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Thanks for Asking—You’re 1 in a 1000!

Years ago I had an editor who told me that I should value highly every letter I receive because each one represents 1,000 readers with the same question or comment. Honestly, I was skeptical because there was no way to prove such a thing. But I never forgot what she said.

This many years later, I’m a believer! How do I measure? By the number of thanks I get after the fact, when I do respond to those readers who take the time to write. It’s like, “Oh, that’s exactly what I needed to know!” or “I was just going to write and ask the same thing.”

A regular, albeit random, feature of this column—EC’s Best Inexpensive—has begun to bring a lot of mail in the form of reader requests for their particular item of interest.

And so for Jeannine, Francine and Brenda—and the 999 others who haven’t asked yet—here are the EC picks for Best Inexpensive hairdryer, electric mixers and clothes steamers.

HAIR DRYER: Conair 1875 Watt with Cord Keeper. This hairdryer has it all and by “all” I mean the things on my particular must-have list: three levels of heat, two speeds, cool shot button, diffuser attachment and retractable cord (awesome). This is a powerful dryer that comes in a choice of two cool colors. About $35. 

Best Inexpensive Computer Printers

With so many technologies and capabilities available, choosing a printer isn’t easy. And don’t assume you’ll find the perfect printer anytime soon. No matter the cost, printers get paper jams. They run out of ink/toner. Network connectivity can be challenging. That’s just the nature of printers. I don’t know why, but it’s important to understand and accept.

Now that I’ve lowered your over all expectations, let me give you the good news: There are some great affordable printers out there, depending of course on exactly what you need a printer to do. Here are my top three picks for your consideration:

Best Inexpensive Black and White Laser Printer. The Brother HL-L2380DW is a great choice for people who need to print, scan, or copy term papers, tax forms, concert tickets and other black and white documents from home, home office or dorm room. This printer handles automatic two-sided printing; it’s pretty speedy too, at 32 pages per minute, with a cost-per-page of about 2.3 cents which includes wear and tear on the drum.

This Brother model is quite easy to set up and will be a reliable addition to your home’s computer network. Expect this printer to work well with any current laptop, desktop, smartphone or tablet including Chromebooks.

The paper tray holds 250 sheets of paper and the printer itself has a draft or “save more” setting that allows you to conserve toner when the document you print does not require professional quality. But when that is needed, this printer outputs sharp, professional black and white pages at up to 2400 x 600 dpi resolution. About $129.

Best Instant Pot Tips, Recipes and Accessories

Last week I turned to use my microwave oven only to have it glare at me with a fatal error message in its little display screen. What?!

I googled “Whirlpool” plus the error code and learned that the cost to replace the electronics that had blown out would be far greater than replacing the whole thing. Great. But not this week. Surely, I could get along without a microwave until some more convenient time to replace it, right? Wrong!

Every time I turned around it seemed I was reaching for that microwave. Within a couple of hours I realized that a microwave oven has become a staple item that is quite necessary in my typical American kitchen. But it wasn’t always that way.

I remember in 1971 when roughly 1% of households in America had a microwave oven. Most everyone liked the idea but it was also terrifying. The fear was radiation and the danger of standing within five feet of the thing and getting nuked. In 2017 a microwave oven is a minimum requirement.

Here’s my take: Instant Pot is the future’s “microwave.” While the Instant Pot company can barely keep up with the demand having sold more than 50,000,000 units so far, many people are still fearful that a pressure cooker is going to blow a hole in the roof, set the house on fire or any other number of irrational fears. Sure, pressure cookers are nothing new, but Instant Pot has taken this fabulous way of cooking to new levels of technology and safety.

Soon, I predict, Instant Pot will become an ordinary basic  kitchen appliance. New homes will come with Instant Pot built into the countertop. Top-of-the line cooktops will come complete with Instant Pot. And we’ll laugh about the days when people were afraid.

Instant Pot comes with an owner manual and recipe book. Both should be considered required reading but honestly, I found them to be unbearably boring while only marginally useful. What follows are the websites, tips, tricks and accessories that put me onto the fast track to falling in love with my Instant Pot IP-DUO60 7-in-1 Multi-Functional Pressure Cooker, 6Qt/1000W. I was cooking dinner the very first day, that’s how doable it is to master Instant Pot.

QUICK START

Perform the Instant Pot Water Test. Do not skip this.

Best Inexpensive Cordless Handheld Vacuum

To say that I have had a love/hate relationship with handheld vacuums for many years would be to put it mildly. I love the idea of a handheld cordless vacuum that is charged up and always ready to make a quick pick-up—in fact, that’s pretty much on my list of life’s necessities.

But I hate when the thing runs for only a few minutes before it needs to be recharged and has such weak suction it really doesn’t do a very good job of picking anything up. It’s enough to make me want to pull my hair out!

