The following is adapted from a Nov. 2, 2006 entry on savings columnist Jeffrey Strain's blog, SavingsAdvice.com.
When it comes to saving money, most people immediately think that they must reduce their spending in order to do it.
This isn't always the case. There are a number of items that can actually save you money by purchasing them. These items may cost you some money upfront, but they'll ultimately more than pay for themselves in the savings they provide.
Here is a list of things you should buy to help you save money:
1. Programmable Thermostat
Manual thermostats usually cost households more money than the programmable variety, because of how people use them. When someone wants to heat or cool a room, they usually adjust the thermostat temperature beyond the true temperature they desired in hopes of making the house cool or warm more quickly. Unfortunately, this doesn't affect the speed at which the room temperature changes and the over-compensation means that the room ultimately gets hotter or cooler than it needs to be -- which costs extra money.
In addition to over-compensation of the desired temperature, manual thermostats also are adjusted more often to get the room to the desired temperature. People increase the temperature when the room gets a little cold, then decrease it when it gets too warm. These manual adjustments are rarely as effective, and can automatically be done more efficiently with a programmable model. The constant manual adjustments cost a great deal of money over time, which a programmable thermostat can help save; it pays for itself in a few months.
2. Water Filter
Bottled water is a waste of money, but some people feel their home tap water is not good enough to drink. If you are concerned about the quality of your tap water and regularly buy bottled water, purchasing a water filter will save you hundreds of dollars over time. A quality water filter will make your water just as pure as most bottled water and pay for itself within months, in most cases.
3. Faucet Aerator
Faucet aerators are small devices you can place on the faucets in your house. They reduce the water flow coming out of the faucet by about half. Even with half the water flow, the water stream from the faucet will often feel stronger than the normal flow due to the way they work. Using faucet aerators will save a typical family of four about 280 gallons of water a month and pay for themselves in less than a year.
4. Low-Flow Shower Heads
Much in the same way that faucet aerators reduce the amount of water used from your faucets, replacing regular shower heads with low-flow shower heads can reduce the amount of hot water you use while showering by as much as 30%.
Due to the way they are manufactured, low-flow shower heads will provide a strong, invigorating spray. They save money in two ways: A reduction in water consumption and lower energy costs needed to heat the hot water for the showers. If you use the shower an average of 30 minutes a day, replacing a typical 5-gallon-per-minute shower head with a 2.5 gallon-per-minute flow shower head will save you about $100 a year due to the dual savings. An added benefit for those with larger families is low-flow shower heads will make the hot water last longer for multiple showers.
5. Compact Fluorescent and LED Lights
While compact fluorescent light bulbs cost more than regular incandescent light bulbs, they use about two-thirds less energy and last years longer. A basic rule of thumb is that you can save $10 a year in electricity cost for each 100 watt bulb you replace (this includes factoring in the extra cost of the light bulb and the longer life it has).
Light-emitting diode holiday lights cost a bit more than standard holiday lights, but they use 80% to 90% less electricity than standard lights and last more than five times as long. In addition, due to the way LED lights are made, they are virtually indestructible. This means they won't accidentally get broken, forcing you to purchase replacement bulbs each year.
6. Things You Use When They Go on Sale
Anything that you use on a regular basis that goes on sale is worth buying and stockpiling (a good guide is to stockpile for six months to a year's worth of the item). As long as you know that you are going to eventually use it and won't end up throwing out a large portion of it because it is perishable, then it is worth purchasing it ahead of time. Following this strategy should get you a minimum of an instant 20% return (and if you're a good shopper, 50% or more) on the money you spend, which is quite a bit more than you would earn on any investment.
7. Rechargeable Batteries
Batteries can cost a small fortune, especially if you regularly use electronic equipment that can drain them quickly. While initially more expensive than regular alkaline batteries, purchasing Nickel-Metal Hydride rechargeable batteries can save you a lot of money in the long run. NiMHs replaced old-style NiCad rechargeable batteries and have a much higher capacity than NiCad's do. Best of all, they don't suffer from memory effect that could quickly shorten their life.
8. Clothes Line or Clothes Rack
If you are allowed to line dry your clothes, purchasing a clothes line will save you more than $100 a year over using a dryer. If you aren't allowed to use a clothes line in your neighborhood, purchasing a clothes rack or two for drying will save you the same amount. Most cost around $20, meaning that you will regain the cost in a few months.
9. Safe Deposit Box
While this may not save you money on a yearly basis (and, hopefully, never), I have included it since it will save you a lot of money if you are a victim of any type of accident, disaster or robbery. It'll also save you a ton of grief in settling claims, since you'll have all the documentation to take care of anything that might arise.
As the above suggestions show, spending a little bit of money upfront can mean a lot of extra money in your pocket down the road. By taking the time to make a small investment in the above items, you'll shave hundreds of dollars off your current spending in the long run.
Jeffrey Strain has been a freelance personal finance writer for the past 10 years helping people save money and get their finances in order. He currently owns and runs SavingAdvice.com.