Have you ever wanted to make your home "smarter" but just didn't know where to start or didn't want to dump tons of money to do it? I am right there with you! There are gazillions of options it seems when it comes to making your devices and appliances smart products.

Not to mention the wide range of costs all these smart upgrades will set you back. While everyone has their preferences on brands, I have found some good deals and tricks that I think could help you get started without breaking the bank! Remember, this article is all about making your home a smart home on the cheap!

Smart Home Hubs

Before I give you my tips and tricks, I will let you know that I never buy smart products that require a "hub" device. A hub is usually a small box that is required for certain devices to communicate with each other. Think of a hub as the heart where all the "organs" connect to it. The hub then will talk to your WIFI router or modem to make the smart devices work. While some really good brands have hubs, there are plenty of non-hub brands that work just as well and don't require the cost of this extra device. That is what I will share with you today.

Smart Bulbs

I am sure you have heard of Philips Hue brand of lights. The Philips brand has been around for as long as I can remember and you most likely already have at least 1 electronic device in your house that is made by Philips. Side note, I just bought a new electric razor, and guess what, it's from Philips! But back to their Hue brand of lighting. This was one of the first players on the market and in many cases set the bar for the whole smart bulb industry.

While their products are of high quality, the cost for me has always been way too high. Their starter pack, which includes 4 standard socket E26 white/colored LED light bulbs, hub (or bridge as they call it), ethernet cable, and power adapter, will set you back $199.99 before shipping and taxes. Now once you have their hub bridge you are good for up to 50 devices, but after that cost, you are paying around $35 per bulb. By the way, that $35 is with the starter kit deal. Go to buy just the single bulb, it retails for $49.99! Way too much for me! So here is where I can you some dough.

I walked into Walmart the other morning and stumbled across a cardboard display box right inside the front door full of products from a company called Merkury Innovations. I had never heard of this company and was a bit skeptical that it was just going to be cheap junk, but I took a chance. A 2-pack of Smart WIFI LED Color and White Bulbs was only $19.88! 2 bulbs for less than $20 bucks! No hub required, just WIFI and the app on your phone to connect and control the device. Did it turn out to be junk? NOPE! Been using them in multiple rooms for well over a week and they work perfectly. I have then linked to my Amazon Alexa and I can easily turn them on and off (you can still use your wall switch), have them change color, or set them to different routines. These bulbs also work with Google Home. Plus the Merkury bulbs are 75-watt equivalent, versus only a 60 watt equivalent on the Hue. I have yet to find any operational difference between Merkury's bulbs and Philips Hue bulbs. One thing to note, E26 bulb sockets are what I would call a regular light bulb. The Merkury bulbs are A21, but they use the same socket as the E26. The difference is just the shape of the bulb which you won't even notice. So don't sweat this difference if you are comparing.

BUY: Merkury Innovations Smart WIFI LED Bulbs Color + White at Walmart.com

Note: Merkury also sells smart plugs and other smart home devices. I only use the bulbs, so I can not review the other products, however, if they work as well as the bulbs, I would feel good buying them. I am purchasing an outdoor WIFI plug they sell for my outdoor patio lights.

Smart Plugs

Unlike the smart bulbs, there seem to be way more options when it comes to smart plugs. As noted above, Merkury has smart plugs, but my choice for a long time has been the TP-Link brand of plugs. They are priced very competitively and do not require a hub. I prefer the 2-pack "Kasa Smart WiFi Plug Lite by TP-Link" plus which retail on Amazon for $24.99 and are listed on Prime. I like these plugs for many reasons, but a big one is that they are a compact design. Older versions of smart plugs were big and you could not plug 2 plus into a standard wall outlet. The compact design allows you to use 2 smart plugs on the same outlet. They set up easily and have been reliable for me for almost 2 years. I use mine with my Amazon Alexa and they are compatible with Google Home.

BUY: Kasa Smart WiFi Plug Lite by TP-Link (2-Pack) at Amazon

Other Smart Devices

The list is endless. For me, smart bulbs and plugs are all I need to give connectivity to my home. You can buy smart crockpots, smart microwaves, smart door locks, smart pool cleaners, the list goes on and on. Just do your homework, compare reviews and prices, and make sure it fits the ecosystem of your current smart devices. As I said before, this article is all about doing it on the cheap.

Smart Device Apps

In this article, I have mentioned several brands of devices. Something to know, each manufacturer uses their app to control these devices. So if you have different brands of plugs, bulbs, etc., you will need several apps. However, where this all comes together is with your Amazon Alexa or Google Home devices. Once you have the smart devices set up in the individual apps, you can group them into rooms or scenes within your Alexa or Home. Most the time, I never need to use the apps unless I need to reset something with my WIFI or make a change.

Amazon Alexas vs. Google Home

This is your call. I have used Amazon's Alexa forever and love what it does. They have various models to choose from and run deals throughout the year that make the devices dirt cheap. But, I have nothing against Google and their Home units. I would say that there is probably more connectivity at the moment for Alexa, but that is quickly changing, and in most cases, you won't mind much that they can't both do. Either way, one of these devices is key to the smart home experience. Yes, you don't have to have one to use smart bulbs and plugs, but this is what adds the voice command component and the ability to group devices seamlessly between manufacturers. Keep in mind, Amazon always drops its prices around Prime days and special throughout the year. Just keep an eye out.

Got any questions or need some advice setting up your smart home on the cheap, feel free to shoot me a note @BradenRadio on Twitter and Facebook. Happy connecting!