Updated on 08.19.07

Five Gadgets That Were Well Worth The Investment

Trent Hamm

Not too long ago, I was a gadget hound – dropping money on all sorts of stuff, both useful and, well, not useful. I’ve found over the last year or so that some of them I use almost every day, while others I rarely use at all. In hindsight, I don’t regret the money spent on the more useful items, but I do regret a lot of the less useful ones. Those wound up getting sold on eBay at a rather painful loss.

So what items did I find useful? Here are five gadgets (for lack of a better collective term) that I use over and over again. Notice two things about this list: the items have a lot of utility and are really inexpensive, and some of them lead directly to saving money themselves.

Swiss Army Sportsman II pocket knife This is a $10 Swiss Army knife that does 95% of the stuff I want such a device to do. It has only a single blade, but it also includes a can opener (useful while camping), a bottle opener (useful all the time), a cork screw, and tweezers – those are the ones I use most frequently. It also includes two flathead screwdriver heads (which I’ve used on occasion) and it’s tiny enough that it fits in my pocket unobtrusively (something I can’t say for a lot of Swiss Army-type knives and tools. I use this thing probably two or three times a day.

1 GB Flash drive I was actually given one of these at a tech demonstration and use it probably three times a week. It’s always in my pocket or hanging around my neck when I travel anywhere. Don’t spend much on this unless you need a lot of storage capacity – 4GB or more.

Honeywell 5/2 Programmable Thermostat This is one of the most expensive items on this list ($40! *gasp*), but it is incredibly useful and saves a lot of money. Simply put, you program it so that the air conditioner/furnace doesn’t run during the day, but then starts running before you get home from work, running only once during the entire day and saving on peak energy use. The one I linked to is a “middle of the road” one – the high-end thermostats are amazing as you can program separate day profiles, whereas the less expensive one has a “weekday” profile and a “weekend” profile.

razorMerkur Classic Safety Razor If you’re on the gravy train of using stuff like the Gilette Mach 3 Turbo for shaving – or even cheap disposables – stop. Get an actual old-fashioned safety razor and a bunch of blades. I wrote a detailed guide on how to save money shaving in the long run and get a much better shave.

Tire pressure gauge I check the air pressure in my vehicle tires regularly and for the longest time I used a really awful pencil-shaped air pressure reader that gave readings that were approximate to within 5 PSI and usually let significant air out of the tire while doing it. I eventually moved to one recommended at an auto parts store (it’s linked above) and have been extremely happy using it. I check the air pressure on the tires once a month and before any long trips and air them all up to the recommended maximum as stated on the sidewall of each tire. This saves constantly on gas mileage – every single PSI that any tire is below that recommended maximum costs you 0.125% of your fuel efficiency. So, if every tire is, say, 5 PSI below the maximum, you’re losing about 2.5% of your fuel efficiency, which means an extra mile or two per gallon that you’re losing. Over time, that’s a lot of scratch – a gallon of gas or so every time you fill up.

Soon, we’ll find out about another gadget – a barely-used KitchenAid Pro 6 stand mixer that a reader has generously helped me to find at an unbelievably stellar price (to the point where I would have been really dumb not to do it considering I’ve been saving for one for a few months). More details to come (likely when I receive it and use it a few times).

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  1. martha in mobile says:

    I have a reconditioned Kitchen-Aid stand mixer. The motor burned out during the warranty period, and they sent me a “new” reconditioned mixer. I have had no problems since. I use it 2-3 times a week to make bread (it is fabulous for this), my husband uses it to make sausage on a semi-regular basis. Of course, holiday baking is when it comes into its own — cookies for my daughter’s classmates and banana bread for the teachers. It’s as handy as a food processor and much easier to clean.

  2. Mike says:

    The tire sidewall does not list the correct air pressure for any vehicle, it lists the maximum
    pressure. Since the tire PSI normally increases several PSI on hot days or when tires are driven at high rates of speed, inflating cold tires to the side wall numbers will cause pressure higher than max rated PSI and is dangerous.

    The correct air pressure will always be less than the maximum, it will be listed in the owners manual and on a information card placed someplace in the vehicle (normally drivers side door well or glove compartment).

    Two links with more information…

    How to Check Inflation Pressure

    Look for this information in your vehicle. Refer to your vehicle’s owners manual for the proper level of inflation; it may also be posted on the door post or in the glove box.

    When you check the inflation pressure, make sure the tires are cool – meaning they are not hot from driving even a mile. (Note: If you have to drive a distance to get air, check and record the tire pressure first and add the appropriate inflation pressure when you get to the pump. It is normal for tires to heat up and the inflation pressure inside to increase as you drive. Never “bleed” or reduce air pressure when tires are hot.)
    […more steps removed…]

    * Only 15 percent of drivers properly check their tire pressure including checking the pressure at least once a month when the tires are cold, and inflating them to the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended pressure.
    * 26 percent of drivers mistakenly believe the best time to check their tires is when they are warm after being driven several miles.
    * Only 36 percent of drivers know where to find the recommended tire pressure for their vehicle. It is in the owner’s manual, and also usually printed on a tire information decal attached to the driver’s door jamb.
    * 55 percent of drivers mistakenly believe the inflation pressure molded into the tire sidewall is the recommendation for their vehicle.

