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By Michelle Singletary
Sunday, April 30, 2006

Every time my husband and I decide to buy something, he responds with one phrase: "We need to check Consumer Reports."

Every time. Even for products that are relatively inexpensive.

Recently, we decided to replace our 20-year-old microwave. I'm not kidding -- we'd kept the microwave oven that I bought when I graduated from college. Being the penny-pincher that I am, I just couldn't bring myself to replace it, even though it occasionally stopped working or the food I was heating came out hard as a rock.

One day, though, I realized it was time to retire Minnie the Microwave, which by the way was the size of a steamer trunk. Once I made up my mind to replace Minnie, I was ready to head to the store. I wondered, how hard could it be to get a decent, reasonably priced microwave? But oh no, my husband wanted to check Consumer Reports first. Thank goodness the magazine had reviewed microwave ovens in its February 2006 issue, which we still had around the house.

And thank goodness I listened to my wise husband. He was right about consulting the magazine, as he always is. There were a lot of features and price ranges to consider.

If you are ever going to buy something, you need to get a subscription to Consumer Reports. If you don't have a subscription, here's the next best thing: the publication's buying guide. In it you get a full year's worth of advice and ratings on everything from automobiles to cellphones to flat-panel televisions to toilets to pressure-washers to, of course, microwaves.

To that end, for the Color of Money Book Club May selection I've chosen the "Consumer Reports Buying Guide 2006" by the editors of Consumer Reports magazine. The guide is a bargain at $9.99, and I love its paperback, compact size. It's perfect to take along on your trips to the store with its more than 950 brand-name ratings.

There's a great section on how to protect your identity in stores and online. Also, are you wondering if you should get that extended warranty?

"Once offered primarily on costly appliances and of course automobiles, extended warranties and similar insurance products have now trickled down to just about everything on the shelves," the editors of the 2006 guide write.

The guide has a useful chart with a rundown on the odds of needing a repair on various products and thus the likelihood you'll need to get a warranty on that product.

The odds of needing a repair on a camcorder: 8 percent. A washing machine: 22 percent.

Throughout the book are short "shop smart" and "tech" tips. For example, looking for a dryer? The tech tip: "Dryers with a moisture sensor tend to recognize when laundry is dry more quickly than machines that use a traditional thermostat."

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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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