Elizabeth Sheer

Elizabeth Sheer is a Brooklyn-based writer and researcher. In addition to researching and writing about household appliances and other consumer items, Elizabeth draws on her history of preparing cooking-related articles to conduct taste tests on all things delicious.
  • Retirement

    Long-Term Care Insurance: Is It Right for You?

    Americans are living increasingly longer lives, but few can afford the care associated with aging. Long-term care insurance can help, but is it right for you?

  • Cleaning

    Do Diluted Detergents, Soaps and Shampoos Still Work?

    Clean your home on the cheap! We found ways to save money on cleaning products, soaps and shampoos by diluting with some water.

  • Appliances

    How Long Before an LED Light Bulb Pays for Itself?

    Cheap LED light bulbs cost more upfront -- between $8 to $10 apiece -- but begin to pay off within 18 months.

  • Money

    City vs. Suburbs: A Tale of Two Retirements

    Learn how two men, one in the city and one in the suburbs, altered their spending habits post-retirement.

  • Frugality

    Turning Happy Hour Into Dinner: A Cheapskate's Guide

    Casual dining restaurant chains have jumped on the happy hour train with deals on drinks and snacks -- maybe enough for dinner.

  • Appliances

    Will a Smart Thermostat Pay for Itself?

    Most Americans are likely paying more to heat their homes this year than they did last winter, according to the Energy Department , because temperatures are expected to be lower than last year and oil and natural gas costs have risen. A programmable thermostat can help counteract those high utility bills. But what about smart, Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats, such as those made by Nest, EcoBee3, and Honeywell? Do their extra features deliver enough extra energy savings to justify a price tag of up to $250? The answer may depend more on you than on the device. Related: 50 Ways to Save Energy (and Money) This Winter Consumers can knock as much as 10 percent off a heating bill by lowering the thermostat 7 degrees to 10 degrees when away from home for eight hours at a stretch. This sounds great, but most people don't diligently turn the temperature up and down during their comings and goings. That's where a programmable thermostat comes in. The device lowers the temperature automatically during sleep hours or when the home is empty. Users can even customize the settings by days of the week -- for instance, by setting the thermostat to save energy during weekday business hours but keep the heat on over the weekend when people are home during the day. For consumers with erratic work schedules (perhaps because they do shift work or travel frequently), reprogramming can be a pain. Top-end thermostats such as the Honeywell Smart Thermostat ( $158 on Amazon ) can help -- they are Wi-Fi-connected and can be contacted remotely when a routine changes, even just for a last-minute dinner or late meeting. The Honeywell learns how long it takes to get the temperature back up and kicks on in time to make the house comfortable when you walk in, removing the temptation to crank up the heat. The Nest ( $250 at Best Buy ) learns your habits and adjusts the heat based on usage patterns. The Nest and Ecobee3 ( $237 at Walmart ) also have sensors that detect movement in a home and drop the temperature when it's empty. It may seem like such features would make it easy to save a lot of money (not to mention energy) in the long run -- certainly that's the claim of the manufacturers. But do the savings even make back the cost of the device? It's hard to talk concrete numbers, because the amount it costs to heat (and cool) a home depends on many factors, including the type, age, and efficiency of the heating system; how well the walls, doors, windows, and ductwork are sealed; and the thermostat's location, among other things. A home with an old, inadequate heating system or that isn't well-insulated, for example, probably needs a more expensive fix than a $250 thermostat to start seeing significant energy savings. What's more, utility costs fluctuate, and if prices go up significantly, using less energy may cost the same amount of money. Climate also makes a difference. The Energy Department advises that consumers in regions with mild weather will see the most savings. All that said, a Wi-Fi-enabled thermostat might indeed save money. Pacific Gas and Electric in California partnered with Honeywell to do a trial of smart thermostats , and found that people liked having an app to change temperature settings remotely and used the app more than they would have used the thermostat alone. More than half reported using less energy. An internal study at Nest found that most consumers saved 10 percent to 12 percent on heating and 15 percent on cooling. The savings averaged out to about $130 a year at the lower end, suggesting that in two years the Nest would pay for itself. On user forums, some smart thermostat owners also point to a "smart home" discount on their home insurance . The users who seem to benefit most from a smart thermostat are those who replaced a manual thermostat or never properly programmed a previous thermostat. Using a regular programmable thermostat judiciously can save about $180 a year on household energy bills, according to the Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program -- no smart features necessary. But many Americans with programmable thermostats set them incorrectly -- in some cases just by leaving the clock set to the wrong time -- or don't program them at all, leaving potential energy savings on the table. A Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study concluded that some programmable thermostats are so complicated that they actually make matters worse. Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats pretty much idiot-proof the process. By far the most important piece of the equation is the user. An expensive smart thermostat can make the programming process easier, or at least more appealing, and adjust easily to schedule changes. But if you have a relatively consistent routine and the discipline to effectively program a cheap thermostat , you may be able to realize similar savings without investing in a smart thermostat.

