What can I buy for £200/ $250 that will enhance my quality of life?
August 16, 2020 4:52 AM   Subscribe

I recently got a back payment from the government after it had previously held back some disability benefits, so I guess it's a comparable situation to the bonus American people get with tax refunds sometimes. I feel safest keeping most of it in savings, but have allocated £200 (roughly $250) to get something that might help my mood or enhance my life. Anyone been able to improve things with a modest outlay? Any suggestions welcome.

I have been feeling quite low lately, which happens fairly often with my mental health condition. I know you can't spend your way out of feeling low and in general am not into retail therapy, but thought maybe there's one or two things I could get with £200 that might lift my mood. Lately I have been treating myself to takeout and frittering away a fair bit of money but that's not the answer.

Here are some parameters of what might help me. I am disabled (mental rather than physical) and spend a lot of time at home. I am not very energetic so probably wouldn't get much use out of a Fitbit, which is something friends have found helpful. I enjoy reading Psychologies magazine and would consider a subscription to a lifestyle or travel magazine. I would also consider an online subscription instead of a physical object - for example a Udemy course someone found helpful. One of the most useful things I bought in recent years was a TuneIn Premium subscription so I could listen to the NFL game streams I got a lot of enjoyment from that. I already have a tablet and an Amazon Echo and an Amazon Fire Stick but would consider another gadget. My main interest in health and wellbeing but I am a bit skeptical about supplements other than Vitamin D3. I would consider some fancy shower gel or shampoo I use the Dead Sea Majik ones but would pay for dearer ones if someone had a recommendation. I am male aged 50 so am wondering what would be a hobby I could start that would match my age. One of the other things I enjoyed was getting Spanish lessons over Skype although I didn't really revise it too much afterwards to get the full benefit.

Given these clues, or your own personal experience of maybe getting a great gift, can anyone suggest a mood booster for £200/ $250 or so?
posted by AuroraSky to Shopping (20 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
If you like the NFL - NFL Game Pass? In the UK it’s £144 a year and you have viewing access to most live games and all recorded games from the last several years (not sure how many years back it goes - 5ish I think?). Plus you can watch NFL Network live, Red Zone live (live highlights on Sundays) plus other NFL shows on demand. I really really enjoy it.
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 4:58 AM on August 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

I think an audible subscription is nice. You choose a book to listen to and try to do something while you are listening that is hard to start doing for whatever reason. I hate shopping for groceries, so promise myself to listen while I get them. Or, now, with a baby often feel too sleep deprived to go for a walk, but with the promise of continuing to listen to my book, I get myself and the baby out the door :)

For many people, gardening helps for their mental health- would you consider a local gardening class?
posted by uncreative at 6:01 AM on August 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

If the courses on offer are appealing, masterclass is $180 / year (They are things like Martin Scorses teaching filmmaking, Serena Williams teaching you tennis, Penn and Teller teaching you sleight of hand). Here’s a review that might explain it better.
posted by jenkinsEar at 6:10 AM on August 16, 2020 [5 favorites]

I recently replaced my home office desk chair after years of saying "no, despite the fact that it's falling apart, my current chair is totally fine."

I was wrong. So, so wrong.

I got this one. It was $230. In many ways it is equally as comfortable as my old one, but I'm no longer sore, no longer have back pain, no longer feel like my body is out of joint after sitting in it all day.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 6:11 AM on August 16, 2020 [12 favorites]

I think a subscription is a great idea, because it stretches your gift to yourself over a long, long time.

- Craft kits, maker kits, art boxes, stuff you can do with your hands and have a keepsake. I love the feeling of accomplishment it gives me to finish a project. This really helped my mental health.

- Snack boxes - especially international snack boxes, cheese-of-the-month or wine-of-the-month or chocolate-of-the-month, etc. Recently I splurged on a macaron-of-the-month box for three months, and it was SUCH a treat! The boxes showed up when I was least expecting it, an utter delight. I know you said buying food feels like frittering money away, but staggering your food spending like this and essentially giving yourself a "surprise" present of food every month is, imo, different

- Physical reading material. Magazines are great. Book of the month clubs are something to consider. Poetry journals and short story magazines are my favorites - I have a Rattle subscription for years, and it costs about $10 per issue which arrives every 3 months. And then I spend at least a month savoring the poems and picking out which ones to share with friends or kids, etc.

However, I want to caution against some types of online-only subscriptions, especially magazine subscriptions or e-learning courses like Udemy or for languages, because these invariably don't get used, especially when you're depressed and have difficulty holding yourself to a self-initiated schedule. If you do end up doing this, consider partnering with a friend, so you both can do it together and keep each other on track.


