Posted on 4/27/2012 12:30 EST
If you're a coffee lover who wants to stick to a budget, making your morning cup o' joe at home is a well-trod first step towards frugality. For less than the cost of a few weeks of fancy "designer" coffees at the local coffee bar, you can buy a cheap coffee maker or espresso machine and save big time. We also have new blog posts on outdoor pools and home improvement, as well as tips for kitchen savings.
New Articles and Updates.
Budget models come in for harsh criticism in online reviews, but we found 12-cup coffee makers
from Hamilton Beach and Mr. Coffee that claim plenty of fans and cost less than $50. Another of our top picks is a Black & Decker machine that dispenses hot coffee directly into an included travel mug. It's an affordable alternative to those expensive single-serving
pod brewers that are all the rage.
Yes, you can make a good cup of espresso at home - or a latte or cappuccino, if steamed or frothed milk up your enjoyment factor. We found several semi-automatic espresso machines
with price tags under $250 that turn out a robust brew crowned by a golden crema. Three of our top picks take ground beans (the fresher, the better) or (pricey) single-serve
pods, and one is a (proprietary) capsule-only
model meant for die-hard
espresso drinkers (no frothing wand here).
Spring might not be the best time of year to look for deals on backyard pools
, but we've got a few tips on how to keep costs from leaking through the family spending plan.
New Blog Posts.
Cheap Cooking Utensils.
Next time you're in the market for new kitchen utensils, take a cue from the pros and skip the fancy kitchen supply stores and head to the local hardware store. Beyond the many inexpensive kitchen products that enterprising hardware stores now offer, you'll also find a variety of tools that don't seem like cheap kitchen utensils
at first glance - we're thinking of items like needle-nosed
pliers, blowtorches, and paintbrushes - but may come in handy just the same.
Hiring a Contractor.
We've been posting a lot about DIY projects
and cheap home improvement
, but if you're considering a more major renovation, you may need to hire a professional contractor
. Review our tips so that you don't wind up paying too much or getting too little out of the deal.
Posted on 4/26/2012 12:05 EST
Getting caught up in the joy of cooking can certainly get expensive. Home cooks often spend hundreds of dollars assembling arsenals of specialized cooking utensils. But did you know you can buy many advanced kitchen tools more cheaply at the hardware store? In many cases, the only difference between a hardware store tool and the kitchen version is price. Read on to see what cheap kitchen utensils you can find at your local Lowe's or Home Depot.
Skip the small packages of kitchen twine sold at supermarkets and buy a cheap roll of twine at the hardware store. Look for cotton twine only; jute may be too thick for some uses, and nylon and other synthetic twines will melt. Twine comes in handy for trussing up poultry, tying together herbs, and holding together roasts.
Use a common paintbrush to baste and glaze instead of paying a premium for cooking-specific
basting brushes. Because small paintbrushes are so cheap at the hardware store -- usually less than $1 -- it may be worth buying a few different sizes for different dishes. Long-handled
paintbrushes make especially good cheap kitchen utensils for glazing meats on a barbecue grill.
Make creme brulee correctly by browning the top with a torch. A chef's blowtorch starts at around $30, but hardware store torches are much cheaper and hold more fuel. The Bernzomatic Fat Boy two-piece propane torch
is only $13 at Home Depot and holds a 17-ounce fuel canister. A kitchen torch can quickly sear fish, caramelize meat, toast meringue or marshmallow, and, of course, theatrically light a flame.
Pizza Stones and Bricks.
While the secret to a great pizza might be a higher temperature than your oven can achieve, it's possible to approximate a pizzeria at home. Boing Boing Gadgets
has a guide to building your own brick oven by setting up a few cheap, unglazed fire or ceramic bricks in your home oven. The concentrated heat turns out beautiful homemade pizzas and breads and can be used for other recipes, such as "chicken under a brick." There's no need to shell out dough for a dedicated pizza stone. Instead, buy large, unglazed ceramic or quarry tiles from the hardware store for mere cents and use them to get the bottom of your pies hot and crispy. Unglazed terra cotta can work as well.
Graters and Zesters.
To find cheap kitchen utensils for zesting lemons and other citrus fruits, head to the woodworking aisle. Microplane, which makes some of the most popular graters and zesters around, originally sold these utensils in hardware stores as woodworking tools. As cooks began to buy them for kitchen use, the company began to market them as cooking tools, at higher prices. As long as it's made of stainless steel, a rasp works well as a kitchen grater or citrus zester.
Cedar Planks and Hickory Chips.
To add wood-smoked
flavor to your food, buy wood planks or chips from the hardware store instead of a specialty kitchen store. Cedar pairs especially well with salmon on the grill, making it a good buy for summer barbecues. Try adding hickory chips to the grill to impart some woodsy goodness to your meat.
