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12 Gadgets That Help You Save Time and Money

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Smart thermostats are all the rage these days. If you don't want to make the large initial investment -- or you're wary of omniscient mobile apps and electronics -- you can still save a lot with a basic, inexpensive programmable thermostat. With proper use, the savings can amount to about $180 a year, according to government estimates.

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If you buy a lot of soft drinks and sparkling water, a home soda maker will likely pay for itself in short order. Although the suggested retail price for the cheapest SodaStream machine is $79.99, you can find it on sale or hold out until Bed Bath & Beyond sends a 20-percent-off coupon (which is fairly often).

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Even a cheap smartphone costs a lot if you factor in the service plan, but it's worth pointing out that a smartphone contains multiple gadgets in one: MP3 player, GPS, alarm clock, camera, etc. There are also loads of free coupon apps and other money-saving tools that can lower your shopping costs. Saving time may be another story, given the temptation to play Candy Crush for hours on end.

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A streaming media player such as a Roku can cost less than $40 and save you hundreds. Hook one up to a TV, cancel your cable or satellite subscription, and watch content from Hulu, Netflix, and a variety of other cheap or free content providers. You may save some time, as well, by trading absentminded channel flipping for purposeful media consumption.

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A smartpen turns handwritten notes into digital documents that can be easily searched later. The LiveScribe Echo pen (starting at $109) can also record lectures or meetings with a built-in microphone. A less expensive option: Take pictures of your notes and upload them to Evernote or OneNote, which also make handwriting searchable.

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If you worry about the taste or quality of your tap water, and the cost of bottled water is starting to add up, consider a reusable water filter. There are inexpensive pitchers, such as the well-known offerings from Brita, but also larger dispensers and faucet filters available for less than $40. Still want a bottle for on-the-go convenience? Try a reusable one with a built-in filter.

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Long gone are the days of juggling four remotes as you try to turn on the sound system while switching inputs and wondering, "Wait, what's this one for?" A top-notch universal remote, such as Logitech's popular Harmony line, can cost $60 or more, but it really can control everything. And you don't need to have a line of sight to the receiver for the remote to work.

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A vacuum sealer such as FoodSaver keeps food fresh longer by sealing it in reusable bags. The brand's calculator estimates that this small kitchen appliance can save a single person $150 a year on food. A family can pocket even more, although buying occasional replacement bags cuts into the savings.

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A "smart" power strip saves electricity by automatically detecting when plugged-in devices aren't in use and turning off the plugs to avoid "vampire drain." Most include a mix of on/off plugs and always-on plugs for low-power items, such as a router, that need to remain on.

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Whether you're prone to losing your keys, misplacing your wallet, or letting your pet wander around the neighborhood, a location-tracking tag can save you valuable time looking all over. Devices from Tile, Duet, and Total POM (coming summer 2015) start at about $25 each and use GPS, alarms, flashing lights, and Bluetooth to make sure you always know where your valuables are. 

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The ScanGauge II ($140) provides useful information generally found only on high-end vehicles: fuel consumption, coolant temperature, average speed, and more. When the check-engine light comes on, this handy gadget displays the trouble code, allowing you to look up the problem online and fix the issue if it's something small. That feature alone can save a costly trip to the mechanic -- although if that's all you’re interested in, a code reader costs about $20.

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Financial experts often point to a gourmet-coffee-a-day habit as an unnecessary expense. But can you really be expected to go without your daily vice? Save money by brewing at home and save time with a high-tech programmable grind-and-brew machine. You'll have a freshly ground cup ready every morning. If you're a latte lover, look for a fully automatic espresso machine with a grinder, although they're hard to find for under $600.