Cheap Thrills
October 1, 2009 9:24 AM   Subscribe

What well-designed, yet inexpensive, possessions are you fond of?

I recently bought a desk clock from the Chicago Art Museum, which reminded me of the positive effect of good and minimally designed products on my mood and quality of life. Other recent examples are Yojimbo, Grado headphones (not minimal, but classic ), the new iPod Shuffle, Lacie speakers, the RT20, and the Time Teller Canvas watch from Nixon

I am looking for personal accessories, stationery, clothes, electronics, software, kitchen appliances, sports equipment, ... pretty much anything, as long as it doesn't cost huge bucks.
posted by raheel to Grab Bag (47 answers total) 155 users marked this as a favorite
My INKA pen, no longer am I without a pen as it's always on my key chain. I also love my Roberts solarDAB Radio which retails for around £70 but I got for free.
posted by nam3d at 9:31 AM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Swisscard Lite
posted by Scoo at 9:31 AM on October 1, 2009

The best whiskey jigger ever produced is not a jigger at all, but the Pyrex 100ml graduated lab beaker…about two bucks, or cheaper by the dozen.
posted by dinger at 9:34 AM on October 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

I bought a simple Hanowa watch in Switzerland a year and a half ago for the equivalent of maybe $200 US, and now I literally never take it off. I don't know much about watch quality, and never cared until I bought this one. It's nothing fancy, but it's built like a tank and will last me for years to come.

My mom bought me a set of these knives when I moved out, and they're amazing.
posted by oinopaponton at 9:40 AM on October 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

My Alvin 0.7mm drafting pencil ($10-15).

A boat clip, pictured here as clip #5 is what I use as a keychain.

My Honer melodica was less than $40 and never lets me down. Likewise, I have a little circular pitchpipe that's great for ear training, fits in my pocket, and cost >$10.

My Casio F91W does everything I want my watch to do (tell time, stopwatch, alarm, chime, backlight), costs $10, is durable, and lasts quite a while. Preferred by terrorists for it's ease of use in constructing timebombs.
posted by phrontist at 9:41 AM on October 1, 2009

A nice wooden spoon...
posted by gyusan at 9:41 AM on October 1, 2009

I love my Pentel Sharp Kerry--a mechanical pencil with a cap, so I don't pierce myself when it's in my pocket! Same design since 1971, costs about $15. Comes in pretty colors!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:54 AM on October 1, 2009

The Taxi Wallet is the best wallet design ever, in my opinion. I expect mine will last my lifetime, but if it doesn't, I'll buy another one. To see what makes it awesome, click the Watch Product Demo button on this page. I'm not sure if the price is what you would consider cheap (about $50) but it's leather (non-leather ones can be found, for vegans), well-made (maybe indestructible), and extremely well-designed.
posted by Houstonian at 10:03 AM on October 1, 2009 [3 favorites]

The Mini Cooper S. Some day all auto manufacturers will combine both form, function, and *incredible* gas mileage : )
posted by actionPetential at 10:06 AM on October 1, 2009

The Pelican Tracker 2140 Flashlight or any other pelican flashlight. Tiny but should be bright enough for anyone who wants a small household flashlight. Tough plastic housing, lighter, brighter, and more user friendly than mini maglites and other metal look-a-likes
posted by Procloeon at 10:08 AM on October 1, 2009

The Swingline 747 Classic Stapler. The much-maligned Crocs Beach foam clog. Moleskine notebooks.
posted by hjo3 at 10:17 AM on October 1, 2009

Oxo Good Grips angled measuring cups are nice, you can see the measure from above.

Microplane grater
posted by ghharr at 10:29 AM on October 1, 2009 [4 favorites]

My compact (5"x3"x3") Tivoli Audio PAL (portable am/fm radio). It has a rechargable battery so you can take it anywhere. It held a charge for 2 weeks while we were out of power during a hurricane. I can plug my iPod into the 'aux in' on the back. There's different colors, I have 2 of the chrome ones. I think the first one was around $100 the other was on sale for around $50 and I just love them. They can be expensive but if you see a good price it's totally worth it. Love love love it.
posted by dog food sugar at 10:42 AM on October 1, 2009

I've had it for about a year, and I'm still madly in love with my Dopp Regatta wallet. It's $25 and amazingly functional.

I'm also a huge fan of high-quality nail clippers. A guitar playing roommate of mine introduced me, and now I can't go back. A decent set of clippers will turn a chore into a pleasure.
posted by thebergfather at 10:48 AM on October 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

My Good Grips garlic press because it is solid and the little red prongs push the garlic out of the holes so cleaning it is a breeze! It's about $10.
posted by sadtomato at 10:58 AM on October 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

My Eames Shell chair that I'm sitting in as I type this--paid $55 for it at
a vintage furniture store.
posted by Zebtron at 11:11 AM on October 1, 2009

Sunbeam Mixmaster Model 11, circa 1955.
Waring Blendor, circa 1961.
And while we're talking about superb design, let us take a moment to bow down to Vespa.
posted by BostonTerrier at 11:23 AM on October 1, 2009

My Lamy Safari fountain pen - $25 and never lets me down.

