Pen + Paper + Pocket = Profit
December 13, 2008 9:06 AM   Subscribe

Best cheap and very pocket-friendly paper/pen solution?

My pockets are full as is, but I really need to keep something on me to take down those wonderful little sparks of genius that usually end up lost to the aether that is ADD. Looking for a cheap (definitely sub-$20) pen and paper answer that I won't just leave at home due to tight pockets. Would love to hear ideas and some experiences people have had with different solutions.

posted by nmaster64 to Work & Money (33 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I don't really have an answer for the pen part of the equation but the paper part I have a good answer.

I never leave home without my moleskine. Its small, great to write in due to the semi hard covers no need for any other flat surface for support.

You can see them online in a ton of different sizes for all applications.
posted by hxc at 9:11 AM on December 13, 2008

To me the ultimate pocket-friendly pen is the Bullet space pen which is short and non-stabby when closed. It has the advantage of working in the cold. For paper I use the endless supply of ATM receipts in my wallet, or any other thing that's handy. I use my left hand if I'm really in a hurry.
posted by fritley at 9:13 AM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have this little hard plastic shell booklet thing that opens to reveal a pad of paper. The whole thing is held closed by the pen. It's about 3" by 4".

I got mine from my son's school district for helping out during the year, but I have definitely seen similar things at fancy little boutique stores, definitely under $20 (I think they were $8 or so).

The only problem with mine is that the booklet does not open flat, and I am left-handed, so the lid makes it uncomfortable to write so I have to take all my notes upside down.
posted by Lucinda at 9:19 AM on December 13, 2008

For paper, I use a small stack of old business cards stapled together.
posted by davcoo at 9:26 AM on December 13, 2008

A year or two ago I got a box of blank cards cut to business-card size from a print shop. I think I offered them $5 for 500 and they took it. I keep a few dozen rubber-banded together in a pocket for farts of genius like "eggs, cheese" or suchlike that I don't hope to need for long. I've used about 250 so far, which is a much better life than a $0.50 spiral notebook or a pricier moleskine. (I also carry amoleskine around, though. I get a little compulsive about writing things down.)
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 9:33 AM on December 13, 2008

I used to carry a Space Pen too, but it was just a little too big for my pocket. These are a little bit more pocketable.
posted by me & my monkey at 9:41 AM on December 13, 2008

This is the only pen I have managed to consistently keep in my pockets. Small enough to not be a hassle, but sturdy so you can tell if it's in your pocket or not without looking. The retracting action makes an nice ssssnict sound, which can be used to drive other inmates coworkers crazy in a boring meeting. Costs less than 20 euros.
posted by ghost of a past number at 9:42 AM on December 13, 2008

Not my technique, but friends seem to really enjoy it:

The "Hipster PDA":
As described/introduced at 43folders:
The Hipster PDA (Parietal Disgorgement Aid) is a fully extensible system for coordinating incoming and outgoing data for any aspect of your life and work. It scales brilliantly, degrades gracefully, supports optional categories and “beaming,” and is configurable to an unlimited number of options. Best of all, the Hipster PDA fits into your hip pocket and costs practically nothing to purchase and maintain. Let’s make one together.
Building your first Hipster PDA

1. get a bunch of 3"x5" file cards (here’s 500 for around 3 bucks)
2. clip them together with a binder clip
3. there is no step 3
* Buy yourself a Fisher Space Pen. I’ll post more on this later (since I’m a bit obsessed with them), but The Fisher Bullet model is tiny, sturdy, and surprisingly comfortable to use. And, thanks to its famous nitrogen-forced ink well technology, the Space Pen writes upside down, underwater, and—yes I’ve tested it— through a pat of rich, creamery butter. It’s the perfect stylus for your new Hipster PDA.