Since you expressed interest in taking a course, can you maybe put your money towards actual classes? Again, I would caution against something that's purely online, ESPECIALLY against purely online classes that are so enormous that you are anonymous. But if there's a local community center or college that offers a hybrid online & in-person evening class that might be something you get a lot out of -- even if the "in-person" portion of it is now on Zoom, there should be face-to-face interaction with your interstructor and (small) class, ideally!


What are your dreams? What have you always wished you could do, not in a random daydream way but in a "repeatedly returning to this particular wish and sighing about how it'll take too much money" kind of way? Do you like to travel? I have often dreamed of getting on a train and traveling on it for a few days, just looking out the window, for example. Or driving off and pitching a tent near a stream for a few days, either with a friend or by myself.


As an overall guideline, I have a strong bias towards focusing on the experience. The experience of completing several craft projects, the experience of being surprised by a box of macarons at your doorstep on a bad day, the experience of taking an online course with a friend, the experience of hopping onto a train and looking out the window for three days straight... That stuff is what makes life worth living. I hope you have the best time!!
posted by MiraK at 6:21 AM on August 16, 2020 [5 favorites]

I recently bought myself a back massager and it is the best purchase I’ve made all year.

For your price range I imagine you can get a pretty nice one (the one I got myself was only $50 and is very bare bones but still lovely).
posted by forkisbetter at 6:23 AM on August 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

Do you have a super comfortable bed? People sometimes forget to buy new pillows (should be done once in a while!), but also a nice thick mattress pad, maybe down-filled, could give you better rest. We spend roughly a third of our lives in bed... it's good to update and spoil ourselves a bit on good, healthy, comfy bedding options. (Then you can enjoy your NFL, Audible, and other subscriptions in comfort!)
posted by heyho at 6:25 AM on August 16, 2020 [5 favorites]

Just reductively, if there's something you use all the time that is starting to wear out, replace it now with a version a step or two upmarket from what you'd ordinarily do. Pillow, coffee maker, raincoat, office chair, etc.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:54 AM on August 16, 2020 [4 favorites]

Something from the What To Buy AskMe Compilation?
posted by zamboni at 7:14 AM on August 16, 2020 [4 favorites]

One of the things that always makes me feel good is having a de-clutter and making sure my home is clean. I've read from your past questions that you've struggled with depression and I know from my own experience that sometimes that means things can get messy - and that then perpetuates a low mood. I'm not talking hoarder-level messiness, just untidiness and things starting to get out of control.

So my suggestion is this: how about getting a cleaning service in for a one-day deep clean and declutter? Be ruthless about throwing things away that you no longer need or that are holding you back because they have unpleasant associations.

I guarantee it'll make you feel better. Watch "Call The Cleaners" on TV (it's on catch-up on, I think, Channel 5) and you'll see what this can do for people.
posted by essexjan at 7:48 AM on August 16, 2020 [14 favorites]

You didn't say if you were much of a reader, but if you are (or want to be), I've found an ereader invaluable. Although some might consider it superfluous if you have a tablet, I've found an ereader to be a far more pleasant interface for reading, just for the lack of eye strain with eink. There are also the bonuses of long battery life and lack of distractions popping up on screen when using. An ereader combined with things like Overdrive access and public domain/free sources can open ones world to a multitude of things to learn about or simply enjoy for no more money than the initial investment of the ereader.
posted by mochi_cat at 7:50 AM on August 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

I got some really nice sheets that make the end of the day and beginning of it a little nicer.

If you like cooking and don't have a good chef's knife, paring knife, and skillet, stepping up to something quality with each of those fits in your price range and will make cooking more enjoyable. If you don't like cooking making food at home to be easier, an Instant Pot style pressure cooker and/or a good rice maker will do so.
posted by Candleman at 9:24 AM on August 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

I have a paper subscription to the Saturday Guardian newspaper for £11.99 a month. My aim is to cut my news intake to once a week (trying!!). Our brains are not evolved for keeping up to date with news 24/7. I found that once a week is a nice balance between keeping informed and not getting too depressed or anxious at the state of the world. And a paper subscription feels like a luxury. More importantly I don’t get drawn into the mindless click-fest and scroll-fest that is Internet news.
posted by moiraine at 9:41 AM on August 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

In spite of my best efforts, I tend to have a messy, cluttered apartment. I spend about 3/4 of my awake time in our spare room aka my "office", which is where I work all day, fart around on the computer on my personal time, do art, etc. Since we don't have a lot of storage space, the room also gets used for various types of storage, which these days includes a modest amount of extra groceries that still manages to entirely overwhelm the space. Plus all the art supplies (ALL the art supplies!) and half-finished projects lying around. The super annoying thing is that every path I use to walk through the room is slightly obstructed in some way. I have to scootch sort of sideways in some places to get through, knocking things off of surfaces with my ass half the time as I go. It's not danger-level obstruction and it's not filth, just lots of crap that makes moving around low-level annoying all the time.

