When most people think of a slow cooker, they think of a device of convenience. It saves time, after all. You can put your ingredients into the pot in the morning, come home from work and find a meal already prepared for you - saving you time during those crucial rushed early evening hours.
Slow cookers are undoubtedly convenient, but where they secretly shine is in the money they can save you. Our slow cooker easily saves my family hundreds of dollars each year simply because of the sensible ways we use it. Here are a few ways a slow cooker could benefit you.
Saves money on dining out. For starters, when we use our slow cooker on weeknights, it almost always replaces takeout or a meal eaten at a restaurant.
For my family of five, it's easy to assemble a slow cooker meal for all of us for less than $2 per meal. At a restaurant, even children's meals are far above that $2 per meal rate. If you assume we're eating takeout or are dining at a restaurant for an average of $6 per head, that means a crockpot meal saves us $20 each time we use it.
If you figure we do this once a week, that's $1,040 per year right there. Even if you adjust the estimates drastically, you're still seeing hundreds in savings over the life of the slow cooker.
Provides leftovers for lunch. Another strong factor in favor of the slow cooker is the leftovers. Let's say we're making a soup or a stew for supper. On average, my family members might eat two cups of the soup for a meal, so 10 cups - or 2.5 quarts - will serve our needs. However, our slow cooker easily holds five quarts of soup.
So, we make a big batch of low-cost soup and put aside five small containers - each holding two cups - to freeze for later. When we need a quick lunch, we just pull one of those containers out of the freezer, pop the soup into a bowl and microwave it.
Making a large pot of soup means we can buy some of the ingredients in bulk, so each bowl of soup is less expensive than it would be otherwise. Plus, the leftover soup covers for our lunch tomorrow - meaning we don't have to go out to eat, saving us even more money.
Makes quick, healthy breakfasts. You can use your slow cooker to prepare a batch of steel-cut oatmeal for breakfast if you set it on low the night before. This makes for an inexpensive, healthy breakfast for the entire family that requires no morning preparation and can just be tossed in the dishwasher for cleanup. This can be far less expensive than most other breakfast options.
Cooks free soup stock. You can use your slow cooker to make vegetable stock. Just save vegetable scraps in the freezer, and when you have a bunch, add them to the slow cooker and fill it up with water. Then leave it on low for several hours. When you have a minute, pour the liquid through a strainer to remove the large pieces, then save the liquid in small containers and freeze them. The broth is basically free - and you pay three bucks for a few cups of it at the store. You can do the same with beef and chicken stock by saving meat scraps, along with appropriate vegetable scraps like onions.
A valuable timesaver. The advantage of the slow cooker is that it's really easy to cook these dishes, and it's really hard to mess them up. You just dump in the ingredients, set it on low and walk away for several hours. When you come back, your meal is finished. Since you made it at home, it's far cheaper (and made of better ingredients) than meals you might eat elsewhere, and it actually saves time by moving the prep work to a more convenient part of the day.
Our slow cooker is an invaluable part of our weekly routine - saving us both time and money. Consider picking one up for your own use, if you haven't already.
Trent Hamm is the founder of the personal finance website TheSimpleDollar.com, which provides consumers with resources and tools to make informed financial decisions.
More From US News & World Report