10 Tips to Help You Stay Cozy in Your Apartment this Winter

Enjoy cozy vibes in your apartment all winter long with these 10 tips.

With temperatures dropping quickly and the shortest days of the year approaching fast, many apartment renters are looking for ways to stay cozy and ride out the long winter in complete comfort.

Here are 10 simple tips that are sure to help you stay cozy in your apartment until spring returns.

1. Avoid the overheads

Overhead lights are great when you’re staying up late to get some extra work done or trying to find something small you dropped on the ground. What they’re not great for is setting a cozy mood. With the sun setting earlier than any other time throughout the year, you end up spending a solid portion of the winter months basking in unnatural light, regardless of how much natural light your apartment receives in the middle of a sunny day.

Make the most of these early sunsets and treat yourself to some warm and cozy mood lighting. Whether that takes the form of an ultra-modern floor lamp, a hand-me-down lava lamp from your pop’s college days or a Michael Scott-style St. Pauli Girl neon sign, all that matters is that it puts your mind at ease and amplifies your cozy vibe.

2. Light a candle…or five

candles to stay cozy in your apartment

candles to stay cozy in your apartment

For hundreds of years, fire has been the most effective way for people of all walks of life to find coziness in the toughest conditions. From our cave-dwelling ancestors sharing stories around the warm embrace of a communal fire to you and your cousins sitting at the base of the fireplace while grandpa relives the glory days aloud, fires have always been a go-to for cultivating coziness.

Given the fact that many apartments are not equipped with a fireplace, you’re going to have to get a bit creative here. Luckily for you, candles are in vogue and that means every Walmart, Target and CVS boasts an entire section of seasonally scented candles perfect for mellowing out your apartment and inviting those cozy feelings in.

Pro tip: Create your own makeshift fireplace by getting a set of five or so scentless candles. Place them together in a safe spot in your apartment, turn off the lights and stay cozy around your new “fireplace.”

3. Invest in sweats

When you’re getting down to business, you put on a suit. When your business is staying cozy in the winter, you put on a sweatsuit. As temperatures drop and the sun only shows its smiling face for a few precious hours a day, comfort takes the top priority over style. This is especially true if you’re part of the still-growing population of people spending their nine-to-five working from home. Stay home, stay suited and stay cozy.

4. Slide into a quality pair of slippers

Person with slippers staying cozy in apartment

Person with slippers staying cozy in apartment

If you’re already committed to spending a majority of your winter rocking a sweatsuit, slippers are the next logical step (pun very much intended). Less rigid than shoes, more comfortable than your coziest pair of socks, a quality pair of slippers is the final piece you need to achieve total head-to-toe comfort and maximize your overall coziness as winter rages on outside your windows.

5. Organize your closet

Now that you’ve got a cozy sweatsuit and quality slippers, it’s time to trim the fat in your closet by tossing the things you don’t wear.

Buckle up, this step to staying cozy is a three-parter.

Part 1: Remove summer clothes you didn’t wear this year

Go through your closet and set aside all of the warm-weather items you didn’t touch throughout this past spring and summer. Put those clothes in a garbage bag or cardboard box and set them aside for a few months.

Part 2: Remove winter clothes you didn’t wear last year

Go through your closet and set aside all of the cold-weather items you didn’t wear throughout the fall and haven’t touched a month or so into the winter. Add those clothes to your warm-weather collection from a few months ago.

Part 3: Donate these clothes

Donate those clothes and enjoy the cozy feeling that comes with helping those in need in your community. And, as an added bonus, you’re creating more space in your closet for the fashion trends of the future.

6. Get creative

arts and craft supplies

arts and craft supplies

The lighting is right and your sweats are plush. Now that you’re equipped with the things you need to stay cozy, it’s time to take the next step and do some activities that invoke that highly sought-after feeling of pure coziness.

One great way to leverage your creativity to create a more cozy environment is to fill your walls and shelves with your own creations. You don’t have to be a Picasso to display your own artistic creations throughout your apartment. Even if you’re not the most creative person, the whole point here is to pass the time, ignite your imagination and create a more cozy environment in your apartment through your own artistic endeavors.

Whether you’re painting something simple like a heart, learning the ancient art of origami or hopping in on a new trend like creating your own macrame wall hanging, the important thing is that you’re enjoying yourself and engaging your imagination to fend off the boredom that often accompanies cold winter days.

Pro tip: You don’t have to spend money to learn a new skill. Look at YouTube for simple tutorials designed to help you perfect your craft without asking you to spend a dime.

7. Embrace your inner iron chef

They call it comfort food for a reason: it provides comfort. Whether that dish takes the form of a hearty hot soup, an extra cheesy casserole or a downright delicious batch of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies, comfort food is undoubtedly one of the keys to cultivating a cozy atmosphere all winter long.

For those living in smaller apartments, an added bonus to upping your kitchen productivity throughout the winter is that you get a little residual heat from your stovetop or oven circulating around the apartment.

8. Work out with your bodyweight

person doing yoga

person doing yoga

Even if you’re living in a 400-square-foot studio, you still have enough room for some bodyweight workouts. While this may seem like a counterproductive activity to staying cozy in your home, bodyweight workouts offer a few advantages that contribute to an overall cozy vibe.

Working out is one of the most reliable ways to activate your endorphins and improve your overall mood. So, if you find yourself feeling bogged down by a cold gray day, take 15 minutes or so to work through some pushups, squats and situps. You can do these three simple workouts in minimal space with no equipment required.

These workouts can act as a palette cleanser for your mood and provide you with a fresh mental start even if you’re at the beginning of a long day.

9. Find your emotional support show

All due respect to 1950’s Hollywood, but the golden age of TV is happening right now. With specialized streaming services opening doors to all types of entertainment, there has never been a better time than now to cozy up on your couch for a full day of pure binging bliss.

If you’re looking for something that will put you in a cozy mood the second it shows up on the screen, here are a couple of qualifiers you should keep in mind before you dive into a new show.

  • Find something that’s easy to follow. This kind of show will allow you to work on your creative endeavors, prep your favorite dish or knock out a quick bodyweight workout circuit without losing track of the narrative.
  • Find something with at least three seasons. You can feel the effects of winter well before and long after the official start and end dates of the season. Because of this, it’s important to pick a show with some staying power that has the ability to last you to the spring.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a Netflix fanatic, a Hulu loyalist or dedicated to Disney+, you’re sure to find something that will have you feeling cozy every time take a seat on the couch and pick up the remote.

10. Hit the books

books to stay cozy in your apartment

books to stay cozy in your apartment

There’s something primally pleasurable about cracking open a book and transporting your mind to an entirely new world. When temperatures drop, this joy rises even more. While it’s difficult to put down the remote and pick up a new book, taking some time to read is a truly effective way to keep your mind off the cold and keep the cozy vibes rolling. Don’t know what to read? Here are three book recommendations that pair perfectly with a winter day.

  • “My Year of Rest and Relaxation:” Ever wonder what it would be like to hibernate for a whole year? Author Otessa Moshfegh explores this idea in a wildly entertaining novel that is currently in development to become a movie starring Margot Robbie.
  • “Out There – The Wildest Stories from Outside Magazine:” It’s hard not to feel cozy when you’re sitting in a temperature-controlled apartment reading about some of the most harrowing adventures ever documented in the freezing wilderness. Simple as that.
  • “The Little Book of Hygge:” Defined as “the art of creating coziness,” Hygge is something that is only achieved through concentrated efforts. Written by Meik Wiking, the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, this book is the definitive guide to cultivating coziness from arguably the most qualified person on the planet to do so.

Not interested in the titles above? Take a trip to your local bookstore and ask around for recommendations or look around for an online book club that matches your style.

Start prepping and stay cozy all winter long

It doesn’t matter if you’re using light to set the mood, putting your kitchen to the test or escaping your surroundings through a great show or book, coziness is within reach no matter who you are, where you live and what your interests are.

Source: rent.com

Fixed Expense vs Variable Expense

Budgeting is the best way to get a better handle on where your money is going — which can help you get a better handle on where you’d like to see your money go.