Pandora. Free, well designed, rocks my socks.
posted by jeffamaphone at 11:32 AM on October 1, 2009

Gerber L.S.T. pocket knife - small, light, very durable, and $30.
posted by ryanshepard at 11:38 AM on October 1, 2009

I really like my Jimi wallet.

Before I got one, my wallet was a baggy, unsightly bulge. Because of its design, it's really made me prioritise what I carry around, and I don't miss all the useless bumf and cards that I left behind. Plus, it's a bit of a talking point when I take it out!
posted by laumry at 11:39 AM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

My Fisher Space Pen and my Groom Mate nose hair trimmer.
posted by SebastianKnight at 11:42 AM on October 1, 2009

I like very fine lines when I write, and for the price it's hard to beat the good old Pilot Razor Point felt-tip pen. It won't last forever, but it will last a while, and when it's done, a new one is cheap. Plus, like the page says, the original Razor Point (not the Razor Point II) looks a bit retro.

See also Pentel Ultra Fine S570.
posted by tss at 11:49 AM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

The utili-key does more than half of what I'd carry a bulkier multitool for, is small enough I don't have to decide to carry it, and is cheap.
posted by hattifattener at 11:52 AM on October 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

After having the glass break in 3 different french presses (one with hilarious results involving a trip to the ER) I gave up on glass and bought a pair of stainless steel presses by Frieling. One smallish for everyday and a bigger one for weekends when I want to make larger amounts of coffee.

They are beautiful, solid and work very well. They will never cut my husband's hand open while he is doing dishes, and they look like they will last the rest of my life.
posted by MsElaineous at 11:59 AM on October 1, 2009

My Ring Thing Bottle Opener... though I purchased it through ThinkGeek.
posted by Jiff_and_theChoosyMuthers at 12:13 PM on October 1, 2009

Swing-A-Way can opener.
posted by Stewriffic at 12:37 PM on October 1, 2009

A Lodge cast-iron skillet. Lasts forever, holds heat like a champ, and you could totally beat someone to death with it.

And if the criteria are cheap, useful, and well-designed, then I would have to put the humble wire coathanger near the top of the list. It'll hold your coat, unlock a car door, supplant a broken antennna, and ream your bong!
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:38 PM on October 1, 2009 [3 favorites]

Have you visited Kevin Kelly's Cool Tools?

It is not nearly as good as it used to be but if you search the archives there are loads of items that meet your criteria.
posted by FastGorilla at 12:45 PM on October 1, 2009 [4 favorites]

I use my tablemate every day, it's fantastic with my laptop. I seriously love it.

I got a tempered glass cutting board when I first moved out on my own, and I wouldn't have a kitchen without one. They're a cutting board, you can set pots from the stove on them, and they're great for protecting the counter from stains - I kept my iced tea maker on it, to avoid accidental drips, etc. Very handy.
posted by lemniskate at 12:56 PM on October 1, 2009

I have a cloth shopping bag similar to this one that I just love - it folds up into a little palm-sized pouch with a clip that I can keep in the tiny little purse I carry, so I always have a big bag when I need one. it cost me $5! I actually went back and bought them for all my girlfriends. (they looked at me funny when buying 8 of the same bag I was already carrying, though)
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 2:11 PM on October 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

Muji is my favorite source for things like this. Their Chronotebook is $5.50 and likely the last paper planner I will ever buy.
posted by cosmic osmo at 2:16 PM on October 1, 2009 [3 favorites]

I got a tempered glass cutting board when I first moved out on my own, and I wouldn't have a kitchen without one.

Feel free to put pots and iced tea makers on it, but please, for the sake of your knives, don't cut on it. Glass and stone surfaces are bad, bad, bad for knife edges.

On that point, spending $75 or so on a decent forged chef's knife (Global, Wüsthof, Henckels, F. Dick, Messermeister, or the like) will make cooking far more pleasurable than trying to work with lousy stamped knives.
posted by letourneau at 3:00 PM on October 1, 2009

The Aeropress for making great coffee. Quick, easy to clean and had its virtues extolled on this site by others many times before.

I also love my Kathmandu travel towel, absorbent, dries incredibly quickly, takes up little space. Its useful not only for travel but for going in the sports bag.
posted by Admira at 3:09 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

I keep a tiny pair of baby nail clippers on my keyring. I started this because I would find myself having a hangnail or breaking a nail which became all jagged and then I would have to go all day at work with this distraction because if I did have nail clippers at my desk someone is always borrowing them and forgetting to return. It is so small it is unobtrusive and it doesn't snag on things like you'd think. And I use it for all kinds of other tasks like cutting off sales tags on new clothes.
posted by cda at 5:55 PM on October 1, 2009

About $7, the Kuru Toga mechanical pencil which rotates the lead every time you press down thus leaving a perfectly pointed tip for your pencil lead.

