottle, and, yes, remember to use it. When buying, choose the details that matter most to you. Maybe spill-proof is what you need, or a bottle with a built-in filter. Or perhaps you just like a certain bottle’s good looks. Whichever you pick, drink up!
10. Shower timer
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Timing your shower sounds a little like summer camp or the military, but if you can wrap your head around the practice, you can cut water waste and pare down your hot-water bills. The average shower lasts eight minutes, EPA reports say. Do you spend at least three of those minutes daydreaming and wishing you didn’t have to hop out of the warm water and get to work? Cut your water use and bills down to size with a waterproof shower timer. These little marvels come in all shapes and sizes, affix to your shower wall and cost as little as $6. Now, you can come clean about your water bills.
11. Wool dryer balls
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Looking for a chemical-free, money-saving way to soften your clothes in the dryer? Replace fabric-softener sheets with wool dryer balls. You can reuse them for years, so there’s no need to buy softener sheets anymore. They’re fairly cheap — you can get six for under $20. If you’re a bit creative you can even make your own, with little more than a skein of yarn. (Now, that’s thinking on the sheep!)
Want to get more life from your clothing purchases? Check out “14 Ways to Make Clothes Last Longer.”
12. Multi-use cooker
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Who has room in their kitchen for a half-dozen small appliances? The much-raved-about Instant Pot and other electric multi-functional cookers can replace your slow cooker, pressure cooker, rice cooker, yogurt maker and more. A multi-use cooker allows you to make a wide variety of dishes at home, including bread and wine. Save money by cooking at home and buying tougher, cheaper cuts of meat that cook to fall-off-the-bone tender in these devices. Other popular brands include the COSORI Electric Pressure Cooker, Fagor-LUX Multi-Cooker, the Breville Fast Slow Pro Multi Function Cooker and Farberware’s 7-1 programmable pressure cooker.
13. Rechargeable batteries
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Single-use batteries are wasteful. And they can be pricey. If you are sick of replacing big packs of AAAs (that you swear you just bought yesterday), consider using rechargeable batteries. They may not be right for every item you own. Because their initial cost is higher than disposables, Consumer Reports recommends buying them mainly for high-use items, such as video-game controllers. Charge!
14. Warehouse club membership
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Pay a membership fee to buy groceries? It’s something Depression-era babies might never have grasped. But warehouse clubs such as Costco and Sam’s Club are here to stay. Be smart about using your membership, and you’ll recoup that yearly fee quickly. In addition to buying food and toiletries in bulk at discounted prices, these stores typically offer prescription deals, bargains on eyeglasses, travel packages, cheap gas and even discounted gift cards.
15. A food dehydrator
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Food dehydrators aren’t for everyone, but if you’re a huge fan of dried fruit or jerky, they’re a fun DIY money-saver. Other people who will benefit from a dehydrator? Frequent campers — dried foods are easy and tasty supplies to pack for a hike or camping trip. Avid gardeners — for when your apple trees are overwhelming your pie-making abilities. And if you subscribe to Community Supported Agriculture, this is the perfect way to eliminate guilt over food waste from big deliveries of fruits and vegetables.
16. Reusable Swiffer pads
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Swiffer mops and sweepers can be a wonderful way to keep on top of messy floors, whether kitchen tile splashed with melted chocolate or wood floors in need of a good dusting. After you’ve purchased the sweeper, however, it can be pricey to keep buying boxes of wet or dry replacement cloths to use with it. I’ve owned Swiffers for a decade and only recently learned about washable, reusable pads from Xanitize, made of fleece for dry jobs and fleece-and-microfiber for wet tasks.
17. Tire-pressure gauge
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Driving with properly inflated tires can improve your gas mileage by up to 3 percent, the EPA reports. That saves you gas and helps your tires last longer as well. Tire gauges come in both digital and analog. This is one purchase that won’t break the bank — you can even get one that lights up for less than $10.
18. Basic sewing kit
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Grandma knew how to do the mending, and you can, too, no matter your age, gender or sewing experience. A simple sewing kit enables you to reattach buttons, fix small rips and tears, add a patch and perform other small clothing repairs. Sew far, so good.
