Gina Briles

Gina K. Briles writes family, household, and shopping-related product reviews. She is a displaced Jayhawk and a coffee addict living in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, two small children, and Vizsla dog.
  • Retail

    Lowe's or Home Depot

    Do-it-yourself season is that time of year when you suddenly feel compelled to organize the garage, do something about your outdated kitchen, build a deck, or apply a fresh coat of paint. Whatever the project or task may be, chances are you'll check the offerings at Lowe's and/or Home Depot. Cheapism sent a researcher to outposts of both hardware giants to determine which offers the better value for your limited renovation dollars. These big-box bigwigs are highly successful and fiercely competitive, making it impossible to pick a winner based on the cost of merchandise alone. Although prices at Home Depot and Lowe's sometimes fluctuate, they're often exactly the same, and the differences we noted typically were slight. In the end, the service and overall experience we got for our money earned Lowe's the title of value champ.

  • Health & Wellness

    Best Cheap Sunscreen

    Warnings about damage from sun exposure, constant reappraisals of what constitutes "too much sun," and frightening rates of skin cancer have transformed cheap sunscreen from a vacation-only sundry to an everyday must-have. Sunscreens range in price from $5 or $6 to well over $100 for boutique beauty creams. At the low end of that spectrum are popular brands such as Banana Boat, Coppertone, and Hawaiian Tropic. There are also several generics, such as Target's Up & Up brand and Walmart's Equate products, that do surprisingly well in lab testing, earning the respect of both experts and consumers.

  • Beverages

    Best Cheap Beer

    Over the past several years, scores of new varieties of beer have flooded the shelves, with the marketplace becoming both wider and more specialized. Craft beers are competing head-to-head with the traditional standbys and altering the perception of what constitutes an acceptable price; $15 for a six-pack is now fairly commonplace. The question is, must an avid beer drinker keen on a fresh, full taste really shell out that kind of cash? Cheapism has consulted online ratings and reviews and conducted two comparative samplings in a continuing quest to identify the best cheap suds, whether old-school American-style lagers or their craftier contemporaries. This year, our panelists tasted nine popular beers in a blind test to help guide consumers to high-quality brews at budget prices.

  • Outdoor

    Cheap Kids' Bikes

    Parents can pay a lot of money for a bicycle that a child will outgrow in a year or two, or they can seek out solid, cheap kids' bikes. The big-box stores offer low-cost options ranging from the widely available Huffy line to the Toys R Us exclusives Rallye and Avigo. Other names you'll come across at the lower end of the market include NEXT and Pacific, and occasionally Schwinn. Within this pool you'll find several acceptable options for the limited time your growing child will be riding a starter bicycle. One of these cheap bikes should do the trick until the child gets older and more serious about the type of riding he or she will be doing.

  • Groceries

    Best Cheap Tortilla Chips

    Tortilla chips are a staple of social gatherings far and wide. From football Sundays to family get-togethers, the crunchy crisps make appearances alongside guacamole, seven-layer-dip, queso, and salsa. Tasty versions of this party food are readily available at mouthwateringly low prices. We gathered a group of hungry chip lovers to taste-test 13 common brands of tortilla snacks, from Frito-Lay's Tostitos and Santitas to Trader Joe's and Costco's Kirkland Signature. Here's the scoop on which cheap tortilla chips won out in a blind test.

  • Appliances

    Cheap Garage Door Openers

    The best products often come with a hefty price tag, but when it comes to garage door openers, thrifty consumers get a well-deserved break: Cheap garage door openers, selling for less than $175, are typically the longest-lasting and most reliable.

  • Frugality

    Outlet Shopping vs. Retail

    Bargain shoppers may be concerned about price, but they still appreciate name-brand products and enjoy staying on top of trends. Outlet shopping malls woo budget buyers with the promise of designer labels at affordable prices. To determine whether the lure actually snares savings for frugal consumers, we compared outlet shopping vs. retail. Our foray during the holiday season netted close to 30 percent off regular mall prices by shopping the outlets. As we prepared for the upcoming summer splash, we found savings worth nearly 35 percent at the outlet mall, even after retail discounts were factored in.

