Light up the month with an energy-efficient light bulb. See how your frugal month results stack up against those of our reporter.
Cheap Rice Cookers Buying Guide
Rice is the most widely eaten food in the world, making a cheap rice cooker a must-have item in many households. Some people swear stovetop preparation is so easy that you don't need a special machine, but for anyone familiar with rice gone wrong, a low price rice cooker can be your best friend.
Rice cooker prices range from $8 for a plastic microwave rice steamer to more than $400 for a top-of-the-line model by Zojirushi. In terms of price, Tiger and Zojirushi sit atop the rice cooker food chain and Sanyo, Panasonic, and Aroma occupy the bottom end. For less than $100, budget-minded cooks can prepare restaurant-quality rice in a cheap rice cooker that's easy to clean and might even multitask.
Models with micro-computer/fuzzy logic technology, which adjusts the cooking time to suit whatever is inside, are usually too pricey to be considered a cheap rice cooker, but we found a good one: the Sanyo ECJ-S35K Micom (starting at $91), much appreciated for its ability to perfectly cook many types of rice and grains. In the one-touch, on/off cheap rice cookers category, we like the Aroma ARC-1266F (starting at $27), which users say does a mean job on rice and steamed vegetables; the Zojirushi NS-RNC10 (starting at $92), for its speed and well-cooked end product; and the Panasonic SRG-06FG (starting at $25), a no-frills cheap rice cooker that yields tasty rice and other grains, and legumes, as well. Two inexpensive rice cookers that didn't earn a spot on our list include the Cuisinart CRC-800 (starting at $76), which is plagued by reports of starchy overflows and a burnt bottom layer, and the Rival RC61 (starting at $19), which suffers from similar problems and the early demise of some units.
The price of a rice cooker depends largely on its features, which in turn affects how you use it. There's less guess work with upmarket fuzzy logic/micro-computerized (micom) rice cookers, which come with pre-programmed settings for different types of rice, various cooking modes, and sometimes specified texture; they also boast flexible timer options, digital read outs, and sleeker design. Nonprogrammable on/off models, which largely fill out the cheap rice cookers segment, feature the bare basics -- one cook mode and sometimes a keep-warm setting. In the absence of the latter, keeping the lid on is the only way to keep the contents at serving temperature. In the absence of cook modes and settings, some experimentation is in order to get the timing and ratio of liquid to solid down pat, particularly if you branch out into staples such as steel-cut oatmeal, quinoa, bulghur and other grains, beans, soups, and stews.
The size of a rice cooker, cheap or otherwise, is denoted by number of cups. Rice cooker cups are not a standard U.S. measure, however; the measuring cup included with a rice cooker is usually the equivalent of 200 ml, the standard Japanese measure (an American cup is 240 ml), so you may need to adjust your menu plans accordingly. Also note that sizing is usually based on an uncooked rice measure -- a 3-cup rice cooker, for example, produces about 6 cups of cooked rice -- although some manufacturers and retailers state size by the amount of cooked rice. Rice cookers also feature non-stick inner pots, and some come with steamer baskets. Most include a measuring cup to ensure proper measurement of ingredients and a rice paddle that won't scratch the non-stick lining.
If you're used to cooking rice on the stove, you may be surprised at the slow progress of a rice cooker. Cooking times vary by the variety of rice being cooked, but cheap on/off rice cookers tend to be faster than fuzzy-logic/micom rice cookers. One big advantage of fuzzy logic rice cookers is being able to set the timer so that the rice, or whatever is inside, is ready when you are.
Best Cheap Rice Cookers
Many users admire the versatility of this small fuzzy logic (micro-computerized) rice cooker, which turns out excellent rice of many varieties and bakes bread, to boot. The heavy inner pot feels solid and durable, the hinged outer lid locks in place, and the timer function lets you set up dinner long before heading out for the day.Read Full Review and Compare Prices »
For its budget price and simple on/off functionality (plug in and go), this rice cooker impresses users with the quality of the end product, be it white rice, quinoa, or steamed beets. The ARC-1266F Cool-Touch features a keep-warm function, a hinged locking lid, and a steamer basket for meal add-ons.Read Full Review and Compare Prices »
Good Cheap Rice Cookers
A simple on/off rice cooker, the Zojirushi NS-RNC10 quickly turns out tasty, well-textured rice. Consumers like the convenience of the 12-hour keep-warm mode, and the hinged, locking lid and condensation collector that keep liquids from spilling over.Read Full Review and Compare Prices »
Cheap, fast, and attractive (the pot is red), the Rival RC61 boasts curb appeal. Still, consumers gripe that the bottom of the rice gets hard if you leave it sit too long in keep-warm mode and the starchy rice water tends to boil out over the top. It comes with a steamer basket for meal-time extras and a glass lid.Read more »
Black & Decker HS1000 Review
Cuisinart CRC-800 Review
Rival RC61 Review
Panasonic SR-G06FG Review
Zojirushi NS-RNC10 Review
Sanyo ECJ-S35K Review
Aroma ARC-1266F Review
Our reporter took the frugal month challenge and saved $328 during February by forgoing haircuts and new clothes and finding free entertainment.
Women who think they may be pregnant can choose a free test at a clinic or doctor's office or cheap at-home tests.