Best Inexpensive™ Umbrellas

I could not even venture a guess for how many umbrellas I’ve purchased in my life. It’s not so much that I lose them, it’s that they turn out to be junk.

The frame collapses, the ribs get tweaked causing them to bend the wrong way or the ligaments snap apart—all of which encourages it to turn itself inside out leaving to wrestle it back into cooperation and end up soaking wet. Don’t you hate when that happens?

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My experience, together with lots of research and testing have brought me to the conclusion that regardless the promises made by manufacturers, no umbrella is 100% windproof. That’s because “wind” can range from a slight breeze to hurricane strength, the latter of which would cause any umbrella to fail.

What we should expect in an umbrella is for it to be waterproof, sturdy, and above all, reliable under moderately windy situations. It must be of a decent size. And if something goes wrong—even those hurricane-strength winds—we want reliable customer service that will make things right.

My picks for Best Inexpensive™ umbrellas below meet all of my expectations—including being large enough to keep both my husband and me dry when, in a pinch, we’re forced to share an umbrella.

Best Inexpensive™ Toasters and Countertop Oven

I cannot begin to tell you all that I’ve learned over the last few months about kitchen appliances—both major and small. My husband is remodeling our kitchen (yes, lucky me). Now, wouldn’t you assume that selecting new appliances would be the easy, fun part of the planning process? It’s not! In fact, it’s been rather mind-numbing.

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Oh, what I have learned—and do intend to share with you in the very near future—is epic. Let me just say that I’m more convinced now than ever that determining the “best inexpensive” option in every category is the way to go; that “most expensive” does not guarantee better longevity or trouble-free performance.

For today, and due to popular demand, let’s tackle basic countertop appliances that toast, roast, bake and broil.

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TOASTER. The goal here is to find the Best Inexpensive traditional toaster where you put slices of bread in the slots and in a few minutes up pops toast that is perfectly toasted on both sides. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, not really because there are so many options and many of them not good. That’s why you need me to test, research, review and narrow this down to the best, which in this case is also the most inexpensive.

My pick is Cuisinart Compact Plastic Toaster, which comes in a 2-slice option and also 4-slice. The slots are wide enough to accommodate bagels, English muffins, Texas toast but also regular-width slices of bread.This toaster is just the right size, toasts effortlessly and looks nice in any decor. Don’t let the “plastic” part scare you. The toaster remains cool to the touch and is super easy to clean. Cuisinart Compact Plastic Toaster, 2-Slice, about $30; 4-Slice, about $40.

Best Inexpensive™ Laptop Computers for Students of 2018

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If you or someone you love will be heading off to college soon, a laptop will be absolutely essential. But where to start? Nowadays, a student’s computer is just as important as his or her student ID. But where to start?

College is expensive enough so it’s important to shop smart. But not to worry. I and my EC team have done the hard part figuring out our picks for Best Inexpensive™ laptops for students of 2018.

First, determine what your student will need in a laptop. Not sure? Here’s a quick list of what I believe the typical college student needs in a computer:

  • Write papers
  • Access the Internet
  • Email
  • Store photos and music
  • Stream Netflix, movies and videos
  • Skype with friends and family

Both of our picks below—one Chromebook and one Windows-based—are best for college and graduate students, but they’ll work for those in high school, too. And you can expect these laptops to last at least five years, which in most cases will take a student through an entire college or grad school experience.

Best Inexpensive™ Flannel Bed Sheets Plus How to Prevent Pilling

There are few things as comforting as slipping between super soft, cozy flannel sheets on a cold, winter night.

 

 

But not all flannel is created equal. The problem with cotton flannel and other raised-fiber fabrics like fleece and knits is the heartbreak of “pills”—those little, raised balls that develop over time, creating a super-annoying, bumpy surface.

The solution to the pilling problem with flannel sheets is two-fold: 1) Opt for high-quality flannel and 2) take steps to prevent pilling.

QUALITY FLANNEL

Quality flannel is not cheap. You could spend the outrageous price of $400 or more for a set of high-quality flannel sheets with a luxury brand name on the label, OR you could opt for the Best Inexpensive™ flannel sheets, JCPenney Home Solid Flannel Sheet Set. These flannel sheets are nicely manufactured, of excellent quality, and resistant to pilling.

Flannel sheets are not measured by thread count but rather by the weight of the material. These beauties are made of 100% cotton flannel with a warmth factor of heavyweight, rated 155 gsm by weight, with a  mattress depth of up to 15 inches.

Available in all sizes including Twin, Twin XL, Full, Queen, King and Cal King they come in a  choice of five colors.

Help! My Apartment Stinks Like a Stale Ashtray

What do vacuum sealers and apartments that smell like a stale ashtray have in common? Absolutely nothing other than these two messages showing up in my mailbox at the same moment—both of them in response to earlier posts.

