This Unique Kitchen Appliance Saved Me Hundreds of Dollars

If you’re looking to save money around the house, there are plenty of little tricks to do so – from unplug devices at take shorter showers at turn off your lights. But the most consistent method for me came in an unexpected countertop device: the rice cooker.

In 2017, I went to graduate school. This meant that my wife, an 18-month-old child, a newborn and I had to support our entire family with a meager allowance and whatever I could muster through freelance work. To make it work, we rented a small apartment, we put ourselves in SNAP, we hustled and we ate rice.

But before I point out that the rice is what saved me money — not the rice cooker — I want to explain why a lot of people don’t eat rice: it’s hard to cook well, and even if you’ve mastered cooking the perfect rice, it’s awkward (doubly if you have two babies and impending deadlines). In contrast, all you do with a rice cooker is toss in your rice and necessary water, then press “cook.” This simple process saved us money because it made cheap meal prep more manageable during life’s hectic seasons. And it can do the same for you.

Read more: The best rice cookers of 2022

How much money does a rice cooker really save?

I buy 20 pound bags of short grain rice for about $20 from Walmart. Let’s be on the safe side and say each bag contains about 40 cups of rice. Two cups are still enough for all four members of my family, even though the kids are eating a lot more these days. So that puts us at about $1 total for the base ingredient in a meal for four.

From there you can add whatever you want. Rice is awesome in part because it’s a blank slate, an empty canvas you can splash with your favorite culinary color. When we were really low on cash, we added boiled eggs, soy sauce, and when we could swing it, spinach. Today we usually get a little more creative, adding leafy greens, kimchi, gochujang (Korean chili sauce), pickled onions, and whatever meat we have on hand.

Four rice cookers side by side on a table

CNET has tested more than a dozen rice cookers over the years.

David Watsky/CNET

Even our most elaborate dishes consistently land under $5 per bowl, and that’s usually meat that gets us past $2 or $3 (and that’s if you’re buying organic).

While it’s hard to compare home-cooked food prices (most of the math is complicated enough to make an accountant blush), it’s safe to say that few alternatives will beat the basic rice bowl. And it’s definitely cheaper than a meal kit delivery service.

Still cooking rice today

Our rice cooker was a little splurge. We bought a one-button Tiger for just over $100 because it can cook a lot of rice at once, its rice is great and it cooks lightning fast (less than 15 minutes for a few cups). It was a little pricey back then, but the convenience of the Tiger kept us in the rice game for years.

I work from home most of the time, which means we can make more family meals. But neither the rhythm of life with the children nor the stress of finances in this economy decreased. So the rice cooker sits on our countertop, almost perpetually plugged in and gobbling up a new pot of rice – or keeping a pot from a few hours ago warm.

It makes meals easier, yes, but more importantly, it makes saving money even easier.

To find out more, see our advice on how to save money around your house and how to reduce your electricity bill.

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