  • Retail

    Online Shipping: Which Retailer Has the Best Rates

    Shipping fees for online orders are high but free shipping usually is offered for certain order sizes and through membership programs.

  • Kitchen & Food

    Does Composting Also Help You Save Money or Only the Environment?

    Turning food and yard waste into compost helps your wallet and the environment.

  • Online

    Best Shoe Sites for Budget Shoppers

    We ranked the best online shoe sites based on prices, return policies, and rewards. 6PM came out on top.

  • Frugality

    How to Pay Less for Prescription Drugs

    A health insurance policy is no guarantee that prescription medications will be cheap. Many plans include a very high deductible, which means paying the drugs' full cost out of pocket, at least for a while. If this proves financially taxing, several pharmacies, insurance plans, pharmaceutical companies, and nonprofits offer assistance in lowering the cost of necessary medications. Chain Store Prices. The drugstore isn't necessarily the best place to shop for cheap prescription drugs. A 2013 study by Consumer Reports found that prices for the same medicine varied widely by pharmacy, with the warehouse club Costco charging the least overall and CVS the most. The generic form of the anti-depressant Lexapro cost $7 at Costco, for example, and $126 at CVS (and you don't have to be a Costco member to use the pharmacy). A more recent search by Cheapism.com found Lexapro to be cheapest at Walmart ($8.71) and most expensive at Rite Aid ($64.08). Tip: Don't assume that national chains post the lowest prices. Independent drugstores often are willing to negotiate prices because they have more leeway in setting prices than the chains do. Discount Programs. Pharmacy chains such as Walmart, Walgreens, Kmart, Target, and even Kroger offer discount drug programs that cover hundreds of commonly prescribed generics. Some stores require an upfront membership fee to be eligible for these cheap prices. The Costco program is free for members, but CVS charges $15 a person, Kmart charges $10 for a household, and Walgreen's costs $20 a person or $35 for a family. (Fees may vary by location.) These in-store pharmacies charge $4 for a monthly supply of generics and $10 for a 90-day supply. That's all well and good, but a generic may not be what your doctor prescribes even though the medication adheres to the identical formulation of the original patented drug. Generic Medications. Consumer spending on pharmaceuticals jumped 13.1 percent to $374 billion in 2014, according to IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics , in part due to the introduction of new brands and strong demand for specialty medicines. These drugs, and many of the top 10 sellers (total prescriptions), have no generic counterparts; only medications that have been available long enough for their patents to expire have generic equivalents. And inevitably, the original brand name drug is really expensive. Still, it always pays to ask the doctor if a cheaper generic is available. If not, there are alternative paths to lower-cost meds. Assistance Programs. Health insurance companies usually offer tiered co-pays for prescription drugs, with the generic version being cheaper and brand names more expensive. Brand name drug manufacturers may subsidize the cost for financially strapped patients with health insurance through Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs). This is often the only way that medications, particularly new formulations, are affordable. Sometimes doctors hand out discount cards along with the prescription; if they don't, ask for one. Most pharmaceutical companies also offer low-cost medications, with prices varying by income, for patients who lack health insurance or prescription coverage. If your doctor doesn't have a discount card and the medication is costly, go to NeedyMeds for information about PAPs and access to a discount card that opens the door to deals from drug manufacturers. The card is good for prescription drugs that aren't covered by insurance or if the pharmacy price with the discount card is lower than your co-pay. Look up the drug on the site to see if you can get help paying for it. Online Resources. GoodRx provides coupons and discounts for use at pharmacies (e.g., Walgreens, Target, Rite Aid, and Safeway) and identifies the cheapest local source for your prescription. A search for the medication turns up the prices at your neighborhood drugstores and at online mail-order houses. GoodRx also indicates if there is a generic formulation and, if not, when the drug comes off patent. Another money-saving resource is Rx Pharmacy Coupons . This site posts discount coupons for drugs, both brand name and generic, that can be used at dozens of drugstore chains and supermarket pharmacies across the country, as well as some independent pharmacies. Using any or all of these resources can save consumers money. For example, the rosacea medication Oracea costs between $263 and $483 for a one-month supply, according to GoodRx, and a generic equivalent won't be available until 2022. The manufacturer has a PAP, which provides a discount to people without insurance if their income is within 200 percent of the poverty line. Another alternative would be visiting Rx Pharmacy Coupons, which offers a coupon worth 50 percent off at participating pharmacies. Co-Pay Relief. Several sites offer help with co-pays for people presenting with conditions that require expensive drugs not covered by insurance. The Patient Access Network Foundation focuses on people with chronic conditions who are insured but whose income falls at, or below, the poverty line. The site contains a list of the covered drugs and a referral service to other organizations that offer co-payment assistance. Cancer drugs are among the most expensive, and insurance doesn't always cover them. Cancer Care Co-Payment Assistance Foundation helps out with chemotherapy and FDA-approved "targeted therapy" drugs aimed at cancers. Assistance is available to patients with insurance or Medicare policies that cover a portion of the cost. Free Samples. Pharmaceutical companies are constantly giving away free samples to doctors, who often pass them on to patients. The samples are always relatively new brand names without generic equivalents. Beware the moment when it's time to get more of the same, though. A study published in JAMA Dermatology in 2014 found that dermatologists who pass out free samples continue to prescribe the sample drugs, which cost more than alternative medications. If the drug is needed for an acute condition that's not likely to recur, a free sample could be just the ticket. If the condition is chronic, ask for more samples. Or, turn to another money-saving option.

