A calculator

11 Money Savers That Will Pay for Themselves Over and Again

I have to admit to being a bit of a gadget freak. I’m drawn to tools and devices that do cool things. And when I discover “cool” includes being a money saver, for me that turns a purchase into an investment with a guaranteed rate of return.

A calculator

Here are eleven gadgets, tools, and items I’ve found that can save a lot of money and generally recoup the cost in less than a year. Your mileage may vary.

You can count on this: Once you’ve recouped the purchase price, these items will continue to save you money—for free!

Programmable smart thermostat



A thermostat

If you have a central heat and air conditioning system, you need a programmable thermostat. Your thermostat controls half your energy bill—more than appliances, more than electronics. So it should help you save energy. There are less expensive options available, but a high-quality programmable thermostat that works with Alexa, like the Nest Programmable Thermostat will result in very precise temperature control.

You can program it (easy) to automatically lower your air conditioning and/or heat use while you’re not home. Or just turn down the heat on your way to bed. Nest takes note, learns your habits and patterns and starts building your schedule. Cozy in the afternoon, cool at night. Check. Nest will automatically adjust things for you so that you aren’t wasting expensive electricity—without any noticeable changes for you and your family.

With just a few manual adjustments, the Nest Thermostat can learn your habits and immediately start saving you money by automatically adjusting the temperature. Nest works with Alexa, which means you have voice control capability as well as the ability to control Nest from your smartphone. Used to its fullest, Nest can easily return its cost to you in the first year—making the annual savings free from then on. Check it out.

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Space Heater



Thermostat and Bionaire

The most efficient and easiest way to reduce your home heating cost is to maintain a comfort level in rooms that are occupied while keeping your furnace set very low to say 55 or 60 F. For a living situation where many of the home’s rooms are unoccupied especially at night, a great way to keep heating costs down is to use a space heater to make an occupied room comfortable.

The Bionaire Silent Micathermic Console Heater is an excellent space heater for so many reasons. First, Bionaire is completely silent. Remarkably so! I find it annoying and disruptive to hear a heater fan cycle on and off, so this one feature may be the biggest reason I love this Bionaire.

This Bionaire is micathermic, which means the heating element is covered in thin sheets of mica. The manual states that it produces both convection heat and radiant heat. It’s on wheels and quite lightweight, which makes it easily portable. And it’s designed to not tip over. It doesn’t get dangerously hot to the touch, making it safe around pets or children. Check it out.

Bar mops

Towel tower

bar mop is a white terrycloth squarish-sized towel about 16″ x 19″—the perfect size to dry a dish, wipe down a counter, or clean up a spill. A bar mop also makes a great oversized cloth napkin. In my kitchen, bar mops mostly replace paper towels, paper napkins, and traditional kitchen towels, too.

I have six dozen bar mops and rotate them frequently. Actually, I use them with abandon—in the same way I used to use up paper towels—tossing the bar mops into a second handy kitchen trash can that I use as a hamper. When it’s full into the laundry they go.

Bar mops are durable. I’ve had the same collection for many years. I use a small amount of detergent plus 1/8 cup liquid chlorine bleach to the wash cycle; 1/2 cup white vinegar to the final rinse of every load of bar mops and wool dryer balls in the dryer. Throutie keeps them sparkling white, stain-free, soft and absorbent.

My conservative calculations are that a family of four uses about $104 in paper towels alone, per year. Add in the cost of paper napkins and it’s easy to see that an investment in bar mops will pay for itself in less than a year even taking into consideration the cost of laundering.

Rechargeable battery system


A close up of a device



Both my home and office have a bevy of items that devour battery power. I’m going to guess you might have the same thing going on where you live.

A good battery recharging system can cut the cost quickly. Panasonic’s Eneloop is a reliable system and offers seemingly endless hours of battery recharging (up to 2,100 times to be exact). Just lock the batteries into the recharger, plug it in and you’re good to go. Again.

Eneloop is perfect for parents that have children with lots of battery-powered toys. This starter pack comes complete with the Power Pack, 8AA, 2AAA, 2 C Adapters, 2 D Adapters, an advanced individual battery charger, and a plastic storage case. At this price you’ll recoup the upfront investment in not time. Check it out.

Electricity usage monitor

Watt and Electricity

This terrific little gadget, Kill-a-Watt will give you an instant read-out for how much electricity items are using even when they are powered down. That kind of power draw is known as “phantom power.”

