How Long It Takes 11 Big Purchases to Pay for Themselves

istock
istock

Big purchases aren’t always something to feel guilty about. After a few decades, years, or even months, there are plenty of items that will begin to pay for themselves and then some. Here’s when to expect to see a return on 11 major investments.

1. TUXEDO // 3 TO 4 WEARS

A standard tux can easily go for $500 or more, which makes renting a tempting option. But if you plan on attending at least a few weddings in your lifetime, you’ll be glad you made the investment early on. According to one recent report, the average cost to rent a tuxedo in 2015 was close to $200. If you attend enough events, buying your own tux can easily pay for itself within a year. And unlike an expensive dress, no one will notice if you wear the same outfit back-to-back.

2. HYBRID CAR // 1-11 YEARS

It’s true that hybrid cars save you significant cash at the gas pump, but just how far these savings will take you depends on the price of the car itself. Lower-end models, with prices that are on par with similar gas-powered vehicles from their brand, don’t take long for drivers to recoup the purchase price. Those that are relatively more expensive are likely to break even within four to five years. And if you’re willing to shell out up to $25,000 extra to upgrade to higher-end hybrids, make sure you’re doing it for the environment—not the sake of your wallet—as that up charge could take up to 11 years to pay off.

3. COFFEE MAKER // 2 MONTHS

A $4 latte doesn’t feel like a bank-breaking expense in the early morning hours when you need your caffeine fix, but by the end of the year those small purchases add up. If you buy one latte before work every day for a year you’ll end up having spent nearly $1000 on something you could have made at home. Instead, treat yourself to some gourmet coffee beans and a quality coffee maker. Even if you spend $80 on a fancy machine and $10 a week on beans, you’ll make the difference back in 2 months. You may even end up liking your home-brew more than the stuff from your local cafe.

4. COLLEGE EDUCATION // 20 YEARS

College tuition prices are higher than ever before, but thankfully, the fancy degree pays off—as long as you’re willing to wait to see a return on your investment, that is. One study published last year shows that college graduates earn $1 million more than high school graduates without a degree over the course of a lifetime. While that sounds like a major bonus, it still takes nearly 20 years before that four-year degree becomes profitable.

5. SOLAR PANELS // 7-20 YEARS

One of the major incentives to switch to solar is to save money otherwise spent on electricity bills, but in order to get there you first need to make a big investment. The average cost of solar panel installation is $17,000 in the U.S., though tax breaks and other discounts can make it as low as $5000 in some states. The savings you earn by going solar can take anywhere from seven to 20 years to cover the initial cost. But the average savings after 20 years? A whopping $20,000. In addition to cutting down on your monthly energy bill, solar panels also offer the benefit of adding value to your home.

6. REFRIGERATOR // 5-25 YEARS

The electricity guzzled by your refrigerator accounts for a huge chunk of your energy bill each month, and the situation is made even worse by old, inefficient models. According to Energy Star’s Refrigerator Retirement Savings Calculator, if you’re still using a fridge from the ‘90s, you could save $250 to $490 over 5 years by switching to a more efficient model. You can easily find Energy Star-certified fridges priced between $450 and $1000, which means your new purchase will pay off within the span of its lifetime.

7. WASHER/DRYER // 2 YEARS

If you live around the corner from a laundromat, it may seem more cost-effective to take advantage of someone else’s water, energy, and expensive equipment. But doing a load of laundry only adds an average of $0.50 onto your electric bill, and it isn’t too difficult to find a washer and dryer for around $400 each. According to Deal News, buying machines for this price will pay off in a little less than 2 years, compared to frequenting a laundromat in that time (this is assuming you do three loads of laundry a week). If your set lasts you at least 10 years, you’ll accrue a total savings of $3120. That’s a lot of quarters!

8. BIKE // 2-4 MONTHS

Not only is biking good for the environment and your health—it can save you a lot of cash. After investing between $200 and $500 on a quality fixed gear, you’ll see your investment returned to you after two to four months of avoiding public transit fees.