You have no idea how much this pencil pleases me.
posted by wiretap at 7:36 PM on October 1, 2009

The Olfa 300 hobby/utility knife. Perma-Grit sanding blocks.
posted by phliar at 8:12 PM on October 1, 2009

I'm normally of the mindset that cheap plastic products are a scourge upon society, but my roommate has a cheap plastic corkscrew that I absolutely love. It's simple, well-designed, and surprisingly effective. We have fancier metal ones too, but I never use them anymore.
posted by dephlogisticated at 8:18 PM on October 1, 2009

My Gerber multitool is great. It's 60 bucks, which is pricey for tools, but on par with an iPod Shuffle, damn handy, and well designed. The scissors are incredibly simple, but better than most pocket knife scissors I've had before.

The Gerber design itself is great. Leatherman pliers, when opened, leave you to grasp the tools, rather than a flat surface. Gerber has a slide out chuck that comprises the pliers, that allow a fairly neat flick open technique.

The already mentioned utilikey is cheaper, but doesn't really hold up to substantial use. I broke one a few days after purchase, and replaced it but using it for anything besides a knife is somewhere between ineffective and dangerous. People point out it's light, but if you actually need a screw driver, this tool won't cover you. In contrast, I can pretty much get by with the gerber without a toolbox. Pliers, screwdriver w/ bits, knife, scissors, saw, file. I can leave a multitool in the car and skip owning a toolbox for simple stuff.
posted by pwnguin at 12:11 AM on October 2, 2009

A 6 cup Moka Pot. Makes great coffee, bordering on espresso, on the stove, with no parts to throw away. I happily use mine daily. $20ish.

A $40 thermarest will make every camping trip you take in the next 10 years roughly 30% better. You'll sleep much warmer and more comfortably.

Orikaso makes camping dinnerware that folds like origami. It's great for a cutting board, and then you can fold it into a bowl or a plate. When you're done with dinner, unfold for cleaning. Genius. $8

A swiss army knife will last you forever if you don't want to haul around a full-on, pliers-based multitool. Don't get a ridiculous one; just the smallest one with a corkscrew. $20

LED bike lights let me ride at night but not get hit by cars. $10.
posted by craven_morhead at 2:49 PM on October 2, 2009

A good stainless steel mug. I use mine for everything I drink, short of beer and if I need something else while it's still full.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 8:57 PM on October 2, 2009

My neti poti from Walgreens. $12 and obviates the need for any allergy-related pharmeceuticals. A Godsend of epic proportions.
posted by eggman at 3:34 PM on October 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

These eyeglass cases are pretty cool.
posted by sethbabo at 6:34 PM on October 3, 2009

While not that inexpensive I just love my set of SHEEX bedding (sheets and pillow cases). Same material a lot of athletic wear is made of--wicks the persperation away from your body. SO comfy--will not go back to cotton sheets.
posted by pushing paper and bottoming chairs at 6:38 PM on October 3, 2009


Vespas - I just got a good deal on a used LX50, and it's a thing of intense beauty. Easy to park, great mileage (tree-hugging hippie-hipsters rejoice), much cheaper than a car, and did I mention how sexy it looks? ;-) though it's a bit of a theft target, like all two-wheelers it's crazy dangerous in accidents, and it doesn't have a lot of room for luggage or passengers.

Microplane graters - just wow.

The classic black digital wrist watch from Casio. Mine is the F-91W model, but there are 2 or 3 different versions, and they are all packed with retro goodness.

Moleskine notebooks. Though neither cheap nor necessarily 'better' than any other notebook, they are just the right kind of yummy.

Staples hole-puncher - I use this type at work and it just blows every other hole puncher out of the water. I can perforate a 5 mm stack of paper (that's almost a quarter inch) with little more than a feather touch. I'm no office supply snob or anything, I just believe in "the right tool for the task", and for this specific task, this is that tool.

Parker Vector Roller-ball pen - I've bought and lost so many of these magnificent pens, it's basically a curse. But I keep buying them, since they're not terribly expensive, and writing with one feels 'just right' to me. The lines it makes are a bit on the thick side (I like really fine lines), and it does have a tendency to leave small ink blots after prolonged use, so I'm open for suggestions if anyone knows the perfect pen, but so far it's still the best pen I know and it's always a pleasure to use.
posted by JensR at 3:20 AM on October 4, 2009

3 things come to mind:

1) this microfiber cleaning cloth my mom bought me - I thought it was just the normal mom junk, but you can clean your windows with it just using water. Moms bought it for $6 here it is online.

2) uniball vision pens, fine. liquid ink, write so smooth, so many colours, spill some water your writing doesn't run. heart heart heart. Last one I bought was 1.85 euro. And it was hot pink. Classic black for everyday use is an essential.

3) petzl head lamps, the ones with like 4 led lights. They can be pricey (about $20-50) but seriously worth it, especially if you live in or go somewhere with an electricity problem or don't want to bug the person next to you when reading at night.
posted by pick_the_flowers at 3:27 AM on October 4, 2009

Flip top centrifuge tubes for storing spices and cooking ingredients (should be ~ $0.50 per tube). Heat and cold resistant, writing space on the side for labeling, and indestructible. Use with a ">50ml tube rack. Most kitchen spice racks are designed for looks rather than utility.
posted by benzenedream at 1:22 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

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