If you discover it to be significant, you’ll know which items should be unplugged—not just turned off—when not in use. It’s easy to use. Unplug the item to be tested, plug in the Kill-a-Watt, then insert that item’s plug into Kill-a-Watt. Some quick calculations can show you exactly how much it’s costing each month to leave unused items plugged in.

Kill-a-Watt will save you a bundle if you discover you’re spending a significant amount each month for completely useless, unneeded phantom power. Check it out.


Instant Pot

Instant Pot and Rice cooker

Think of an Instant Pot as Swiss army knife for the kitchen. You can get rid of your old pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, steamer, warmer wand yogurt maker (do you have one of those?) as it performs all the above with ease.

Instant Pot‘s built-in microprocessor enables you to cook food up to 70% faster while the stainless-steel pot and lid are dishwasher safe, making clean up quick and easy.

Even if you aren’t a skilled cook, the Instant Pot makes it easy to prepare healthy, filling meals. I recommend this 6-quart size—it’s not too big and not too small. Most people more than recoup the cost of an Instant Pot in just a few months—mostly in money saved by not eating out so often!

Food cooked at home from scratch—that’s the way to slash the cost to feed a family. And Instant Pot is the way to do that quickly and effortlessly. And become a great cook in the process. Check it out.

Wool dryer balls

A close up of dryer balls

The best alternative to liquid softeners and dryer sheets is a set of wool dryer balls. They look like overgrown tennis balls, made of 100% wool yarn, that overtime becomes “felted,” making them especially durable and not at all prone to unraveling. One set of wool dryer balls will last what seems like forever, softening thousands of loads of laundry—no batteries, refills, repairs or reconditioning required.

Here’s how they work: Imagine a big load of wet bath towels going into the dryer. You hit “start” and that massive wad of wet fabric will flop around and stick together for quite awhile before the layers become dry enough to separate and allow warm air to circulate. That slows the drying time, wasting time and energy.

Now imagine six wool dryer balls bouncing around (I use my entire set of six in every load), working their way between the layers of fabric, separating them so the warm air can circulate efficiently from the very start of the cycle.

I’ve tested drying times with and without wool dryer balls, and the results are quite amazing. Smart Sheep Wool Dryer Balls cut at least 25 percent off the time to dry a load of laundry, saving time and energy. They work their way into tight spaces and that’s what makes them so awesome. Because dryer balls also agitate against the fibers in clothes and linens, everything feels softer coming out of the dryer.

MORE: Fabric Softener Products are the Problem Not the Solution


Vacuum sealer

A close up of a food sealer

I have a Foodsaver vacuum sealer that I use all the time. In fact, this is my third machine in 25 years. I use it every day and swear by it. It has paid for itself many times over—but only because it has a permanent place on my kitchen counter with the bags and attachments always at the ready. I have a collection of Mason jars in 2-quart, 1-quart, 1-pint and 1/2-pint sizes. I use them to store all manner of food items.

The jar sealer accessory vacuums the air out of the jar then seals the lid so tight it takes a church key to open it. So easy, so effective. Don’t tell anyone, but I have crackers that are at least six months old sealed in a Mason jar, that are as fresh as the day I bought them. I can reseal my jars over and over until the contents are fully consumed. That’s the beauty of  a good vacuum sealer—it extends the freshness of food way beyond its perceived expiration dates. That means less food down the disposal and fewer trips to the supermarket. Amazing. Check it out.

Roku Express HD Streaming Media Player

A remote control sitting on a table

Want to kiss your big monthly cable bill goodbye? Roku Express just might be the best way ever to do that. Roku Express delivers a 5X more powerful HD Streaming experience over the Internet, straight to your big-screen TV. And it’s really easy to get started—just plug it into your TV with the included High-Speed HDMI Cable, connect to the Internet, and start streaming.

Use the remote to search for your favorite shows and discover channels. From movies and series, to cable alternatives stream the most talked about TV across free and paid channels like Netflix and Hulu—new Disney and Apple TV are now streaming on all Roku devices!—with more power than ever. And  Check it out.



An empty bottle on a table

If you find yourself spending much of your grocery budget on carbonated soft drinks, you might want to consider investing in a SodaStream machine. It’s not only cheaper to make your own carbonated soda drinks at home, it’s purported by the manufacturer to be healthier too.