But before you dive into the nitty-gritty of each individual line item on your ledger, you first need to understand the difference between fixed expenses and variable expenses.

As their name suggests, fixed expenses are those that are fixed, or unchanging, each month, while variable expenses are the ones with which you can expect a little more wiggle room. However, it’s possible to make cuts on items in both the fixed and variable expense category to save money toward bigger financial goals, whether that’s an epic vacation or your eventual retirement.

Let’s take a closer look.

What Is a Fixed Expense?

Fixed expenses are those costs that you pay in the same amount each month — items like your rent or mortgage payment, insurance premiums, and your gym membership. It’s all the stuff whose amounts you know ahead of time, and which don’t change.

Fixed expenses tend to make up a large percentage of a monthly budget since housing costs, typically the largest part of a household budget, are generally fixed expenses. This means that fixed expenses present a great opportunity for saving large amounts of money on a recurring basis if you can find ways to reduce their costs, though cutting costs on fixed expenses may require bigger life changes, like moving to a different apartment — or even a different city.

Keep in mind, too, that not all fixed expenses are necessities — or big budget line items. For example, an online TV streaming service subscription, which is withdrawn in the same amount every month, is a fixed expense, but it’s also a want as opposed to a need. Subscription services can seem affordable until they start accumulating and perhaps become unaffordable.

Recommended: Are Monthly Subscriptions Ruining Your Budget?

What Is a Variable Expense?

Variable expenses, on the other hand, are those whose amounts can vary each month, depending on factors like your personal choices and behaviors as well as external circumstances like the weather.
For example, in areas with cold winters, electricity or gas bills are likely to increase during the winter months because it takes more energy to keep a house comfortably warm. Grocery costs are also variable expenses since the amount you spend on groceries can vary considerably depending on what kind of items you purchase and how much you eat.

You’ll notice, though, that both of these examples of variable costs are still necessary expenses — basic utility costs and food. The amount of money you spend on other nonessential line items, like fashion or restaurant meals, is also a variable expense. In either case, variable simply means that it’s an expense that fluctuates on a month-to-month basis, as opposed to a fixed-cost bill you expect to see in the same amount each month.

To review:

•   Fixed expenses are those that cost the same amount each month, like rent or mortgage payments, insurance premiums, and subscription services.

•   Variable expenses are those that fluctuate on a month-to-month basis, like groceries, utilities, restaurant meals, and movie theater tickets.

•   Both fixed and variable utilities can be either wants or needs — you can have fixed-expense wants, like a gym membership, and variable-expense needs, like groceries.

When budgeting, it’s possible to make cuts on both fixed and variable expenses.

Recommended: Grocery Shopping on a Budget

Benefits of Saving Money on Fixed Expenses

If you’re trying to find ways to stash some cash, finding places in your budget to make cuts is a big key. And while you can make cuts on both fixed and variable expenses, lowering your fixed expenses can pack a hefty punch, since these tend to be big line items — and since the savings automatically replicate themselves each month when that bill comes due again. (Even businesses calculate the ratio of their fixed expenses to their variable expense, for this reason, yielding a measure known as operating leverage.)

Think about it this way: if you quit your morning latte habit (a variable expense), you might save a grand total of $150 over the course of a month — not too shabby, considering its just coffee. But if you recruit a roommate or move to a less trendy neighborhood, you might slash your rent (a fixed expense) in half. Those are big savings, and savings you don’t have to think about once you’ve made the adjustment: they just automatically rack up each month.

Other ways to save money on your fixed expenses include refinancing your car (or other debt) to see if you can qualify for a lower payment… or foregoing a car entirely in favor of a bicycle if your commute allows it. Can you pare down on those multiple streaming subscriptions or hit the road for a run instead of patronizing a gym? Even small savings can add up over time when they’re consistent and effort-free — it’s like automatic savings.

Of course, orchestrating it in the first place does take effort (and sometimes considerable effort, at that — pretty much no one names moving as their favorite activity). The benefits you might reap thereafter can make it all worthwhile, though.

Saving Money on Variable Expenses

Of course, as valuable as it is to make cuts to fixed expenses, saving money on variable expenses is still useful — and depending on your habits, it could be fairly easy to make significant slashes. For example, by adjusting your grocery shopping behaviors and aiming at fresh, bulk ingredients over-packaged convenience foods, you might decrease your monthly food bill. You could even get really serious and spend a few hours each weekend scoping out the weekly flyer for sales.

If you have a spendy habit like eating out regularly or shopping for clothes frequently, it can also be possible to find places to make cuts in your variable expenses. You can also find frugal alternatives for your favorite spendy activities, whether that means DIYing your biweekly manicure to learning to whip up that gourmet pizza at home. (Or maybe you’ll find a way to save enough on fixed expenses that you won’t have to worry as much about these habits!)

The Takeaway

Fixed expenses are those costs that are in the same amount each month, whereas variable expenses can vary. Both can be trimmed if you’re trying to save money in your budget, but cutting from fixed expenses can yield bigger savings for less ongoing effort.

Great budgeting starts with a great money management platform — and a SoFi Money® cash management account can give you a bird’s-eye view that puts everything into perspective. You’ll also have access to the Vaults feature, which helps you set aside money for specific savings purposes, no matter which goals are the most important to you, all in one account.

Check out SoFi Money and how it can help you manage your financial goals.

Photo credit: iStock/LaylaBird


SoFi Money®
SoFi Money is a cash management account, which is a brokerage product, offered by SoFi Securities LLC, member FINRA / SIPC .
Neither SoFi nor its affiliates is a bank. SoFi Money Debit Card issued by The Bancorp Bank.
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Source: sofi.com

Amazon Prime Review – Is it a Good Value for the Cost?

At a glance

Amazon Prime Logo

Our rating

Amazon Prime

  • Plans: One standard plan for $119 per year or $12.99 per month (about $156 per year); discounted Student Prime plan for eligible members
  • Features: Prime Delivery (multiple expedited and discounted delivery options); Prime Video; Prime Reading; exclusive Prime deals; unlimited music streaming; unlimited photo storage; eligibility for Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card subject to credit qualification
  • Advantages: Wide range of shipping options, though variable by customer location; potentially valuable media perks; higher cash-back earnings for qualified Amazon Prime Visa Signature Card users; Prime member discounts at Whole Foods; 30-day free trial period; household memberships; discounted student memberships
  • Disadvantages: Relatively high annual (and even higher monthly) fee; no refunds if you fail to use the service; additional fees for expedited food delivery; music library is weaker than some competitors’

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Dig Deeper

Additional Resources

Amazon Prime is one of the most popular retail loyalty programs in U.S. history. Although Amazon itself doesn’t regularly release membership figures, a study by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners estimated that more than 100 million people had access to Prime in 2019.

Why is Amazon Prime so popular? And is it really a good value for the cost? To decide for yourself, take a closer look at Amazon Prime’s core features and member perks. Then, weigh the facts to determine when and whether it’s worth the annual expense.

Key Features

What’s remarkable about Amazon Prime’s subscriber count is the fact that you must pay to join. Regular Prime members pay $119 per year when billed annually or $12.99 per month (about $156 per year) for the more flexible monthly plan. 

Prime Student members pay $59 per year when billed annually and $6.49 per month (about $78 per year) when billed monthly. To qualify, they must have valid dot-edu email addresses and be able to prove they’re actively enrolled in at least one college course in the United States (including Puerto Rico).

Tens of millions of consumers happily pay comparable annual fees for warehouse store memberships. But most other common retail loyalty programs, such as those run by supermarket and department store chains, cost nothing to join.

But when you look at Amazon Prime’s core features, it’s easy to see why it’s so popular despite the cost.

30-Day Free Trial

All new Prime members are eligible for a 30-day free trial to test-drive the service. During the free trial, you have access to all Prime-exclusive perks and benefits.

You must enter a valid credit card to secure your free trial. Your membership automatically rolls over to paid status at the end of the trial period unless you cancel.