I’m sure it’s been 30 years or longer since I got my first handheld Dustbuster. It would hold a charge for maybe two minutes if all the stars were properly aligned and I held it in just the right position. And the thing completely failed after only a short time—refusing to hold any charge at all.

Best Headphones for Every Budget and Kids, Too

Several readers have asked recently about the best inexpensive headphones and earbuds both for themselves and their kiddos—and today seems like a great day to respond.

Generally these are the best values, price points and styles of headphones for adults and kids, too:

Best inexpensive wired headphones. Panasonic ErgoFit In-Ear Earbuds are smartphone compatible with integrated microphone and remote for Apple (iPhone* / iPod / iPad), Android and Blackberry Audio devices. Tonally balanced audio with crisp highs and deep low notes. Wider frequency response for musicians and fuller listening enjoyment . Lively sound quality for recorded audio. Comes with small, medium and large earpads to ensure a perfect fit for adults and children. Your choice of several beautiful colors. About $13.

Best mid-level wired headphones. 1MORE Triple Driver In-Ear Headphones have two balanced armatures and a separate dynamic driver to deliver an extremely accurate music-listening experience with unsurpassed dynamic power and clarity from deep bass to sizzling highs. The built in microphone and remote are Apple and Android compatible. About $99.

Best value for high quality wired, noise cancelling headphones. Bose QuietComfort 20 is the Cadillac of smartphone replacement earbuds. These are only for those with discriminating hearing and music appreciation to go along with it. Available in two models: one for Apple devices* and one for Samsung/Android devices. Features noise cancelling that reduces surrounding distractions, letting music stand out. Many other high-end features. About $250. 

Best Inexpensive Small Kitchen Appliances

Recently, I heard from EC reader Douglas who wrote, Would you please repeat your column that describes the best inexpensive small kitchen appliances? I want to replace my mixer and small food chopper. Thanks. Your column is great. I look forward to it every day.

After a few moments of non-productive searching, my confused self realized that while I’ve included a small kitchen appliance in a “best inexpensive” column from time to time, the column Douglas was looking for didn’t exist. Now it does. Thanks Douglas for that kick I needed and your nice comments, too.

1. FOOD PROCESSOR. The Hamilton Beach 8-Cup Food Processor is simple to use offering 2 speeds, a powerful 450-watt motor and large feed tube. Just the perfect size, too. About $22.

2. HAND MIXER. When selecting an electric mixer, consider carefully your specific need. If you use a mixer only occasionally for small jobs, my pick for best inexpensive is the KitchenAid KHM512ER 5-Speed Ultra Power Hand Mixer. About $38.

My Shopping Addiction Rehab Program

Shopping is my thing. I love the thrill of the hunt, that feeling of discovery and the joy of a bargain. I find it satisfying in ways I can’t fully describe. I want to experience the feeling as often as possible. Shopper’s high is no joke. It’s real, it’s palpable and it’s addictive.

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Shopping got me into a lot of trouble. In just 12 years I ran up more than $100,000 in consumer debt—most of it on credit cards. Eventually all of it came crashing down and nearly took me with it. Thankfully, that crisis became the catalyst to turn my life around.

It took 13 years to repay all of the debt. I learned a lot about myself in the process but mostly that the satisfaction I got from shopping was short lived. It was fake because it vanished in less time than it took me to get the stuff to the car. But that just set me up to do it again and again because the small bursts of  joy I got from shopping were worth the pain that always followed. Crazy I know, but absolutely true.

I could so easily go back to my old ways, and that’s scary. So, what keeps me on the straight and narrow? It’s you! You’re my shopping addiction rehab program. Paying off that monstrous debt and these past 25 years of writing, researching and communicating with you on a daily basis have become the best maintenance program I could hope for. And the best part? I get to use my shopping skills nearly every day, now in a constructive way.

A few days ago I got an email from Jeannine who asked simply, “What is the best inexpensive Bluetooth speaker?” Just like that, I flew into shopping mode—that thing I love to do because it brings me uncanny satisfaction. But here’s the deal: I’m not shopping for myself. I’m not spending my money or creating a bit of debt. I’m researching for Jeannine and that frees me from all of the personal negative stuff. I get to experience the joys of shopping that I love so much without any of the remorse or regret, guilt or shame. That’s authentic, lasting satisfaction. I love my job.

Stuff Grandparents Need

As people age, certain activities of normal day-to-day life can become challenging, not that I know anything about this from personal experience or anything. I’ve only heard, got it?

 family, holidays, generation, christmas and people concept - smiling grandparents and grandchildren with gift box sitting on couch at home

Take ordinary floor cleaning for example, known to many as “mopping.” Or how about your basic can opening. Both can become challenging for grandparents and other seniors, so I’ve been told.

I’m pretty excited to let you know about some solutions to these and other similar dilemmas and when I say solutions, I’m also referring to gift ideas. Do not assume that your grandparents would be anything but overjoyed  with any of the following.

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