The two carbonation cartridges that come with this SodaStream kit will make 120 liters of soda. It’s easy to compare the price when you consider that the average cost of a one-liter bottle of soda is about a buck. You’ll recover the upfront cost of this SodaStream starter bundle in no time. Don’t worry: Flavored syrups in your choice of popular soda drinks are readily available for the SodaStream machine. Check it out.

Filtered water bottle

A close up of a device

Here’s a simple way to cut the cost of hauling home bottles and bottles of filtered drinking water. Invest a few bucks in your own filtered water bottle. Make filtered water yourself, on the fly. The Bobble Classic is simple, inexpensive and easy to get used to. The replaceable carbon filter is equal to 300 single-serve 16-ounce bottles of water. Bobble Classic comes in a variety of colors. Check it out.

Updated 3-21-2020


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12 replies
  1. Colleen Heatwole says:

    I just want to thank you for many years of faithful tips and help. You are a true blessing in my life. Since I prespot and clean all the white tablecloths from our many church functions (slowed to a halt now), I’m especially thankful for your prespot recipe, Lestoil, Soillove, and your homemade laundry detergent.

  2. Gina Stevens says:

    Mary, my white Land’s End wash clothes have not stayed white. I’ve tried all methods, to no avail. Borax, bleach, etc.

  3. Janet says:

    I can’t agree with you more on the Foodsaver vacuum. I have an older model, but it still works great and I’ve saved so much meat by using it. It is now my go-to gift for wedding presents.

  4. BethSh says:

    Dryer balls are great, and if you don’t have the money to get wool, or if you have severe allergy to wool, rubber nubbed dryer balls, I got mine at walmart, are a great option, about 5 dollars for 4. I love my instant pot, do consider hanging on to you rice cooker and slow cooker, if you make many things at the same time, it is handy to have all 3 working at the same time. I hope to upgrade to the newer food saver soon, the old one I have has been used for over 10 years. I love the idea of the space heater, will try that this winter.

  5. Colleen Lill says:

    For the Sodastream, you didn’t mention that the carbonation cartridges need to be refilled with CO2. Depending on where you live, this could cost an additional $15-20 each.

  6. Heather says:

    Dear Mary, I hope you can help with my problem: a few months ago, I stocked up on white washcloths and kitchen towels, per your previous recommendation. To wash them, I use detergent and bleach (no fabric softener) with hot water in my one-year-old top-loading machine. I also do an extra rinse.

    However, although I think I’m doing everything “right,” these whites are already stained. I can’t imagine how you use them instead of paper towels to wipe up kitchen spills and still keep them clean. I want this to work, but the stains look so yucky. How do you (and hotels) keep the white towels truly white? I hope you know something that I’m missing!

    • Mary Hunt says:

      Heather … see my repy above to Catherine. Bar mops are not meant to last forever … a couple of years is what I estimate, with daily use. Another thing: I don’t let them get super dirty/stained before I launder them. Fresh stains come out much more readily!

      • Nadine Peters says:

        I find that old towels, especially bath & Kitchen make great wipes for spills etc. When they get too thin or nasty, they are tossed. I’ve even cut bath towels into smaller ones, & hem them. Now, the is cost effective!! I’ve never purchased bar towels. Now, I’m 81, maybe that says something!!! 🙂 I just had to share!

  7. Awomancalled Sam says:

    Brilliant as always. Do u have a comparison between the Apple Nest and Arlo home security systems? And an opinion? Thanks

  8. Catherine C Nobles says:

    Dear Mary. I would like to buy the bar mops but like Heather I have a problem getting my whites white without stains from kitchen. I use the homemade detergent and ammonia in hot wash. What am I missing? Thanks Catherine

    • Mary Hunt says:

      Well Catherine … I don’t use ammonia at all. But I do bleach them every 3 or 4 washes. Bleach. Yes, chlorine liquid bleach. I add about 1/2 cup to the wash load with [very little] detergent because I have a HE front loader plus the hottest water I can muster. Then I add a cup of vinegar to the rinse. My bar mops are whiter than white and soft too. And when one gets a hole or a nasty stain I recycle it first as a cleaning rag. Then when it gets so bad I can’t stand it, it goes to the garage for my husband’s paint and work projects. He throws them out when they are no longer good for him. HINT: You can save a ton of money buying “bar mops” at Costco. Look in the automotive aisle. They’re called terry cloth rags. Same thing. Come about 6 doz to a package (if my memory serves.) Cheap!


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