How Long It Takes 11 Big Purchases to Pay for Themselves

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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.

12 Creative Ways to Spend Your FSA Money Before the Deadline

stockfour/iStock via Getty Images
stockfour/iStock via Getty Images

If you have a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), chances are, time is running out for you to use that cash. Depending on your employer’s rules, if you don’t spend your FSA money by the end of the grace period, you potentially lose some of it. Lost cash is never a good thing.

For those unfamiliar, an FSA is an employer-sponsored spending account. You deposit pre-tax dollars into the account, and you can spend that money on a number of health care expenses. It’s kind of like a Health Savings Account (HSA), but with a few big differences—namely, your HSA funds roll over from year to year, so there’s no deadline to spend it all. With an FSA, though, most of your funds expire at the end of the year. Bummer.

The good news is: The law allows employers to roll $500 over into the new year and also offer a grace period of up to two and a half months to use that cash (March 15). Depending on your employer, you might not even have that long, though. The deadline is fast approaching for many account holders, so if you have to use your FSA money soon, here are a handful of creative ways to spend it.

1. Buy some new shades.

Head to the optometrist, get an eye prescription, then use your FSA funds to buy some new specs or shades. Contact lenses and solution are also covered.

You can also buy reading glasses with your FSA money, and you don’t even need a prescription.

2. Try acupuncture.

Scientists are divided on the efficacy of acupuncture, but some studies show it’s useful for treating chronic pain, arthritis, and even depression. If you’ve been curious about the treatment, now's a good time to try it: Your FSA money will cover acupuncture sessions in some cases. You can even buy an acupressure mat without a prescription.

If you’d rather go to a chiropractor, your FSA funds cover those visits, too.

3. Stock up on staples.

If you’re running low on standard over-the-counter meds, good news: Most of them are FSA-eligible. This includes headache medicine, pain relievers, antacids, heartburn meds, and anything else your heart (or other parts of your body) desires.

There’s one big caveat, though: Most of these require a prescription in order to be eligible, so you may have to make an appointment with your doctor first. The FSA store tells you which over-the-counter items require a prescription.

4. Treat your feet.

Give your feet a break with a pair of massaging gel shoe inserts. They’re FSA-eligible, along with a few other foot care products, including arch braces, toe cushions, and callus trimmers.

In some cases, foot massagers or circulators may be covered, too. For example, here’s one that’s available via the FSA store, no prescription necessary.

5. Get clear skin.

Yep—acne treatments, toner, and other skin care products are all eligible for FSA spending. Again, most of these require a prescription for reimbursement, but don’t let that deter you. Your doctor is familiar with the rules and you shouldn’t have trouble getting a prescription. And, as WageWorks points out, your prescription also lasts for a year. Check the rules of your FSA plan to see if you need a separate prescription for each item, or if you can include multiple products or drug categories on a single prescription.

While we’re on the topic of faces, lip balm is another great way to spend your FSA funds—and you don’t need a prescription for that. There’s also no prescription necessary for this vibrating face massager.

6. Fill your medicine cabinet.

If your medicine cabinet is getting bare, or you don’t have one to begin with, stock it with a handful of FSA-eligible items. Here are some items that don’t require a prescription:

You can also stock up on first aid kits. You don’t need a prescription to buy those, and many of them come with pain relievers and other medicine.

7. Make sure you’re covered in the bedroom.

Condoms are FSA-eligible, and so are pregnancy tests, monitors, and fertility kits. Female contraceptives are also covered when you have a prescription.

8. Prepare for your upcoming vacation.

If you have a vacation planned this year, use your FSA money to stock up on trip essentials. For example:

9. Get a better night’s sleep.

If you have trouble sleeping, sleep aids are eligible, though you’ll need a prescription. If you want to try a sleep mask, many of them are eligible without a prescription. For example, there’s this relaxing sleep mask and this thermal eye mask.

For those nights you’re sleeping off a cold or flu, a vaporizer can make a big difference, and those are eligible, too (no prescription required). Bed warmers like this one are often covered, too.

Your FSA funds likely cover more than you realize, so if you have to use them up by the deadline, get creative. This list should help you get started, and many drugstores will tell you which items are FSA-eligible when you shop online.

10. Go to the dentist.

While basics like toothpaste and cosmetic procedures like whitening treatments aren’t FSA eligible, most of the expenses you incur at your dentist’s office are. That includes co-pays and deductibles as well as fees for cleanings, x-rays, fillings, and even the cost of braces. There are also some products you can buy over-the-counter without ever visiting the dentist. Some mouthguards that prevent you from grinding your teeth at night are eligible, as are cleaning solutions for retainers and dentures.

11. Try some new gadgets.

If you still have some extra cash to burn, it’s a great time to try some expensive high-tech devices that you’ve been curious about but might not otherwise want to splurge on. The list includes light therapy treatments for acne, vibrating nausea relief bands, electrical stimulation devices for chronic pain, cloud-connected stethoscopes, and smart thermometers.

12. Head to Amazon.

There are plenty of FSA-eligible items available on Amazon, including items for foot health, cold and allergy medication, eye care, and first-aid kits. Find out more details on how to spend your FSA money on Amazon here.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

5 Easier Ways to Water Your Christmas Tree

Artfoliophoto/iStock via Getty Images
Artfoliophoto/iStock via Getty Images

A decorated Christmas tree adds instant holiday cheer to any room—for a few days, at least. If you neglect to care for it, however, it doesn't take long for that tree to start dropping needles and dry up into a brittle, brown fire hazard. The key to keeping your tree looking healthy until the New Year is to water it every day. Of course, that comes with its own problems, like sap-covered clothing and sore knees. Here are some alternative methods for watering your Christmas tree that won't have you wishing for the end of the holiday season.

1. Rig a funnel and PVC pipe.

The worst part of watering a Christmas tree is crawling around on your hands and knees, but once you've set up this funnel rig, you can water it while standing up. As Eric Palonen demonstrates in the video above, all you need to do is stick a PVC pipe into the tree stand, attach a funnel to the other end with an elbow connector, and pour in the water.

2. Dig out a pool noodle.

Don't have a spare PVC pipe at home? A foam pool noodle works just as well as the receptacle for your funnel.

3. Disguise a DIY water dispenser as a present.

On Instructables, Rickyspears shares his step-by-step process for building a Christmas tree-watering rig. Using a bucket and plastic tube with brass fittings, you can create a water-siphoning system that automatically keeps your tree hydrated. And because a big bucket of water beneath the tree isn't the most festive sight, Rickyspears also tells you how to disguise it by hiding it in a box decorated with wrapping paper.

4. Use a wine bottle.

Still have some leftover wine bottles from Thanksgiving (or the weekend) lying around the house? Use one of them to water the base of your tree while keeping a safe distance between you and the sticky branches. (Though if you do get some sap on your hands, there are a few easy ways to get rid of it.)

5. Invest in an automated watering system.

DIY watering rigs are inexpensive, but if convenience is your main concern, it's hard to beat a product that was designed just for this purpose. The Christmas tree watering bag from Elf Logic senses when your tree needs water and replenishes it automatically. Plus, it hangs on a branch like an ornament, making it easy to tuck away.

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