What can I buy that will improve my life?
July 29, 2019 3:42 PM   Subscribe

I hate shopping, and only relatively recently have had disposable income. So I'm pretty unaware of what goods and services are out there that could improve my quality of life (defining this as giving me more time to focus on other things, efficient tools, things that will bring joy into my life).

A few wonderful purchases I've made recently: an automatic pet feeder (I love not having to think about feeding my cats), and a grocery delivery service (I don't have car and it's a great time-saver). Assume I have just the basic things your average city apartment-dweller in the U.S. has. Will entertain ideas up to about $500. No kids, live alone, am gone from home 11 hours a day, middle class by this country's standards. Thank you!
posted by sugarbomb to Shopping (47 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: A robo-advisor (e.g. betterment) to competently and simply manage new investments for you
posted by whisk(e)y neat at 3:49 PM on July 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

A smart TV thingie (Apple TV, Roku, FireTV) to make it easy to stream videos on a big screen.
posted by whisk(e)y neat at 3:51 PM on July 29, 2019 [4 favorites]

If you do not have in unit laundry, get a portable washer. It changed my life.

(I hang everything to dry and it's really not anywhere near as big a pain in the ass as traipsing up and down the stairs multiple times to use community machines.)
posted by phunniemee at 3:52 PM on July 29, 2019 [8 favorites]

If, as in my case, a decent food processor doesn't count as a basic thing you already have, then a decent food processor. Up your homemade hummus and pesto games.
posted by Beardman at 3:52 PM on July 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Quip's toothbrush subscription plan. It's a good solid electric brush, the replacement heads for which appear automagically exactly when you start to need them, with or without a new tube of toothpaste as is your preference.
posted by teremala at 3:53 PM on July 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

A pressure cooker (or better yet, a One Pot or Mealthy multi use unit). You can cook dry beans in 45 minutes. If you get sick of eating beans, blend them and then microwave with cheese in there to make a dip. It also cooks Bob's Red Mill bean soups in 45 minutes.
posted by mrbarky at 4:00 PM on July 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

save time, mostly cooking oriented:
* if you bake at all, a KitchenAid stand mixer
* a NutriBullet if you like smoothies, and an immersion blender if you like to make anything but smoothies that you currently make in a blender because life is too short to ever have to clean a blender again
* this sounds so stupid, but do you have a microwave, because we recently bought a microwave after a year of no microwave and i felt... so dumb... for how long i had avoided a microwave........ so so dumb........ they are not expensive
* the MeUndies subscription plan (can be purchased cheaper with a promo code on basically any podcast)

spark joy:
* a hot water bottle or microwaveable blanket (warning: will be taken over by cat) (extra warning: you have to buy the microwave first)
* the Nintendo Switch (esp. w/Breath of the Wild)
posted by peppercorn at 4:01 PM on July 29, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: A Roomba
posted by sallybrown at 4:07 PM on July 29, 2019 [8 favorites]

Best answer: if you live in a place that gets A Real Winter you can consider:

- good socks that actually last longer than one season (i like darn tough over mefi fave smartwool bc all my smartwools fell apart in ~2 years)
- good winter footwear that does the same
- a heated mattress pad, i will never cease my heated mattress pad evangelism, n e v e r
posted by poffin boffin at 4:21 PM on July 29, 2019 [10 favorites]

Enough dishes so that you never have to worry about running out.

Ditto towels, glasses, food storage. Imagine having enough healthy, perfect food frozen that you didn't have to worry about it for a month.

A vacation.

Since you have cats, a really really big cat tower for them. They will use all of it.

Really good quality food. Makes their poop less stinky and they will be healthier.
posted by amtho at 4:53 PM on July 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

A Dyson vacuum cleaner
posted by BadgerDoctor at 4:54 PM on July 29, 2019

Anything you own that has a cord but is available in a cordless alternative - keyboard, mouse, charger, vacuum, light switch, speakers, etc.
posted by homesickness at 5:00 PM on July 29, 2019

Alexa. Definitely Alexa.
posted by DrGail at 5:09 PM on July 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Smart switches and Amazon Echo or google Home. A hands free way to turn on lights is one of those little things that makes things a little bit easier.

Higher quality versions of things you use a lot.
posted by nalyd at 5:15 PM on July 29, 2019

There are so many things you can buy that will improve your life. here is the list I've made for you:

1. 4K Ultra HD Smart TV
2. Food processor or Blender (In the kitchen Room)
3. Vacuum Cleaner For cleaning your home quickly.
4. Pressure cooker to cook comfortably.
5. Necessary toiletries
6. Foosball Table
7. Stabilized Handheld Camera
8. Food Spherificator
9. Exercise Products
10. Coffee Machine 
11. Ice cream Machine
12. Scanners, Fax machine, Calculator, Projector
13. Wireless Smart Speaker, wireless bluetooth headphone.
14. Skin Care Products
and so on.
posted by gregorystreit at 5:57 PM on July 29, 2019

Best answer: If you get dishes as mentioned above a Very Wise Lady once told me to get all white because if something breaks, you will still have matching pieces.

