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Last Updated: Friday, 28 April 2006, 10:54 GMT 11:54 UK
The economics of ice cream
By Sean Coughlan
BBC News Magazine

Ice cream
Know when to stop
There are gadgets we buy that are hardly ever used - what are the economics of these abandoned sandwich makers and fondue sets?

It seemed like such a good idea at the time. The weather forecast promised sunshine, Wimbledon was on the box - it was ice-cream weather.

But instead of just buying a cone and feeling good about life, you got over-ambitious. You wanted ice cream around the clock, 99s 24/7. And if you made them yourself they'd be so much tastier.

That's where it all goes horribly wrong, because according to an analysis of household gadgets, buying an ice cream maker is one of our least cost-effective purchases. Because it never gets used. And even though it might only cost about 40, it has the highest "cost-per-use" of any item in a survey by the price comparison website, Pricerunner.

This list of unused gadgets is a graveyard of good intentions. Gathering dust with the ice cream maker are the fondue set, the keep-fit video and foot spa.

You're toast

There's also a place in this pantheon of pointlessness for the toasted sandwich maker, another bright idea doomed to failure. You eat toasties at the pub, so why not at home when a few friends come around?

Yoghurt makers: one of evolution's cul-de-sacs
Except if three people want one at the same time, you spend half the evening in the kitchen fiddling with the ingredients, and the rest of the time trying to clean carbonised cheese out of the attractive scallop-design interior.

Although not yet on the endangered list, the bread maker must be a candidate for the death-row shelf in the kitchen. The danger signs are there - it's bulky, and offers a time-consuming and labour intensive way of getting something that's readily available.

But it's not all gloom and doom. This way of analysing prices also identifies the items that are the best long-term value.

Kettles, televisions and microwaves are effective purchases in this cost-per-use pricing system. Because they're used often, they become, in purchasing terms, a great deal.

Steaming ahead

While unused yoghurt makers might only serve as a reminder of why shops were invented, the steamer is an example of what really does work in the kitchen.

Simple to use, and with a low-fuss factor, it has consistently high rates of usage - securing its place among the 10 most effective purchases.

Also joining this band of worthwhile purchases are newcomers such as digital radios and shredders, where the cost and usage work out to the advantage of the buyer.

And if you need to defend buying electronic gadgets and techno toys, this survey provides the evidence that they are a good investment. Really.

Laptops, satellite navigation, electric toothbrushes and portable music players are all top rated in a list of most-used items, both in the first month after purchase and then over the year.

But games consoles can't be defended in this way - as their combination of high cost and lack of use puts them among the 10 least-effective purchases.

And before splashing out on a health kick, it might be worth looking at the other major league skip-fillers - exercise bikes, rowing machines and back massagers.

So unless there's some way of massaging the figures as well, steer clear of the ice cream gadgets and health machines.

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

I think the electric juicer we have (unwanted present) is worth a mention. It takes four times as long to clean it after use as it does to make a drink and consume it - fruit juice, so hard to find in the shops!. Used once, will fill a cupboard for a couple of years then get thrown out.
Linsey Simmons, Croydon

Guilty as charged. Not so much the kitchen stuff, but the health machines: a mini-trampoline that I used precisely twice because my cats were terrified of it, a yoga ball thing that I haven't even inflated yet - and that came with a video that I now can't play because I switched to a new DVR gadget....a toning ring - who was I kidding??
Jill, NY, USA

A juicing machine sits in my kitchen gathering dust; we did think, for just a while, about being healthy but found that juices from the supermarket are so much easier. Next to it is the bread maker which does get used occasionally still - purely because the smell of fresh bread in the morning is wonderful to wake up to.
Karen Giles, Melksham

I was given a pasta maker, possibly the least used gadget I own (once in two years!), as dried pasta is much nicer, just as cheap, keeps longer and needs no preparation.
Becks, Sheffield

One item that does seem to be missing is the "juicer". I know of so many people who bought them, drank juice for a few days then got fed up of spending longer cleaning it than using it.
James B, Sheffield

What about the slow cooker? We used ours twice to make stew during winter, but it just requires too much organisation to start cooking your supper in the morning.
Erica, Douglas, Isle of Man

There is a thing called a "Thigh Master" that my wife put in my closet 10 years ago... No wait... aliens put it there while we were out. No one would actually buy something called a "Thigh Master" would they?
Curt Carpenter, Dallas

What about the foot spa - the one in our house was last used in 1998. And then there's those annoying little vacuum cleaners that clip onto wall brackets and are useful for vacuuming up the crumbs from all the toasted sandwiches that you made from the bread from your bread maker.
Malcolm Highfield, Northampton

Our most useless kitchen gadget is an electric egg boiler (it was a wedding present). It would take longer to use, than boilng water and cooking eggs in a pan! It is still in it's box!
Kat, Leeds

I bought a Lean Mean Grilling Machine 18 months ago and have used it twice!! At a simliar time we bought a 42" flat screen tv. That gets used for about 3 hours everyday! I think that says something very worrying about my lifestyle!
Shelly, Cardiff

I'm a sucker for gadgets (smoothie machine used once, now without plug), but also memberships. I've been paying 11 per month for unlimited cinema access for the last two years and have used it twice! Gym membership at 50 per month, not used in the last six of those. Hats off to the iPod though, used each and every day!
Matt, Glasgow

In our house we have a bread maker, a yoghurt maker and a toastie maker and we use all three! I love home made yoghurt and find that home made bread doesn't make me feel as ill as shop bought stuff...and toasties are great when you can't be bothered to make proper food too! Long live household gadgets I Say.
Jenll, Coventry

I have to defend the health machines. My running machine has saved me a fortune. Every time I get a sudden health kick I use the running machine for a few weeks instead of paying a years - wasted - health membership. This way I have saved hundreds of pounds.
Liz, Reading

I'm going to say that your wrong about sandwich toastie makers. They rule. We have one in our house and it's used more often then the microwave and oven combined.
Tim Porter, Nottingham

My best purchase has to be a cordless drill which is really useful. The worst has to be a pair of 2 way radios (cost over 50) that I have used only once and they set the neighbours house alarm off!
David Batt-Rawden, Oxford

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