My rice cooker saved me how much money? I just did the math

Saving money around the house doesn’t have to be difficult – you can try simple tricks like unplug devices, take shorter showers and 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. My whole family – including my wife, 18-month-old child and newborn – had to survive on a meager allowance and whatever I could muster by freelancing. To make it work, we rented a small apartment, we put ourselves in SNAP, we hustled and we ate rice.

But before pointing out that the rice is what saved me money – not the rice cooker – let me explain. Rice is tricky to cook well, and even if you’ve mastered cooking the perfect rice, it’s impractical (doubly if you have two babies and impending deadlines). All you do with a rice cooker is throw in your rice and the 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 can your rice cooker really save you?

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 children 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/CBS

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.

Always cook rice (and save money) 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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