Posted on 9/28/2011 14:57 EST
Think of all the wireless gadgets in your home and then count all the batteries that keep them going. And then consider how often you need to replace these little sources of energy and the cost of doing so. Battery technology has advanced over the years, and now there are relatively inexpensive batteries that can hold their own in low-drain
applications like clocks and flashlights and others that do well in high-drain
applications like digital cameras. The choice between a cheap alkaline battery that's dumped after its charge depletes or a cheap NiMH battery that can be recharged hundreds of times depends on the device it's connected to. Just don't waste your pennies on the super-cheap
batteries sold in bulk for about a dollar. For more information, turn to our buying guide
on the best cheap batteries.
New Blog Posts:
Alternatives to Netflix.
With its recent hike in prices, Netflix sent customers running to find alternative video rental options. We researched the most popular video rental companies
to help you find the service that best suits your needs, tastes, and budget.
Credit Card Benefits.
The first bit of advice you are likely to receive when trying to get your finances in order is to cut up your credit cards. But for those who are paying off their balances each month, there may be some benefits that make credit cards worth considering. This week, guest blogger Mike Dolen joined us to discuss the best credit card benefits
, like free access to your credit score, and also filled us in on which "benefits" simply aren't worth your while.
Books vs. Ebooks.
Now that ebooks have been around for a while, some consumers are questioning where they fit in, exactly? Despite the fact that you aren't paying for the physical materials, they don't always come out to be cheaper. On the other hand, there are many devoted Nook and Kindle lovers out there. If you're on the fence about whether an ebook is right for you, or if you should stick to the classic paper-and-ink
for a while longer, check out or blog post on ebooks vs. books
for a full overview of the debate.
Posted on 9/28/2011 8:37 EST
With consumer outrage growing over Netflix's price hike for both mail-in and downloadable videos, many are wondering about other, possibly cheaper, online video rentals options for watching movies at home. We took a look at more than a dozen services, including Netflix, so you can decide on the best fit for you.
$8 for online streaming under Netflix; $8 per mail-in
DVD, $12 for two under Qwikster; 100,000 videos available; wide selection, including genres like comedy and drama, plus foreign films, kids, documentaries, TV shows, and old classics.
Netflix as it will come to be known during its separation into individual mail-in rental and online streaming entities will offer an $8 online streaming plan with a catalog of 20,000 movies and TV shows.
Users enjoy the array of movies and the mail-in or download video rental options. Quality on the streaming online video rentals, however, did prompt some critical comments in user reviews. Posts on Amazon say Netflix streaming quality is sometimes shoddy. Several users aren't sure if this is due to their computers or the Netflix system. The site does match Internet speed with video speed so you don't get a video your system can't handle and says a connection of at least 2.4 Mb/s is required to stream videos. People with cable modems seem to have the most problem and those watching on Blu-ray devices report excellent quality. Customers with adequate system speeds who commented on another forum say it takes about 10 seconds for the video to start playing on their devices.
$10 a month for unlimited streaming; 3,000 movies via TV and 4,000 via PC; limited selection of mostly new releases of mainstream movies.
The company just announced a partnership with Dish Network to offer an online video rentals service to stream TV shows and movies to Dish subscribers. Named "Blockbuster Movie Pass," the service is scheduled to launch on Oct. 1. The new offering will run alongside Blockbuster's current video rental options, which involve getting the movie directly from the store and returning it to a kiosk later.
(by Best Buy): $3.99 per video, online only; 14,000 videos; limited selection of mostly new releases of mainstream movies.
You can buy and rent movies through this service. A review on Supersite for Windows praises the quality of videos downloaded from CinemaNow for both TVs and computers, and says that downloading is relatively easy and quick. Top 10 Reviews agrees with the user-friendly assessment.
$1 per rental for a day, no streaming; 200 titles; limited selection, mostly mainstream movies for adults and kids.
Quality: We found complaints about videos not playing or being scratched on ComplaintsBoard. A PCWorld forum, however, contains posts from several Netflix users who are threatening to defect to Redbox over what they consider poor streaming quality from the former. Overall, this most basic of the video rental options is probably best suited to low-key movie fans who aren't looking to see a 1970s French film or obscure documentary but are hankering for the likes of "Daddy Day Care" or "He's Just Not That Into You."