Household Prime Membership

Amazon allows multi-person Prime memberships covering the same household. My wife and I pay a single annual fee for our joint Prime membership. Like merging finances in joint accounts, joint Prime memberships are common practice for spouses and committed domestic partners. 

Household Prime memberships also make sense for long-term roommates.

Prime Delivery

Amazon Prime’s most valuable benefit is Prime Delivery, a collection of Prime-exclusive free and discounted delivery options including:

Free 2-Day Delivery 

Prime’s signature benefit is available on more than 100 million Amazon products for customers in the continental U.S. Members don’t have to worry about a minimum order size or limits on delivery frequency to get free two-day shipping. 

By comparison, free shipping takes anywhere from five to eight business days for non-Prime members, depending on their location and what they order.

Free 1-Day Delivery

Free one-day delivery (next-day delivery) is available across the continental U.S. on more than 10 million Amazon products. Just look for the “Prime FREE One-Day” logo. 

One-day deliveries arrive by 9pm local time the day after you order them. And you’ll never run into minimum order sizes or delivery frequency limits.

Free Same-Day Delivery

Free same-day delivery is more like free 10-business-hour delivery. 

Eligible goods — several million in all — ordered before noon local time arrive by 9pm local time on the same day. Products ordered in the afternoon or evening arrive the following day. 

To qualify, orders must have at least $35 in eligible purchases. Same-day delivery is only available in select cities. Roughly speaking, you can get it in the largest 50 to 100 U.S. metro markets, though Amazon adds new cities regularly.

Free Ultrafast Grocery Delivery 

In select U.S. cities, Amazon offers free ultrafast grocery delivery through Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods Market. In some markets, participating third-party retailers may offer ultrafast grocery delivery through Amazon as well. 

These deliveries typically take no more than two hours during the business day, but they may take longer during off-hours. Look for the “Available Today” icon in the upper left corner of the shopping page.

Secure In-Home Delivery

In select U.S. cities, Amazon offers secure in-home delivery through the Key by Amazon app. 

You can use the app to watch deliveries in real time to ensure the delivery person minds their business inside your home. You must install a special lock and camera and register any frequent guests to limit Amazon’s liability for damage or theft before accepting your first in-home delivery.

Amazon Day Delivery

If you typically place multiple orders per week, you can set a standing Amazon Day to receive everything you ordered during the preceding week. 

It’s a nice perk for Prime members who are frequently absent during the week. For example, setting your Amazon Day for Friday or Saturday reduces the risk of package theft when you’re out of the house on weekdays.

Release-Date Delivery

Amazon Prime members are eligible to shop for preorder products at least two days before their scheduled release dates, then receive free guaranteed delivery the day they’re available to the general public.

Other Amazon Delivery Perks

Amazon’s regular shipping benefits get all the glory. But they’re not the only perks for Amazon Prime members.

Additional perks include:

  • Shopping rewards when you select the no-rush delivery option (either points to use as a credit toward future purchases or instant discounts) 
  • Free delivery on special merchandise that doesn’t typically qualify for free delivery, such as bulky, heavy, or fragile goods
  • Discounted expedited delivery on products that don’t qualify for free one- or same-day shipping

Amazon Prime Video

Amazon Prime Video is Amazon’s Prime-exclusive library of free on-demand TV and movie content. 

Amazon Studios’ top original series and movies (known as Amazon Originals) are available through Prime Video at no additional charge. So are hundreds of popular non-Amazon shows, movies, and live out-of-market sporting events. 

Amazon doesn’t make its entire universe of video content available to Prime members for free. Premium TV series and films may carry one-time rental fees. 

You can stream Prime Video to your TV with a compatible smart TV or external device, such as an Amazon Fire Stick or Apple TV. On the go, you can access content through the Amazon Prime Video app, which is compatible with Android and iOS operating systems.

Amazon Prime Video is the most popular Prime service available on an a la carte basis. If you only want access to Prime Video streaming and don’t care about other Amazon Prime perks like free, fast delivery, you can get it for $8.99 per month. That’s less than competitors like Hulu and Netflix.

Prime Reading

Prime Reading is Amazon’s Prime-exclusive collection of fiction and nonfiction books, magazines, and audio recordings. Prime Reading works are available for download on any compatible device, Amazon-made or otherwise.

Music Streaming

Prime subscribers can stream over 2 million songs, including new hits and old favorites, through Prime Music for free. But it’s worth noting that’s a fraction of what’s available from leading streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music, which have more like 40 million songs in their respective libraries.

Prime Deals & Prime Day Deals

Prime Deals are Prime-exclusive shopping discounts and promotions. They’re subject to change but generally include discounts of 10% to 40% on popular Amazon products, with a focus on home goods, electronics, and kids toys and accessories. Prime-exclusive deals are particularly plentiful on Prime Day.

Prime Add-On Subscriptions

Prime members are under no obligation to add anything to their Prime subscriptions. Before you subscribe to an add-on, check its availability. 

As add-ons, all these subscriptions carry an additional cost — anywhere from $2.99 per month for Amazon Kids+ to $29 per month for NBA League Pass. But they make valuable services for anyone who uses them regularly.

Premium Prime Video Channels

Prime members can watch high-quality video content not included in the regular Prime Video. 

Known as Prime Video Channels, this premium content lineup includes subscription movie and TV channels like HBO and Starz. It also includes a decent lineup of live sports channels and memberships, including NBA League Pass and MLB.TV. 

There are no big channel packages full of content you don’t really watch. You pay only for the channels you want, which helps control your total entertainment cost.

Amazon Kids+

For a small additional monthly fee after a one-month free trial, Prime members can add unlimited kid-friendly content — books, TV shows, movies, and apps — through Amazon Kids+. Kids+ includes built-in parental controls.

Amazon Music Unlimited

Amazon Music Unlimited is an expanded song library with over 60 million songs, which is on par with top standalone subscription streaming services. There’s a decent additional monthly fee associated with this service.

Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card

The Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card is a premium cash-back credit card that’s ideal for Prime members who spend heavily at Amazon and Whole Foods.

It’s a more powerful version of the Amazon Rewards Visa Signature Card. The Prime Visa earns 5% cash back on Amazon-universe purchases and an unlimited 2% cash back on purchases at eligible restaurants, gas stations, and drugstores. 

Credit qualification applies. This card is designed for Prime members with good to excellent credit. Before you apply, check your credit score.


Advantages

There are many reasons to invest in an Amazon Prime subscription. 

1. Vast Array of Shipping Options

Amazon Prime’s most valuable benefit is a slew of free or discounted shipping options, from two-day free shipping on some 10 million products to ultrafast two-hour shipping in select metro markets. 

If you frequently place last-minute orders, the rush delivery fees could cost as much as or more than many of the products you buy. That makes Prime’s subscription fee seem like a bargain. 

Even if you’re not in a rush, it could still be worth it. Let’s optimistically say you average a delivery fee of $5 per order. Your month-to-month Prime subscription pays for itself if you place just three orders per month. On an annual subscription, it pays for itself with two orders per month.

2. Media Perks Have High Potential Value for Frequent Users

Amazon Prime Video in particular delivers tremendous value for frequent users when compared with competitors like Hulu. 

Unfortunately, it’s not a universal library. For example, Netflix has a trove of original shows and movies, and the newest, choicest flicks carry per-rental fees. But it’s more than enough to keep Prime members occupied on nights in.

3. Free Trial Period

You can cancel your Prime subscription without penalty during the 30-day free trial period. That’s a lifesaver for budget-conscious shoppers looking to dip their toes in without paying anything out of pocket.

4. Household Membership

Joint household memberships are ideal for couples, families, and long-term roommates looking to pool their shopping and media consumption dollars. 

You can only have two adults on a household membership, but its time-saving features give parents peace of mind without paying an extra dime. Teens can shop on their own, pending your approval via text, and you can customize parental controls to limit and monitor kids’ access to media.