To pick small pin bones out of fresh fish, use needle-nose
pliers from the hardware store. The pliers are precise, which is essential when you are working with delicate fish, and, best of all, cheap. You can find needle-nose
pliers for less than $2, while fish tweezers cost $20 or more.
Scrapers and Knives.
Bakers can get creative with tools such as drywall scrapers and paint knives. Use these as cheap kitchen utensils instead of standard pastry knives and cake decoration tools. A joint knife can cost less than $1, compared with $7 for a plastic dough scraper at Sur La Table. Look for stainless-steel
tools for baking and confectionary work.
Have you tried any of these alternative kitchen utensils? What other hardware store finds double as cooking tools? Let us know in the comments.
Posted on 4/25/2012 8:01 EST
This may be the time of year when you look at your home afresh and notice all the improvements you'd like to make. Of course, the prospect of some tax refund cash itching to be spent might be just the spur you need. But unless the projects are small or you know a lot about home remodeling, hiring a contractor may be a necessity. Unfortunately, home improvement contractors don't come cheap. Here are some tips on how to hire a contractor for less.
Get general contractor recommendations.
The first place to start looking for a contractor is among home-owning
family and friends. Chances are someone in this network has hired a contractor of some sort in the past and can make a recommendation based on work done well - or not.
Gather and compare quotes.
According to ConsumerReports
, a good rule of thumb is to get a minimum of three comparison quotes. This means having three separate contractors come to your home to see the work that needs to be done, talk to you about your requirements, and write up a quote, or estimate, that includes a timeline, cost of labor and materials, subcontractors that are needed, etc. Carefully compare each portion of the three quotes and be sure the items listed are the same; if not, ask for a do-over
to reflect your preferences.
Get an over-run percentage.
In addition to a quote, ask a potential home improvement contractor to provide an over-run
percentage in writing. LifeHacker
explains that this limits your liability for expenses above and beyond the contract to whatever you and the contractor agree upon; something between 10% and 15% is a reasonable figure. This arrangement helps you keep the project from spiraling out of budget.
Have the contractor itemize each task.
An itemized quote will help you identify what is costing the most and what is costing least. By looking at a quote this way you can see areas where you may be able to cut costs. For example, if you're doing a kitchen remodel and the contractor provides a quote for a granite counter, you can shave the estimate (and the final bill) by getting a price for laminate counters instead (this assumes you don't specifically want granite).
Complete certain tasks yourself.
Scrutinizing the itemized contractor quote and picking out specific components that you can complete on your own is another way to cut contractor costs. Back to the kitchen example: If your remodeling contractor puts a backsplash into the quote, consider doing it yourself to save labor costs.
Verify insurance, licenses, and certifications.
This is a no brainer. Always, always check for proper insurance, licenses, certifications, and even permits that are necessary to the project. This will save you a lot of money and hassle in the long run. Imagine the expense you'll incur if you hire a roofing contractor without insurance and he falls off the roof.
A quote isn't set in stone, which is one reason for the above-mentioned over-run
percentage. Don't be afraid to negotiate contractor costs. If the contractor really wants or needs your business, chances are there's some wiggle room in the quoted cost. Keep in mind the message contained in our blog post What is the Best Time to Buy What
: Contractors are more likely to negotiate deals in January when most people are strapped for cash after the holidays and demand for home improvement contractor work is low.
Agree on a payment schedule.
Do not pay in full upfront. If you do, there's no guarantee the job will be completed. A payment schedule specified in the contract is your best option. Make payments as you go, with the largest amount reserved for payment upon completion. A small percentage paid upfront is perfectly acceptable - your contractor will need to buy supplies to get started, and small payments in between start to finish are also reasonable.
Sign the contract.
A quote usually forms the basis of bid that includes even more specific details. Once you negotiate all the terms and accept and sign the bid (the contractor must sign, as well), you then have a contract and your project can begin.
Posted on 4/21/2012 7:06 EST
Whether you're enjoying spring by sprucing up your home, planning for Mother's day, or preparing for your next vacation, Cheapism has you covered this week. We've got updates on multifunction printers and ranges, as well as guides to cheap home improvements, gardening, traveling with your credit card, and more.
Whether gas or electric, there's a good cheap range
to be had for less than $600. We identified four models that boil, simmer, bake, roast, and broil to users' satisfaction, are easy to clean, and don't short-change
on features. Even in this price range you can choose between models with sealed or open gas burners, a smooth electric cooktop or coiled elements, and a manual or self-cleaning
A multifunction printer
is about as all-purpose
as could be: it prints, copies, and scans, and some models can fax, as well. All of our picks produce good-looking
text and photos and at least passable color graphics, and do so at a decent pace. Users appreciate the value of these compact devices, which sell for $100 or less.