Nthing the Wirecutter - usually my first go to for researching things.

I would probably upgrade my towels - they are fine, but getting worn and I probably wouldn’t see them as an item in need of upgrading, but goddamn there is nothing like a quality towel after taking a shower.

Recently, I stopped buying cheep ass razors and finally got a five blade Venus (lady here). Why I spent four decades hacking my legs apart is still beyond me. Same goes for quality face moisturizer and a good night cream...little more money, but completely worth it. While I was on this kick I also traded in my dumb drugstore shampoo/conditioner for all R&Co products. Love. them. All.
posted by floweredfish at 5:59 PM on July 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Good coffee beans. The Roasterie does the trick for me.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 5:59 PM on July 29, 2019

I have a KitchenAid stand mixer and a Vitamix blender. Neither are cheap. Both are essential to my life. You can get refurbs of both. Our Vitamix is a refurb and has given us zero problems. They even replaced the plunger for free when I accidentally shredded it in the blender. I also have a bread machine I use, but not very frequently. I much prefer making bread with the mixer.

I 2nd Alexa. I just won a Dot at our parish picnic and I love it.
posted by kathrynm at 6:34 PM on July 29, 2019

A cleaning service.
posted by dpx.mfx at 6:50 PM on July 29, 2019 [16 favorites]

Build up a 3 - 6 month emergency fund. Start or bulk up your retirement savings. Pay down debt. These things pay off well in the long term.

For me, living well means good food; I have dietary requirements and mostly cook from scratch, and being able to buy good quality is such a pleasure. I don't recommend food waste, but I buy vegetables, and if the lettuce goes slimy before I eat it all, it's okay because I can't even think about salad unless there's ingredients, and some waste is inevitable. I buy good coffee, beer, and bourbon because they are so much nicer than cheap.

Books, art, music, education. Subscriptions - local paper online, New Yorker, WaPo, NYTimes. As you need stuff, check Consumer Reports; buying good stuff that is made well and lasts is frugal in the long run.

Quality shoes and boots make walking better. Good rain gear and a nice winter coat. I'm female and good bras and underwear make life better.

The US has a massive oversupply of consumer goods, and I don't like contributing to that any more than I have to, so I buy clothing judiciously or at thrift shops, mostly the latter because I gain and lose weight. Find the shapes and colors that suit you and ignore fashion most of the time.
posted by theora55 at 7:20 PM on July 29, 2019 [14 favorites]

I'm a fair weather cook, as in if I feel like it. But, this vegetable chopper thingy is the bomb and has saved me tons of time. Even my mother in law was impressed with it.
posted by tafetta, darling! at 7:20 PM on July 29, 2019

Best answer: A similar question was asked recently on AskMeFi: I should have done this years ago
posted by alex1965 at 7:23 PM on July 29, 2019

A bidet. You don’t have to spend a lot, one of the $20-80 Luxe Bidets on Amazon will change your life forever. They install in less than 30 minutes and can just as easily be removed. Imagine that squeaky clean feeling you get after a nice warm shower... now imagine feeling that clean after each time you go to the bathroom!
posted by covercash at 8:32 PM on July 29, 2019 [3 favorites]

If you've only recently gotten disposable income, I'd seriously consider not buying anything suggested above and saving your money instead.

Money = freedom. That beats every gadget and geegaw in my book.
posted by storybored at 8:40 PM on July 29, 2019 [15 favorites]

Best answer: A maid service at least twice a month. That was one of the first things I did with disposable income and thirty years later I will still tell you it’s one of the best.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:46 PM on July 29, 2019 [3 favorites]

In your situation, I bought a water-pik (water-jet dental-flosser) and filled it with mouthwash instead of water, shaving seconds off self-maintenance (yes - SECONDS!) but also improving my flossing, because while a jet isn't as good as ribbon-flossing, it's better than skipping flossing, which was what was actually happening...
If you do want to combine mouthwash with water-flosser, avoid leaving it with the reservoir empty, because that allows mouthwash remnants to dry out which can leave a powder, potentially clogging things for a day while it re-dissolves after refilling.
posted by anonymisc at 8:51 PM on July 29, 2019 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Ah, the "I should have done this years ago" thread is full of useful advice!

It would be more accurate to say that I'm allowing myself to buy nice things for the first time in my life; I have had disposable income for a handful of years now and am just now getting past the mindset of a person who lived on as little as possible for many years. I have no debt, 12 months of emergency savings, and a retirement account.