Amazon Instant Video:
$3.99 per rental, only online, or $80 a year (videos sold for $15 to $20); 100,000 videos available; wide selection.
Amazon Instant Video is only available through an Amazon Prime subscription, which costs $79 a year. In addition to instant, streaming videos, Prime members get free two-day shipping and one-day shipping for $3.99 per purchase. You also gain access to "One-Click" ordering after you initially input your address and payment method. An Engadget review says video streaming quality is OK but sometimes not as good as Netflix. PC Mag writes that the service has fast downloads, a good selection, and sharp HD video but notes that some content isn't available in HD or can't be viewed online. Amazon just announced a deal with Fox that will bring more movies to its collection.
$2 to $4 per movie; 6,000 videos; major DVD releases immediately available in addition to foreign films, adult films, and more.
YouTube recently announced plans to regularly scheduled content so users will have the option of logging onto the site instead of watching TV. In the meantime, online video rentals are available on YouTube via a partnership with Google; you can keep the download for 30 days, but it expires 24 hours after you start watching. YouTube seems like a convenient way to view movies, as long as your computer isn't plagued by slow speed and the accompanying buffering issues. Regardless, some consumers don't think it's worth up to $4 a pop for only 24 hours of viewing time. About.com also laments the lack of HD viewing.
$0.99 to $4.99 after purchase of $99 Apple TV; medium selection, few indie titles.
Sound and video quality are excellent, according to expert reviews on sites like Engadget and Gizmodo, but consumers posting on these sites can't wrap their heads around the idea of paying $99 just to watch movies or shows they can get elsewhere for free or at lower cost.
$3.99 to $5.99 per movie; 6,000 titles, includes new releases and TV shows
DIRECTV has Netflix and Redbox in its sights. The service touts its1080p HD video inventory and new releases that are available 28 days ahead of Netflix and Redbox. But as with YouTube, videos are only available for 24 hours, a restriction that irks users who comment in a DSLReports.com forum. Even so, users say SD and HD videos download quickly and viewing can commence when the download is only 20 percent completed. A reviewer on Satellitetvwiz states that DIRECTV provides more bulk services for your buck then Netflix.
Vudu (by Walmart):
$0.99 to $5.99 per movie with 24-hour limit; some deals of $2 for two nights; 20,000 movies; limited selection, including lots of B movies
Vudu's online video rentals options include immediate download of new releases and high-quality video display, perhaps better than the competition, according to reviews on Mashable and About.com. However, this quality comes at a price, with the best quality HD streaming costing about $5.99 per video. Also, the movie selection, while growing, is a little top heavy with B titles that you've probably never heard of (and don't want to watch). Not all movies are available for rental in every format. Also, you can only watch HD videos on a TV set that enables Vudu or a Blu-ray player.
Crackle (by Sony):
Free; 200 movies and shows; very limited selection.
Content on Crackle may be limited but it's completely free for viewing online or on an iPhone, iPod. or iPad. A PC Mag review says the video quality is smooth on home and office networks. A CNET review says you might get only the first few minutes of some TV shows or clips of movies, but praises the service overall because it's free and the video quality is decent.
$8 a month unlimited viewing, with some free content on its web site; content supplied by more than 260 companies.
This site is primarily geared toward TV programs rather than movies, so you'll have to consider your viewing preferences when deciding whether this is the online video rentals option for you. Hulu is recommended by sites like Top 10 Reviews and by users commenting on CNET for its catalog of hundreds of TV shows, including episodes that just aired. Older series and those viewed on a TV or smartphone require the $8 monthly membership fee. Unfortunately, television show downloads contain commercials.
Posted on 9/26/2011 23:12 EST
Not everything about credit cards is bad. If you're smart about them and pay your bill in full each month, then these ten benefits can bring you big savings.
#1. Return Protection.
Have you ever tried to return something, but the store refuses to accept it? Recently that happened to me when I tried bringing back a shirt. Because the purchase was made more than 30 days ago, the retailer wouldn't take it back.
Fortunately, the American Express card I used to buy the shirt provides return protection. With this benefit I get reimbursed up to $300 per item (a max of $1,000 per year) if a store won't accept my return within the first 90 days. Generally speaking, only brand new items qualify; used or perishable will not In addition to AmEx, a few Visa and MasterCards provide this benefit.
