If you're frugal, you might frequently find yourself worrying over purchases, asking yourself, "Is this too expensive?" But that's not the right mindset -- the questions you should be asking yourself are "What value does this have to me once I buy it?" and "Can this save me money?" In fact, there are many purchases -- cheap and expensive alike -- that can save you (or make you) money in the long run. Here are just a few that can save you hundreds or thousands over time.
1. A bike or transit pass. If you live in an area where you can forgo having a vehicle, you can save thousands of dollars a year. Just think, no more car payments or pricey repairs. And that's just the big stuff -- you won't have to pay for car washes or gas either. Don't think you can manage without a car for occasional errands? Many cities now have Zipcar or other car sharing programs, which allow members to rent cars for short time periods and low rates.
2. A TV-streaming device. All this talk about canceling your cable is great -- if you still have a way to watch TV on your TV. Thankfully, there are now several options for streaming devices that bring services like Netflix (NFLX) and Hulu to your living room TV. Apple TV (AAPL), Roku and Amazon Fire (AMZN) are all options to check out. Each requires a one-time initial investment, usually between $50 and $100. According to the research company NPD Group, cable bills might reach $123 a month by next year. With prices for Netflix and Hulu Plus hovering around $8 each, getting one of these devices could add up to thousands of dollars in savings in just a few years.
3. An espresso machine. If you're one of those people who won't give up going to the coffee shop because you don't want to switch to make drip coffee at home, you can still save money by buying your own espresso machine. Yes, it's a higher initial investment -- depending on what features you're looking for, an espresso machine can cost anywhere between $100 and $1,200, and you'll need to buy coffee and milk. But if you buy a $4 latte 250 days of the year, that's $1,000 on its own, and you're not even buying coffee every day of the week!
4. A crockpot. Grabbing take out on those nights you're too rushed or exhausted to cook dinner can add up fast, and it costs you even more if you're ordering delivery. But if you have a crockpot, all you need to do is throw in a few simple ingredients before you go to work, and you can come home to a fresh, hot meal for a fraction of the cost of food from a restaurant.
%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%5. A programmable thermostat. Programmable thermostats allow you to automatically change the temperature based on the time of day, which means you can use less energy to heat or cool your house when you're sleeping or out at work. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that using one of these thermostats can save you up to $180 a year.
6. Reusable water bottle. If you're buying a $6 case of bottle of water a week, that adds up to $312 a year. Reusable bottles can save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars over the course of a year, depending on the size of your family and how much water you drink.
7. Personal finance book. For all the money they can help you save, personal finance books are worth a lot more than their cover price. Which book you start with depends on what matters to you. Ramit Sethi's "I Will Teach You to Be Rich," Dave Ramsey's "The Total Money Makeover" and Gary Belsky and Thomas Gilovich's "Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes" (which helps you understand the psychology behind your money decisions) are all great options. If you want to go beyond saving money and start making money on the side, U.S. News personal finance editor Kimberly Palmer's "The Economy of You" is a fantastic resource.
8. Hobby equipment. If you're able to turn your hobby into a side job, it has the potential to pay for its costs -- and then some. Examples of equipment you might buy include a DSLR camera, woodworking tools or a sewing machine. But only make big purchases like this if you have some experience with the hobby -- what is not a good investment is buying an expensive piece of equipment and then discovering you're not as interested in turning the hobby into a business as you thought.
Meg Favreau is the senior editor for the personal finance blog Wise Bread, which covers rewards credit card mistakes and other personal finance tips.
10 Little Household Habits That Could Be Costing You a Fortune
8 Purchases That Can Save You Hundreds of Dollars
You may think you're being frugal by trying to get every last month of use out of that fridge from the 1980s, but you could actually be costing yourself money. Old appliances don't run as efficiently as newer, Energy Star-rated ones, and that adds a lot to your electric bill. Invest in newer models, and they will pay for themselves soon enough.
Potential savings: $50 to $100 per year, per appliance (depending on the respective efficiency of your old/new ones).
Remember how your father used to annoy you by insisting you turn off every light in rooms you weren't in? He was onto something. The cost of leaving modern appliances running when you're not using them can add up, so stop leaving the TV on "in the background" or letting your computer hover in "sleep mode" overnight. If you're not using something, turn it off.
Potential savings: $20 to $50 a year.
Water waste is a huge problem in many homes. Be mindful of how much you're using, and adjust your routines. Try taking shorter showers, only running the laundry and dishwasher when you have full loads, running your sprinklers only when needed, and not leaving the water running when you brush your teeth.
Potential savings: A few bucks to $50 or more a month, depending on your local sewer and water rates.
It can be all too easy to "set it and forget it" when it comes to heating and cooling costs. Invest in a programmable thermostat that will automatically adjust the temperature based on the times you're actually at home. Close the vents in any rooms you're not using. If you have window air conditioning units, make sure they have an "energy saver" function so they only run when needed instead of constantly.
Potential savings: $20 to $50 per month, depending on local costs and climate.
If you're big on convenience, you could be paying more to keep your house clean than you need to. For an easy switch that won't add much more time to your cleaning routine, consider switching your paper towels for reusable sponges and your disposable dusting wipes for rags and a cleaning spray.
Potential savings: $5 to $10 per month.
That toilet that keeps running may seem like a minor annoyance, but small problems left unattended to can result in big problems down the line. The instant you notice something's starting to malfunction, address it. You don't want that tiny leak in your laundry room sink to turn into a flooded basement that will cost you thousands.
Potential savings: Could reach $10,000 or more if you're using that flooded basement as an example -- although that depends on what part of the bill, if any, your homeowner's insurance will cover.
Avoid expensive repairs as much as possible by keeping things in good running order year-round. Regularly clean out the vents under your fridge and in any air conditioning units. Change the lint traps in your dryer and vacuum cleaner often. Get the blades in your lawnmower sharpened each season and make sure to change the oil as needed. Have your heating ducts cleaned out annually. A little preventive maintenance can save you costly fixes and make appliances last longer.
Potential savings: $100 to $300 per year, if you can squeeze several additional years of life out of multiple appliances such as your washing machine, clothes dryer, vacuum cleaner or air conditioner.
If you pay your utility bills each month without question, you could be paying more than you need to. You'd be surprised to find how many companies are willing to negotiate on rates. Get on the phone with customer service and see what options are available. You never know unless you ask.
Potential savings: $5 to $40 per month.
You're wasting more than space by holding onto those boxes of baseball cards in your attic and that shelf of old electronics you keep saying you're going to repair (but you know you never will). Save yourself cleaning time and make a little extra money by getting rid of anything you're not actively using. Garage sales, Craigslist and eBay are all great ways to turn your unwanted junk into profit.
Potential profit: $5 to $500 or more, depending on how valuable your possessions are.
If you recently became an empty-nester (or you bought too big a home to begin with), you could be paying for rooms you never even use. Downsizing will save on rent or mortgage payments, and it can also reduce your monthly utility costs.
Potential savings: Tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the cost of your current home, as compared with the home that you downsize into.