Sometimes you have to spend money to save money down the road, and that’s especially true with many smart tech upgrades. Here are some of my favorite tech buys that can actually pay for themselves — by letting you keep more of your hard-earned money in the long run — or by creating more “me” time right now.

Smart thermostats

There’s a “smart” version of just about every appliance these days, but some are downright genius for saving you serious cash. Smart thermostats from well-known brands like Nest, Honeywell (Lyric T5 $150) and Ecobee ($199) can save you time, money, and worry.

Google’s $169 Nest Thermostat E (or $249 for the newest version of the standard Nest) can lower your monthly energy costs by 15% or more, which means it can pay for itself in one-to-two years, and continue saving you money on heating and cooling costs for a whole lot longer.

This smart home gadget can save you tons of money during winter

Security systems

Security systems can be another big smart-home money-sink. You can easily blow hundreds or even thousands of dollars on all kinds of smart-ish sensors that sound an ear-piercing alarm every time a squirrel gets within 100 feet of your house, or you could spend $19.99 on a Wyze Cam and make every cent count.

Don’t let the budget price fool you; Wyze packed a lot into this do-it-all electronic eye. It sends a crystal clear video stream to your phone whenever you pull up the app and detects motion and sound so you can spot visitors (even the unwanted kind) before they arrive. The cam listens for other alarms, too, so it knows if your CO2 or smoke alarm is beeping and notifies you even when you’re not home. When you’re on vacation, it’s the perfect housesitter, and it’s small enough to stick just about anywhere.

It’ll pay for itself in peace of mind right off the bat, but if it alerts you to a burglar, a porch pirate, or a smoke alarm while you’re away, the return on your investment is priceless.


Smart lights

Dipping your toe into money-saving tech is easy, and something as simple as a couple of energy-saving LED light bulbs will get you on the right path to saving serious cash in the long run. LED bulbs require less power than “old school” incandescent lighting — bulbs with the Energy Star seal use over 75% less — and can last 25 times longer.

A few years ago, smart bulbs were double, even triple the price of regular light bulbs, but that’s not the case anymore. Smart bulbs from Philips Hue, Lifx, and GE start in the $25 range for a six-pack.

LED light bulbs save money versus incandescent light bulbs

What’s so great about smart bulbs is how much more you can do with them, like using an app or voice commands to turn them on or off, set schedules, change colors, and more. In terms of energy savings, being able to command all bulbs at once or remotely helps make sure you don’t leave lights on when you’re gone.

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You save money on your electric bill, and since you’re replacing much less often, that’s even more money in your pocket. Energy Star’s savings calculator shows you can make your money back as quickly as a few months. Over the lifetime of a bulb, that can mean hundreds of dollars in savings.

Smarter toys

Now, this is a little different, but it’s one that most parents know all too well. How many times has your child begged, pleaded, bargained, and flat-out worn you down for a toy they just had to have, only to play with it for a hot minute and then never touch it again? I know, parents, I know.

Air Hogs Zero Gravity Laser Racers remote-controlled cars can race up walls and across ceilings

Americans spent some $22 billion dollars on toys in 2018, according to the Toy Industry Association. Even if just a small percentage of kids’ toys we buy are duds, that’s still millions of dollars wasted. Toys with staying power have to not only entertain, but engage as well. I just finished reviewing several tech toys and there are a few standouts that earn their keep — and help keep you sane — by entertaining the kids for more than a minute or two.

The Spin Master Wildluvs Juno My Baby Elephant ($77) for ages five and older, is a starter personal robot companion with more than 150 sounds and lifelike movements. This cute little critter has a trunk, ears, and tail that wiggle, jiggle, and dance around, and kids can teach her tricks and play a bunch of interactive games too. No two play sessions are alike, making it “favorite toy” material. Long-lasting fun means not having to swipe your credit card for the next two-second toy trend. One word of warning, she’s got a mind, and er, bodily function sounds, of her own.

Spin Master Wildluvs Juno My Baby Elephant is a starter personal robot companion with more than 150 sounds and lifelike movements.

This next toy is sold for ages eight and up, but I can barely pry the controllers out of the hands of grown adults. The Air Hogs Zero Gravity Laser Racers ($42) remote-controlled cars actually race up walls and across ceilings. They automatically follow the path you draw with the laser controller, defying gravity thanks to a small suction fan on the undercarriage of the car that has just enough pull to keep it on the wall, even when it’s stopped.

They only run about 10-15 minutes on a single charge, which is a bummer, but that’s a decent amount of time for this kind of toy. The cars charge via a USB-cable, but the laser needs four AAA batteries to get you off to the races.

What else?

There are so many other things that come to mind here, too, like smart e-bikes, smart sprinklers, and smart window shades, to name a few. What everyday tech tools and toys have you found that pay for themselves? Be sure to let us know in the comments section below.