Money-Saving Gadgets

Rick Emerson, author of Zombie Economics, joined us today to show us his favorite gadgets for saving money in the long run.

1) Smart Thermostat
If your house has a programmable thermostat, the odds are it’s got a control panel that looks like something out of Apollo 13. Setting the timer on one of these can be difficult, making sure it’s the right temperature when you get home often seems like a matter of pure luck.

The last few years have seen big advancements on this front. So-called “smart thermostats” are easier to use, more effective, and actually start to learn your patterns. They connect to an app on your phone, and can automatically shut down when you leave the house, then pre-cool (or pre-heat) while you’re on your commute home. Because they hook into your WiFi, they can also adjust the preset temperature depending on changes in the weather.

Best of all, they’re easy to use; one popular brand, The Nest, was created by the designer of the iPhone, and is just as simple to operate. It can even be installed easily, with a basic, color-coded system.

2) One-Click Power Strip
As more and more things are centered around our home computers, the computers sprout this forest of accessories –printers, scanners, external hard drives– all of which need their own power, and all of which tend to stay plugged in and using electricity even when the computer is off. It doesn’t help that the power switches for these devices are often buried somewhere in the back, where they become nearly unreachable. The result? A constant, low drain on your electricity bill.

One solution is a “single-click” power strip, such as The SmartStrip. These power strips have enough outlets for all of your computers accessories, and a main outlet for the computer itself. They sense when your computer has been turned off and they automatically shut down all of the related devices. This can also work for things like home-theater setups, which have their own tangled ecosystem of accessories.

3) A New Laptop
Though we don’t often think of laptops as “gadgets”, one of the biggest recent changes has been the rise of the laptop as a primary computing device. Laptops used to be bulky, underpowered battery hogs – things that we dragged around with us because we sometimes had to have a computer and didn’t want to pack our Dell into a suitcase. But just as smartphones have replaced flip phones, laptops can now largely take the place of your desktop computer. Not only are they smaller, lighter, and portable, laptops now easily match or exceed the power of most desktop computers, often at a significantly-lower price. (And some, such as Apple’s new MacBook Air, can run up to 13 hours on battery power alone, helping to further cut your electricity usage.)

All that, plus they can unplug, slide into a handbag or backpack, and go wherever they might be needed.

4) Energy-Efficient Light Bulbs
I know, I know...we all have terrible memories of the new wave of light bulbs...weird, spiral things that made your bathroom look like a scene out of Aliens. (My wife had to stop me from hoarding huge supplies of old-fashioned light bulbs.)

The good news is that manufacturers have come a long way in a very short time – it’s now possible to outfit your entire home with energy-saving lights (especially LED bulbs) that are virtually indistinguishable from the incandescent variety. And, if you have older relatives (or a husband like me), they actually make a version which looks exactly like an old-school bulb, so that you can overcome any lingering resistance.

And the money you save by using modern bulbs is significant: they pay for themselves in as little as four months, and depending on how many lights you use in your home, you can easily save over $100 a year. Plus, they last exponentially longer than the old-fashioned kind.

5) Solar-Powered Xmas Lights
This is more of a specialty item, but if you find yourself in a decorative arms race with the other houses on your block, look into buying a set of solar-powered Xmas Lights. Just as you’d expect, they charge themselves during the day and then automatically switch on when nighttime comes....and the day’s charge is usually enough to keep them going until dawn.

The startup cost is definitely higher than the average bundle of lights, but if you take your decorating seriously, they’ll pay for themselves in by the end of the second December.

And, because these are LED lights (instead of the old-time “bulb” variety”), they’re infinitely customizable – some even interface with computers or smartphones to create intricate patterns......demonstrating to the neighbors that you have absolutely no life at all.

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