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Are Rechargeable Batteries a Frugal Choice?

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The common perception is that rechargeable batteries are better a better value than disposable batteries. From an environmental standpoint, I can agree with that statement. Rechargeable batteries reduce toxic waste and can be used for years. But from a price standpoint, rechargeable batteries are rarely cost effective.  There are many factors to consider when thinking about buying rechargeable batteries – mostly how often you use batteries, and what you use them for.

When it makes sense to buy rechargeable batteries

Up until a couple months ago my wife and I didn’t use many batteries. We pretty much only use batteries for a couple remote controls, a programmable thermostat, and an emergency flashlight. None of those items required new batteries frequently. So for us, buying a battery charger and a couple sets of rechargeable batteries was too expensive for our needs, and definitely not a frugal choice. Why? Because buying a charger and a couple sets of rechargeable batteries can easily run $60 or more ($30-$40 for a charger, and $20-$30 or more for batteries depending on your needs).

If your battery needs are basic, then you probably don’t need to buy rechargeable batteries (from a money saving standpoint; use your own judgment regarding the environment).  Since we only had basic needs, it was a less expensive option for us to buy disposable batteries. So what changed? We had a baby.

Consider rechargeable batteries if you have a baby

Shortly after we had our baby, we realized the baby toy companies were in a massive conspiracy with battery manufacturers. The majority of baby toys that require batteries don’t come with an AC adapter. So that nice vibrating bouncy chair and baby swing require expensive C or D cell batteries. There is no other way to power those items. You realize a battery charger and rechargeable batteries are a good idea the first time you leave the bouncy chair on vibrate overnight and come back to  a dead battery, or the first time you have to change out 3 D cell batteries. It gets expensive quickly!

So how much will I save? I haven’t run a full cost analysis on our battery purchase, and to be honest, I don’t care to. I know that over the course of several years we will need to recharge our batteries multiple times, and it should be more than enough to cover the initial cost of the batteries and the battery charger. There are other benefits as the less toxic waste and the convenience of having batteries whenever you need them instead of running out to the store.

Best places to buy rechargeable batteries

There are a lot of great places to buy rechargeable batteries. The best deals I found were at Wal-Mart and Amazon or All-batteries.com if you don’t mind shopping online. Best Buy was about 1.5 times as expensive as Wal-Mart, so I don’t plan on buying them there. As with everything, shop around and you should be able to find some good deals.


Published or updated November 15, 2011.
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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Curious Cat Investing Blog

I use rechargeable batteries for my digital camera. I am on my 3rd digital camera and still use the original rechargeable batteries. They have definitely been a great buy. I actually bought 4 more batteries a few months ago, when buying my new camera as it takes 4 batteries and I only had 4 (my previous cameras only took 2 batteries).

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2 Enrique S

I primarily use rechargeables in my flashlights, but not for frugality only. Many flashlights have a higher output when using rechargeables versus standard alkaline batteries. I’ve also used them in my beard trimmer.

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3 Dan X. Nguyen

There are also C & D battery adapters where you can use AA batteries in C or D battery operated electronics. So if you have a bunch of AA rechargeable batteries, you don’t have to buy a whole new C or D rechargeable set, just buy the adapters.

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4 Ryan

Thanks for the head’s up, Dan. I wasn’t aware of those. :)

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5 Craig

I have bought rechargeable batteries and wonder how long they last. I feel like I would lose the battery or charger and it would cost more in the long run. I don’t use batteries much so buying a bulk pack from Price Club is fine for me and lasts a long time.

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6 Financial Samurai

What’s frustrating is the $100 cost for Apple laptop rechargeable batteries. It comes a point after the battery holds only a 5 minute charge, that it’s better to just buy a new one.

The good/bad thing is, technology improves drastically every 5 yrs. Too bad for people like me, I just use my stuff for much longer than that i.e. my iBook!

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7 ChristianPF

I will say that the battery charger I own now and the one from 15 years ago are night and day difference. The newer ones are MUCH better, that said, still I think I agree, it probably often isn’t the most cost effective choice…

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8 Ryan

depending on needs, of course. ;-)

I think that we will get our mileage out of it with the baby toys. Otherwise, I don’t think we would have purchased one.

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9 FinanciallySmart

I don’t use batteries much but we are in the hurricane season and one of the items on the list are batteries. It would be good to have rechargeable ones instead of always purchasing when it comes to this time of the year.

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10 Angie

Where are you buying a charger that costs $40? I bought a 15-minute charger complete with 4 batteries for <$20.

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11 Ryan

My charger was about $30 at Wal-Mart, but I have seen them priced at $40 before (which is why I don’t recommend Best Buy for rechargeable batteries). The charger I bought was compatible with the nickel metal-hydride (NiMH) batteries, which are the best for all around use. It charges AA, AAA, C, D, and 9v. Most of the 15 minute chargers I have seen only work with AA and AAA batteries, which doesn’t cover my needs. It takes a few hours, but the charge lasts a long time.

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12 Aphelion

I agree-with babies and young kids with lots of toys-it does seem like a massive conspiracy going on (strangely I notice things the Wii Fit Plus comes w/ batteries bu the none of the toys i purchased this year came w/ batteries! It’s probably a safety/legal issue though). I have bought a cheap charger w/ 4-pk battery for $13.50 at Walmart then added 2 more 4-pks from Amazon for $18.00 so that brings to 12 rechargeables to cover most (but not all the high-duty-cycle toys for the kids!).
My biggest battery saving trick though is that for toys that can remain in one place I use old AC chargers -anything around 4.5 -9v and above 500mA powers most toys! You just need to be comfortable with basic DC electric hookup-I digital multimer help in figuring output polarity of charger (but it is usually clear e.g. red/black wires). Study the battery compartment of the toy and decide how to hook up adapter. You can cut off old DC plug and wire directly using aluminium foil and old drained battery (insuled by paper-to keep it from connecting!) to keep wiring in place or using some sort of improved mating plug in the toy-NEVER BATTERIES AGAIN-at least for that particular stationary toy!

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