5. Membership Discounts for Students

Verified students enjoy 50% off the monthly or annual cost of a Prime membership. That’s excellent news for penny-pinching scholars expecting to rely on Amazon for timely deliveries of textbooks, electronics, school supplies, and basic dorm necessities.

6. Special Discounts at Whole Foods

Prime members enjoy exclusive 10%-off deals on hundreds of products at Whole Foods, subject to change and availability. 

Were it not for this perk, I wouldn’t bother shopping at my local Whole Foods at all, but this discount is deep enough to make Whole Foods’ prices competitive with nearby downscale supermarket chains.

7. Higher Cash-Back Earnings on the Amazon Prime Visa Signature Card

For frequent Amazon and Whole Foods shoppers with above-average credit, the Amazon Prime Visa Signature Card’s 2% cash back bonus subsidizes or entirely offsets Prime’s annual membership fee. 

Earning 2% back on gas and restaurant purchases is nice too, though you don’t need to be a Prime member for that.


Disadvantages

As good as it is for so many, there are downsides to the Amazon Prime subscription.

1. Relatively High Annual Fee

Amazon Prime has a relatively high annual fee: $119 per year when billed annually and $12.99 per month (about $156 per year) when billed monthly. For reference, that’s roughly double the cost of a basic Costco membership. 

If you’re not a frequent Amazon or Whole Foods shopper, don’t regularly take advantage of Prime’s non-shipping perks and features, and don’t mind waiting a few extra days for delivery, Prime probably isn’t for you.

2. No Partial Refunds for Unused Benefits on Annual Subscriptions

If you use your Prime benefits at any point during your subscription period, you’re automatically ineligible for a refund of Prime fees paid during that period. 

For instance, say you opt for the two-day free shipping benefit on one order in January, the first month of your Prime membership year. Then, you don’t use your subscription for months, deciding to cancel your annual subscription in May. You’ll pay the full cost for the entire year, despite canceling five months in. 

That’s an incentive to pay for Prime on a month-to-month basis, despite the higher yearly cost. And it’s a disadvantage over warehouse stores like Costco, whose expansive satisfaction guarantees make it fairly easy to cancel for a retroactive refund.

3. Expedited Food Delivery Costs More

An Amazon Prime membership does not entitle you to expedited grocery deliveries. For most folks, the fastest, cheapest way to get edible essentials using your Amazon discount is to stop by the nearest Whole Foods Market, where Prime members enjoy 10% off select goods. 

Amazon Fresh is particularly expensive. Mercifully, shipping is free on Prime Pantry orders over $35.

4. Free Music Library Isn’t Particularly Impressive

To most people, 2 million songs sounds like a lot. But Prime’s free streaming music library isn’t very extensive compared with top-of-the-line streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify. 

Those seeking deep cuts may want to look elsewhere or spring for a paid Amazon Music Unlimited subscription.


Final Word

Amazon Prime has a lot to offer, but it isn’t for everyone. 

My wife and I get our money’s worth and feel it’s a fair value. But we know plenty of occasional Amazon shoppers who can’t justify spending more than $100 per year for Prime benefits. Other shoppers take issue with Amazon’s growing retail dominance and prefer to support independently owned retailers instead.

Whether Amazon Prime makes sense for you depends on how much value you can extract from it. If you’re already selecting one- or two-day shipping on frequent Amazon purchases, shopping at Whole Foods, and regularly streaming Amazon content, it makes sense to join Prime. 

If you shop Amazon infrequently or not at all, don’t watch much TV, and don’t live near a Whole Foods, Prime likely isn’t worth it for you. If you’re living somewhere between those two poles, your choice might be tougher, but you now have what you need to make an informed decision.

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The Verdict

Amazon Prime Logo

Our rating

Amazon Prime

Verdict: Amazon Prime is a wildly successful retail loyalty subscription that more than justifies its high annual cost and even higher monthly cost (a premium for the freedom to cancel anytime).

The ideal Prime user is an individual or household willing to pay upfront for free, expedited shipping and able to take advantage of value-added perks like Prime Video and member-exclusive deals.

If you qualify for the Amazon Prime Visa Signature Card, you’re much more likely to offset the annual Prime membership fee. And you may neutralize the cost through increased cash-back earnings alone if you spend enough at Amazon and Whole Foods.

Prime is not ideal for occasional Amazon shoppers or those willing to pay more to support local or non-Amazon retailers.

Editorial Note:
The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Source: moneycrashers.com

31 Ideas for Doing Thanksgiving Inexpensively

If you’ve ever hosted Thanksgiving dinner, you likely know how easy it is for costs to spiral. Between appetizers, drinks, the turkey, sides, and pies, you can easily rack up (multiple!) large tabs at the grocery store.

Even if you’re just traveling to have Thanksgiving with family or friends, you can end up putting a big dent in your spending account. Airlines and hotels often charge a premium during high-demand times like Thanksgiving weekend.

To avoid overspending just a few weeks before gift-giving season, read on. We’ve got 31 ways to keep your Thanksgiving costs under control.

Thanksgiving on a Budget: How to Save

Here are some simple strategies for doing Thanksgiving inexpensively this year. Bonus: They can also help you save time — and stress.

1. Stocking Up as Stuff Goes on Sale

Throughout November, stores typically have different Thanksgiving dinner items on sale. Grabbing nonperishables whenever you see them on discount can save a bundle, and also help spread out the cost of the meal.

2. Making It a Potluck

Whether you’re celebrating with family or friends, you can make Thanksgiving inexpensive by asking your guests to each contribute a dish. You can coordinate who is bringing what in advance to make sure there are no overlaps or gaps.

3. Checking Coupon Sites

Before heading out to the grocery store, you may want to check out coupon websites like Coupons.com , LOZO , and CouponMom to find deals on the items on your shopping list.

4. Going to Manufacturers’ Websites

A few major brands likely produce many of the items on your Thanksgiving shopping list. It can be worth checking websites like Butterball and General Mills for coupons and seasonal promos.

5. Getting Your Grocery Store’s App

Many supermarkets have apps that offer coupons and deals. Sometimes you can get a reward just for signing up.

6. Hitting More Than One Store

Going to just one supermarket is obviously more convenient. But if you check the circulars, you may see different items on sale at different stores. Going to a few different grocery stores could lead to significant savings.

7. Buying a Store-Brand Frozen Turkey

Typically, a turkey makes up about 40% of the cost of the Thanksgiving meal. Opting for a store-brand frozen bird, rather than a fresh one, can significantly lower your total outlay for the meal.

8. Splitting the Costs

You may want to consider teaming up with a sibling or other family member to co-host this year’s gathering. That way you can spit all of the costs, rather than foot the entire bill.

9. Buying Basics in Bulk

Buying staples like flour, potatoes, eggs, cream, and butter from a warehouse store like Costco or Sam’s Club can help you spend a lot less on food, as long as you’re not buying more than you need or will use up after Thanksgiving.

Recommended: How to Buy in Bulk: Beginners Guide

10. Going Generic

Many times, generic or store-brand products are just as good as the brand name version, and the only real difference is price.

11. Asking Guests to BYOB

Wine, beer, and other alcohol can add up quickly. One easy way to save money is to ask your guests to bring their favorite beverage. That way, everyone will get to sip something they love, and you won’t have to shell out all that extra money.

12. Sticking With Seasonal Produce

Vegetables that are in season in November, such as sweet potatoes, squash, Brussels sprouts, and white potatoes, will typically cost a lot less than out-of-season picks, such as corn, asparagus, and green beans.

13. Going With Frozen Veggies

If you want to use veggies that aren’t in season, you may want to choose the frozen versions, which are generally much cheaper than fresh.

14. Baking Your Own Bread

Baking bread can be fun, and typically involves spending a lot less than buying rolls or loaves at a bakery. You can also make bread ahead of time and stick it in the freezer until the big day.

15. Going Simple with Sides

It can be tempting to try a new gourmet recipe you saw online or in your favorite food magazine, but fancy recipes often require specialty ingredients — and can end up costing a lot to make.