  • Apps & Software

    Free Dating Apps Comparison

    A roundup of six free dating apps notes their quirks and lists the supporting devices.

  • Frugality

    Spending Diary: Why I Shop at Farmers Markets

    Some foodstuffs are just plain better when bought at the farmers market, even if they cost more, but some are on par with the supermarket.

  • Frugality

    Spending Diary: Home Maintenance Is Eating My Renovation Budget

    Fixing up an old house and handling routine home maintenance requires a constant trade-off between time and money.

  • Small Business

    5 Cheap and Easy App Builders for Small Businesses

    You run a small business with an ace website. But more and more consumers are accessing the web on mobile devices, so it's critical that your company have an app, as well. The cheapest way to get one: DIY app development. Just as Squarespace and GoDaddy have made it easy to build your own website, there are app builders that don't require a computer science degree or coding know-how. And you'll save a bundle compared with hiring a developer, although there are usually monthly fees and ads within the cheapest apps. Cheapism.com has identified five tools for building an app quickly and easily at very little cost. We made our selections based on price and user-friendliness for the layperson. Appy Pie (iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Windows 8, BlackBerry) . Appy Pie uses a simple drag-and-drop process. Among the business types you can choose are restaurant, merchant, and veterinarian. Features include social-profile integration, blog and website integration, GPS tracking, photo-gallery integration, appointment schedulers, event listings, shopping cart, menu builder, and live streaming. The cost depends on the desired functions: a simple HTML5 or Android app containing ads is free; $25 a month eliminates the ads and provides support for the Apple platform, real-time revisions and updates, use of most of the features, push notifications, and more; $40 a month additionally integrates with Amazon, Windows, and BlackBerry and removes Appy Pie branding in favor of your own. Apptive (iOS, Android) . This DIY app maker is aimed exclusively at mobile commerce, drawing on businesses' websites to offer users a catalog of products. You can upload your logo, backgrounds, and other branding elements to make the app consistent with your site. The splash screen and any content can be customized. As with other app builders, a drag-and-drop interface creates the features you want, although Apptive is less feature-rich. Three pricing plans differ primarily in the quantity of products shown in your catalog. The basic plan costs $29 a month for 1,000 items; the standard plan goes for $69 a month with 10,000 items; and the pro version, at $149 a month, allows up to 30,000 items, optimizes the app for iPad, and enables automatic syncing with your website. Bizness Apps (iOS, Android, HTML5) . A user-friendly content management system is the highlight of this feature-rich app maker. Bizness Apps is suitable for a variety of businesses, including nonprofits, law offices, real estate agents, and bands. Features include GPS , social media integration, reservations, podcasts and other music players, video, photos, newsfeeds, event listings, images, and so on. DIY types can choose between two packages: $29 a month buys a mobile website with maps, click-to-call, and multimedia content; $59 a month offers native apps for iPhone, iPad, and Android and the ability to use food ordering, shopping cart, loyalty program, and push notification features. If the thought of building your own app is too scary, Bizness Apps will take charge for $2,000. Como (Android, iOS, Amazon) . Como starts with existing content from your website or blog and lets you customize with a wide variety of backgrounds and styles. There are set themes for restaurants, music, photography events, and nonprofits or you can create a theme of your own choosing based on a website or Facebook page. Other features include monetization, content sharing, business promotion, and analytics. Photo and music sharing, as well as video, are also supported. A $39 monthly subscription includes unlimited downloads and assistance submitting the app to Google Play or the Apple App Store. Dwnld (iOS) . Dwnld offers the fewest features among the app makers we researched. Essentially, you import content from your blog or website (or YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, SoundCloud, or several other sources), choose a theme, customize to your heart's content, and publish. That's it. Created by the developer of Pinterest, this unique app maker creates an iOS app with your own branding that covers unlimited hosting, submission to app stores, and software updates. The only available package is a basic one that creates native content for iOS phones and tablets; the site states that Android capability is on the way. Use of this app maker will set you back $15 a month.

