4 Sort-of Small Kitchen Gadgets that Equal Big Savings!

By Linsey Knerl on 19 September 2008 41 comments

Here they are:  Four nifty appliances for the kitchen.  Read on to get an idea of how they can keep things cheap and simple at your home.  Then learn how to get some of them for way below retail value.

Number One:  The bread machine

Remember when I told you how I enjoyed making my own bread?  Eventually, I really grew tired of kneading dough, waiting around for it to rise, and then using plenty of good oven juice to bake it.  To get the same delicious results as a conventional oven, try a mid-range bread machine.  For the absolute best savings:

  • Buy supplies in bulk.  Get the largest flour bag and yeast package you can find.  (Check your warehouse stores for deals.)
  •  Plan bread making into your week.  It takes no time at all the dump in the ingredients and push the button.  You just have to plan for it.  Most bread machines have a delay option to bake while you are at work.  Use this to have a nice hot loaf waiting when you get home, and plan a meal around it!

Purchase Tip:  Bread makers are cluttering up Goodwill stores and consignment shops across the country.  Take one home for cheap, and search for the user’s manual online.  Snag one off of Ebay, or check Craigslist.  If you’re determined to buy one new, I got this Sunbeam 2 lb beauty from Buy.com for under $50 shipped.  (Get extra savings by using the RetailmeNot tool.  I saved an extra 5% this way!)


Number Two:  The slow-cooker (Crockpot)

Nearly everyone I know calls their slow-cooker a “crockpot” (although that name is actually one of many brands that make them.)  Whether you go brand-name or not, the final product is a savory way to enjoy lower-quality meats and vegetables.  Go ahead and buy that tough roast – no one may be the wiser.  Tips that can help you maximize savings and give you additional ideas for using the cooker include:

  • Get some inspiration.  I visit this blog regularly.  She is brutally honest about which recipes work, and the full-color photos will make you wish it didn’t take 6-8 to reach that final product.  (But what will I do when her 365 days are up?)
  • Plan, Plan, Plan.  4:30 pm is too late to decide you want to slow-cook some ribs.  Sorry.

Purchase Tip:  When it comes to slow cookers, most any brand will do.  I have had great success from the small cookers sold at the Black Friday sales at Wal-Mart for under $4.  They work well for side dishes and small cuts of meat.  If you plan on buying second hand, be on the lookout for chips in the crock, discoloration on the interior of the cooking surface, and frayed electrical cords.  (These are signs of future problems – so stay away!)  Flea marts and garage sales are a great place to find older but functioning slow-cookers for a fraction of the new price.  I own several!


Number Three:  The veggie/rice steamer

I had this sitting in my cupboard for years after our wedding.  I just didn’t know how handy it could be.  Now that I’ve had a chance to really try this puppy out, we are inseparable!  What’s not to like?  It cooks veggies, meats, and rice without any stirring or tending.  It uses much less juice than a stove top, and for those of us who are a bit rice-impaired (Translation: Sticky-rice bandits), it’s an easy way to impress guests.  (Plus it’s a really healthy way to eat.)

  • Forgo the bells and whistles.  Rice and veggie steamers have come a long way.  Too bad much of the “extras” are pointlessly expensive.  I’ve never used the “flavor infuser” on my steamer.  If the thing can steam veggies and cook rice, you’re golden.  Pay less by getting just what you’ll be sure to need.
  •  Follow the directions.  This is a no-brainer that I’m surprised I couldn’t figure out on my own.  Only add water to the steam well.  Be super careful when removing the lid.  If you follow the basic instructions, you’ll have awesomely tender veggies and extra-fluffy rice.  (If you don’t, you’ll look like an idiot in front of your spouse and will be nursing a scalded wrist for a week.)
  •  Use the recipe book.  Each new steamer comes with a few recipes to get you started.  Yes, they are simple, but they make an excellent jumping-off point for more daring meals. 

Purchase Tip:  These also come up at used outlets fairly often.  To be sure you really are getting a good deal, make sure the heating element works BEFORE you buy.  (If this means you may have to add some water from the store sink and plug it in, do so.)  Also, you will need to be sure you have the basic heating component, a drip pan, rice tray, veggie steamer basket, and a lid to do everything you will need it for.  (My used one didn’t have the drip pan, and I did fine – but I don’t plan on cooking meat in it.)