So recently, I started yet another decluttering and organizing project. I figured out a better way of organizing my art supplies by category onto shelves with stacking containers that fully utilize the space, and labels so I won't have to pull everything out to find the thing I'm looking for. I picked up the stacks of books that had been cluttering up the floor in front of the shelves and took them to another room, since I never actually read in here. I put away the folding table that I thought would be a good place to do art, but had just become a catch-all for junk and was half-blocking my desk.

Suddenly, I have this wide, clear path through the room to the computer desk where I spent so much of my time, and I swear it is like this huge weight of irritation and feeling physically bogged down by my surroundings has been lifted. Every time I walk through to sit at my desk I get a happy little mood lift from noticing how very NICE and peaceful it is not to be hindered and hemmed in by stacks of various crap. Next leg of the project is getting the food storage issue sorted out so I can actually get through the door of the room without wanting to rage-kick an inconveniently placed 2-liter bottle of soda into outer space.

All that to say, I would nth spending the money on decluttering or organizing, if this is an issue for you like it is for me. I spent quite a bit of money on the containers to hold my supplies. However, I have spent a ton of money in the past for various containers which did not work out, because organizing is not my strong point. They would just turn into containers full of crap. What helped this time was seeing a video of a person whose art supplies were well organized in this manner, and realizing that this actually would help me make better use of my particular space. In other words, expert advice.

So... yes to having a professional declutterer/organizer/cleaner come in. And yes to spending on the organizational products they recommend for your particular space.

The other thing I notice that consistently affects my mood is the lighting in my space. I like a lot of natural light coming in, but can't stand the glare of direct sun. I bought some white curtains for my office room that are opaque enough to diffuse the direct afternoon sun but still let plenty of light in; and easy to tie back to enjoy the more pleasant light early in the day unfiltered. For evening or overcast days, I have a lot of lamps with bright clear bulbs in in them so my apartment is bright and cheery. So, maybe invest in new light bulbs or additional lamps if you could use more light in your space.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 10:30 AM on August 16, 2020 [8 favorites]

Because for some reason the Guardian doesn’t make Saturday subscription link immediately obvious and you have to do some digging, here’s a link to subscribe.
posted by moiraine at 10:36 AM on August 16, 2020

If you like film and have a generous internet plan, how about something like The Criterion Channel? It's technically not available outside of the US (I think), but if you also paid for a good VPN . . . . . imma just saying. For something easier, how about a subscription to BFI? It's £4.99/month.

Do you have a good ebook reader?
posted by lemon_icing at 6:22 PM on August 16, 2020

I am disabled and on a budget myself. Things that have helped me:

-Postcrossing (swapping postcards with random strangers) has been a godsend. I can’t help but smile when I receive a surprise postcard that someone has taken the time to pick out special, write, and mail just to me. It’s sparked a joy of writing letters and it’s not very expensive (usually $1.20 in the US, not sure other countries). I also take small trips to museums and shops that might have postcards for sale: a great cheap excuse to explore your area a little. I usually send more cards when I’m really down because they remind me that even strangers care that I’m alive.

-bird feeders and caring for wildlife. I love watching and learning the habits of all the different birds that visit. I usually research them a little so I can know them better, but it’s fun to just see them doing their thing.

-bonsai gardening. It’s so meditative and you can even keep some trees inside. I bought a few started trees so I didn’t have to worry about their seed phase- only about $30 a piece.

-passes to local museums and our botanical gardens. The passes were between $20-90 each, but I can just pop in and out and don’t have to linger to “get my money’s worth” if I’m not feeling well.

-organization and environmental cleanliness- worth the time and effort and money.
posted by shesaysgo at 11:21 PM on August 16, 2020

pet adoption fee?
posted by WeekendJen at 2:18 PM on August 20, 2020

Would you consider learning to play guitar? You can get a pretty decent beginners guitar for that amount of money. I'm not very good, but sitting in my lounge messing around with some chords is about the most relaxing thing I'm doing these days.
posted by piyushnz at 7:31 PM on August 20, 2020

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