New Blog Posts.
Credit Card Travel.
If you like to travel (which you probably do) and you like credit cards (which you almost certainly do), then it's worth making sure you're getting every credit card travel benefit
you're entitled to. Our guide will help you do just that.
Budget Bridal Shower Ideas.
Keeping a bridal shower to a budget helps to keep stress to a minimum during what should be a celebratory time. Our frugal and DIY tips will ensure a sweet bridal shower
without spending big bucks -- and this goes for bride and/or hostess alike.
Cheap Mother's Day Gift Ideas.
It's the thought that counts, not the price tag. You know that age-old
adage. But it can still be hard to come up with creative and meaningful gift ideas for Mother's Day. Read the post with our favorite (and thrifty) suggestions for Mother's Day
5 High-Impact Outdoor Home Improvement Ideas.
Whether your house is going on the market or you're just looking for some added curb appeal, these cheap home improvement tips
will spruce up your pad without breaking the bank.
Procrastinator's Tax Guide.
"Funny" and "taxes" aren't often used in the same sentence, but we think that this taxes infographic
might be worthy of a break with tradition.
Whether you live in an apartment or just don't have time for big backyard gardening, our guide to cheap urban gardening
is a hassle-free
start to introducing plant life into your home regardless of space or budget constraints.
Bikinis on a Budget.
It's time to shake off those winter blues and begin planning a summer in the sun. What better way to get a jump on the season than to set out on a hunt for cheap swimwear
? Our guide includes online and brick-and-mortar
stores where you can score cool deals on hot beachwear.
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If you have a credit card (or three), it's possible that you're missing credit card travel rewards and perks that could save you money. Although many cards are marketed as travel credit cards and cater to the needs of the business or frequent travelers, even regular credit cards carry rewards that users often overlook. Though every card differs, here are a few of the credit card travel rewards you might be able to take advantage of with your current card or you should look for when getting a new card.
One important note: To take advantage of many of these perks, you'll need to book your travel using your credit card.
Let's start with the best-known bonuses:
These are the most obvious credit card travel rewards, which credit card companies use to attract customers. Upon signing up for and using the card, companies reward customers with a large chunk of frequent-flier
miles for a specific airline. Most first-time
rewards are equal to the amount of miles needed for a domestic, non-peak
ticket (25,000), though a few companies offer more.
Miles per dollar.
bonus is the miles-per-dollar
reward: For every dollar you spend, you'll earn a mile. Certain specials can also earn you double or triple miles, so read the fine print to see just where you should be using your card. The Alaska Airlines Signature Visa Card
even gives you 2000 miles simply for using the card to book a flight online.
Some credit cards allow you to buy one ticket and get another for a friend or family member for a small fee. the Alaska Airlines card listed above charges $99 plus tax for a companion ticket. This offer can be a great deal for families or friends who split the total bill.
For these lesser-known perks, call your credit card company before your next trip to find out which they offer:
Car rental insurance.
Many cards offer insurance policies for rental cars, which means you don't need to pay for a separate policy when renting a vehicle, and that'll save you about $30 a day. Creditcards.com
has a nifty chart that shows which credit cards offer what types of insurance coverage.
If you're on a road trip and your car breaks down, you may be able to call on your credit card company for help. MasterCard
, for instance, will arrange a jumpstart or a tow at a pre-negotiated
price, which will be charged to your card. Although it's not free, it's certainly convenient and may be cheaper than having to track down some help yourself.
Emergency travel assistance.
If your luggage is stolen or you need to be evacuated, your credit card company can often help. Discover
offers an entire spectrum of services, from lost bag tracking to legal referrals to political evacuation. Again, although many of these perks aren't free, being able to call a 24-hour hotline is priceless when you're in a desperate situation.
Emergency medical assistance.
The same Discover card mentioned above offers medical referrals, advances on medical payments, and help arranging return travel, travel escorts, and even bedside visitors, and you can take advantage of these credit card travel rewards more often than you can with a travel insurance policy.
Trip cancellation coverage.
If you get sick or there's an emergency that prevents you from taking that vacation you've been dreaming about, trip cancellation insurance will reimburse you the cost of a nonrefundable flight or pay you a certain amount per day if you're delayed. Only a few cards offer this service, and the rules can be strict; expect to provide doctors notes and other corroborating information.
Waived baggage fees.
Paying to check luggage now adds a considerable amount of money to a seemingly cheap ticket, so if you can bypass those fees, you'll save a lot of coin (or a lot of headaches trying to carry on your bags). Some companies waive the first bag fee only, others the second as well.
Your credit card company may also offer other perks, including free foreign transaction fees, airline lounge access, and price protection. Prepare for your next trip by finding out exactly what credit card travel rewards your company offers.