At first glance, these just-for-fun items seem like complete money-sinks. You buy them when you have extra cash, when you have a gift card, or for a special occasion. Then, after a few years, you upgrade. Many people covet the new gadgets they see online, in magazines, in stores, and everywhere in between, but when it's time to sit down and finalize that purchase, rationality gets the best of us, leaving each of us to ask ourselves:

"Do I really need this?"

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More often than not, we can't justify an answer of yes, so we say no. After a few luxurious moments of browsing, we pay our bills, close the internet browser, or walk out of the store thinking "maybe next month." Then, next month creeps up on us with broken cars, plumbing problems and sick kids. How in the world can we ever feel good about our pricey gadgets when the expenses keep piling up?

This article will show you how to think about your gadgets in a new light. Believe it or not, your favorite wish-list toppers can help you save money in ways that you never expected. Need some convincing? Here goes:

1. Your Smartphone
With a new or upgraded cell phone plan, a smartphone comes at a price of around $200. For a phone, that's a lot of money to spend, especially when you consider your monthly voice, data and text bills. Even though these costs are scary, your smartphone can actually help you save. For one, a smartphone gives you instant access to the internet when you're out shopping, so wherever you are, you can compare prices for a better deal. Plus, you can check your bank account and track your spending from absolutely everywhere. Some of our favorite apps include RedLaser, which turns your phone into a bar code scanner; USAA, which allows users to deposit a check via smartphone; Keyring, which organizes reward club cards in one place; Grocery IQ, which keeps track of shopping lists and coupons; and Scoutmob, which explores restaurant and event deals. (Learn more in 5 iPhone Apps That Can Help You Budget, Save Money & Be A Better Shopper.)

2. Your Digital Camera
Your digital camera is good for more than your weekend party and family photos. Instead of burying your prize-winning, picture-perfect moments in your hard drive, turn them into birthday and holiday gifts. Make cards, poster prints and framed photos into gifts that are inexpensive - not to mention personalized and heartfelt.

3. Your Computer, Part 1
We all know that computers make us more productive, but they're also becoming unparalleled in terms of their entertainment value. Now let's take it a step further: our computers can help us save money! Nowadays, computers enable us to watch free (and legal) television through services like Hulu, ABC, Fox, NBC and CBS. Instead of paying for cable, think about watching T.V. online instead. If network channels aren't enough, you can get a Netflix account for $7.99 per month. It may finally be time to cancel your cable subscription.

4. Your Computer, Part 2
As if the T.V. savings potential wasn't enough, you can also use your computer to save on your phone bill. Sign up for a free Google Voice account from which to send text messages and to send and receive calls. Add a headset and your computer becomes a fully functional phone. If you're making international calls, get a Skype account and use your web cam. Spend some time with Google Voice and Skype. You may not even need a land line.

5. Your iPad or Tablet
An iPad or tablet computer is a pricey gadget that's tough to justify at first glance. Take a second glance; however, and the savings potential will shine. If you have a tablet, cancel your magazine and newspaper subscriptions. Download all the content that you need, and stream the rest through WiFi.

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6. Your Coffee Machine
You know that cool espresso machine you've always wanted but just can't bear to spend the money on? Well, make sure to think about it next time you're spending $5 for a cup of coffee at Starbucks. If you kick your $5 latte habit, this gadget will pay for itself in no time - and keep both your taste buds and bank account happy.

7. Your Flash Drive
A one-time investment of less than $20 will give you a gift that keeps on giving. Instead of buying CDs and DVDs, save your most important documents on a flash drive or external hard drive. If your computer breaks, you'll be glad that you did. You'll save the time that you would have otherwise spent on recovering your files. Plus, unlike CDs and DVDs a flash drive is reusable, and can be cleared and reloaded as many times as you like.

The Bottom Line
When shopping for gadgets, consider them from the perspective of return on investment. With some out-of-the-box thinking, you are likely to hit on some creative savings opportunities. And avoid being quick to judge the latest gadget as a money sink - you might just be able to turn it into a money saver.

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