  • Lawn & Garden

    How to Stop Spending $350 a Year on Your Yard

    Alternatives to all that grass in your yard can save money on water bills and save time on maintenance.

  • Real Estate

    First Apartment on the Cheap

    We have suggestions about where to find low-cost furnishings and kitchenware for your first apartment.

  • Apps & Software

    Free Prom Apps to Help You Plan a Perfect Night

    Plan for an awesome prom night with one, or several, of these free prom apps.

  • Frugality

    Forget the Holidays and Save

    Winter holidays take a toll on the budget. Consider going holiday-free and keep your bank account solvent.

  • Careers

    Which College Majors Pay the Least and Which Land You a Job?

    College majors affect earning power and employability, but knowing which skills have market power can turn a low-paying major into a good job.

  • Weddings & Relationships

    How to Be in a Wedding Without Breaking the Bank

    Wedding party members and guests can keep it cheap with some creative planning, like DIY makeup and group gifts.

  • Health & Wellness

    Comparing Healthcare Costs? Here's Where to Start

    Use these tools to compare health insurance and find information on healthcare costs under Obamacare and other medical plans and programs.

  • Money

    Easing the Financial Cost of a Death in the Family

    Several ways to cut the cost of a funeral include direct burial, choosing a cheaper casket, and cremation. Air travel costs are hard to minimize.

  • Frugality

    4 Ways to Teach Your Kids About Frugality

    Kids can learn about frugal living by modeling the behavior, being creative and candid, and environmentally-conscious.

  • Fitness

    6 Steps to Fitness on Your Own

    Get in shape and ready for summer with these easy and cheap exercises and fitness tips.

  • Health & Wellness

    Quit Smoking and Save

    We have frugal tips to help you stop smoking. Not only your health will benefit but your wallet will too!

  • Careers

    DIY Career Search

    Starting a DIY career search means identifying your interests, achievements, and skills; researching career options; and networking.

  • Frugality

    8 Things 'Girls' Can Teach Fans About Frugality

    HBO's "Girls" stands in stark contrast to the excess of "Sex and the City." Fans of Lena Dunham's show can actually glean some tips for getting by in New York.

  • Cocina y Alimentación

    Las Mejores Ofertas en Arroceras

    De arroceras de on/off a programables, estas opciones asequibles pueden hacer de 3 a 20 tazas de arroz perfecto cada vez.

  • Dinero

    Los Mejores Beneficios para los Adultos Mayores en los 50 Estados

    Desde clases universitarias gratuitas hasta transporte económico, los 50 estados ofrecen algunas oportunidades imperdibles para los adultos mayores.

  • Viajes

    10 Países Donde los Estadounidenses Pueden Ahorrar Grande en el Cuidado Médico

    Muchos estadounidenses están abrazando el turismo médico como una forma rentable para tratar de otra manera las enfermedades carísimas -- y la oportunidad para ver más del mundo.

