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There are times that the old adage that you get what you pay for doesn’t hold up. Sometimes, it’s the less expensive option that turns out to be best—better than its pricier competitors.

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Best Inexpensive Toaster

Does anyone make a decent, simple, reliable pop-up toaster? I don’t need it to do anything but make evenly-toasted toast!

 

I was wondering the same thing. After a good deal of research, I narrowed the field to this Hamilton Beach Keep-Warm 2-Slice Toaster. I am so happy with it, it has become my new pick for Best Inexpensive. Here are the reasons I am such a fan:

The bread slots handle all thickness of things to be toated: Bagels, Texas toast, English Muffins, thin-sliced and regular sized bread.

When I press down on the handle, “clamps” gently move into place to hold the toast straight and upright. And when the toast is ready, I just lift up on the handle, which gives the toast a boost, making it easy to remove. Read more

I just asked Siri*, “How do most people relax?” She rattled off a list of activities including, “nosh on chocolate,” “rub your feet over a golf ball,” “count backward,” “meditate” and “drip cold water on your wrists.”

Siri completely missed my favorite way to relax. I iron (not to be confused with “I pump iron,” which I do not). No really. There’s something soothing and instantly gratifying about a good iron with a heft of heat and steam gliding back and forth over wrinkled fabric.

steam-iron-on-ironing-board-unironed-shirt

That’s why I was excited to get another request, this time from Marianne, “I need a new iron. I’ve searched the Internet trying to find the best steam iron for the best price and all I get is terribly confused! Any suggestions?”

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If today’s topic seems a bit premature, let me remind you (trust me, I’m reminding myself) of the first time you hosted Thanksgiving dinner. I know that I was a wreck, and for two reasons: time and cooking tools.

I didn’t allow enough time to plan ahead, let alone properly prepare the meal once the day arrived. And I sure didn’t have the right equipment.

 

With Thanksgiving about six weeks away, we have time to plan, time to prepare and time to make sure we’re properly equipped to make this Thanksgiving a day of calm, joy, and gratitude.

I’ve done Thanksgiving Dinner enough times now to know that there are a few pieces of equipment that are absolutely necessary to make sure the process goes smoothly and the dinner is a huge success. The challenge, though, is making sure we’re not loading up on unitaskers—tools we use only one day a year. We want to make sure that items we buy for the kitchen can be used all year long.

Here are our picks for Best Inexpensive Thanksgiving cooking tools that will make your day easier, tools I’m certain you’ll be reaching for throughout the year.

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It’s been a number of years since I moved into a college dorm room. My memories of college life are both vivid and precious.

For years, I’d been dreaming about how I would grow up and leave my childhood home and sheltered life to attend college in Los Angeles. I lived in the same dorm room from my first day as a freshman until I graduated four years later (Master’s University). And I loved it. Dorm life was everything I’d imagined and so much more.

 

Best Inexpensive Essential College Dorm Gear

Typically, dorm rooms are not spacious. I had a bed, desk, bookshelf, and chair along with a closet that had a built-in dresser and just enough room to hang a few clothes. My roommate had the same configuration on the other side of the room—a typical dorm room layout. Looking back now, I see that we could have done so much more with the tiny space we had to make it more comfortable and efficient.

If you or someone you love will be entering dorm life in a few weeks, I’ve put together a list of dorm room essentials—beyond the basics of a laptop, linens, toiletries, and clothes—that will definitely make the transition easier and college life a lot more enjoyable!

1. MINI FRIDGE. If allowed in your room, you’ll bless the day you arrived with a mini fridge large enough for soft drinks, water, healthy snacks and energizing food items. Something like this 2.7 compact dorm refrigerator will save the day when the cafeteria closes at 6 pm and you’re looking at 10 more hours of cramming for finals. Been there. If only I’d had a fridge. About $70.

 

Related: The 18 Gifts 2018 Graduates Really Want

2. READING PILLOW. You will bless the day you thought to bring a good reading pillow with you to school. It will serve multiple functions—a place to sit and study that isn’t a stiff desk chair. Or as additional seating. Trust me—a comfortable, useful reading pillow will make all the difference by turning your bed into a very comfortable chair. This shredded foam reading pillow is awesome for reading, studying, watching TV or just hanging out. Well made, it is sturdy but at the same time cozy enough to serve you well all the way through your college career. About $30.

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Just this past week I heard from my dear reader Penny who is frustrated in the face of needing to purchase a new dishwasher. She writes: 

“Our dishwasher is more than 20 years old and every time I think I have decided on a new one and read the reviews, I back out. I know that you recently purchased new appliances. What brand dishwasher did you go with? How does one filter all the reviews, good or bad?”

IKEA dishwasher

My husband and I have just completed our big kitchen remodel. It’s been nearly a year since we started planning so you can be sure I’ve been researching appliances ad nauseam. 

Here’s my conclusion based on credible evidence, product reviews and long conversations with appliance professionals: They just don’t make ‘em like they used to! 

These days you won’t find a dishwasher with an expected lifespan of 20 years. The best we should expect from new dishwashers is 8 to 10 years, which is by design. Industry insiders call this “planned obsolescence.” And we have to assume that those will not necessarily be trouble-free years. It’s sad but true. 

Nearly all appliances these days come with a one-year warranty. Most appliances pros will tell you that if an appliance is going to fail, it is most likely to do that during the first 90-days, so a one-year warranty is supposed to be sufficient. Anything beyond that is called an extended warranty, which brings up another matter, altogether. Let’s just say it gets complicated.