16. Not Going Overboard

You may love the idea of giving your guests a cornucopia of options, especially when it comes to appetizers and sides. But making a lot of different dishes can lead to a much longer and costlier grocery bill. And, much of that food may end up going to waste.

17. Getting a Bigger Turkey Than You Need

Yes, this sounds like a way to increase costs. Going with a larger bird, however, can pay off by giving you several additional meals, like turkey sandwiches and turkey pot pies, you can make later without going back to the store, or spending another dime.

18. Considering Pre-Made Dishes

Sometimes store-made dishes and desserts can actually be cheaper than buying all of the ingredients and making these things yourself. It can be worth doing some quick math at the store. This move can also save you time, as well as stress.

19. Shopping Your Pantry

You may already have quite a few shelf-stable items in your pantry (maybe even from last Thanksgiving) that you need this year. It can be well worth the time and effort to give your cabinets a once-over before you head to the market.

20. Watching a Movie at Home

Though many people have a tradition of going out to the movies on Thanksgiving, theater tickets and concessions can be pricey. Instead, you may want to consider renting a movie from a streaming service (or finding a free one) that everyone can watch together on Thanksgiving night.

21. Not Going to the Mall

The average American dropped about $312 going shopping over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend in 2020, according to the National Retail Federation . If you don’t want to be tempted by Black Friday bargains, your best bet may be to avoid stores and stay off-line.

Recommended: How to Cut Back on Spending

22. Using Up Airline Points

If you need to travel by plane over Thanksgiving, you may want to consider using any points you’ve racked up with the airlines or on your credit card to score a free or discounted ticket.

23. Going on a Staycation

While taking a vacation over the Thanksgiving holiday can be fun, it could add up to thousands of dollars between the flights, hotels, and rental car, depending on where you go. You may want to consider staying home and planning a series of local adventures instead.

24. Staying in an Airbnb

If you normally stay in a hotel when you visit family or friends over Thanksgiving, you may be able to save by going with an Airbnb instead, especially if you can share it with other people who are coming in from out of town.

25. Checking Warehouse Clubs for Travel Deals

Before you book any Thanksgiving travel, you may want to check for deals offered by your local warehouse club. If you are a member, you may be able to access discounts on hotels, rental cars, vacation packages, and more.

26. Asking for Travel Discounts

Whether you’re renting a car or staying in a hotel over Thanksgiving, it can be a good idea to ask if you are eligible for any discounts when you book. You may be able to score a lower price if you’re a AAA member, a student, a resident of the state, a member of the military, or over age 55.

Recommended: 27 Tips For Finding The Top Travel Deals

27. Making a Budget

Whether you’re hosting or heading out of town, it can be a wise idea to come up with a total amount you can afford to spend on Thanksgiving. You can then make a list of expected expenses, and determine how much you can realistically spend on each item.

Recommended: Building a Line Item Budget

28. Going DIY with Decor

A fun way to save money on Thanksgiving is to recruit the kids in the family to create your decorations. They could collect and paint pine cones, create cut-out turkeys (using their hands to trace them), or make a craft paper tablecloth where everyone can write or draw what they are thankful for.

29. Handing the Reins to Someone Else

Hosting can be fun and rewarding, but if you need a reprieve from the work — and expense — you may want to see if someone else wants to step up this year. You can offer to bring your famous balsamic roasted Brussels sprouts and garlic mashed potatoes to make the host’s job easier.

30. Going Out to Eat

Local restaurants may be offering Thanksgiving specials to bring in customers. You could save big if you go out to eat (and split the tab) rather than host everyone at your home.

31. Volunteering for the Holiday

Helping out at a local soup kitchen can be a great way to get into the holiday spirit and have a chance to focus on giving back, rather than spending.

TheTakeaway

You can enjoy Thanksgiving (and the upcoming December holidays) without running up expensive credit card debt that you may struggle to pay back.

One great way to keep your holiday costs under control is to set up a simple budget and then make sure you stick to it by keeping track of your expenses as you go.

With a SoFi Money® cash management account, you can easily track and categorize your weekly spending right in the dashboard of the SoFi Money app.

Learn how SoFi Money can help you keep tabs on spending this holiday season.

Photo credit: iStock/GMVozd


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Source: sofi.com

Stock Market Today: Dour Disney Results Drag Down the Dow

The stock market was indeed open for Veterans Day, but perhaps just as importantly, the bond market was closed, allowing technology-sector equities and other rate-sensitive shares to catch their breath after Wednesday’s downturn.

Unfortunately, a steep drop in Disney (DIS, -7.1%) on Thursday prevented the Dow Jones Industrial Average from ending its recent slide.

An otherwise light news day put the spotlight back on corporate earnings, which triggered several precipitous declines. Dating app creator Bumble (BMBL, -19.3%) announced its first quarter-over-quarter decline (2%) in user growth and missed earnings estimates, while Beyond Meat (BYND, -13.3%) tumbled after delivering weak Q3 results and a disappointing Q4 outlook.

The highest-profile miss, however, came from Disney, which fell short of expectations not just for the top and bottom lines, but also its number of Disney+ subscribers. That prompted a number of price-target downgrades, though analysts largely remained bullish on Disney’s longer-term potential.

“We believe DIS’s asset mix of both digital and physical assets maximizes its economic value capture over time … [but] DIS’s FY4Q21 comments (our view) implied that share price catalysts won’t begin until 2022’s June quarter,” says Needham analyst Laura Martin, who has a Hold rating on shares.

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Disney’s loss weighed on the Dow (-0.4% to 35,921), which suffered its third consecutive loss. But the S&P 500 (up marginally to 4,649) and Nasdaq Composite (+0.5% to 15,704) snapped their short skids thanks to rebounds in chipmakers such as Advanced Micro Devices (AMD, +4.4%) and Qualcomm (QCOM, +2.9%), as well as streaming stock Netflix (NFLX, +1.7%).

stock chart for 111121stock chart for 111121

Other news in the stock market today:

  • The small-cap Russell 2000 rebounded 0.8% to 2,409.
  • U.S. crude futures were virtually flat, declining a mere 2 cents per share to $81.32 per barrel.
  • Gold futures improved again, up 0.8% to $1,863.90 per ounce. Spot gold prices, meanwhile, neared five-month highs.
  • The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) lost all of the ground it gained Wednesday and then some, declining 5.4% to 17.72.
  • Bitcoin declined again, by 1.2% to $64,820.64. (Bitcoin trades 24 hours a day; prices reported here are as of 4 p.m. each trading day.)
  • Electric vehicle makers Lordstown Motors (RIDE, +23.9%) and Fisker (FSR, +10.9%) were both up big Thursday, but for different reasons. The former jumped after Foxconn agreed to buy its Lordstown, Ohio, plant for $230 million. The Chinese electronics manufacturer also said it would seek a deal to help RIDE make its Endurance line of pickup trucks. And the latter a price-target upgrade, to $24 per share from $18, from BofA Securities analyst John Murphy. Murphy nonetheless maintained his Neutral stance on FSR.

Tesla’s Tiny Loss: A Win for You?

One of the more important moves of the day was, in fact, practically a non-move. Electric vehicle maker Tesla (TSLA, -0.4%) finished Thursday with a modest loss.

However, that’s a welcome stabilization in shares after a highly telegraphed stock sale by CEO Elon Musk sent TSLA shares plunging by as much as 19% between last Friday’s close and yesterday’s intraday lows.

It’s clearly fantastic news for Tesla’s shareholders, but it’s still meaningful even if you don’t hold the stock.

That’s because TSLA is one of several mega-cap stocks that have an outsized amount of influence on major funds, representing 2% of the S&P 500, 4.5% of the popular Nasdaq-100 index, and roughly 19% of the market’s largest consumer-discretionary ETF. This puts Tesla in company with the “FAANGs” – or the “FANGs,” or the “FAAMGs,” or whatever acronym comes next to encapsulate Wall Street’s largest companies such as Apple (AAPL) and Microsoft (MSFT).