  • Groceries

    Best Cheap Salsa

    Salsa and chips -- the dynamic duo of snack foods. Whether you're watching sports, enjoying family movie night, or stocking up to binge a new season of a favorite show, this simple combo is the hero of the hungry. To find the best cheap salsa to pair with tortilla chips, we organized a panel of eight tasters for a blind test. Our volunteer panelists sampled 11 low-price name-brand and store-brand salsas purchased at Safeway, Walmart, Trader Joe's, and Whole Foods. While budget-priced salsa may lag high-end artisanal products in terms of nuance and ingredients, the best cheap salsa has near-universal appeal.

  • Groceries

    Best Frozen Pizza

    Frozen pizza may be the hallmark food of our chaotic modern culture. It feeds struggling students, kitchen-phobic singles, and busy families. Stocking the freezer with premade pies also saves time for the over-scheduled and saves money compared with delivery or eating out. The question is: Which are the best frozen pizzas for those late nights and dinners on the run? We shopped for top frozen pizzas costing no more than 30 cents per ounce and served up a feast of six cheese and six pepperoni pies to a panel of nine willing participants, who dished on which were the best frozen pizzas and which were the worst.

  • Retail

    Best Garden Center

    By the time spring arrives most of us are ready to emerge from indoor hibernation. Whether you're an avid gardener or a novice cultivator, sprucing up your little plot of earth is a rewarding way to celebrate longer and warmer days. After the dull greys and browns of the cold weather season, the best garden centers promise the advent of colorful buds and blooms. While it's easy to spend big bucks on mature plants and trees, single-purpose tools, and decorative containers, sticking to basics and following a few simple guidelines brings gardening well within reach.

  • Baby

    Best Cheap T-Shirts

    No matter your age, profession, or walk of life, the classic T-shirt is a wardrobe essential. Plain tees come in a wide variety of price points, from cheap T-shirts suitable only as undershirts or pajamas to designer tees with price tags that seem outrageous for such a simple garment. How much do you have to spend for an attractive, serviceable T-shirt that can go from relaxing at home to sweating at the gym to anchoring a button-down or sweater at the office? We tracked down some of the cheapest basic T-shirts on the market, then put them through their paces to see how they would stand up to the daily grind.

  • Toys

    Cheap Lego

    When it comes to both the promise and the price of Legos, the sky is the limit. Each glossy block holds the potential for boundless creativity and staggering feats of engineering. The cost of a set can reach into the thousands. For most consumers, though, Lego is in a class of its own and cheaper competitor brands are not an option. Lego sets also rarely go on sale, so cheap Legos can be hard to come by. Any Lego discounts or promotions typically emerge during the holiday season, making it a good time for serious collectors (or their parents) to stock up. During the rest of the year, and when it comes to popular collections such as Star Wars and Harry Potter, budget-conscious builders should focus on value over price.

  • Baby

    Cheap Double Strollers

    Stroller selection can be an overwhelming process, especially when this particular mode of transportation must accommodate the needs of two children. Regardless whether you're buying a cheap double stroller for twins or tots of different ages, there's no need to spend more than $250. Safety 1st and Jeep offer some of the cheapest double strollers, but these models earn mixed reviews from both experts and users. Reviews of Combi, Graco, and Baby Trend double strollers are more consistently positive, even for the relatively inexpensive models. Several traditionally high-end stroller manufacturers, such as Joovy and Maclaren, also make some well-regarded double strollers that sit near the top of the budget price range. We identified several commendable low-cost models that don't stint on quality, usability, convenience, or even good looks.