  • Cocina y Alimentación

    15 Alimentos Que Los Diabéticos Deben Evitar

    Los diabéticos necesitan vigilar sus niveles de azúcar en la sangre y ciertos alimentos deben consumirse con moderación u omitirse. Aquí hay 15 alimentos que se deben evitar.

  • Dinero

    12 Maneras de Sacar lo Máximo de Su Seguro Social

    Estrategias para maximizar sus beneficios de Seguro Social incluyen la presentación con retraso, alegando beneficios conyugales , y la limitación de los salarios posteriores a la jubilación.

  • Viajes

    12 Asequibles Resorts Todo Incluido en los Estados Unidos

    Desde un ranchero en Nueva York hasta un Club Med en Florida, vacaciones con todo incluido que no te harán quebrar.

  • Viajes

    14 Complejos turísticos con Todo Incluido Aquí en Los Estados Unidos

    De un rancho en Texas hasta un Club Med en Florida, aquí hay 14 complejos turísticos con todo incluido que son económicos para que los vacacionistas disfruten en los Estados Unidos.

  • Dinero

    50 Cosas Productivas para Hacer al Jubilarte

    ¿No estás seguro de lo que debe hacer al jubilarte? Hay muchas formas de ser creativo, voluntario, viajar, trabajar, aprender y mantenerte saludable.

  • Dinero

    No Creas Estos 12 Mitos Comunes de Impuestos

    Créete estos 12 mitos de impuestos y podrías encontrarte explicando a los auditores del Servicio de Rentas Internas que no eres un fraude - solo tonto.

  • Dinero

    10 Cosas de la Que Te Arrepentirás de Comprar Demasiado Económicas

    A veces vale la pena pagar más por productos de mejor calidad porque la baja calidad cuesta más a largo plazo.

  • Viajes

    14 Centros Turísticos Asequibles con Todo Incluido en los EE.UU.

    De un rancho para turistas en Texas a un Club Med en Florida, aquí están 14 centros turísticos asequibles con todo incluido para vacacionistas para disfrutar en los Estados Unidos.

  • Pets

    Best Cheap Cat Foods

  • Beverages

    Best Cheap Red Wine

    Who needs a premium red wine when a thoroughly respectable bottle costs $10 or less? Frugal quaffers who know even a little bit about wine and aren't afraid to go with what they like will find many such bottles. There are hundreds of cheap red wines out there -- some barely worth the few dollars you'd pay but many worth drinking. With so many styles, grape varieties, producers, and labels to choose among, shopping can be a challenge. To guide wine drinkers through the thicket, we've made top picks based on tastings, ratings, reviews, awards, and expert advice. We've also selected a wide array of other inexpensive red wines fit to serve with a meal, bring to a party, or sip over the course of a quiet evening.

  • Outdoor

    Cheap Hiking Boots

    Perhaps the most essential piece of equipment for getting up close and personal with the great outdoors is the right footwear. Few things will do more to dampen the pleasure of a hike than bad boots. Fortunately for hikers on a budget, the best cheap hiking boots provide the support and protection to make a peaceful stroll or vigorous trek enjoyable and rewarding. There's no one dominant brand in cheap hiking boots, but some of the better-known names include Merrell, Keen, Columbia, L.L. Bean, and The North Face. We compared footwear from these and other brands, looking for several important features and favorable reviews from consumers and experts.

  • Beverages

    Best Cheap White Wine

    If you think cheap white wine is only for grandma's spritzer, think again. There's a white wine -- costing no more than $10 to satisfy almost anyone's palate. Inexpensive white wines can complement a range of foods, brighten up a lazy summer afternoon, and make an excellent substitute for pre-dinner cocktails. White wines typically present fruity and/or floral flavors and aromas, sometimes offer a bit of spice and earthiness, and range in sugar content from bone dry to dessert-level sweet. We've made top picks based on tastings, ratings, reviews, and awards, on top of expert advice, and suspect wine drinkers will find at least one selection to suit both their sipping preferences and their budget.

  • Kitchen Appliances

    Best Cheap Coffee Makers

    A coffee maker is a staple in many households. If you rely on that hot, caffeinated cup to get your day rolling -- and sometimes keep you in overdrive -- it may be tempting to spend more than necessary on a coffee maker. Most of the models reviewed by consumer product experts exceed the $50 ceiling we set for a cheap coffee maker. We looked instead to coffee maker reviews on retail sites, where we found that buyers who can barely open their eyes without a cup of coffee in the morning consider the best cheap coffee makers perfectly decent delivery systems.