#2. Free Credit Scores.
Don't worry, I'm not talking about those dubious "free" credit score offers you see on TV. Rather, I'm talking about credit cards that give free access to your score as a cardholder benefit.
Although I rarely recommend store cards, they can be useful for rebuilding credit because the approval process is easier. The Sears card, for example, provides free access to your TransUnion Transrisk score, which is updated once per month.
#3. Free Cell Phone Insurance.
To the best of my knowledge, this benefit is included on only one card, the Citi Forward. This card has no annual fee and is best known for its restaurant rewards, but another unique benefit is the Forward's cell phone insurance
. If you pay your monthly cell phone bill using the card, you get supplemental coverage of up to $250 in the event your phone is stolen or damaged.
#4. No Foreign Transaction Fees.
If you travel internationally, then you already know about these pesky fees. A surcharge (usually 2-3%) is tacked onto every credit card purchase you make outside the U.S. There are, however, a small number of cards on the market that don't charge these fees.
Currently, none of the credit cards issued by Capital One charge for foreign transactions. This issuer also offers a few cards with no annual fee, which is another way to save. You can find other credit cards with no foreign transaction fees, but unfortunately they charge an annual fee.
#5. Free Extended Warranty.
Next time you buy a new computer, make sure you pay for it using a credit card with this benefit. It automatically doubles the manufacturer's warranty by adding up to one year of additional coverage absolutely free. A lot better than spending big bucks on the store's extended warranty, right?
All American Express cards offer this benefit, as do many Visa and MasterCards (such as the Visa Signature and World MasterCard tiers). I know of someone who had their $800 computer replaced thanks to this valuable benefit, but not every purchase qualifies. The "exclusions" list is quite long and consists of items like motorized vehicles, household fixtures, light bulbs, medical equipment, and etc., so be sure and check the benefits guide first.
#6. Car Rental Coverage (But With a Catch).
The vast majority of major credit cards offer an "Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver" for free. It's important to understand how this car rental insurance works, because it's probably not what you're expecting. For starters, the coverage is secondary (it pays out after your regular car insurance). Secondly, only some types of damage are covered (vandalism and weather damage is not). Third, most trucks and SUVs are excluded. There's a mile-long
list of other caveats, too.
That being said, there are a few cards on the market that offer "primary" coverage. This is a better deal because it pays out first, which means there won't be a claim made on your personal auto policy (which might affect your rates).
#7. Purchase Protection.
This is probably my favorite benefit. The way it works varies by issuer, but generally it goes something like this: For 90 days from date of purchase, you're protected in the event of theft and accidental damage. For example, if you bought a glass bowl and dropped it on the floor a month later, you will probably be able to get reimbursed through your credit card company.
This benefit is usually available through the same cards that offer the extended warranty benefit (American Express and higher level Visa/MasterCards). The version from Visa, known as Purchase Security
, is much more restrictive on the types of eligible damages; only damage due to fire, vandalism, accidentally discharged water, and certain weather conditions qualify.
#8. Travel Discounts.
This benefit is good, but not great (and I'll tell you why in a moment). Some credit cards offer various discounts and coupon deals at partner hotels, car rental agencies, and cruises. For example, the Blue Sky from America Express provides incentives for spending at Hertz, JW Marriott, and Norwegian Cruises.
So why is this only a so-so benefit? Because you might be able to score greater savings by going outside of the credit card company. Check out Cheapism's cheap travel section to see this for yourself.
#9. Free Roadside Assistance.
AAA memberships typically run around $60 or more per year, depending on your location and when you signed up. With the basic plan you get up to four service calls per year. Not a bad deal if you use them, but did you know there are credit cards that offer the same thing for no additional cost?
For example, the Gold, Gold Premier Rewards, and Platinum cards from American Express toss in up to four service calls per year for no extra charge. Of course the drawback is that those cards also come with hefty annual fees, but for avid travelers, they sometimes make sense. If you happen to have one of these cards, there's no point in paying for AAA unless you're doing so to get the other benefits the organization offers, such as DMV registration and travel discounts.
Be careful, though, because this benefit is not to be confused with a similar sounding "roadside assistance dispatch" benefit, which shows up on many no-annual-fee cards. With this benefit, the credit card company only arranges roadside assistance but doesn't pay for the service.
