15 Best Buys for Your Home for $50 or Less
Savvy renters and homeowners look beyond aesthetics when shopping for home goods. The right purchases can make a home safer, save money, and come in handy for years. Equip your home with these 15 items for no more than $50 each.
Although they can cost $4 to $10 each, LED light bulbs are money savers that can pay for themselves in just over a year, in addition to being good for the environment. Each bulb lasts up to 25 times longer than a traditional incandescent bulb and uses up to 80 percent less energy. Manufacturers have answered early complaints about LED light bulbs: Now there are "soft white" versions (which mimic incandescent light) and bulbs for dimmers.
They require a little extra care, but cast-iron skillets that are properly seasoned and maintained provide an excellent nonstick surface and can be passed on from one generation to the next. Shoppers can find starter sets of three skillets by Lodge, a well-known brand, for about $25.
To go along with the new skillets, buy silicone spatulas that can withstand up to 600 degrees Fahrenheit. They're not especially expensive -- Oxo sells one for about $10. Unlike plastic spatulas, they won't melt at the edges when flipping eggs or pancakes. Unlike metal spatulas, they won't damage nonstick surfaces.
Making coffee at home can save time and money, especially for those who need it daily, and there are plenty of inexpensive methods to choose from. A French press, pour-over dripper, Chemex, percolator, AeroPress, or classic Mr. Coffee can all be found for less than $50.
This one small appliance takes care of multiple tasks. Whether making toast for breakfast or reheating last night's dinner, a toaster oven can save time and energy over a conventional oven. The Black and Decker and Proctor Silex brands start at about $30.
Paper towels and napkins can be convenient, but they're a drain on a household budget and the earth's resources. Instead, buy a set of matching napkins that can be thrown into the wash. Microfiber cleaning cloths are durable, absorbent, and suitable for all types of surfaces, from windows to countertops to the bathtub. (Use different colored cloths for the bathroom so they don't get mixed up.) They also clean with just water -- no need to buy chemical cleaners.
A bottle of wine that's recorked and stored for the next day quickly loses its original flavor and aroma. A wine stopper can create an airtight seal and prevent oxidation. The Air Cork Wine Preserver ($25) performed well in testing by The Sweethome but was bested by an even cheaper option: Private Preserve ($9.50), a mix of gases that are sprayed into the bottle to form a protective layer above the wine, which can then be recorked. Either way, don't let good wine go to waste.
Not common in many U.S. households, bidets are starting to become popular in luxury homes. (Google's headquarters is equipped with high-end models with air dryers, a step toward a paper-free office.) A Luxe Bidet can be fitted easily to a toilet, and some models cost just $35 to $40. (Bump up to $50 or $60 and a hot-water connection becomes an option.)
Curtains may be harder to clean than blinds, but blackout curtains can provide a better night's sleep (one study has even linked excessive light at night to obesity). Blackout curtains also help keep rooms cool in the summer, reducing energy bills. Prices vary by size and fabric, but curtain panels can start as cheap as $10.
High-end "smart" thermostats can go for more than $200, but the best cheap programmable thermostats cost less than $50. The government's Energy Star program estimates that a family can save about $180 a year by using a programmable thermostat to automatically turn down the heat or air conditioning when they're sleeping or out for the day.
Forgetting the house key is a pain, and just about everyone knows to look under the mat. Store a spare safely with a wall- or shackle-mounted combination lock box (the type real estate professionals often use). MasterLock models cost less than $25 online.
Batteries never seem to be handy when they're needed. Make sure there's always an extra set and avoid buying them over and over by opting for rechargeable batteries and a charger. A set of eight AmazonBasics-brand high-capacity AAs, a dozen AAAs, and an EBL eight-slot charger that holds both sizes can all be purchased for just under $50.