Four things you can buy today that will pay for themselves by 2012

Anybody can shop, but what can you buy that will save you money? Here are four items.

Steve Marcus/Reuters
A Trane ComfortLink II thermostat is displayed during a media preview event for the 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Jan. 4, 2011. The wireless device has a personal computer application to control the temperature from any room in the house. But even a cheap programmable thermostat, starting at $20, can save you lots of money.

While it is fun buying gadgets and gizmos that will help save the environment, it is even more fun when you can spend a dollar to get two dollars in savings. These items below will do just that. And for most people, they will pay for themselves within a year!

1. "SmartStrip" surge protector

Working as a full-time blogger, I spend a lot of time at my desk and have all kinds of peripheral devices being powered by a single surge protector. The SmartStrip is indeed very smart. When you power off your computer, it automatically powers off all the other devices plugged into it. It only costs $35, and for anyone who uses a computer on a regular basis at all, this will easily pay for itself in a year.

2. Water heater blanket

If you have an old water heater, you might want to get a new one. As with most appliances, newer is normally much more energy efficient. But a way to cut your energy bill without buying a brand new water heater might be to buy a water heater blanket. Depending on your water heater, the blanket could save you 10 percent or more on your energy bill each month. You can pick one up for around $20.

A quick way to tell if you might benefit from one is to just go touch your water heater. If you can feel the warmth from it, then getting a blanket will be a worthwhile – and money-saving purchase. Of course, you can also increase your energy savings by lowering the temperature on the water heater as well.

3. Battery charger

Battery chargers have come a long way. If you remember 15 to 20 years ago how terrible they were, you might be scared off from buying one. Thankfully, the technology has improved quite a bit and now they are a worthwhile investment for many families. You can get a charger for as cheap as $10 and if you or your kids use a lot of gadgets, the charger will be paying for itself very quickly!

4. Programmable thermostat

If you are looking for an easy way to lower your heating and cooling costs, a programmable thermostat is the way to go. Think about it: Why should your house be sitting at 72 degrees for 8 to 10 hours each day when no one is there? By pulling it down to 60 degrees or so when you are gone (or asleep) you can save a ton of money each month. You can find programmable thermostats as cheap as $20, and at that price, the little gadget should pay for itself very quickly.

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