Startup cost: About $20, plus ingredients
How often you need to use it to make it worthwhile: Twice a week for six weeks.
A bowl of fragrant, steaming rice is one of those things that's deceptively difficult to master: too much water and the rice can be gummy; too high a flame and you've got dry, crunchy grains. Enter the rice cooker. It makes fluffy, perfect rice every time and is a boon to those of us who are not as naturally gifted in the area as, say, a Korean grandmother. The other no-work option, those pop-in-the-microwave pouches of precooked rice, are inexpensive (about $2.60 each, which serves 2), but a rice cooker is still more cost-effective. If you went through two bags of precooked rice a week for six weeks (that's 24 servings), you'd spend about $31. Meanwhile, a basic rice cooker model costs $20; add two 2-pound bags of brown rice at $3.60 each (which will give you 36 servings), and you're at about $27. Bonus: These handy, little appliances aren't just for rice. You can use them to make pasta, eggs, stir-fries and much more.