As explained on Wikipedia:

the Hipster PDA [...] simply comprises a sheaf of index cards held together with a binder clip. [... It] has become a popular personal management tool particularly with followers of David Allen's Getting Things Done methodology and users of the Fisher Space Pen.
posted by unclezeb at 10:05 AM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have no idea what they're called (someone at work gave them to me), but I have these flat, plastic pens that fold flat and fit in my wallet- about the thickness of 2 credit cards and about the size of a credit card when folded.
Basically, it's a ballpoint pen the thickness of the ink part itself. There's a thicker plastic coming out from the ink about 1/2" on each side, with a fold at the midpoint longways. The pen folds at the midpoint snapping together making a compact pen.

She got them at Officemax, but I'm having no luck finding them online. They're awesome, and I don't even notice it's there if I put it in my pants pocket.
posted by jmd82 at 10:09 AM on December 13, 2008

A pocket-sized Moleskine will run you in the 10$ neighborhood. Lots of pages, rigid covers, lays down flat, and the outside is water-resistant.

After coming up with this same dilemma, I bought one, and carried it in my hoodie/jeans/coat pocket. When I bought it, I dated the first page: 5th December 2007. on 7th December 2008, I had to make a note under that one, noting that the spine was now only attached to the bottom cover, and that the top cover was nearly completely fallen free from the book. By the 11th, the elastic strap that held the book closed had come undone, and is now only attatcvhed by one side, as well.

I bought a new Moleskine to replace this one (Barnes&Noble seems to have really improved their selection) because 10$/year isn't an unreasonable amount of money, but I haven't started using it yet, because I don't feel like I was rough with the notebook, and I can't imagine reasonably being any more gentle with the next one, and in light of that, transferring all of the notes I would like to have with me to a new book every year by hand seems like a chore I would rather avoid, if I can find something a bit more durable.
posted by paisley henosis at 10:17 AM on December 13, 2008

The PicoPad fits in your wallet and includes a pen. Personally, I found a wallet that has a vertical pocket on the left and create my own "notepads" with post-it notes stapled to a couple business cards. Tuck the business cards into the vertical pocket and it's pretty much attached to my wallet. I bought a Zebra telescoping pen that clips into the wallet's hinge. I'll see if I can find a link to the wallet I have (or one like it).
posted by hootch at 10:27 AM on December 13, 2008

Wallet Pen
posted by rhizome at 10:29 AM on December 13, 2008

This wallet is similar to what I mentioned in my earlier post. Mine's a little smaller and pocket-friendly. I'm sure you could find something that would work for you with a little more searching.
posted by hootch at 10:36 AM on December 13, 2008

I like Moleskines and space pens as much as the next guy, but if I was trying to do it on the cheap, I'd just fold a couple sheets of paper into quarters, or perhaps eighths, and then steal a Bic from the bank or the office supply closet or whatever.
posted by box at 10:42 AM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm something of a fanatic on this subject, been through lots of combinations. By far the best in my opinion is the above mentioned zebra collapsible pen and wonderful FIELD NOTES brand pocket note pads.

I can't believe no one has yet mentioned Field Notes. They're just the right size, shape, cost and retro-coolness combination. They have something of a cult following. Check out their website and all their links.

Field Notes in my back hip pocket. Zebra collapsible in my front right. I'm ready to go.
posted by capcuervo at 10:56 AM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I occasionally have the desire to carry pen & paper with me. I use, as per several above, the space pen ("non-stabby" is a great description)and a small 3x5" pad.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 12:00 PM on December 13, 2008

I use the Molskine Cahier in my back pocket and a space pen in my "watch pocket" (aka -the 5th pocket - the tiny front pocket on the right side) in which it fits great. I usually try to cover the Molskine with some kind of contact paper because the cardboard can wear out fast in a back pocket.
posted by Asbestos McPinto at 12:04 PM on December 13, 2008

Let me just jump on the pile and Nth the recommendation of the Fischer Bullet Space Pen. They're not that expensive, tiny, pocketable, really good looking, and perfect for writing quick notes and such. I wouldn't write a novel with one but that's not what we're talking about here.
posted by raygan at 12:15 PM on December 13, 2008

Flodzflat pen on youtube
You'll have to search around and see who is carrying them now. There are fancier ones and cheaper ones.
Foldzflat pen Google links.
posted by BoscosMom at 12:49 PM on December 13, 2008

How about a couple of 3x5 cards and a golf pencil? Easy and cheap, if not free.
posted by JuiceBoxHero at 1:11 PM on December 13, 2008

If you use a pda, swap out the standard stylus for a stylus containing a ballpoint pen (usually involves unscrewing or popping off the tip). That way you always have a pen.

you can order 'em at and other such places.
posted by jimmyjimjim at 1:18 PM on December 13, 2008

In my experience, 3x5 cards get too battered around in a pocket.