These are all great; keep em coming!
posted by sugarbomb at 8:59 PM on July 29, 2019 [9 favorites]

Best answer: When I had disposable income for the first time in a long while at one point, I bought a necklace - arty, handcrafted, a spurge - because I was so habituated to frugality I needed/ wanted to learn to be good to myself sometimes. So maybe you want something beautiful. Don't rush to buy, but that's part of buying art - beauty gets cut when times are tight, but it's a necessity. also, travel, museum membership, concerts.

no debt, 12 months of emergency savings, and a retirement account. Way. To. Go.
posted by theora55 at 9:48 PM on July 29, 2019 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I don't own one but my friend swears by his HEPA air purifier. Supposedly good for apartment dwellers with pets.
posted by cazoo at 10:22 PM on July 29, 2019

This is not an expensive thing at all, but my life has been improved much more than I expected by buying a euro style toilet paper holder. Turns out, the 30 seconds I used to spend every couple of days dealing with the stupid spring thing were just too much hassle. This is SO MUCH better!
posted by Weeping_angel at 12:05 AM on July 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Something beyond survival and basic comfort. Education. Community.

If there is now disposable income, it's time to attend to a wider hierarchy of needs and feed your brain and your abilities and your curiosity with something entirely optional and enriching. One example, might be to get the wherewithal to study a musical instrument, if you have never done so. Ten minutes a day with an on-line tutor, an instrument and the music books and a music stand could make a big difference to your brain and your self esteem and your outlook on life.

If you have never learned one of those skills that most people picked up - riding a bicycle, conventional hair care, basic first aid, swimming, etc. adding a weekend class or practice might give you a wonderful feeling of accomplishment.

If there are fun classes you would like to take -ceramics, how to write a memoir, cake decorating, etc. those might also add some life and fun to your existence. Frivolous but good for a one shot so you know that your life is not just eleven hours at work, ten hours of sleep and three hours of chores.

Consider using that small bit of money to widen your social connections, and find a group that could use your participation and would enrich your life and use that money to participate. A book club. A children's tutoring program. An animal shelter. Don't give the money away without actually participating in the group, use it to facilitate your participation. It might cost very little money to go to the animals shelter and socialize dogs, but your time spent playing with the animals, finding out what the shelter needs and providing it is often worth more to the shelter than a simple check for thirty dollars once a month.

Community is one of the most valuable things you can spend your money on, and most communities require some commitment in time and money to make you feel a real connection. Random drop in for free coffee is community but still only a random drop in. But if you attend the group that is organizing to plant trees and learn about planting trees, and pay for the gas to move five refrigerators into the basement of the person who volunteered to host the fridges needed to germinate the seeds, and spend some sessions packing chestnuts in peat moss you will be part of a community and this might make more of a positive change on your life and well-being than an insta-pot.
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:27 AM on July 30, 2019 [5 favorites]

A simple drip coffee pot with a timer. Set it up in the evening, wake up to hot coffee in the morning.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 5:27 AM on July 30, 2019

In a similar situation, I could finally do things that let me live up to my values about food. So, a CSA membership, and fresh milk delivery.
posted by Miko at 5:51 AM on July 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

My wife and I have started going to an actual barber instead of hacking at our own hair with clippers. It's not cheap, but he does a great job, we're putting cash into the hands of a local businessman, and we look SO MUCH BETTER (and thus feel better). She recently pulled up her university headshot from when she first started working here and went 'wow, I badly needed a haircut.'
posted by joycehealy at 5:57 AM on July 30, 2019

This $30 bidet, which installs in about 20 minutes. Look at the number of reviews. They 're not lying.
posted by jquinby at 6:27 AM on July 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Good quality shoes that fit.

Good quality clothes so you are likely to use them for years instead of a handful of times.

Having clothes that have slight fit issues altered to fit you. Well fitting clothes are a lot more comfortable and bonus, you'll now like to wear these items and thus start to actually wear them.
posted by koahiatamadl at 6:31 AM on July 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Home Cooking Classes were a game changer for me.
Nthing the cleaning service.
Projector instead of a TV.
a hobby oriented class- maybe coursehorse has listings in your city?
posted by wowenthusiast at 6:57 AM on July 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: One thing you can do is support causes you believe in through the products you buy. There might be a line of cleaning products that are better for the environment, but they cost more than the product that you usually buy that isn't so great for the environment. Put some of your money there and support those businesses that do good things.

And bed sheets, really nice bed sheets with high thread counts. Anything that improves your sleep is a good thing.
posted by NoraCharles at 10:02 AM on July 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I always recommend two really good knives. A chef's knife and a paring knife. I mean really good. (Avoid knife sets as they always throw in less useful clunkers for more $$$) You should spend around $200 on the pair.