Number Four:  The chopper/processor

Most of the time I use the world’s oldest food chopper (i.e., my knife.)  There are times where I really do go to town with my tiny food processor, however.  These are instances where a knife just wouldn’t cut it, and it is worth the time cleaning components to get a good consistent chop going.

  • Making baby food – There’s really no need to buy baby food, if you have access to fresh or high-quality fruits, veggies, rice, and meat.  A food chopper can get it to the right consistency in no time (adding water can make it smoother.)  For excellent baby food tips, see Dr. Sears’ article.
  •  Freezing for later.  Looking to use up all of those tomatoes from your garden?  How about whipping up some salsa, pasta sauce, or bruschetta topping?  The food chopper can save so much time – you’ll be proud of all of the produce you can use up and eat later in the year.

Purchase Tip:  This is a product that I prefer to buy small.  Since I’m not mass-producing much these days, I have found satisfaction with a cheapo, off-brand food processor from the Black Friday deals at Wal-Mart (under $4.)  Mine has lasted over 4 years.  If you want something bigger or name-brand, look for one with as few components as necessary.  (Remember, you’ll be taking it apart and cleaning it after each use!) 

Everyone will have their “favorite” kitchen doohickeys.  I also love my George Foreman Grill and my Utilitea Electric Tea Kettle.  Things I don’t use much are gone…. I don’t have room in my life for useless appliances.

What kitchen gear can you not live without?  How do you use your favorites to save time and money?

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Guest's picture

I have been eying the UtiliTea Kettle for a while now. Have you run into any issues with it? How well does the green/white tea setting actually work?

Guest's picture

I couldn't live without my Cuisinart (chops all my veg, makes awesome pizza dough, grates the veg for the chickens), Kitchen Aid mixer and the pasta attachment (fresh pasta is SO easy now), Zojirushi rice cooker (we have had this for over 10 years but I like sticky rice so we use Asian CalRose rice) and my husband :).

Myscha Theriault's picture

If someone had asked me, I would have probably picked the exact same four, to tell you the truth.

We are also fond of the hot air popcorn popper. It only does one thing, but is such an affordable yummy treat.

For holidays and parties, we have an electric roaster and a large electric coffee urn. I also use the extra roaster if I am doing a marathon cooking day and need the oven for something else. Then I have the roaster to do up a large ham or turkey.

Linsey Knerl's picture

I have an older version of the Utilitea kettle, so I'm unaware of the green tea settings.  I have had NO problems whatesoever with this baby, and I live in an area with very, very hard water.  My favorite thing to do with it is to take some fresh mint leaves from my garden (chocolate mint variety is very tasty) and throw them whole into the water that I boil.)  It steeps nicely, and taste delish.  I've solved many a tummy trouble with this tea... yum.

Linsey Knerl

Linsey Knerl's picture

That would be fabulous for parties!  I do love my Krup one-cup maker... when we have get togethers, I just put it out along with the Utilitea kettle and a basket of a variety of coffee pods, cocoa mixes, and tea bags.  Then guests can make their own cup of java or use the hot water to steep tea or mix cocoa!  It's like a a cheap hot drink bar!


Guest's picture

My Kitchenaid Stand Mixer. Best $170 I ever spent! We use our hot-air popcorn popper a lot, too.

Guest's picture

Love the crockpot blog. Thanks for sharing.

Guest's picture
Rob O.

Does my coffeemaker count?

Mine's an old Proctor-Silex and doesn't look so hot anymore, but it has a swing out basket (which works well under my slightly-lower-than-normal upper cabinets) and a timer so I can set it at night and have freshly brewed coffee waiting on me when I get out of the shower.

I arrive at work with coffee in hand, ready to get the day started for a few pennies. My buds make their morning pilgrimage to Starbucks, and roll in 30 minutes later - and $4 poorer - nearly everyday.

We just got a new crock pot and we love it! We also have a little companion crock pot that's the perfect size for dip for a party. The key thing with any crock pot is to get one that features a removable crock. The fixed crock types are a bear to clean and don't afford you the option to store leftovers in the fridge without first transferring to another container.

Linsey Knerl's picture

I couldn't have said it better myself...

1.  Definitely have a removable crock... for sure.

2.  Coffee maker counts.  Big money saver, and quite a necessity for this Work at Home gal!  (No Starbucks for 50 miles...)