9. SMART THERMOSTAT // 2 YEARS

Buying a smart thermostat is a serious investment. Models go for about $250, which is three times what a regular thermostat might cost. But according to one brand’s website, the purchase pays for itself in a little less than 2 years. Since the device is smart enough to keep track of your schedule, it’s able to anticipate when to run and when to conserve energy. That level of efficiency leaves you with an average energy savings of $131 to $145 a year.

10. HOME GYM // 1-3.5 YEARS

The average gym membership costs $58 per month, and a huge percentage of gym members quickly stop showing up. If you want to wave goodbye to monthly gym fees while still having access to all the equipment, considering building a gym of your own at home. By seeking out the best deals and buying secondhand, one site estimates you can create a home gym for approximately $1200. This investment will pay off in roughly 3.5 years if you were paying a cheaper membership fee of $27 a month, and it will pay off it in as little as 13 months if you were paying closer to $75.

11. CABLE MODEM // 9 MONTHS

Cable users may be tempted to rent their modems for the sake of convenience, but it takes a short time for the $7.95 monthly fee to turn from annoying to impractical. By paying $70 for a cable modem up front, you’ll be paid back in savings in a mere nine months. Your reality TV habit is definitely worth the investment.

10 Products for a Better Night's Sleep

Amazon/Comfort Spaces
Amazon/Comfort Spaces

Getting a full eight hours of sleep can be tough these days. If you’re having trouble catching enough Zzzs, consider giving these highly rated and recommended products a try.

1. Everlasting Comfort Pure Memory Foam Knee Pillow; $25

Everlasting Comfort Knee Pillow
Everlasting Comfort/Amazon

For side sleepers, keeping the spine, hips, and legs aligned is key to a good night’s rest—and a pain-free morning after. Everlasting Comfort’s memory foam knee pillow is ergonomically designed to fit between the knees or thighs to ensure proper alignment. One simple but game-changing feature is the removable strap, which you can fasten around one leg; this keeps the pillow in place even as you roll at night, meaning you don’t have to wake up to adjust it (or pick it up from your floor). Reviewers call the pillow “life-changing” and “the best knee pillow I’ve found.” Plus, it comes with two pairs of ear plugs.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Letsfit White Noise Machine; $21

Letsfit White Noise Machine
Letsfit/Amazon

White noise machines: They’re not just for babies! This Letsfit model—which is rated 4.7 out of five with nearly 3500 reviews—has 14 potential sleep soundtracks, including three white noise tracks, to better block out everything from sirens to birds that chirp enthusiastically at dawn (although there’s also a birds track, if that’s your thing). It also has a timer function and a night light.

Buy it: Amazon

3. ECLIPSE Blackout Curtains; $16

Eclipse Black Out Curtains
Eclipse/Amazon

According to the National Sleep Foundation, too much light in a room when you’re trying to snooze is a recipe for sleep disaster. These understated polyester curtains from ECLIPSE block 99 percent of light and reduce noise—plus, they’ll help you save on energy costs. "Our neighbor leaves their backyard light on all night with what I can only guess is the same kind of bulb they use on a train headlight. It shines across their yard, through ours, straight at our bedroom window," one Amazon reviewer who purchased the curtains in black wrote. "These drapes block the light completely."

Buy it: Amazon

4. JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock; $38

JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock
JALL/Amazon

Being jarred awake by a blaring alarm clock can set the wrong mood for the rest of your day. Wake up in a more pleasant way with this clock, which gradually lights up between 10 percent and 100 percent in the 30 minutes before your alarm. You can choose between seven different colors and several natural sounds as well as a regular alarm beep, but why would you ever use that? “Since getting this clock my sleep has been much better,” one reviewer reported. “I wake up not feeling tired but refreshed.”

Buy it: Amazon

5. Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light; $200

Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light
Philips/Amazon

If you’re looking for an alarm clock with even more features, Philips’s SmartSleep Wake-Up Light is smartphone-enabled and equipped with an AmbiTrack sensor, which tracks things like bedroom temperature, humidity, and light levels, then gives recommendations for how you can get a better night’s rest.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Slumber Cloud Stratus Sheet Set; $159

Stratus sheets from Slumber Cloud.
Slumber Cloud

Being too hot or too cold can kill a good night’s sleep. The Good Housekeeping Institute rated these sheets—which are made with Outlast fibers engineered by NASA—as 2020’s best temperature-regulating sheets.