Tesla also is similar to several of the FAANGs in that its popularity has also led to a bloated valuation. Fortunately, there’s more than one way to invest in these ubiquitous companies. We’ve recently put our microscope not just on the FAANGs and other mega-caps themselves, but companies that provide products and services to these behemoths, offering something of a backdoor way to share in the growth of these trillion-dollar firms.

Here are seven other ways to invest in the FAANGs.

Kyle Woodley was long AMD and TSLA as of this writing.

Source: kiplinger.com

Our Best Value Tech Holiday Gifts for 2021 (Plus the Best, Period)

Yes, the 2021 edition is arriving a little earlier than usual, but there’s a reason for that. The supply chain disruption, chip shortages, and transportation woes that have been so disruptive over the past year continue. That means popular products may be more difficult to find than usual, and retailers are warning that some may quickly sell out when holiday shopping kicks off.

To put that in perspective, a full year after launch, many gamers are still struggling to get their hands on a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X game console.

So this is your head start. The gift guide is divided into two sections. The first is tech gifts that offer great value. They have an excellent combination of performance, features, and quality at a compelling price point. The second section is for tech products that stand out and offer more of a wow factor. They still deliver on value, but they’re higher up the price scale. I have had hands-on experience with virtually all of these products and published reviews for the majority of them, so you can count on each of these being much more than a pretty picture.

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Best Value in Chromebooks: Lenovo Chromebook Duet 10.1-inch 2-in-1

photo of Lenovo Chromebook Duet 10.1-inch 2-in-1photo of Lenovo Chromebook Duet 10.1-inch 2-in-1

Chromebooks were already popular with students, but two school years where remote and hybrid learning have been a frequent reality has made them indispensable for many families.

The Lenovo Chromebook Duet has wowed us since its 2020 debut. It’s a 2-in-1 with a detachable display so it can be used as a tablet, which is ideal for running Android apps or reading. Unlike many companies, Lenovo includes the magnetically connecting keyboard in the box. At under $300, you’re not going to find a fire-breathing processor, extra RAM or a lot of storage. In this case it’s a MediaTek Helio P60T 8-core CPU, 4GB or RAM, and 64GB of eMMC storage.

However, in a Chromebook, that does the job. When I reviewed the Chromebook Duet, I could easily have a dozen Chrome tabs open without slowdown. It’s equipped with a built-in webcam for video conferencing. I was really impressed by Lenovo’s inclusion of a 1080p IPS touchscreen display (many entry level Chromebooks still have 720p displays), and the 10 hours of battery life I averaged.

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Best Value in Gaming Laptops: Acer Nitro 5 (AN515-55-53E5)

Photo of Acer Nitro 5Photo of Acer Nitro 5

Gaming was already big, but in the pandemic, popularity soared. And then kept growing. Online PC gaming platform Steam just keeps breaking its own record for concurrent users. Gaming laptops have been incredibly popular because they allow PC gaming from wherever you can carve out the space to sit down, and they can do double-duty for school. But to play PC games, you really do need a gaming laptop, though — a standard computer lacks the graphics processing unit (GPU) to be able to handle popular triple-A games. 

You can actually get a pretty capable gaming laptop for well under $1,000. Acer’s Nitro 5 series has been an affordable gaming laptop leader for years. There are dozens of models to choose from, but this year’s crop includes the Nitro 5 (AN515-55-53E5).

For $799, you get a 10th generation Intel Core i5 processor, Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 3050 GPU capable of real-time ray tracing, a 15.6-inch 1080p display with a 144Hz refresh rate, Wi-Fi 6, and ultra-fast NVMe storage.

RAM and storage are both on the low end but usable (8GB and 256GB respectively), but can be easily and inexpensively upgraded at any time thanks to free slots.

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Best Value in Laptops: Apple M1 MacBook Air

Photo of Apple M1 MacBook Air Photo of Apple M1 MacBook Air

Once again, the M1 MacBook Air tops our list as the best value in laptops. We’re expecting a new version in 2022, but that one is undoubtedly going to go a little more upscale.

The current M1 MacBook Air — released last November — is a powerful performer thanks to Apple’s custom-designed M1 CPU. It features a silent, fanless design, a premium machined aluminum enclosure (in gold, silver or space gray), a very nice 13.3-inch Liquid Retina display, and battery life of up to 18 hours. It runs macOS instead of Windows, but there are macOS or cloud versions of most popular applications including Microsoft Office, so that shouldn’t be a big issue for most users.

With a starting price of $999 ($899 if you qualify for educational pricing), there’s no better value to be found in a laptop.

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Best Value in Smart Speaker: Google Nest Hub (2nd Gen)

Photo of Google Nest HubPhoto of Google Nest Hub

The pandemic has made connected digital photo frames popular as a way to create a digital connection with people less comfortable with laptops, tablets or similar equipment. This year’s suggestion is the second-generation Google Nest Hub.

This device is truly a great value. Priced at $99.99, it’s a smart speaker with a built-in 7-inch touchscreen. Use it to play music, stream videos, voice control smart home devices, and take video calls. And when not doing all that, the display can double as a digital photo frame as well, playing a slide show of your favorite snaps from Google Photos.

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Best Value in TVs: TCL 6-Series 4K Roku TV

Photo of tvPhoto of tv

Last year, the TCL 4-Series 4K Roku TV made this list as the best value in TVs, with a $229.99 starting price. This year, TCL is on the list again (the company is on a roll), but with the 6-Series, which has a $949.99 starting price.

Why the big price difference, and should you pay it?

First, sky-high demand for TVs combined with parts shortages and higher shipping costs have pushed prices considerably higher for all TVs this year. The TCL model that went for $229.99 last year is priced at $349.99 this year. That was also a 43-inch TV, where the smallest 6-Series is a 55-inch model ($499.99 for that size in the 4-Series).

The TCL 6-Series is equipped with advanced technology including a quantum dot display and a 120Hz refresh rate. It supports features like Dolby Atmos surround sound and Dolby Vision HDR. It delivers an excellent viewing experience and with its THX certified game mode, it is consistently rated as one of the best TVs for gaming with the new Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X game consoles. It’s a tremendous value in a TV and well worth the higher price tag — which is still well below the competition.

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Best Value in Fitness Tracker: Fitbit Charge 5

Photo of Fitbit Charge 5Photo of Fitbit Charge 5

Smart watches like the Apple Watch continue to gain popularity, but the reality is that many people who buy these are primarily using them for their health and fitness-tracking capabilities, and those you can get for less.

The Fitbit Charge 5 is an attractive-looking fitness tracker, with an aluminum case (in a choice of colors), swappable bands, a vibrant, always-on AMOLED touchscreen display, built-in GPS, and seven-day battery life. It offers a full array of health and fitness tracking capabilities including a heart rate sensor, ECG, oxygen saturation (SpO2) levels, breathing rate, and sleep monitoring.

It can also show notifications from an iPhone or Android smartphone.

If you’re shopping for someone who wants to be on top of all aspects of their health and fitness, the Fitbit Charge 5 is a great value at $100 less than Apple’s entry-level Apple Watch SE.

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Best Value in ANC Wireless Headphones: PuroPro Hybrid ANC Volume Limited Headphones

Photo illustration of PuroPro HeadphonesPhoto illustration of PuroPro Headphones

Wireless headphones are always a popular gift. The latest must-have feature — thanks to the trend working from home trend — is active noise cancellation (ANC). You can spend a lot of money on a pair of over-ear headphones that offer wireless connectivity and ANC, but you don’t need to. These will handle your neighbor’s leaf blower just fine.

In testing, I found the PuroPro Hybrid ANC wireless headphones deliver on the noise cancellation front, with two levels of ANC. They are comfortable and modern-looking, and offer an enjoyable music listening experience with plenty of energy. It’s on a level comparable with more expensive offerings. But there’s a twist. These headphones have a built in volume limiter to prevent hearing damage, making them ideal for those who habitually crank their music to 11. Odds are, they’ll never even notice.