I remember not being able to find them in the New York Muji, so it might not be practicable in America, but in Muji in London you can get these things called 'passport notebooks' which are about the size and thickness of a passport, in dark red or dark blue. They're only 99p and much more pocketable than a Moleskine, but really stylish.

As far as pens go, I'd recommend the Pilot g-tec-c4. It has balances price and quality well. For heaven's sake, don't get an expensive pen - ie anything over a couple of dollars; an essential quality of a pocket pen is that you can lose it without serious consequence. Buy your pens in boxes of twenty. Don't be precious about them.
posted by Acheman at 3:49 PM on December 13, 2008

"Rite in the Rain" All Weather Notebook model 135 (
It's tough, waterproof paper, with plastic covers, in a pseudo-spiral binding.
Pentel P209 .9 mm mechanical pencil.
Much more reliable than any pen. Never leaks or stains.
posted by the Real Dan at 3:55 PM on December 13, 2008

Bullet space pen, then one of those dinky little notepads you can buy for like 80 cents.
posted by ducktape at 4:46 PM on December 13, 2008

You might find the 'Hipster PDA' catagory at D*I*Y Planner to be of interest.
posted by Orb2069 at 7:03 PM on December 13, 2008

Are the dinky notepads up to eighty cents each now? Inflation is so terrible. (old-fart-mutter-mutter.)

If you haven't gathered from the above, what works for you will depend strongly on how long a particular note needs to live in your pocket. A scribble on a business card or index card will last for a few weeks. The $0.50 notebooks will disintegrate after a month or two. A $10 moleskine (or other hardbacked notebook) will last six months or a year. Your preferences will change over time, too.

I have a file drawer called "FULL NOTEBOOKS." Interesting to look back through.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 7:22 PM on December 13, 2008

Barnes and Noble's Memo Mate

The picture doesn't di it justice and show it in action, so if you are near one of the stores it's in the xmas "under $10" gift table.

The pen is the clasp, so when you slide the pen out the spring loaded cover opens automatically. It is made of metal and durable. Best gift I've ever gotten in our office secret santa. I saw it last week @ B&N and I picked up 2 backups. One of which i will remove the notepad and just put my metrocard and atm card and possibly DIY an ultra thin wallet/billfold.
posted by stavx at 7:41 PM on December 13, 2008

Response by poster: So the obvious love falls to the Moleskine's and Fisher Space Pen's. The combo is a bit more than what'd I want to spend, but that's what Christmas is for. ;)

So to get more specific, there's over a dozen variations on them, and I'd be really interested to hear people's opinion and experiences on what they find works best for them in terms of blank vs. ruled vs. graph and volant vs. soft vs. hard.

And for the pens, obviously the bullet is the fan favorite, but the trekker really has my eye as well...anyone tried one?

Thanks again to everyone.
posted by nmaster64 at 9:37 PM on December 13, 2008

Best answer: nmaster64,

My personal solution is a Moleskine cahier, ruled, in the smallest version. The hardcover classic Moleskine is just not the best for a back pocket. I try to keep it with me at all times to write down thoughts (I use the GTD / Getting Things Done productivity philosophy).

It'll get a bit bendy on the edges but I've not had huge problems with it. It's even gotten damp and it's survived.

My favourite pen is the Pilot Varsity, but I usually keep a mini Pilot G4 clipped onto the notebook (it's short and writes well).