  3. Bob says:

    Tire pressure: I use my bike pump. Fill to exact pressure for free.

  4. vh says:

    Hot dang! Can you actually use a bicycle pump to fill automobile tires? Not anything fancy…just one of those cylinders where you stand on its floor flanges and pump a handle up and down. Is it safe?

    My favorite gadget is a manual (not electric) Chef’s Choice knife sharpener. It was cheap (think I paid around 20 or 30 bucks for it, some years ago), it lasts forever, and it gets your knives good & sharp WITHOUT eating up the blades.

  5. Mike Panic says:

    I bought that exact razor, in brushed finish, in 1999 while in europe. I buy the platinum coated blades, each blade will easily last 15-20 shaves without an issue. Additionally, I don’t care who you are, you can not shave for a week or more and this razor will not ruin your skin, partially because the blade height is adjustable and there is someplace for the hair to go while shaving. This lets you do longer, smoother strokes.

    While there, I bought a badger brush and a thing of Dr. Harris shave soap. It is 2007 and I still use the same bar of soap! This one comes in a wooden container, many don’t, but you can plop the soap in most coffee mugs or buy a mug just for shaving.

    It takes no longer to apply than shave cream from a can, feels better, lasts longer, way longer.

    That razor weighs several ounces, you’ll know when you pick it up, this isn’t something to drop on your foot in the morning, but it’s what a razor should feel like.

  6. I also use a safety razor. Not only do I love my shaving experience with it but the blades are $1.00 each at the expensive shaving supply store. There’s no way I can beat the experience or the price with any other shaving implement, including an electric razor. This definitely comes seconded!

  7. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    Mike, that’s interesting. I used to go by what the manual said, but an auto mechanic not too long ago told me to use the information on the tire itself when it’s warm (after driving several miles) because the info in the manual is intended to be a guideline to use no matter the quality of the tire. This makes intuitive sense to me because you ought to be able to safely put more air into a high-end Goodyear than a cheap generic tire due to difference in manufacturing quality if all else is the same.

  8. Tim says:

    Trent, your logic is a little off. tire pressure on side wall is actually a generic value. specifications on vehicles for tire pressure takes the vehicle’s particular load into consideration. i’m not sure what you mean by being able to put more air in a high-end goodyear versus a generic. air pressure has nothing to do with this.

    i also use a safety razor. i have a merkur future set. i actually like several different creams. i have been switching between khiel’s, j.peterman, and officina profumo farmaceutica brands. i also use the standard merkur plat blades.

    martha, i couldn’t agree more if you do lots of baking. my parents have had the same kitchenaid mixer forever, over 20 years. they took it to a car paint shop to get it repainted once when they moved houses to match the new kitchen. i’ve had mine for 15 years.

    bob, if you can inflate a car tire with a bike pump, you da man…which mens you probably can lift the entire car by yourself too.

  9. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    I’m just reporting what the mechanic said to me, not making a logical statement.

  10. Mar says:

    I LOVE my stand-up mixer. I use it frequently for baking and it’s awesome for beating egg whites stiff for a meringue. Mine was $18 used at a yard sale about 8-10 years ago. It’s been worth every penny – the woman was selling it only because her Mom gave her a newer one. Anyone who likes to bake fairly frequently should seriously consider a stand-up mixer. Enjoy!

  11. david says:

    You’re welcome.

  12. Mary says:

    Reusable razors with replacement blades never made much sense to me economically. Maybe it’s different for men’s facial hair, but I buy razors at the dollar store at 10 cents apiece, and they work fine for my legs and underarms. Most refill blades I’ve seen cost more than this by themselves, not including the razor handle, and by your article about the Safety Razor you use, the refills themselves cost 5x more than that. Disposables can be used just as many times as razor refills, and considering I get several (underarm/leg) shaves out of each razor, despite the fact that it may seem counterintuitive or wasteful, the disposables consistently cost less.

  13. Hunchy says:

    Trent, please use the manufacturer’s recommended pressure! Mike has it 100% right. They are designed to give the correct contact area with the road at normal loads. Too high, there’s less contact area and a risk of hydroplaning. Plus you wear them out in the middle. Too low, the sidewall flexes and heat builds up, which can lead to failure (catastrophic, like in high speed blowout). Plus they wear out on the sides.

    There are times when you want to move away from these. I have a Landrover & do a lot of sand driving on Fraser Island, so lower pressures are needed. Also driving over rough dirt roads, you need to drop the pressures by 4psi or thereabouts to minimise tread damage from sharp rocks. And when the car is loaded up, I wind up the pressures (as in the manual).