  • Kitchen Appliances

    Best Cheap Microwave Ovens

    Today's busy consumers demand speed and convenience in the kitchen. Cue cheap microwave ovens, which excel at defrosting and reheating foods and popping bags of corn. If these and a few other simple tasks are the primary reasons for using one, the best budget microwaves won't disappoint. Cheapism.com surveyed the market and read scores of reviews to identify midsize countertop models costing less than $100 that meet expectations for features, thorough cooking or heating, and ease of use.

  • Outdoor

    Best Cheap Binoculars

    When it comes to binoculars, there is a dizzying array of models to consider, from top-of-the-line $2,500 Swarovski 10x42 EL Swarovision to cheap binocular knockoffs for $9 or $10. Prices usually correspond to the quality of the optics and the durability of the product. At the lower end of the market, you won't get superlative clarity or a pair that can be passed down for generations, but you can find good binoculars for less than $50 if you just want something reasonable for sightseeing, ball games, theater, or casual bird-watching.

  • Lawn & Garden

    Best Cheap Snow Blowers

    If you don't have the time or energy for the back-aching chore of shoveling the snow-covered surfaces on your property, a cheap snow blower (a.k.a. a snow thrower) makes a lot of sense. A high-end, professional-grade snow blower, like the Ariens ST32DLE, can set you back several thousand dollars while mid-range gas-powered models from the likes of Husqvarna and Honda carry price tags in the high triple digits. Step down a few rungs, though, and you'll find good inexpensive snow blowers for the home market that cost less than $250 for electric models and $500 or less for gas-fueled models.

  • Kitchen Appliances

    Cheap Dishwashers

    Shoppers on a budget looking for a cheap dishwasher that leaves dishes clean and shiny without making much noise or running up the utility bill will find several good options for less than $500. The key players in the low-priced segment of the market are household names: Whirlpool, GE, Frigidaire, Maytag, Kenmore, and Amana. (Bosch, Samsung, and KitchenAid make a limited appearance but mostly show up outside the Cheapism zone.) These manufacturers all offer an array of cheap dishwasher models, some distinguished by a specific bundle of features and some only by their finish: white, black, bisque, or stainless steel. (As with most appliances, stainless steel commands a markup of about $100.)

  • Beverages

    Cheap Coffee

    More than a third of the coffee Americans drink is classified as "gourmet," according to the National Coffee Association. Nevertheless, cheap coffee still commands a large share of the market, and names like Folgers and Maxwell House remain best sellers. While coffee connoisseurs may deride such brands, our reading of expert and consumer reviews indicates that most inexpensive coffees have many fans. Consumers can buy cheap ground coffee in a package or can, or pick up whole beans to grind themselves before brewing, which experts say is best. We've included examples of both on our list, given that many people don't own a coffee grinder or don't have the time to grind their own beans every morning.

  • Kitchen & Food

    Best Cheap Cookware Sets

    Purchasing a multi-piece cookware set typically costs significantly less than buying each piece individually. The trick is to find a set with the features and performance you want within your budget. Well-burnished names such as All-Clad, Le Creuset, Calphalon, and Swiss Diamond are aspirational, gourmet brands that can easily cost well over $700 for a set. It's possible, however, to get a good set of cheap cookware that features elements of the upmarket sets and bears a brand name such as Farberware or T-Fal.

  • Pets

    Best Cheap Dog Food

  • Kitchen Appliances

    Best Cheap Toaster Ovens

    A toaster oven is an energy-efficient, space-saving, multitasking alternative to a traditional toaster and a traditional oven. With a dizzying array of choices, sizes, and capabilities -- from simple toasting, baking, and broiling to convection cooking -- and leading brands offering multiple models that sometimes differ only minimally, it's sometimes difficult to distinguish which makes the most sense for budget-conscious cooks. We've done the research and pored over hundreds of consumer reviews to find several toaster ovens for less than $50 that earn solid reviews and serve up quality alongside convenience.

  • Appliances

    Best Cheap Irons

    Most any clothes iron, whether cheap or pricey, will meet the needs of anyone who irons once in a while. And with the rise of casual work-wear and synthetic fibers, who really needs an iron anymore? But if iron you must -- for sewers and quilters, an iron is mandatory, as it is for folks who wear mostly cotton -- experts say there's no longer any reason to pay a premium for a gratifying ironing experience. In other words, the best cheap clothes irons often perform at least as well as models costing $100 and more.