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture

I looked all last winter for something (website, book, magazine) that would give me losts of different ideas for the crock pot because I would like to use it everyday, too. I mean, what could be better? You stick everything in the crockpot in the morning and come home to dinner pretty much already cooked - it's sort of a no-brainer, right?

Anyway, this website looks like it is just the right thing for me. Luckily, I have not make out my grocery list yet and am dying the try that chicken applesauce recipe.

I completely agree about the bread machine - again, a no-brainer and saves me loads of time as we like fresh bread in our house.

Thanks again!

Guest's picture
Mom of 6

My Senseo coffee maker was a Christmas present, and a better present I've never received. Every cup is perfect every time. I don't buy the expensive premade pods, though, I make my own.

I got a grain mill ages ago (what, 10 years now?) and it's still going strong. I turn bulk wheat grain that I buy in big old 50 pound sacks into light, fluffy flour in seconds. It's fresh, the oils in the grain haven't gone rancid and it makes the most wonderful bread!

Guest's picture

Next to the Bread Maker, the Mandoline is the tool I can least do without.

Guest's picture

Lindsey, I always enjoy your posts! I agree 100% with the bread machine and slow-cooker. I love my slow-cooker with interchangeable 2, 4 and 6 quart crocks, but am also keeping my eye out for a good deal on a 6 quart or larger oval model. The crockpot365 blog is an awesome source for recipes! Once I really started using the slow-cooker, I find so many uses for it. Ditto for the bread machine. We love to make pizza crust in it, and pizza is a great way to use up lots of little bits of leftovers meats and veggies in the fridge. The other "can't live without" tool for me is my immersion blender. I bought a good-quality one recently and I use it all the time! My kids LOVE smoothies, and I can use it to whip them up from frozen fruit and yogurt in just a few seconds. It's also great for the soups I make in the slow-cooker and I recently used it to turn a tomato surplus into some fabulous spaghetti sauce (using the slow-cooker, of course!) It's also great for making baby food, and it makes short work of whipping up homemade mayonaisse, which is absolutely divine!

Linsey Knerl's picture

I forgot about that one!  We used ours alot during our "smoothie" years.  Now that I cook more, and the kids are home with me all day, we don't do smoothies as much. 

I forgot how nifty these were.  My tanked out on me a year ago... I'll have to look into it for the sauce idea.  I have too many tomatoes!

Guest's picture

I don't own a bread maker (I use my 6qt kitchenaid for bread) or a crockpot (had one~never used it), but I love my food processor and rice cooker! I use them so often that I hate putting them away.

The hubby and I own several appliances that we use constantly. We have a yogurt maker (yard sale steal) that I use a couple times a week, two popcorn poppers (one for popcorn, one to roast coffee in), an immersion blender (great for soups), and a hand mixer that I use for recipes too small for the kitchenaid. Oh, and my trusty waffle maker that gets pulled out nearly every Saturday.

Now that I see all that typed out, I think I have an appliance addiction. :)

Guest's picture

I'm pretty low tech, being of the good knife and solid cutting board school, but I love my Kitchen aid mixer with dough hook. It's great for Friday night's home made pizza. We also have an ancient blender that gets tons of use. If that thing ever dies I may have to enter the 21st century. Until then I'm content.

Guest's picture

It’s not a bad list, but I can save you even more money if you like ...

- Skip the bread machine make your own. The bread is far superior (the longer rise develops a far richer dough) without the cost of a machine.

- Also skip the slow cooker. If you are vegetarian, it is pointless. And even if you are not, you’d be far better off with a dutch oven. It is far more versatile than a slow cooker, useful both on a stovetop and in an oven, and it has the added benefit of being able to brown your dinner which, as with the bread machine, means you end up with far more flavor.

- Skip the costly steamer and, if you must have one, go to Chinatown and get a cheap one to pop inside a pot you already own (make it one with a lid). Or, for far more delicious food, skip the bland steamer food and saute.

But I am with you on the food processor. I don't use it often, but when I do, I am grateful to have it.


Linsey Knerl's picture

I think my preferences are due largely to my diet (which does include quite a few meats) and the climate in which we live.  Because we live in an older home with little to no air conditioning, using my oven in any capacity from June until September is a no-no.  (Puts much strain on my electric bill.)  I do, however, like switching to the oven for bread-making, steaming, and slow-cooking in the winter months, and while my bread machine works better for the rise during the summer (due to the humidity issues), I like to let the dough rise in my basement about 4 feet from my wood stove in the winter.  Rises in half the time and huge loaves!