PuroPro headphones fold compactly for carrying and come with a hardshell carrying case. They ship in a unique wooden box instead of cardboard, making for an attractive gift you won’t even need to wrap. 

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Best Value in Wireless Earbuds: 1More ComfoBuds Pro Aura Blue

Photo of 1More ComfoBudsPhoto of 1More ComfoBuds

True wireless earbuds make a great gift, and as with headphones, active noise cancellation is the latest must-have feature. The default when it comes to earbuds are Apple’s incredibly popular AirPods. If you want ANC, that means moving up to the $249 AirPods Pro.

However, at less than half that price, the 1More ComfoBuds Pro Aura Blue wireless earbuds are a much better value.

They are designed to be extremely comfortable (hence the name) and music sounds great thanks to 13.4 mm titanium composite dynamic drivers and custom tuning. You can customize the sound with 22 pre-set EQ settings. Six microphones support voice calls and multiple ANC modes, including pass-through (which basically means amplifying outside sounds so you can hear nearby voices or warning noises like car horns over top of the music). The stems are equipped with customizable touch control. They have a unique and very attractive metallic blue paint job and tiny LED “firefly” indicator lights on the tips. Sweat and rain are no problem with IPX4 water resistance.

ComfoBuds Pro also beat the AirPods Pro when it comes to battery life, with up to six hours per charge with ANC on and eight hours with ANC off.

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Best Value In Kids’ Tablets: Amazon Fire HD Kids Tablets

Photo of Amazon Fire Kids ProPhoto of Amazon Fire Kids Pro

Tablets make great gifts for kids. The devices let them stream their favorite videos, play games, read, listen to music, snap photos, and more. A tablet is entertainment that can be used anywhere, including in the car during road trips.

But: Tablets can be expensive, they’re fragile, and security can be a problem. Apple’s iPad is the go-to tablet, but it starts at $329. The smaller iPad mini that’s a more kid-friendly size costs even more with a $499 starting price.

Amazon has a proven solution for parents. It has a series of Fire tablets made specifically for kids. These include models starting at 7 inches, with features like a protective case, parental controls, a one-year subscription to Amazon Kids+ content, access to Amazon’s app store, support for video calls, and free replacement for two years if the tablet is broken.

Prices start at $99.99 for the 7-inch Fire 7 Kids Pro and range to $199.99 for the 10-inch Fire HD Pro Kids tablet. Amazon even offers discounts on multiples if you’re shopping for more than one kid. These do tend to sell out frequently, so keep checking back for stock.

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Best Value in Portable Power Banks: Mophie Powerstation Wireless XL With PD

Photo of Mophie Powerstation Wireless XL WPhoto of Mophie Powerstation Wireless XL W

Everyone can use a portable power bank. With so many of our devices being battery-powered, running out of charge is a constant risk. If it’s not your smartphone, it’s a tablet or wireless earbuds. Having a portable power bank handy in a purse, backpack, or glove compartment means you can easily charge these devices on demand and on the move, without clinging to an AC outlet.

I’ve always been a fan of Mophie products. The company has been making battery packs for smartphones and mobile devices for years. They know what works. My current pick among Mophie’s offerings is the Powerstation Wireless XL with PD.

This portable power bank is on the large size for a portable (it’s just over 5 inches long and weighs almost 8 ounces), but it packs a big 10,000mAh battery. That’s enough to charge most smartphones twice. Its top is a Qi wireless charger for convenience, and it has both USB Type-A and USB-C output ports. So you can charge just about anything, and charge multiple devices simultaneously. It’s also covered with fabric for a premium touch.

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Best Portable Gaming System: Nintendo Switch OLED Model

Photo of Nintendo Switch Photo of Nintendo Switch

The first gift idea among the “best of” pack is a new version of the must-have portable game system for the past several years. There are now hundreds of games in the Nintendo Switch library, including best-sellers like Animal Crossing: New Horizons and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

The Nintendo Switch is a mobile gamer’s dream. The new Switch OLED Model adds $50 to the price of the original, but addresses that system’s primary weakness with a vibrant new OLED display. Colors pop like never before and the size increases to 7.0 inches from 6.2 inches. The Switch OLED Model also features an improved stand, better audio, and adds a wired LAN port to its stand for use in docked mode.

Heads up: the Nintendo Switch has proven to be tough to find, especially during the holiday season, so don’t leave this one to the last minute.

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Best All-In-One Music System With Turntable: Andover Audio Spin System

Andover Audio Spin SystemAndover Audio Spin System
  • Our pick: Andover Audio Spin System
  • Manufacturer’s suggested retail price: Components sold individually, ranging from $199 to $599

Andover Audio is an American audio brand led by an engineering team with backgrounds at firms Cambridge SoundWorks, Bose and Harmon. Designing high-end audio gear since 2012, the company has serious audiophile cred. And it’s focused on compact, turntable-based systems. In last year’s gift guide, the Andover Model One all-in-one system was featured. This year, it’s Andover’s Spin system.

This is a modular approach that you can add to. The base configuration is the SpinBase turntable speaker system ($299) plus a SpinDeck ($349) or SpinDeck MAX ($599) turntable. That configuration provides a solid, compact audio system with 270-degree sound, the ability to play your record collection in style, and Bluetooth streaming.

You can add to that base system with the SpinSub subwoofer ($299) and SpinStand system and record stand ($199) for a killer, compact audio system in a black or white finish.

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Best Compact Tablet: Apple iPad Mini

Photo of Apple iPad Mini Photo of Apple iPad Mini
  • Our pick: Apple iPad Mini
  • Manufacturer’s suggested retail price: Starting at $499

Compact tablets make great gifts. A small tablet is easy to slip into a bag for travel and it’s small enough to sit on a nightstand. It provides a bigger display than a smartphone, but it’s not too large. Compact tablets don’t get much better than Apple’s recently-launched 6th generation iPad mini.

Apple went with an all-screen design in this 2021 release, losing the Home button and increasing the screen size to 8.3-inches. It’s equipped with a high resolution Liquid Retina display with True Tone and P3 wide color support. The iPad mini is extremely powerful, with Apple’s latest chip — the A15 Bionic — inside. Apple also incorporated high end cameras with a 12MP rear shooter, and a 12MP FaceTime HD camera that supports Center Stage intelligent focus. It’s also great for jotting notes or sketching with the optional Apple Pencil 2.

The latest iPad Mini is perfect for reading, web browsing, streaming video, checking your social media feed, videoconferencing, and even snapping photos. It also packs the power for mobile gaming. It’s available in four colors and starts at $499 with 64GB of storage. Additional storage and 5G connectivity is available at extra cost.

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Best Wireless Headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4 Over-Ear Wireless Headphones with ANC

Photo of Sonny HeadphonesPhoto of Sonny Headphones

It should come as no surprise that Sony makes great headphones. When I reviewed the company’s WH-1000XM3 wireless headphones with ANC, I wore them to a water park on a hot summer day and parked myself in a chair just feet from a roller coaster track. With ANC active, there was nothing but silence despite hundreds of screaming kids and a thundering coaster hurtling past. Music sounds fantastic and spatial audio in the 360 Reality Audio format is supported. Battery life is excellent, at up to 38 hours.

Sony managed to top those with the WH-1000XM4 headphones, which scooped a CES 2021 Innovation Award. Voice call performance is improved, and they gain multi-point Bluetooth so they can be connected to two devices simultaneously (useful when working from home). ANC somehow gets even better and they gain DSEE Extreme upscaling, a feature that makes lossy files like MP3s sound better.

While there’s a strong case for Apple’s AirPods Pro headphones in this category, Sony’s WH-1000XM4s simply offer a better value.

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Best Wireless Earbuds: Ultimate Ears UE FITS

Photo of Ultimate EarsPhoto of Ultimate Ears

One of the most important factors in terms of how good earbuds are going to sound is their fit. Without a tight seal, bass in particular drops off, and even the best buds sound tinny. Of course  if they don’t fit properly, they are also unlikely to stay in place. Sometimes all the tips and wings in the world just won’t do it.

