Stop Spending a Fortune on Electronics Batteries: Go Rechargeable!

What if I told you that you could buy a set of batteries right now that would not only power your favorite battery-operated consumer electronics tonight and tomorrow, but would keep on powering them for months, even years to come? Hold your disbelief; it’s possible. Despite popular misconception, it’s not only possible but well within your financial grasp. The solution is not new either; it’s probably one you’ve considered and discounted.

Well, it just may be time for you to rethink this. Start by estimating just how much equipment that you have that demand batteries, either for primary power or for backup when an electrical outlet is unavailable.

From your personal media player, digital cameras, and flashlights to your kids’ favorite hand-held video games and the half dozen remote control devices you use in your home, it’s not unusual for the typical American to spend as much as $400 or more a year just to replace batteries. In the average household of four people, this cost can run close to if not well over $1,000 annually, especially if even just one member of the family is addicted to gadgets.

Here’s an example. In a quick check through my living room – just one room – I located 28 devices that require standard batteries of one type or another. After determining what type and quantity each device demanded, then verifying average prices for each of these batteries, usually sold in multi-packs of two, four, eight, or more, I calculated how much it would cost to replace every battery.

The pricetag was a whopping $151 and change, where the total reflects bargains where I found them. Keep in mind that’s just from devices in a single room room of a home that boasts fewer electronics goodies than many. This figure does not include the little less standard batteries we use, like the ones that run our digital watches, cell phones and portable computers, hearing aids, and common home medical devices, or the one inside your desktop computer to “remember” hardware information and time when the PC is turned off.

To add insult to injury, all too often – and depending on brand, type, and how long they’ve spent on the store shelf before you purchased them – many standard device batteries may last just a few hours of continuous use, at best. Some digital cameras, for example, can run through their battery charge in as few as 100 or less shots; faster if you use the flash and other features that demand power. The LCD viewer on many cameras can be a primo power hog yet most of us like to use it anyway.

“I got a great bargain on my very first FujiFilm digital camera and I was thrilled to think I would save a bundle because I no longer needed to buy film or pay for processing,” remarks Theresa Barnum, a budding photographer from Worcester, Massachusetts. “But the very next thing I noticed was that I sometimes had to replace camera batteries two or three times during a day of photo taking. When I use the camera frequently, I can spend as much on batteries in one month as I spent on that first camera. This is crazy!”

For someone like Theresa – and probably for you, too – a saner solution may be to move to rechargeable batteries along with a recharging unit. Yet, before you balk at the cost, ask yourself if you’ve checked prices recently.

Just a few years ago, a single four-pack of rechargeable AA batteries could easily run several times the cost of standard AA batteries – enough of a price difference to make many balk. A good battery recharging unit added a minimum additional $50 and you usually had to buy a separate recharger for each different battery type. Because of this, it could take months of use to recover the initial costs.

Ah, but time and prices have changed. Now you can find decent rechargeable batteries for sometimes less than twice the cost of standard batteries. That’s quite a deal when you factor in the reality that quality rechargeables batteries can be recharged sometimes hundreds of times. Here, quality can matter appreciably in working life span

My first set of nickel metal halide (NiMH) rechargeable batteries (original cost: $19.95 plus tax for a multi-pack of four) will soon enter their fifth year of operation, and get recharged as frequently as three or four times a week. My original battery recharger cost more than $50 and only worked with AA batteries; this has since been replaced by a unit priced at less than $15 from Radio Shack which accommodates AA, AAA, C, D, and 9-volt batteries. Compare this to the $5-6 I once spent on disposable AA batteries that rarely lasted a full afternoon of taking digital photos, watching my portable TV or listening to my portable radio outdoors.

Yet there are more reasons than price alone to make the move to rechargeable batteries. For example, Mother Earth may thank you. Landfills here and abroad – since we’re exporting more and more of our electronics’ refuse overseas to places like China – are filled with discarded batteries. Besides the enormous amount of space billions of spent batteries occupy, these batteries contain toxic substances that can eventually make their way into ground water and yes, even into the drinking water supply.

Beyond that, weigh both the convenience and necessity. How many times have you been caught in a power outage with a flashlight or emergency radio where even fresh batteries can fail before power is restored? Rather than run out to the store to buy fresh batteries before a big storm, all you need to do is be sure your rechargeables are fully powered. Recent extreme weather here left me without electricity for about 100 hours in the course of a single month. Yet rechargeable batteries I refreshed before the bad weather struck left me able to enjoy the radio, have a flashlight ready to use in every room, and I even got to watch the news and “Law in Order” on a hand-held LCD color TV.

In these situations, you may want to go one step beyond rechargeable batteries alone to consider the new generation of both wind-up devices and gadgets that can recharge themselves. Many companies offer wind-up and rechargeable flashlights, radios, and lanterns. I’ve got a radio that works off both a wind-up as well as solar power. But you should begin to see more solar power supplemental devices, too, that will let you power up laptop computers and heavier duty appliances. Many of us already use solar lawn lanterns as a lower cost alternative to wiring the front walkway.

Also think about how often you have listened to the kids tantrum and whine because the batteries in their favorite toys exhaust before they do. When was the last time you thrilled your son or daughter with a great new gadget on a holiday or birthday morning only to have the batteries die at a time when there is no store open to buy replacements? There’s a situation where the sanity you save will be your very own.

If you decide to go the rechargeable route, do yourself a huge favor and re-invest some of your savings on traditional batteries into extra sets of rechargeables. Then you can have one set in use, one set charging, and a third waiting in case the first set depletes before the second is fully charged. I keep four sets charged and ready just for my digital camera since I do a fair amount of photography for my work. A friend with three pre-teen boys swears by her multiple sets of rechargeable batteries to keep the kids from rioting when their Game Boys die during a long car trip. Likewise, a neighbor who often gets called out in the middle of the night for emergency repairs keeps a battery recharger – one that works off the cigarette lighter socket – in his truck to keep his flashlights operational.

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