  • Fitness

    Cheap Treadmills

    Doctors continually cite walking and jogging as important for cardiovascular fitness, so it's no surprise that treadmills are among the most popular pieces of fitness equipment. They are also among the most expensive, with price tags ranging upward of $2,000 for high-end brands such as Sole, Landice, and online-only retailer Smooth Fitness. At the same time, cheap treadmills afford budget-conscious consumers the convenience of exercising in their own homes for less than $600.

  • Appliances

    Best Cheap Dehumidifiers

    When there's too much humidity in your home, the air feels heavy; people and plants wilt; and mold, mildew, and dust mites have a party, but a cheap dehumidifier can help. The ideal humidity level in a house is 50 percent. At this level, mold will not grow and you and your family will be the most comfortable. Higher humidity levels are bad for paint and wallpaper, bad for pipes, and bad for your sinuses. A cheap dehumidifier can help solve those problems for anywhere from $50 to $200.

  • Groceries

    Best Cheap Chocolate

    If you're looking for the perfect gift for a loved one or even a treat for yourself, chocolate almost always hits the spot. Aside from the swoon factor, any number of benefits have been ascribed to the consumption of chocolate -- brain boosting, mood elevating, cholesterol lowering, aphrodisiac, to name a few. But surely frugal chocoholics want to know: Is chocolate by any other name just the same? That is, does cheap chocolate deliver the satisfying lusciousness that chocolate lovers crave? Our research found that, indeed, you can have an intense chocolate experience without spending a chocolate-covered mint.

  • Kitchen Appliances

    Best Cheap Rice Cookers

    Rice is the most widely eaten food in the world but can be tricky to prepare. While some people swear the stovetop method is easy and a special machine is unnecessary, others familiar with rice gone wrong consider a rice cooker a must-have item. The best cheap rice cookers provide insurance that rice will be fluffy, separated, and moist time after time. In addition, many function as steamers, food warmers, slow cookers, and occasionally as bread makers. We waded through expert and user reviews to determine the best affordable models. Our top picks range from simple on/off units to programmable rice cookers and even computer-enhanced models. They serve up perfectly cooked white and brown rice -- and sometimes stews and steel-cut oats, as well -- while saving users from scraping brown residue off the bottoms of their pans.

  • Fitness

    Cheap Exercise Bikes

    Whether you're rehabilitating a sore knee, training for your next triathlon, or just starting out with an exercise or weight-loss regimen, a cheap exercise bike is a valuable addition to your home gym. Medical experts and trainers praise exercise bicycles, a.k.a. stationary or workout bikes, for their low-impact workout (gentle on joints) and ease of use. A cheap exercise bike is far less costly than a gym membership, and the convenience factor increases the chances you'll actually use it. An in-home exercise bike lets you fit in a 30-minute workout while watching your favorite TV show, saves you the bother and expense of special clothing or shoes needed for other forms of exercise, and frees you from worries about the weather. Better yet, some experts actually recommend an exercise bike that's cheap, particularly if you're a newbie and not sure whether you'll stick with it. The most important thing, they say, is to get up and get moving.

  • Kitchen Appliances

    Cheap Espresso Machines

    We all know how quickly the cost of a daily shot of espresso at your favorite coffee bar adds up. But if espresso is the brew that gets you going, it's a luxury you don't need to sacrifice to save money. With the right ingredients -- i.e., filtered water and superior coffee freshly ground to the right consistency -- the best cheap espresso machines can supply your fix at home. We found several semi-automatic espresso machines that produce more than decent espresso and cost less than $250.

  • Kitchen Appliances

    Best Cheap Bread Makers

    Home-baked bread is more than just delicious -- it's also frugal and healthy. The price of a high-quality loaf of store-bought bread can easily top $4, but you can bake your own for about $1 and avoid ingesting the refined flours, sugars, and preservatives that show up in the commercial product. What keeps many a home cook from baking bread, however, is the time-consuming and arm-wearying process and the fear of yeast failure. Cue cheap bread makers, a nifty countertop appliance that provides all the benefits of fresh-baked loaves without the hassle and anxiety.