Buy it: SlumberCloud

7. Comfort Space Coolmax Sheet Set; $29-$40

Comfort Spaces Coolmax Sheets
Comfort Spaces/Amazon

If $159 sheets are out of your price range, the GHI recommends these sheets from Comfort Spaces, which are made with moisture-wicking Coolmax microfiber. Depending on the size you need, they range in price from $29 to $40.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Coop Home Goods Eden Memory Foam Pillow; $80

Coop Eden Pillow
Coop Home Goods/Amazon

This pillow—which has a 4.5-star rating on Amazon—is filled with memory foam scraps and microfiber, and comes with an extra half-pound of fill so you can add, or subtract, the amount in the pillow for ultimate comfort. As a bonus, the pillows are hypoallergenic, mite-resistant, and washable.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Baloo Weighted Blanket; $149-$169

Baloo Weighted Blanket
Baloo/Amazon

Though the science is still out on weighted blankets, some people swear by them. Wirecutter named this Baloo blanket the best, not in small part because, unlike many weighted blankets, it’s machine-washable and -dryable. It’s currently available in 12-pound ($149) twin size and 20-pound ($169) queen size. It’s rated 4.7 out of five stars on Amazon, with one reviewer reporting that “when it's spread out over you it just feels like a comfy, snuggly hug for your whole body … I've found it super relaxing for falling asleep the last few nights, and it looks nice on the end of the bed, too.” 

Buy it: Amazon 

10. Philips Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band; $200

Philips SmartSleep Snoring Relief Band
Philips/Amazon

Few things can disturb your slumber—and that of the ones you love—like loudly sawing logs. Philips’s Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band is designed for people who snore when they’re sleeping on their backs, and according to the company, 86 percent of people who used the band reported reduced snoring after a month. The device wraps around the torso and is equipped with a sensor that delivers vibrations if it detects you moving to sleep on your back; those vibrations stop when you roll onto your side. The next day, you can see how many hours you spent in bed, how many of those hours you spent on your back, and your response rate to the vibrations. The sensor has an algorithm that notes your response rate and tweaks the intensity of vibrations based on that. “This device works exactly as advertised,” one Amazon reviewer wrote. “I’d say it’s perfect.”

Buy it: Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Why Does Altitude Affect Baking?

This woman is going to make a quick stop at Whole Foods' bakery section before book club.
This woman is going to make a quick stop at Whole Foods' bakery section before book club.
nicoletaionescu/iStock via Getty Images

Even if you’re highly skilled in the kitchen, you might find yourself with a deflated cake or bone-dry brownies if you happen to be baking in Aspen, Colorado, for the first time. But why exactly does an oven at high altitude so often wreak havoc on whatever baked good is in it?

According to HuffPost, it all comes down to air pressure. The higher you are above sea level, the lower the air pressure is. This is mostly because there’s less air pressing down on that air from above, and it’s also farther from the gravitational forces on Earth’s surface. With less air pressure keeping liquid molecules in their liquid form, it takes less heat in order to vaporize them—in other words, boiling points are lower at higher altitudes.

“For every 500-foot increase in altitude, the boiling point of water drops by 0.9°F,” Dr. Craig F. Morris, director of the USDA ARS Western Wheat Quality Laboratory at Washington State University, told HuffPost.

Since liquids evaporate at lower temperatures, all the moisture that makes your signature chocolate cake so dense and delicious could disappear long before you’d normally take it out of the oven. To avoid this, you should bake certain goods at lower temperatures.

With less air pressure, gases expand faster, too—so anything that’s supposed to rise in the oven might end up collapsing before the inside is finished baking. Cutting down on leavening agents like yeast, baking powder, and baking soda can help prevent this. This also applies to bread dough left to rise before baking (otherwise known as proofing); its rapid expansion could negatively affect its flavor and texture, so you might need to adjust how much yeast you’re using.

If all the ways a recipe could go wrong at high altitudes—and all the experimentation needed to make sure it goes right—seem like a lot to keep track of, Betty Crocker has a handy chart with various types of baked goods and suggested modifications for them.

[h/t HuffPost]