Ultimate Ears drove this point home when I tested the company’s UE 18+ CX earbuds. These are custom-molded buds that fit like a glove and sound phenomenal — but they cost as much as a mortgage payment. Fortunately, the company has adapted that custom-molding technology in the consumer UE Fits wireless earbuds.

An app walks you through the fitting process and after less than a minute you have custom-molded wireless earbuds that fit perfectly. They sound great, they’re extremely comfortable, and they stay in place. They’re available in midnight blue, gray, or lilac. What makes a better gift for a music lover than custom-molded earbuds? Especially when they cost a very reasonable $249…

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Best Portable Speaker: Ultimate Ears HYPERBOOM

Photo of the Hyperboom SpeakersPhoto of the Hyperboom Speakers

Ultimate Ears’ second product in this gift guide is making a repeat appearance after being featured in our 2020 gift guide. The reason why is simple: if you’re looking for a portable wireless speaker, there is nothing else (at a reasonable price point) that can touch the sound the Ultimate Ears HYPERBOOM puts out.

This is a big speaker (it weighs 13 pounds) and it’s packed with drivers including a pair of 4.5-inch woofers, two 1-inch tweeters, and two 7.5-inch passive radiators — a setup that delivers thumping bass, wide dynamic range, and 270-degree sound. A built-in adaptive EQ with mic automatically optimizes the audio for whatever environment you’re in and the mobile app lets you customize the audio to your heart’s content with a 5-band EQ.

It’s big and powerful, but also portable. The HYPERBOOM is equipped with an integrated handle, it has an IPX4 water resistance rating, and its battery will keep the music going for up to 24 hours.

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Best TV Soundbar: Sonos Beam (Gen 2)

Photo of Sonos BeamPhoto of Sonos Beam

You can spend a lot on a soundbar these days. Once considered a compromise solution for when someone lacked the space or budget for a full home theater rig, sound bars have evolved into fully featured systems in their own right.

The Sonos Beam (Gen 2) is a top pick for 2021. In its second generation, it adds support for Dolby Atmos 3D audio. It lacks upward-firing drivers, but two arrays are dedicated to reproducing overhead and surround effects. It’s not quite as effective as the Sonos Arc soundbar, which is equipped with actual upward-firing drivers — but that model retails for $899. The Sonos Beam 2 is pretty convincing while saving money that could be put toward a Sonos Sub wireless subwoofer for true movie theatre rumble.

The Sonos mobile app is required to set up the Beam (Gen 2), but you don’t need to be invested in the Sonos ecosystem to use this soundbar. In fact, it supports Wi-Fi music streamed via Apple AirPlay 2. Sonos Beam (Gen 2) is available in matte black or matte white finishes.

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Best Smart Lighting System: Nanoleaf Shapes

Photo of Nanoleaf ShapesPhoto of Nanoleaf Shapes
  • Our pick: Nanoleaf Shapes
  • Manufacturer’s suggested retail price: Kits start at $119.99

I test a lot of smart lighting solutions. Color-changing bulbs and LED strips are fine, but I’ve been a fan of Nanoleaf’s interlocking. wall-mounted smart light panels since the first version was released in 2016. I currently have around 50 Nanoleaf panels on my office walls. Nanoleaf’s Canvas took the best-smart smarting lighting honors in the 2020 gift guide.

Nanoleaf is back again in 2021, but this time with the all-new Nanoleaf Shapes. These new panels — available in hexagons, triangles, and small triangles — finally allow the mixing and matching of different shapes and sizes in a single Nanoleaf setup. This opens up a whole new level of custom designs. They also feature an improved connection system that makes it easier to remove panels.

Everything else that makes Nanoleaf smart panels great (and a great gift) remains. They’re Wi-Fi connected, support all the main smart home standards, they can display millions of colors and scenes, and they can pulse to music in various patterns.

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Best Whole Home Mesh Router System: Netgear Orbi Tri-Band Mesh Wi-Fi 6 System

Photo of Netgear RouterPhoto of Netgear Router

It seems like virtually everything in our homes is connected these days. It’s not just your smartphone, tablet, or PC. Smart TVs, video streamers, smart watches, smart speakers, game consoles, smart thermostats, smart door locks, smart lights, home security systems, and more are all connected. They all rely on the internet and they connect to the internet using your home’s Wi-Fi network.

Too often that Wi-Fi just isn’t up to the task. Connections drop, video streams buffer, games lag, and websites load slowly.

One of the best gifts you can give someone these days is a Wi-Fi upgrade. I’ve been testing a lot of routers over the past two years as Wi-Fi 6 makes its way into the mainstream. From my perspective, the ultimate solution to any home Wi-Fi woes is a Wi-Fi 6 mesh system. You get next-gen speed and features, plus whole-home coverage that a traditional router just can’t match. Netgear’s Orbi is the leader of the pack. It may cost more than other whole home mesh router systems, but Orbi is worth it.

The current sweet spot among the company’s offerings is the Orbi Tri-Band Mesh Wi-Fi 6 System. Comprised of a router and one satellite, it supports Wi-Fi 6, offers a maximum throughput of 6Gbps, supports over 100 devices with concurrent connections, and blankets 5000 square feet with seamless, reliable, fast Wi-Fi.

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Best eReader: Kobo Sage

Photo of Kobe Sage eReaderPhoto of Kobe Sage eReader
  • Our pick: Kobo Sage
  • Manufacturer’s suggested retail price: $259.99

For someone who reads a lot, an eReader is an excellent gift option. Chances are, even if they own one already, it’s getting long in the tooth. The new generation of eReaders makes models from even a few years ago look primitive in comparison, especially with advances in lighting and screen resolution. If you’re shopping for someone who is already heavily invested in Amazon Kindle eBooks, then the cream of the crop is the latest Kindle Oasis.

However, for anyone else, my suggestion is the Kobo Sage. The latest release from Kobo is the perfect piece of hardware for people who read a lot. Its 8-inch display is the largest in its class, and the E Ink Carta 1200 touchscreen is razor-sharp at 300 PPI. Kobo pioneered temperature-changing side-lighting with its ComfortLight PRO system that adjusts the lighting colour temperature and brightness to reduce eyestrain. It is IPX8 water resistant and can survive a dunking in three feet of water. The Sage offers 12 fonts and 50 font styles for complete customization of the reading experience.

Kobo e-readers also include integrated Overdrive support, which makes it easy to borrow eBooks from local libraries.

The Sage includes a number of new features (to Kobo) including upgrades to 802.11ac Wi-Fi and USB-C, Bluetooth connectivity and support for audiobooks, dark mode, plus support for an optional Kobo Stylus for penning notes.

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Best Gaming Laptop: ASUS ROG Zephyrus G15 (GA503QS-BS96Q)

photo of laptopphoto of laptop

Finally, what might be the most popular gift on the 2021 list: the best gaming laptop. The ASUS ROG Zephyrus G15 isn’t the most expensive gaming laptop you can buy. Far from it. But it offers a near-perfect balance. Between cost and performance, weight and battery life, performance and portability. This is the gaming laptop that does it all, and does so without feeling like compromises are being made.

Brace for the letters and numbers (the gamers will appreciate them):

  • The GA503QS-BS96Q version is equipped with AMD’s screaming Ryzen 9 5900HS Processor at 3.1 GHz.
  • There is a 16GB of DDR4 RAM onboard, upgradable to 40GB. 
  • Graphics are taken care of by Nvidia’s mighty GeForce RTX 3080 GPU with 6GB of DDR6 RAM. 
  • Storage is a super fast 1TB M.2 NVMe PCIe 3.0 SSD.
  • The six speaker audio system supports Dolby Atmos.
  • The 15.6-inch IPS display has WQHD resolution, a 165Hz refresh rate with FreeSync support, 3ms response time, and the color is Pantone validated. Heat is effectively dissipated by a pair of 84 blade fans and six heat pipes.

All this in a 0.78-inch thick laptop that weighs just 4.1 pounds and can stream video for eight hours on a charge.

Source: kiplinger.com