  • Fitness

    Cheap Elliptical Trainers

    Exercise enthusiasts and professional trainers love elliptical machines -- cheap as well as pricey -- because they work the whole body with minimal impact to the joints. Your feet never leave the pedals and most have handlebars that move, so you get a dual workout that burns more calories in less time. Better yet, exercising with an elliptical machine seems almost easy. You can certainly pay several thousand dollars for this privilege by buying the type of fitness equipment found in a gym. No need, though, because we've identified several cheap elliptical trainers that provide the same benefits, albeit with a few less frills.

  • Groceries

    Best Cheap Olive Oil

    Conventional wisdom holds that cheap olive oil works fine in a stir-fry or marinade, because the taste is either cooked out or combined with other, more prominent flavors. Salad dressings, freshly baked bread, and the like would seem to call for only the best olive oil. It's quite possible to go into a specialty or gourmet store -- even an olive oil boutique such as O & Co. (located on the East Coast, in Denver, and online) -- and drop $50 on a 500 ml bottle. We were curious to see, though, how cheap olive oils really stack up when they aren't cooked. To find out, we assembled 11 hungry people, five oils, and a pile of semolina bread slices. We found that the best olive oil for finishing salads or drizzling over pasta might not be most expensive. In a blind test, our panel of tasters favored relatively inexpensive Goya over higher-priced bottles.

  • Beverages

    Hot Chocolate Mix

    Although the terms are used interchangeably here and in common parlance, hot chocolate and hot cocoa technically are not the same thing. Hot chocolate is made from chocolate shavings that melt in milk and hot cocoa is made from powdered cocoa. But that doesn't demean the latter. Powdered cocoa mixed with sugar and hot milk is the cheapest and most convenient way to go -- and many consumers assert that this recipe produces the best drink. Indeed, the best "hot chocolate" mix should dissolve into a velvety, smooth liquid with a pleasing creaminess, even if you're adding water, and smell and taste like chocolate with a balanced sweetness. With the help of online reviews, we zeroed in on some of the most popular brands. Our seven-person tasting panel tried the top three to declare the best instant hot cocoa mix.

  • Kitchen & Food

    Best Cheap Pepper Mills

    For anybody who's even a bit serious about cooking, ground pepper that comes in a tin just won't do. What your kitchen calls for instead is a cheap pepper mill, one that grinds pepper the moment before it goes into a soup, onto a roast, or atop a plate of salad or pasta. For pepper to taste like pepper, a grinder is an essential tool. Like most spices, pepper contains oils that hold the flavor of the spice, which dissipates when exposed to air. Although some very serious cooks swear by high-end Peugeot pepper mills (those big wooden mills with a "mushroom" on top) that go for nearly $100, you can unlock the flavor just as well with a pepper mill that costs less than a quarter of that price.

  • Fitness

    Best Cheap Yoga Clothes

    You may not need much to begin practicing yoga -- after all, it doesn't even require shoes -- but it's very possible to spend a fortune on special yoga clothing and gear. Companies such as Lululemon have built businesses on that premise. Frugal yogis can find far cheaper yoga clothes that fit well and prove comfortable and durable.

  • Home & Garden

    Cheap Light Bulbs

    For years now, frugal consumers looking for cheap light bulbs have weighed the lower initial cost of incandescent bulbs against the long-term savings of energy-efficient options. Now the choice is largely moot: As of January 1, 2014, manufacturers are no longer producing traditional incandescents. Efficiency standards set by the U.S. government in 2007 effectively phased out 100-watt incandescent bulbs first, followed by 75-watt bulbs; 60- and 40-watt bulbs just recently got the boot, although some linger on store shelves (and there are certain exceptions). Plenty of consumers lament the loss of incandescent bulbs, which often cost 50 cents or less, and some devotees have hoarded the cheap light bulbs. However, Cheapism found that the best cheap compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFLs, don't cost much more.

  • Groceries

    Best Cheap Ice Cream

    Sultry weather calls for a chilly treat, and that almost invariably means ice cream. One warm afternoon we gathered together a panel of 14 volunteers for a blind tasting, with the goal of identifying the best cheap ice cream. Markets have been flooded recently with a wave of artisanal, small-batch ice cream, gelato, and sorbet brands that, not surprisingly, carry high-end artisanal price tags. Premium ice creams, such as Haagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry's, typically cost at least $4 for a pint. For that price, you can buy a 1.5-quart container of a supermarket brand.