Related: Best Inexpensive Stick Vacuum—Finally!

There are two brands I suggest you stay away from—Samsung and LG. While their appliances are lovely when they’re in good working condition, these companies do not have a solid infrastructure for service and repair in the U.S. That means you’ll have a difficult time finding someone to repair them whether they’re under warranty or not. And when you do, you could wait weeks for parts to arrive from overseas. 

On the other hand, the Whirlpool family of appliances (Whirlpool, Maytag, KitchenAid, Jenn-Air, Amana to name a few) are made in the U.S. Whirlpool has a reputation for making good appliances with repair, service, and parts readily available. 

With all that being said, I do have some really good news—and a solid recommendation, which may surprise you. Read more

As I glanced at the day’s news headlines, I flinched when I read that a prominent U.S. politician (who shall remain nameless) had 10 people show up at a recent town hall meeting. Ten! That’s what I call an empty room and the fear of every speaker—that no one shows up because no one is listening.

Before I bring up the subject of my email inbox, I need to tell you again how much I love to hear from my readers! I take every letter, note, and message as an affirmation that I’m not speaking to an empty room. I love your tips, stories, questions, corrections, and challenges.

Now about my inbox—it fills almost faster than I can read, so I create file folders for varying subjects. When a folder gets full I know it’s time to address that subject in an upcoming post. 

Once again, I’m working to clear out the folder labeled “Best Inexpensive Qs” where hundreds of messages land that go something like this: “Please tell me exactly which [fill-in-the-blank] is the Best Inexpensive™ option.”

Requests for Best Inexpensive (TM) options from dear readers depicted as file drawer in computer

 

ROOM DEHUMIDIFIER. If you live where it gets unbearably humid this time of year, the way to lower the humidity inside your home is with a good dehumidifier. My pick for the overall best inexpensive 70-pints-per-day unit is rated for up to 2,500 sq. ft. is FRIGIDAIRE Energy Star 70-Pint Dehumidifier It will keep your home comfortable and also protect it from mold, mildew and airborne particles that can make breathing difficult for some people. About $240.

More: Humidity—Not Too High, Not Too Low, But Just Right

SEWING MACHINE. Two choices here. For the beginner: Janome Mod-15 is a sweetheart of a basic mechanical machine ideal for a beginner of any age who shows great promise with sewing, but has not yet proven the need for a more advanced machine. About $150. For intermediate to advance: Janome Mod-100 is a remarkable top-of-the-line computerized model that has everything an advanced sewist would want, with a price you’d expect for a beginner machine. About $275.

HANDHELD GARMENT STEAMER.  Housmile garment steamer is a portable fabric steamer brush for clothes. Perfect for travel because it’s lightweight, comes with two styles of brush heads and produces excellent steam. I much prefer its performance over the more traditional style of garment steamer. It’s great! About $35.

Don’t Miss: Father’s Day 2018 Gift Guide

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I harbor a little-known secret. I only know a lot of the stuff I know because I’ve learned it from my kind and sharing readers. And the longer I do this thing I do, the more I learn.

The wealth of knowledge I have gained from you in nearly three decades of this relationship is awesome. And every day, it seems, I learn something new.

Dear Mary: I highly recommend De-Solv-It. It is a citrus oil-based degreaser and sticker remover that I have used over the past several years. It is non-toxic. Here is a recent example, I purchased a used softcover library book at Half Price Books (a wonderful chain, by the way) which had tape covering the spine and on the cover. I put a small amount on the edges of the tape and allowed it to seep in overnight. The next morning I was able to peel it over pretty easily with no discernible damage to the cover.  Thank you for all of the good advice over the years. Ted

Dear Ted: I raced to get me a small spray bottle of De-Solv-It to test before mentioning this find to my dear readers. Wow! You are right about how well De-Solv-It works to remove all kinds of icky sticky stuff (not that I have a houseful of icky stuff needing removal or anything, ha!) I should have opted for the better-value 12-oz. size De-Solv-It from the get-go. This is exactly the kind of product I need in my arsenal of home rescue products. Thanks for this great recommendation.

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You know it’s a good day for me when my “inner shopper” gets to come out and play.

Researching, reviewing and testing the things that you, My Dear Readers, request is like a license to shop till I drop—all the joys without the horrible side effects of overspending. Coming up with solid recommendations for the best inexpensive options is one of the most satisfying things I get to do. I’d say we have a good thing going on.

DISH DRAINER

I’m one who relies heavily on a dishwasher, which means I haven’t owned a dish drainer or even thought about that until just recently when I heard from Pam:

I recently replaced my wire dish drainer rack and couldn’t find anything but small replacements drainers with small drainboards. What’s going on? Any ideas where to find a bigger dish drainer (NOT plastic) and drain board?

Pam’s right. Huge, metal dish drainers are a thing of the past. But not to worry. After a bit of searching, trial and some error—and tremendous need now that I do have a dishwasher (we’re remodeling!)—I’m excited to reveal my Best Inexpensive™ pick, which I absolutely love.

POLDER DISH RACK AND TRAY. I love this dish drainer because it is stainless steel, elegantly designed and includes both a drain try and separate drying tray. That effectively doubles the space of the rack itself—and the drying tray stores beneath the rack when not needed. That makes this Polder Dish Rack and Tray versatile. About $40. 

Polder Dish Rack Drainer

Still plenty of time: 24 Fabulous Ideas for Mother’s Day Gifts

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