Linsey Knerl

Myscha Theriault's picture


I had no idea you could do that. And on a selfish note, I've been looking for an excuse to buy a second one while we are at a friend's house shopping for a roof. The other one is in storage and the one at the lake house got trashed in the flood. I got both at yard sales, but I'm not sure where to get used stuff here. Might have to just check out big lots or hope for an ongoing dorm sale.

If I got one now, we could have popcorn  in the interim and have an extra for roasted coffee beans later.

Oh! Oh! I haven't been this freaking excited about kitchen appliances in a long time. More info, please . . .

Guest's picture

Almostvegetarian, as a working mom with two kids under 3, I have to disagree. Homemade bread is undoubtedly tastier than what the bread machine makes, but if I had to wait until I had time to bake from scratch my family would eat store-bought bread 95% of the time. The bread machine (which we received as a gift) is a great compromise and we use it to make bread for only pennies a loaf.

We are also vegetarians and use the slow-cooker at least once a week, often 2 or 3 times. Maybe it takes a little more creativity to come up with good vegetarian recipes for it, but it's a huge timesaver and means I can have a hot meal ready when I get home from work. There's lentil soup cooking in mine right now, and later this week I plan to use it for curried chickpeas and veggies. It's also handy for making tomato sauce, apple sauce, pumpkin butter, and lots of other wonderful things. Maybe all these things would taste better if I made them in a dutch oven, as you suggest, but the slow-cooker allows me to fit cooking from scratch into my life. For my family it's an invaluable tool and I'd hate to go without it.

Linsey Knerl's picture

Yes, I agree with Myscha.  Please share the secret to roasting coffee beans in an popper!


Myscha Theriault's picture

I am still down for any additional links provided, but I got so darn excited I just spent the last hour going crazy with links searches on the DIY coffee roasting experience. I smell an article coming on! What a cool idea!

Guest's picture

This is fun and easy to do.... BUT I finally figured out that I did not have discriminating enough taste buds! Since I could not taste the difference between what I roasted and the roasted beans I bought at the store it made no sense roasting them myself. The cost was also more for me to roast my own beans (no easy access to green beans other than mail order.)
So... been there done that and went back to buying our beans already roasted.

Myscha Theriault's picture

So a novice like me couldn't possibly screw it up?

Guest's picture

just want to add my support for the interchangeable crockpot that a previous commenter talked about. I bought one a few months ago and it is absolutely worth having the three different sizes for the different recipes. Can't wait to try it out with the great crockpot link you gave!

Guest's picture

Lindsey, I'd love to see an accounting of how much you spend per homemade loaf. I have a Goodwill bread machine ($4) and we love the fresh bread, but I am not really sure if I'm saving much or any money.

Then again, I don't have a membership at a warehouse store so I have to buy the flour and yeast on sale at grocery stores.

Guest's picture

I love reading your posts. Thanks for including the link to the breadmachine at buy.com. I have wanted one for years, and with free shipping I got it for $39 total today. Unfortunately we do not have a goodwill or discount store nearby, so this was a good deal for me.

Linsey Knerl's picture

I wondered the same thing at first.  Here's my breakdown of cost of supplies shopping at the local HyVee.  This is standard pricing, not purchasing anything on sale, and not buying in bulk.

The supplies listed are enough to make at least 12-15 loaves (depending on the recipe) and many of the ingredients (like sugar and butter) will have plenty left over.

Flour (bread variety) $2.50 for 5 lbs x 3 = $7.50

Powdered milk $5.50 for the smallest package

Butter $2.50 for 1/2 pound

Sugar $1.00 for a small bag

Yeast $5 for the 4 oz package

I didn't factor in for salt or water... practically free.

Using a basic white bread recipe, you can make between 12 and 15 loaves (depending on whether you set your machine to 1.5 or 2 pounds.)

Total initial supplies cost:  $21.50 plus a breadmaker

Assuming you don't buy in bulk, get anything on sale, or have any supplies already on hand, you are looking at between $1.43 and $1.75 per loaf, plus cost of time (5 minutes) and electrical energy to run the machine.

Since bread at our only small store here in town sells the cheap crap for at least $2.40 a loaf, and the really good stuff for almost $3.89, this is an excellent deal!

Plus your home is filled with lovely smells of fresh-baked bread.  You can toast it, scoop it out for homemade soup bowls, grill it, broil it, and anything else you would want to do with a hearty, thick bread (grilled cheese rocks!)

