10 Purchases That Pay for Themselves

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Cutting expenses is always appealing, but a small upfront investment can reap ongoing savings. These 10 products and services pay for themselves -- and then some -- in relatively short order.


LED bulbs are energy- and cost-efficient replacements for now-obsolete incandescent bulbs. The estimated average yearly energy cost of an LED bulb is $1.25 compared with $7.23 for the old-fashioned kind (assuming a rate of 11 cents per kilowatt hour and three hours of use per day). Although the initial outlay is high -- starting at about $10 for a single bulb -- consumers can expect to break even in about a year and a half. What's more, LED light bulbs last about 25,000 hours. That's a lot of light before it's time to buy a replacement.


Given the high monthly fees for cable and satellite TV, many viewers are turning to streaming media players such as Apple TV and Roku. The cheapest ones cost $50 or less, and a subscriptions to Netflix and Hulu Plus are $7.99 a month, which certainly beats the price of cable.


Install a programmable thermostat and save up to 10 percent per year on your utility bill. The Department of Energy recommends setting the thermostat to dial down the temperature 7 to 10 degrees for at least eight hours a day while you're out or sleeping. With a cheap programmable thermostat that costs less than $40, you can reap the payback within months.


Even when you're home, there's no reason to heat the entire house. Each degree you lower the thermostat can shave 1 percent off your heating bill if the temperature remains at that level for more than eight hours, according to the Energy Department. Stave off the chill in the room where everyone congregates by using a space heater that costs less than $35.


Save money and the environment by forgoing bottled water. Data compiled by Greatist show that a gallon of bottled water costs $7.50 on average compared with $1.22 for a gallon of tap water. Buy a cheap water filter and reusable water bottle, fill up multiple times a day, and earn back your investment lickety-split.


Grabbing a cup o' Joe at the coffee shop on your way to work may be convenient, but a few cups each week adds up to a pile of beans. Assuming an average price of about $2 for a cup of brewed coffee, three cups a week drains more than $300 from your bank account over 12 months. Multiply that by two if a latte or cappuccino is more your style. Home-brew coffee machines cost as little as $25 for a basic model, and even if you spring for a more sophisticated version in the $300 range, you'll recoup your investment in a year or so.


A 20-pack of AA batteries costs $10 to $12. Depending on the number of appliances, toys, and electronics in your life, you could power through a lot of these little energy cells in no time. For an outlay of $15 to $20, a universal battery charger will juice up any brand and pay for itself in short order.


Riding a bicycle instead of driving a car, even occasionally, can save you hundreds of dollars per year. Let's say you drive 10 miles to and from work each day and use a gallon of gas. Even at today's lower gas prices, with a national average of about $2 a gallon, that's $10 for the week and more than $500 for the year -- before factoring in errands around town and other excursions besides commuting. A good bike can be had for about $200 (cheaper yet if you pick up a used model).


Workout equipment for a home gym can be a large investment, but it undercuts the cumulative cost of a monthly gym membership by a wide margin. Individual membership fees can reach $100 a month while a home-gym system that includes weights, a bench, a mat, and cardio equipment totals about $1,000, paying for itself within a few years.


A service or warranty plan for a product such as a smartphone, computer, or refrigerator may seem like a scam until you actually need it. Consumer product experts are ambivalent about the value of extended warranties, but there are times when a single incident can make the extra expense seem like a wise decision. One consumer told Cheapism he purchased a $5 monthly contract that entitled him to 12 months of free service calls for his home security system (which would otherwise cost $60). He wound up needing the assistance of a technician and offset a year of fees in just one visit.