    Trent I got 110,000km out of my last set of tyres on a 2 1/2 tonne vehicle. If I had them at maximum tyre pressure I would’ve got 1/3 of that, if I survived the first deep highway puddle without going sideways. Not good economy, at $300 per corner to replace!

  14. jay wilson says:

    A Swiss Army knife!

    I just mentioned to my girlfriend about how much I wanted one because its great to have so many tools in one place.

    And I agree completely on the flash drive, although I think I’d take it one step further and say that everyone should own an external hard drive for backing up their entire pc/mac. Should there be a major failure, you’ll still have your valued files.

  15. Funny you should mention the swiss army knife, I’m picking up that or a leatherman soon.

  16. N'Awlins Kat says:

    I couldn’t live without my Swiss Army knife, either, and the Leatherman tool runs a close second.

    Trent, another reason for making sure the tires are inflated properly–if they’re too low, the steel belts inside will shift. (This is my husband’s specialty…he’s forever forgetting to check his tires, and we’ve had a couple of VERY expensive lessons to learn). When the belts shift, the tires can literally peel apart. And you can really rip yourself up on the exposed steel trying to change the tire–again, voice of experience, this always happens in either a terrible neighborhood, a driving thunderstorm, or at night. Or all three.

    Got everyone beat on the stand mixer; I’m still using my mom’s old Hamilton Beach stand mixer that she got as a wedding present over 44 years ago. Between us, though, we’ve killed at least half a dozen hand mixers in the same time frame. The old HB is starting to smell a little funny when I run it at high speeds, and I’m going to have to replace it soon; I’ll really miss it.

  17. daydreamr says:

    I really miss the flopy drive. I have tons of floppy disks with papers on them from school that I can’t access now that these drives went away. I am looking into getting an external floppy drive though. Because saving files to cd are such a PIA the jump frive is so convienient. CD’s are also wasteful; everytime I modify a document I must save it to a new disk (I should try the R/W CD’s). Anyone notice how R/W and music CD’s arent so durable anymore? They get one little scratch and won’t work. I have some older CD’s that play, even though they are scratched to heck.

    Even tho I’m cheap, there are some things that I feel are worth the extra $. Razors are on the list. It’s great that they work for some people, and I wish I was one of them. However, the cheap-o razors are really harsh on my skin. I guess I have thin/sensitive skin. I should try the old school ones. Besides the initial investment it sounds like they would save a lot and less to throw away.

  18. Lazy Man says:

    I won’t buy a Swiss Army knife (or any generic version) unless it includes a pen. That’s the one thing that I use the most.

    On shaving, I still contend that Gillette Power Fusion blades on Ebay are as cheap. I bought in bulk for about $1.66 per blade and get around a month, often more, for each blade. Quality is great and I haven’t cut myself in years.

    Awesome call on the shaving cream though.

  19. Jen P says:

    I bought a KitchenAid Pro 6 a year ago. I had been dreaming of one for years, and after I won small amount of money at a conference, I decided it was time to go for it. I can’t think of a better household purchase! It works beautifully and quickly. It is powerful enough to make bread dough often (4 loafs a week in our household)without burn out- the main reason I bought the professional with the more powerful motor. I have been given attachments as gifts and enjoy the pasta maker, which allows me to make fresh pasta inexpensively and quickly, although the clean up is a bit of a pain. My kids love the ice cream maker. The grater/slicer is a waste of time, though, and I returned it. If you love to cook a lot, it is a worthwhile investment. If you just need a utility mixer for occasional use, go for the artisan and save yourself some cash.

  20. Brad says:

    a $75 engine code scanner, from any big-box store/auto parts store. So long as you have a car mid-90’s or newer..I don’t think they work on older vehicles though.

  21. Tyler says:

    I’ve got to agree with all of the other commenters. It’s dangerous to inflate your tires to anything but what is stated in your owners manual or inside the driver’s side door. I’m surprised (shocked actually) that a mechanic would recommend otherwise.

  22. Rich Griffith says:

    I have 4 out of 5 of those things.
    Maybe it’s time to get the swiss army knife.
    I’ve got a leatherman that’s just too big for every day use. If I know I’m going to be doing things that might require a tool I make sure to have it in my pocket.

  23. Joe says:

    “every single PSI that any tire is below that recommended maximum costs you 0.125% of your fuel efficiency. So, if every tire is, say, 5 PSI below the maximum, you’re losing about 2.5% of your fuel efficiency”

    Since when did 0.125 x 5 = 2.5?

  24. ik says:

    its .125 * 20. Unless your vehicle only has one tire.

  25. Richard Wicks says:

    “Since when did 0.125 x 5 = 2.5?”

    Since cars with 4 tires adopted pneumatic tires.

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