Dear Mary: I just read your column on simple science that makes Nok-Out work to eliminate really difficult odors. Can you give me some quick advice on how to apply that method to rid my apartment of the smell of smoke? The apartment is new. The problem is that the crew smoked in here during construction. It’s yuk! Thank you, Judy

 

Dear Judy: You do have a terrible problem, and I’m so sorry about that. My first thought was have you contacted the owner or manager? Assuming you have but that hasn’t worked out very well—and you do not want to move—Nok-Out absolutely can oxidize (neutralize) the odor of tobacco smoke. The challenge is to make sure Nok-Out comes in contact with every square millimeter of a surface that the smoke has penetrated. That’s the challenge!

When treating a large open area where the odor became airborne and most likely is now clinging to every bit of the ceiling, walls, flooring, cracks, and crevices—Nok-Out must do the same in order to reach and then oxidize all of the stink.

To do this, you need a room humidifier or vaporizer that produces cool mist

Best Inexpensive™ Microfiber Cloths for Housecleaning, Electronics and Automobiles

There’s nothing like microfiber for cleaning just about any surface in and about the house. If you’ve never used a microfiber cloth, you’re going to be amazed by how fast and efficiently you can clean!

For household dusting, use a microfiber cloth dry as you would a traditional dusting rag. (Notice how it acts like a dust magnet.) But for more general cleaning, you always want microfiber to be damp, even when using to dry a surface.

The first time you use a microfiber cloth, force of habit will have you soaking it with water and adding loads of soap—both of which will reduce the cloth’s effectiveness.

I find the best way to use these cloths is with as little water as possible. You can use microfiber cloths to clean virtually any hard surface. Try them on your bathroom or kitchen surfaces and you’ll be amazed at the results.

If you’re dealing with a fairly dirty situation, use a standard cloth and soapy water to wash all the dirt off first, then rinse. Now polish over with your damp microfiber cloth. Notice the smear-free, sparkling finish. Sorry to sound like a bad TV commercial, but these things are really good! I think you’ll agree once you hear things getting squeaky clean and shiny with so little effort.

Microfiber cloths come in varying sizes and grades to clean every surface imaginable from eyeglasses to countertops, windows, and cars, too.

HOUSEHOLD CLEANING

VibraWipe Microfiber Cleaning Cloths. I’ve tested every imaginable grade and size of microfiber cloth out there. For me, a cloth I use for housecleaning needs to be easy to use and able to stand up to my extreme laundry habits. (Note: Never use any laundry softeners when laundering microfiber.) I don’t want cloths that fray around the edge, give off tons of lint, stain easily or shrink over time. I’m hard on household linens because I demand so much from them. VibraWipes microfiber cloths are fabulous. A pack of 8 cloths has lasted me for years now and I see no signs of them wearing out anytime soon. About $17 for an 8-pack.

Frequently Asked Questions: Groceries Online?! Which AirFryer?

Today I am responding to two very frequently asked questions at two one-fell swoops—a phrase I’ve always found to be quite curious but fun to use. This way I get multiple opportunities to kill two birds with one stone. Or something like that!

Q: Air-fryers are all the rage and from what everyone tells me, the new way to enjoy all the deliciousness of deep-fried foods without the calories. Air-frying is supposedly a very healthy way to prepare food so it comes out perfectly crisp without a lot of oil. Which air-fryer do you recommend?

I have been dragging my feet on this matter of air-fryers. That’s because I am not a fan. In fact, I think this fairly new kitchen appliance known as an air-fryer is a rip-off. All it is in a tiny oven with a fan. If that sounds at all familiar you know what a convection oven is.

If you have a convection oven—an oven that has a fan(s) to circulate air around food—you already have an air-fryer. If you don’t have a convection oven, you’d be better off purchasing a countertop model because air-fryers are expensive and so limited in their use.

Rather than an air-fryer, my choice for Best Inexpensive™ convection oven is this Oster Countertop Convection Toaster Oven, about $70. When you check the price of air-fryers you’ll see they are much more. This Oster has many functions including Bake, Convection Bake, Broil, Toast, Pizza, Defrost, and Warm. You’ll be able to “air-fry,” bake cookies and casseroles (it is large capacity) and toast up to 6 slices of bread at a time.

Should you be determined to have a single-use air-fryer appliance, go for the Philips AirFryer, about $200. Just know that I do not recommend it, only that for those who must have one, it has a good reputation for reliability and service.

I do recommend highly the AirFryer Cookbook, which is easily adaptable to use with a convection oven.

Best Inexpensive™: Mattress, Bed Pillows, Duvet Cover

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The idea to buy a mattress online and have it shipped to your home is still rather mind-boggling. It seems so risky, to say nothing of dubious quality. Like who would do such a thing?

It’s a concept whose time has come and one that’s here to stay. The idea of a bed that fits in a shipping box has exploded over the past five years and turned the $15 billion traditional mattress industry on its head!

Bed in a box

The idea is simple: Order online and have your mattress shipped to your home in a box. Once it arrives, carry that box to your room of choice, open it up, unroll the mattress and allow it to de-compress for up to 72 hours. You won’t believe your eyes (or your back!). Behold! A full size, deep, comfortable mattress that can be set on the floor, on a bed frame or other foundation.

Many perks come with bed-in-a-box mattresses including cheaper prices, more convenience, better return policies—all while providing a solid product! These mattresses come with full instructions and easy online support.

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