And getting the "Homemaker of the Year Award" while trying to pursue my freelancing career without zero effort on my part = PRICELESS!

Hope this helps.


Guest's picture

For me, the dutch oven is indispensable. I use it to make no-knead bread, which accounts for about 90% of the bread we eat. The no-knead bread is vastly superior to anything that comes out of a bread machine. And dutch ovens are also great for slow cooking stews and tagines. I have two of them so that I can make two loaves of no-knead bread every time I fire up the oven. No-knead bread doesn't take much more time, effort, or skill than using a bread machine, so I'm pretty strongly devoted to the method. Check out breadtopia.com for excellent written instructions and video.

Guest's picture

I'm shocked no one mentioned a microwave. Is it taken for granted that everyone has one, or is it not as popular as I always thought it was?

Guest's picture

Love the suggestions! (and the comments too!)

One of my favourite appliances is a George Foreman grill I got a couple of years ago on sale for $20. While I do use it to cook meat (like fresh fish, homemade chicken fingers, and the occasional hamburger), it gets more use with hot sandwiches and veggies. I'll slice up some red peppers and zucchini to roast, or use it as a sandwich press to make grilled cheese or other hot sandwiches.

I think my next investment will be a slow cooker :)

Guest's picture

I also love my breadmaker (from Goodwill for less than $5). I am not fond of the loaf that it produces however, so I use the dough setting and then give it a quick kneading and let it rise in a regular bread pan before baking it in the oven. The breadmaker serves as a mixer, kneader and warm place to rise.

Guest's picture

Great post and comments! Along with my crockpot, immersion blender, and Capresso combo grinder/coffee brewer, I LOVE my toaster/egg cooker combo from Back to Basics. Scoff if you will, but it saves us all kinds of time, energy, and calories. I make my own breakfast sandwiches with whole grain english muffins, good organic and local eggs and cheese, and soy or turkey bacon. The egg poaches in a little chamber on the side of the toaster. The egg/toast cycle makes sure the bread is done at the same time as the egg.

You can also use it to make up to 4 soft or hard-boiled eggs. I make hard-boiled eggs all the time and they turn out great. I think the toaster/egg cooker is much more energy-efficient than boiling eggs the traditional way on the stove.

People smirk when they see this toaster, but I know at least two who have gone on to purchase their own.

Looking forward to the hot-air popper as coffee-bean roaster story!

Guest's picture

Another appliance not mentioned here that I wouldn't want to do without is a Toaster Oven. You can cook many of the same food items that you would in a standard oven in a much smaller package. We have ours in the garage. It keeps from heating the house and uses a lot less energy.

Linsey Knerl's picture

Hey guys!  I found the same Sunbeam bread machine at Circuit City for $33 plus FREE SHIPPING!  (A better deal than what I got.)  I love this bread machine!


Myscha Theriault's picture

I'm waiting for mine from the military shipment, but DANG! That's a slamming deal for a new one!

Myscha Theriault's picture

Linsey, I just had a chance to more thoroughly check out that crockpot 365 link you put in the post. Excuse my French everybody, but hot damn! I thought I was fully versed on crockpot recipes, but this woman is kicking my creative butt. Really, really cool ideas there. I can't wait to try the Morrocan lentils recipe and her buffalo wings soup.

Linsey Knerl's picture

Her blog rocks my socks off.  I use it ALL the time.  I just now used up all the tree apples I didn't know what to do with and made the finest applesauce in my small crock.


Guest's picture

I love our bread machine. We use it sometimes 2x per week. True, it might not be the "richest" bread, but it is tastier than store bread for 1/2 the price. I do also enjoy baking "no knead bread", but I can't spare the time. I think many people can't. The varying times with mixing, rising, kneading, rising, and baking, makes it a weekend-only ordeal. So I guess I am disagreeing with almostvegetarian on how practical it is to bake your own. If you have two FT working parents, it's not.

I used to use the crockpot weekly to cook beans. We aren't vegetarian, but we eat very little meat. Then I bought a pressure cooker. It's my new gadget of choice for beans.

Guest's picture

I have decided to jump into home made bread for the first time and this was the first article I Stumbled Upon. I will be shopping tomorrow, great post!

Guest's picture

I use my double boiler a lot. Especially handy for heating leftovers. I don't have to stand ans stir. It heats slowly and is ready when I am ready.