Last but certainly not least, this list would not be complete without mentioning rewards, which many consider to be the best credit card benefit of all. Given all the 2% cash back credit card offers
on the market, it makes little sense to pay for purchases using debit or cash. However, 2% cash back doesn't compute if you're going to carry a balance and pay 20% interest, so only chase the rewards if you pay off your account in full every month.
Mike Dolen is the President of CreditCardForum.com, which is a website for discussing and analyzing credit card deals.
Posted on 9/26/2011 23:11 EST
Print books may not be dead yet, but ebooks are looking more and more like the future. They're space-saving, environmentally friendly, and often cheaper than their dead-tree counterparts. So is it time to dump print and go all digital? Probably not.
At one time the question of ebooks vs. books was meaningless for frugal shoppers because ereaders were priced out of reach. No longer. Now anyone with a smartphone or tablet can use a free app to turn the device into an ereader. The Android Market alone offers nearly 400 free ereader apps. Dedicated ereaders from the likes of Amazon, Sony, and Barnes & Noble are reasonably priced; the cheapest Kindle from Amazon, for example, costs less than an iPod. Analysts forecast ereaders will achieve 35% market penetration in 2011, and among folks who read at least one book a month, more than one third will own a device that handles ebooks by the end of the year. We reviewed our favorite picks in our cheap ereaders buying guide.
As for ebooks themselves, pricing is in flux. Many classics and pre-1923 titles that have moved into the public domain are available for free from major bookstores and websites that specialize in free ebooks, such as Project Gutenberg. Publishers, however, are increasingly setting higher prices to compensate for declining print sales. Beginning in 2010, six major publishers adopted the "agency pricing" model for their ebooks, which prevents vendors from lowering retail prices without publisher approval. Under the new arrangement, many ebook releases and bestsellers jumped to $14.99 from $9.99. Some ebooks now cost more than the hardcover versions and it may be more economical yet to buy a used print copy rather than an ebook.
Another factor to consider is that digital books can't be resold. While that's not a big deal for a romance novel, it can make a huge difference if the book in question is a college text. With textbooks often priced in the hundreds of dollars, students routinely spend more than $1,000 a year on course materials, according to the College Board. Often there isn't much difference in the price of used books vs. ebooks. By way of example, we found a first-year chemistry textbook for $150 in a digital version while a used copy was available online for $160. It's almost a no-brainer for the non-chemistry major: drop $150 or pay $10 more and hope to resell the book when the course is finished? For more information on digital textbooks, read our cheap college textbooks buying guide.
If you want to hedge your bet on the ebooks vs. books conundrum, and save some pennies at the same time, hang on to your library card. Many ereaders and mobile operating systems support OverDrive, which allows readers to check out ebooks from participating public libraries. When the books are "due," they're automatically removed from the device. No more late fees!
The book business is certainly moving in a digital direction, but most people are hybrid readers, consuming some books digitally and others on paper. With no obvious cost savings, it makes sense to keep doing both -- at least for now.
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With the leaves already starting to turn in some parts of the country, we've updated and expanded our leaf blowers
buying guide. While you won't see any professional-grade
backpack blowers among our picks, a budget handheld blower can provide plenty of power for an area of less than an acre.
We found high-quality electric leaf blowers for less than $100 and gas leaf blowers for less than $150. Several of the blowers on our list also vacuum leaves into a collection bag and can reduce 10 or more bushels of leaves to a single bushel of mulch. Our top picks are the electric Toro 51599 Ultra and the gas-powered Husqvarna 125B. Read more about these and other models in our complete guide to cheap leaf blowers.
Recent Blog Posts:
We're launching a new blog post series that covers the cheapest product in every category without adding any commentary on performance.
Our first asks, "What's the cheapest computer?" and is a must-read if you're ready for a new computer but think the cost may be prohibitive. For this post our research identified the cheapest desktop (Zotac Black ZBOX) and netbook (ASUS Eee PC X101), each ringing in at just over $200, and the cheapest laptop, at just under $300 -- maybe that new computer isn't so out of reach, after all. Before you start shopping, though, read our full reviews on cheap laptops, cheap netbooks, and cheap desktop computers.
Look for our next installment, "What's the cheapest digital camera?"