19. Soda Stream
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If you’ve switched from sugary sodas to sparkling water, good for you! You’re staying hydrated while avoiding heavy sugars or sweeteners. But the expense of constantly restocking the LaCroix section of your fridge can leave you feeling … all wet. A SodaStream home carbonation machine lets you make all the fizzy water you want, flavor it as you like it and be kind to the environment by eschewing disposable cans and bottles. These machines aren’t cheap — and you’ll need to keep buying carbonating gas cylinders to use it. But you can get started for around $100, and the long-term savings may be worth the investment.
20. Meal-kit deliveries
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Meal-kit delivery services like HelloFresh, BlueApron, Plated and Terra’s Kitchen send you boxes of ingredients and instructions so you can make meals for your family. The subscription fees seem pricey at first glance. But these services often can work out to about $7-$10 per serving. It’s tough to put a price on the relief of not having to plan healthy weekly meals, not to mention all that shopping. You can save a little more money by asking friends who already these services if they have any insider deals to share. HelloFresh, for one, distributes coupons for completely free weekly boxes for subscribers to share with hungry pals.
21. A small chest freezer
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Remember the warehouse-club membership (No. 14) and food vacuum sealer (No. 8) that we suggested above? You’ll save even more if you pair them with a small chest freezer (starting at about $150) for storing all the yummy bargains you purchased and sealed.
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A good bike can save you money on gasoline, car repairs and parking — not to mention the benefits of improved health, including weight loss and better heart health. Commuting by bike isn’t practical in every climate, but if you are able to bike to work, it can be wheely fun.
23. Heated mattress pad
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Electric blankets are nice, but strap a heated mattress pad on to your bed and you’ll find yourself counting the hours until you can sink into your soothingly warm nest. You’ll find heated mattress pads by Beautyrest, Sunbeam and others, starting at under $100. Look for dual controls, so if he likes it hot and she prefers a less oven-like temperature, no one has to get their own room.
24. Solar holiday lights
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Add a new holiday tradition this year: solar-powered holiday lights. They look like the familiar decoration but, instead of plugging into the wall, they attach to a small solar panel, soaking up the sun’s energy during the day and using it automatically to light up the night. Start dreaming of a solar-powered Christmas.
25. A better coffeemaker
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It’s a coffee cliché: Budget advisers harangue savers to skip the Starbucks.
If you drink a lot of coffee shop lattes, buying an espresso machine — a basic model Nespresso, for instance, or even the high-end (at nearly $500) Breville BES870XL Barista Express Espresso Machine — might eventually pay off. Just don’t forget to include the cost of coffee pods in your calculations for these single-serving coffee makers.
26. Library card
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Go ahead, get carded. With a library card, you can check out books and borrow movies, music, magazines and e-books. Some libraries even lend such goodies as artwork and cake pans. Check with your library’s website: Some let cardholders take online language lessons and other courses.
27. Drying rack or clothesline
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Grandma and Grandpa didn’t need a fancy clothes dryer. They strung their freshly washed clothes on a clothesline in the backyard, saving money and getting the added benefit of a sunshine-fresh scent. If a clothesline sounds like too much work, or if your area’s weather makes it impossible for part of the year, a simple indoor drying rack also will save you money, even if you don’t completely give up your dryer.
28. Low-flow shower heads
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Pair the shower timer (No. 10) above with a low-flow shower head, and splash your way to even more savings. A low-flow shower head can deliver about half of the water of your old shower head and you won’t notice the difference.
29. Amazon Prime
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You no doubt know that Amazon Prime gives members free two-day shipping on most items purchased at Amazon.
But did you know that members also get plenty of additional perks for their $119 yearly fee? You can stream shows and movies on Prime Video, music from Prime Music, store uploaded photos for free with Prime Photos and listen to free content from Audible Channels. And there’s more: Some recent benefits involve Whole Foods Market, the grocery chain Amazon purchased in 2017. Whole Foods offers some deals to Prime members only, marked in stores with yellow signs. In select locations you may be able to get free two-hour delivery and pick-up from Whole Foods.
30. Ceiling fan
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When it’s summertime, the living is easy. Except, air-conditioning bills can be tough to swallow.
Think about installing a ceiling fan. You’ll find them for under $100 (here’s one from Westinghouse for less than $70), and they use about as much energy as a simple light bulb while lowering your energy costs by 30 to 40 percent.
Fun fact: The fan doesn’t actually decrease a room’s temperature, but the circulating breeze makes you feel cooler.
What are your great ideas for spending to save? Comment below or post your thoughts at Money Talks News’ Facebook page.