Good knives can last forever and make healthy and delicious eating much more accessible and enjoyable. I consider it a major lifestyle upgrade, being able to process fresh foods easily and safely.
posted by cross_impact at 10:14 AM on July 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

A really good mattress and top-of-the-line bedding. The highest thread count sheets you can afford.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:18 AM on July 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Agree about an upthread comment on really great fancy socks!

I personally love Darn Tough socks, $20-ish a pair, but they feel like walking on clouds which just makes my day so much better. Also, they're great for hiking and outdoorsy stuff if you're into that.
posted by forkisbetter at 10:20 AM on July 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A robot vacuum? I had one of the very first Roomba models. It wasn't exactly set-and-forget, but it made my cleaning time more productive – I could let it vacuum one area while I was working in an adjacent area. I assume they've only improved since then.

An immersion blender. They're inexpensive, and super handy – you can easily blend things (right in the pot, if you like), pop off the dirty part, and just toss it in the dishwasher. Easy.

A decent, rechargeable Bluetooth speaker. I keep one in the bathroom, so I can listen to Spotify and podcasts (from my phone) during my morning shower routine. Sometimes I pick it up and carry it to other parts of the house.

I've been very happy with my Chromecast – it's the simplest way to get video from one device (phone, laptop, desktop) onto my TV. (A friend of mine has a Roku, and it's so much more clunky and complicated. The Chromecast just works.)

If you have problems with cat box smells: the Tidy Cats Breeze litter system. It uses special hydrophobic pellets instead of litter; urine just drains into a tray below. There's an absorbent pad in the tray, which soaks it up and locks in the smell. The pellets and pads are definitely pricier than standard litter – but one refill lasts about a month, and you can stock up when they're on sale. (Amazon offers no-brand versions of the pads, too. Not sure about the pellets.)

A slow cooker? Set it in the morning, and come home to a pot of amazingly tender chicken soup, black beans, or perfectly cooked chickpeas (for super-fresh, homemade hummus). (There are a lot of slow cooker recipes which rely heavily on canned and frozen ingredients – avoid those. Let me know if you want a few good recipes. Alton Brown's "Hummus For Real" recipe is my go-to.)

Seconding nice bedding. You spend a third of your life in it; why wouldn't you? And with all of the new mail-order bedding options, it's cheaper than ever. I've been happy with my Bed in a Box mattress and my Casper pillows.

Also seconding a coffee pot with a timer.

Seconding a good chef's knife and paring knife, and a good cutting board (big, heavy, wooden). Aside from a bread knife, they're the only kitchen knives you need. (cross_impact is right; the knife block sets are quantity over quality – and unless you're, like, routinely filleting your own fish, then you don't need most of them anyway.) Watch a few YouTube tutorials on basic techniques for dicing onions, chopping garlic, etc.

Is there anything about yourself that you've always wanted to change? I recently started (1) taking better care of my skin, and (2) exercising regularly. Both involved a (modest) investment in supplies/equipment – not to mention commitment on my part – but it's been well worth it.

If you're a reader, then an ebook reader. It saves money over time (ebooks are cheaper than paper books), it's much smaller than a shelf full of real books, and you can carry your entire library in your backpack.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 11:01 AM on July 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

If you partake of cannabis: a Magic Flight vaporizer. Compact, attractive, discreet (no smell), efficient (you get more THC per quantity of cannabis), and a more clear-headed buzz than smoking.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 11:06 AM on July 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Here are things that I've invested in that I think are really worth it for my quality of life:

Instacart grocery delivery
Bedding that makes me feel happy to get in bed
The more expensive English muffins
Kiehl's deep moisturizing cream (oh god my face loves it)
LUSH bath products for intense self-care
Flat floor pillows for in front of my witch altar to make sitting on the floor comfortable
A nice quality glass table for my back patio to sit at and write and observe my backyard
Leuchtterm journals
posted by fairlynearlyready at 11:57 AM on July 30, 2019

Best answer: Subscription to America's Test Kitchen! You can the best version of a recipe using the best equipment, and you know they're the best because they test everything every way they can think of.
posted by Bodechack at 2:01 PM on July 30, 2019

Response by poster: So many great answers! For now I'm getting a robot vacuum, per Wirecutter's recommendation, and a Quip subscription. Looking forward to slowly incorporating more of everyone's ideas into my life! Thank you again.
posted by sugarbomb at 11:00 AM on July 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

One of the things that improves my life significantly is giving money to kickstarters or patreons so that I can support artists I like. They are incredibly grateful and I feel so excited when they have wins in their artistic lives. I feel like I get to be a part of who they are and what they do. And when they send me stuff, it feels meaningful.
posted by mulkey at 6:44 PM on August 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

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