There's a big difference between simply buying things and investing in things that will go to work for you by reducing your expenses and bringing you ever closer to living below your means.
Consider the following seven things that will pay for themselves in money saved in less than a year — provided that you really put them to good use. Once you've recouped the purchase price in money saved, each one will continue to save you money — for free!
BAR MOPS. A bar mop is a square, white terrycloth towel — the perfect size to dry a dish, wipe down a counter or clean up a spill. A bar mop also makes a great oversized cloth napkin. In my kitchen, bar mops have replaced paper towels, paper napkins and traditional kitchen towels, too.
I have six dozen bar mops and rotate them frequently. Actually, I use them with abandon — in the same way I used to use up paper towels — tossing them into a second handy kitchen trash can that I use as a hamper. When it's full, into the laundry they go.
Bar mops are durable. I've had the same collection for many years. I add 1/4 cup of liquid chlorine bleach to the wash cycle and 1/2 cup white vinegar to the final rinse of every load of bar mops. That keeps them sparkling white, stain-free, soft and fluffy.
72 Utopia Towels bar mops: $66.
Two rolls of low-quality paper towels per week for a family of four: $104 per year.
COFFEE MAKER. Pulling through that handy drive-through to pick up coffee every morning may be an enjoyable habit, but it's also a significant money leak. At $2 a cup, it may not seem like much, but do the math. That's something close to $600 a year depending on whether this habit spills over into the weekends. If yours is a latte habit, that number is easily $1,000 per year.
Investing in a fantastic coffee maker, it will more than pay for itself in the first year of use with money you're not handing over to a coffee barista every morning. Add the cost of a cool travel mug and you still come out way ahead. Want to save even more? Learn to roast your own coffee beans — at home! It's a great hobby that further reduces the cost of a great cup of coffee.
Bonavita 8 Cup Coffee Maker: $149
One drive-through regular coffee per weekday: $260 per year
One drive-through latte per weekday: $1,040 per year
DIGITAL TIRE PRESSURE GAUGE. There's no way to get around the fact that properly inflated automobile tires wear longer and require less fuel to operate. If they're over-inflated, the tires are going to wear unevenly, which means having to replace them before their time. If they're under-inflated, they become sluggish, requiring the car's engine to work harder to get them going, and that reduces gas mileage.
Make it a habit to check tire pressure at least once every two weeks by investing in a good digital tire pressure gauge. You want accuracy and ease of use. To learn the psi (pounds per square inch) required by your tires, look for a label on the driver's doorjamb, or on an older car you'll find it in the glove box. Typically the optimum inflation will be between 32 and 35 psi. CAUTION: Do not use the maximum pressure printed on the tire's sidewall.
Tekton Digital Tire Gauge: $9
Cost of under-inflated tires: 0.3 percent for every 1 psi low*: $42 annually
*According to the U.S. Dept. of Energy, with these assumptions: Gas $2.75/gallon, 15,000 miles per year, 15 mpg and tires are 5 psi under-inflated.
RECHARGEABLE BATTERIES. If you have memories of rechargeable batteries from years gone by, they're likely as bad as mine. What a joke! But that's all changed thanks to modern technology — which is good, because according to EHSO we're using more household batteries now than ever. About three billion batteries are sold annually in the U.S. Using my household as an example, we use up at least 10 AA batteries a month. The ability to recharge rather than dispose of batteries is a huge cost saver. Try using an affordable, high-end system like Eneloop Panasonic Rechargeable Batteries Starter Kit. Recharging also reduces the number of batteries hitting the landfills. It just makes sense to recharge batteries rather than dispose of them.
Rechargeable batteries starter kit: $49
Approximate cost of replacing 120 batteries each year: $120
For more info about the products mentioned above, please visit www.everydaycheapskate.com/moneysavers
Mary invites questions, comments and tips at [email protected], or c/o Everyday Cheapskate, 12340 Seal Beach Blvd., Suite B-416, Seal Beach, CA 90740. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of www.DebtProofLiving.com, a personal finance member website and the author of "Debt-Proof Living," released in 2014. To find out more about Mary and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.