I will also echo the recommendations to check out the DIY Planner and Hipster PDA resources -- lots of great ideas over there!
posted by fantine at 6:27 AM on December 14, 2008

I also highly recommend the hipster PDA and a space pen. I've used the bullet-style space pen, and it's comfortable, writes on anything and small enough to fit well in your pocket. I later moved on to the X-750 model. It's generally more than $20, but worth every penny.
posted by LouMac at 9:00 AM on December 14, 2008

for what it's worth, here is the sort of thing I'd been talking about.
posted by Lucinda at 12:39 PM on December 15, 2008

I use the Rite in the Rain model 954 tactical memo book with a model 36 silver bullet pen (note that there are other, possibly cheaper, distributors of the bullet "space" pen). The notebook is very similar to what the Real Dan (above) uses but it is bound rather than spiral and comes in a better color. ;-)

The Rite in the Rain notebooks are extremely rugged (even beyond the fact that you can write on them while completely submerged!) and come in a variety of bindings. I find the "field-flex" cover to be comfortable enough to always keep it in my back pocket. I've never had any problems with the pages or cover becoming ripped or worn off.

With regards to Field Notes, while I really like the aesthetic that Draplin and Coudal have evoked, do note that the Rite in the Rain notebooks 1) have a very similar aesthetic 2) are significantly cheaper and 3) are waterproof.
posted by joeyo at 4:05 PM on December 16, 2008

Another vote for Rite in the Rain notebooks. I ALWAYS carry one with me, for the same reason as you, to capture sparks of ideas. I even keep one in the shower, because some of my best brainstorms happen there.

The pocket ones are:
durable - i got my first one from a friend in the marines! they feature a tough plastic cover, spiral binding, and strong waterproof paper with good smudge and tear resistance)
highly visible - you will seldom lose your bright yellow notebook
cheap - they are so cheap! (esp compared to Moleskines) $3-5 a pop for the pocket ones
compact - they're easy to pocket (the 3x5 one is always comfortably in my right pocket).

Buy a box of golf pencils, and you have a near-perfect writing implement pairing. The standard length ones are a bit too long, so I literally take a pocket knife and saw about a cm off of the non-writing end of one, and it fits in the spiral binding of the notebook perfectly. Pencil too short and it's a pain to retrieve from the notebook, pencil too long and its tip can damage your pocket or bag.

By my count, you should be able to land 4-5 notebooks for $20 and a box of golf pencils for less than $5, and you have a PAA (Personal Analog Assistant) solution for literally YEARS. I like the RiteInTheRains because I can just leave them in my spots: in addition to my pocket and shower, i keep one in my car, one in my bag and one on my desk. It's a distributed (if non-redundant) system: losing one of these is still a bummer, but it's not catastrophic.

I keep my filled-up yellow notebooks in a drawer and will revisit them for some inspiration and nostalgia sometimes.

Develop your own system: A friend of mine uses a broccoli rubberband to keep the "most recent page" physically bookmarked. I tend to do listing and jotting in one direction (starting from the front cover) and doodling and sketching headed in the opposite direction (starting from the back cover). Mine is ALWAYS in my right front pocket. Having that as a habit means I'll actually carry it around, meaning I actually have it when I need it.

You specifically mentioned pens in your post, so I thought I'd also mention that I'm a huge fan of carrying a Sharpie Mini on keys. You'll be surprised just how often a permanent felt pen comes in handy. I'm testing out having a Pentel Mini RSVP Ballpoint Pen on my keys at all times as well, but I haven't found the ballpoint as useful as the pencil and Sharpie. Note: conventional work very poorly on Rite in the Rain paper.

Good luck capturing your lightning ideas in a paper bottle. Externalizing your thoughts can have really cool consequences. For example: now that I have plenty of friends who are out of a job, I have fun project ideas up the wazoo for us to try. I'm also a lot more entrepreneurial. It's handy to have a place to write down some cutie's email address ;)

One of my friends is doing PhD research on notebooking behavior, from hipster PDA to anoto digital dot pens. I find this stuff fascinating! Happy to see this discussion!
posted by k7lim at 3:11 AM on December 29, 2008 [3 favorites]

« Older Puppy with stomach issues.   |   Why can't I copy and paste in OS X 10.5.5? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.