  • Groceries

    Best Cheap Frozen Diet Meals

    It can be a challenge for budget shoppers to find cheap, healthy (a.k.a. diet) meal options that are both quick and satisfying. At first glance, frozen dinners seem to fill the bill. They are easy to pop into the microwave, and grocery stores carry a plethora of diet-friendly options. Many fall flat when it comes to taste, however. Who wants to risk throwing away their hard-earned dollars on what could be a disappointing lunch? We decided to put a selection of low-cost, frozen convenience meals to the test to determine if they would satisfy budget-conscious calorie counters.

  • Frugality

    Cheap Whole Foods Products

    Since the retailer's humble beginnings as a health-food store in Austin, Texas, Whole Foods prices have developed a reputation for unaffordability. Is the store critics have dubbed "Whole Paycheck" essentially off-limits to frugal consumers? Or is it possible that, hidden amid the sustainable seafood and fair-trade coffee, there are bargains to be had? Cheapism priced out more than 200 commonly purchased products at a Seattle-area Whole Foods Market and compared the cost of equivalent products at a neighborhood Safeway. In the end we came up with a long enough list of deals to justify an occasional trip to this specialty grocer.

  • Toys

    Cheap Toys

    We at Cheapism are hardly immune to the siren-call of electronic games, but for this guide to the best cheap toys for the younger elementary school set we're sticking with the more traditional kind of cheap toys. That is, toys the child actually holds and manipulates in some way, items with tactile qualities that are present in the here and now. While we can't guarantee that our picks for best cheap toys will vanquish the uber-modern screen-based games in a head-to-head contest, we're fairly confident they won't end up in the bottom of the toy bin, either.

  • Toys

    Toy Collectibles

    Kids love to collect things. Whether they're amassing an army of action figures or piling on armfuls of bracelets, the more the merrier seems to be their philosophy. Below is a glimpse of a few cheap toy collectibles appearing on wish lists of kids we know. Some seem more like girls' toys and others like toys for boys, but you'll know what appeals to the intended recipient. Cheap toy collectibles are inevitably a big hit because you're buying something you know the child really likes, either as an addition to a growing collection or the start of one.

  • Toys

    Cheap Educational Toys, Best Learning Toys

    Children are naturally inquisitive. Any parent who has successfully navigated the "why" phase will tell you that. Budget-smart educational toys channel kids' curiosity while teaching them something at the same time. Below are a few that stand out. This is but a sampling of the many quality, educational toys available for less than $20. These teaching toys appeal to both children's sense of exploration and parents' desire to see them succeed.

  • Toys

    Cheap Toy Pets and Stuffed Animals

    Children (most typically girls) aged 5 to about 7 or 8 are often hooked on all things pet-related, and there's no shortage of cheap toy pets for the 2010 holiday season. The ones below garner enthusiastic endorsements in reviews we found online and in talking with adults and children. It's the "cool factor" that will have the little people in your life squealing with delight upon receiving these cheap toy pets and creatures.

  • Toys

    Cheap Kids' Crafts

    Cheap kids' crafts, as most parents and teachers know, keep young hands and minds busy. Fortunately, many grade-schoolers like projects that accomplish these goals. While pawing through the toy shelves, we found a number of cheap crafts that don't require a major outlay in order to put a child's creativity to good use. An added bonus: once cheap kids' crafts are assembled, they continue to provide opportunities for creative play and display.

  • Toys

    Games and Puzzles

    What's not to like about cheap games and puzzles? They never go out of style, they teach kids about fairness and losing gracefully, and they provide hours of interactive fun. Two of this season's hot new games for boys and girls are Lego's Creationary (starting at $30), a Pictionary offshoot that requires players to build objects with Lego bricks, rather than draw them, and Mattel's Loopz (starting at $30), an electronic Simon Says-style game. These two are priced slightly above our Cheapism cheap games niche, but are worth knowing about. If you prefer to stay within the cheap games segment, however, you'll find plenty of alternatives that retail at half the price and are just as engaging.