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It isn’t all about the Swiss army knife, people (so stop saying that, okay?). Sometimes, you just need a great single-use gadget—a tool meant to accomplish one particular task. Below, some favorites, many of which have great money-saving potential. (Many are also food-centric. A comment on single-use gadgets or my psyche? This is for you to decide.)
Ice Cream Maker
Best party pleaser in the book: ice cream personalized to your guests’ taste. Best Friday night: ice cream made to your taste! Ginger/pistachio? Ketchup/hot dog? Go for it. A good ice cream maker will cost you upwards of $50, but two pints of fancy-pants ice cream from a store could run you $17 (seriously, I paid that once), so figure huge savings down the line. If you’re feeling frisky and also really upset that you can’t use your ice cream maker for another purpose, there is this thing, which is some kind of ball you kick around and out of which ice cream subsequently emerges. (Okay, that “gadget” is asking for a double entendre.)
If one more person says “e-reader,” I’m gonna throw a punch. The only electronic device you need for reading is a book light. (Not a book lamp, which seems to be interpreted as a lamp made out of a book. Also cool?) Clip your book light onto the pages or cover of your book, snuggle under a quilt, and feel nostalgic for childhood sleepovers. (Sleeping bag not included.) This is practically free fun, people. Tired? No need to get out of bed to hit the switch—simply turn off your book light. Nighty night.
Like I said: food-centric. I’d venture that no gadget offers a higher quality-to-effort ratio than a slow cooker. You throw ingredients into it, turn it on, leave for a few hours, and come back to a full meal. (The original Crock-Pot is selling for about $90 right now, but you can get a cheaper knockoff—mine is a Rival, and it works fine.) Crock-Pot’s website offers many recipes and helpful cook time guidelines. Make a big mess of stew on a Sunday and eat it throughout the week to save money, or freeze some for later. Plus, time is money, and a slow cooker will save you hours of cooking every week.
If you’re a coffee drinker, a French press can help you make the perfect cup of coffee. It’s also crazily easy to use: spoon in your favorite coffee grounds, pour in hot water, let it steep for a few minutes, press, and you’re ready to get caffeinated. Since French presses don’t require filters or electrical outlets, you’ll also save some money over the long run.
First, there are vacuum sealers you use to squeeze air out of a pile of clothes or other squishables, for packing or storage purposes. Then, there are vacuum sealers used for food—either for airtight storage, or for sous-vide cooking (far beyond my skill level, but which involves dropping said food-baggie into hot water for a while). How many times have you thrown away rotten produce? Keep your food fresher, and save some cash. Plus, no matter how you use your vacuum sealer, you get to pretend you’re a Jetson. Not that the Jetsons used vacuum sealers (did they?) but the whole thing feels kind of cartoon-futurish to me.
This is as single-use as single-use gadgets get. Hard-boil an egg, place it in the little round divot of your egg slicer, and lower a handle with metal threads. Voila: egg-circles of even width for salads and sandwiches! And, holy crap, this egg slicer has a face. I’m not going to pretend this one saves you money, but it’s under $10, so I feel okay about that.
Tire Pressure Gauge
If you have a car, a tire pressure gauge is of practical import. Check your tires monthly to make sure you don’t go spiraling off into a ditch somewhere. See this very detailed Consumer Reports guide for help on the type and brand of gauge to buy.
If you’ve got a pet that sheds, God help you. And by God, I mean a lint roller. Grab the handle, roll it all over your clothes, and it picks up the lint. In fact, even if you don’t have a pet, your clothes could probably stand to be cleaned up—and it does wonders on your furniture, too. (Actually, I use mine on my lampshade, too, to get the dust off. Multiple uses!) Lint rollers cost a few bucks, and is a must-have at the office to get pet hair off your clothes before meeting with people.
Yeah, I had to end on a food gadget. You can, of course, cook rice in a pot, but as this amateur cook knows, it’s pretty easy to burn or otherwise screw up. Rice cookers automate the process, which allows for both delicious grains and an unburdened mind. No rice waste here. And, of course, this is the ultimate cheapo’s dinner.
Jessica Gross is a writer based in New York City. She’s contributed to The New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review Daily, Scientific American Mind, and elsewhere.
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