What do I want for $500?
November 12, 2021 8:47 AM   Subscribe

My parents have generously offered to get me a gift that will improve my life for $500 but I'm having trouble of thinking of anything I want.

I'd like to take them up on this offer because it is extended very much in a spirit of love and kindness for the extremely hard last two years we've had (baby and then living in NYC during COVID, living through a house fire, etc. etc.). But...I don't really need anything. And I'm very minimalist by nature and prefer to buy whatever I need second-hand for environmental reasons. This question is very much getting at: my life has been insane for 2+ years, is just getting normal, and I'm trying to figure out what I like again.

Oh, and I am forbidden from donating the money and from just accepting cash which they know I will just donate or save.

More about me:
- have a toddler
- have JUST gotten back to the gym and am loving it
- still WFH in my small apartment...I do have some work things in this category like a standing desk but feel sad about using this gift for myself on work stuff
- am not really into make up or clothes at all or anything status-y
- live in NYC and, thus, a small-ish apartment where I don't have room to store anything really big
- am currently going through secondary infertility (thankfully covered by insurance)

What I want:
- something that I will use often and think of them
- something for ME and not my family unless it would 100% benefit me too
- a tangible object and not a service (I think...though in making the list below, I realize I listed 2 services. But not interested in a series of massages that will be spent and done).

Ideas I have:
- a photography session for my family
- a staub dutch oven
- some really nice dishes (but this and the above feel a bit too much like gifts for the family)
- maybe a nordstrom personal shopper thing?

Help me help myself.
posted by neematoad to Human Relations (40 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
My husband told me the same thing recently and I got a cordless stick vacuum and we use it multiple times a day compared to vacuuming literally never before we got it.
posted by carolr at 8:53 AM on November 12, 2021 [11 favorites]

Split the cost of an e-bike?
posted by latkes at 8:54 AM on November 12, 2021 [7 favorites]

What about a really nice winter coat that you will have for decades?
posted by mumimor at 8:54 AM on November 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

A very good winter coat, or a piece of furniture to replace one that annoys you because it’s not exactly right for the space that it’s in.
posted by tchemgrrl at 9:03 AM on November 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Bedding— either very nice set of sheets, or pretty nice whole shebang of sheets, pillows, blanket etc
posted by supercres at 9:07 AM on November 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

La Canadienne winter boots, if they suit you.
posted by wellred at 9:10 AM on November 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

I gotta say, I'm an East Fork fanatic, and while totally superfluous, using the plates and mugs every day gives me a lot of joy.
posted by greta simone at 9:11 AM on November 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

A roomba? A deep clean of your place? I hate cleaning with all my being and that’s what I’d want.
posted by elisebeth at 9:15 AM on November 12, 2021 [17 favorites]

Would you consider a trip or some entertainment? Do you have any hobbies?
posted by NotLost at 9:19 AM on November 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

My first thought in this kind of situation is always artwork.

I know art is not a thing that you *use*, exactly, but I find that having beautiful things around me improves my life. Whenever I look up from my desk, I see a painting I bought with a monetary gift from my grandmother. Whenever I look up from the couch, I see a print I bought with a small legacy from my other grandparents. I see both pieces multiple times a day, they both please me greatly, and they remind me of people I love.

So, can you hang something on the wall, or is there somewhere you could prop a suitably special print / painting / photograph?
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 9:20 AM on November 12, 2021 [8 favorites]

The most life changing purchase I ever made in that price range was a "portable" washing machine. It was 3/4 the size of a regular washing machine, so portable my butt, but it screwed into my bathroom tap and drained into my tub and allowed me to do laundry in the comfort of my home without having to drag myself up and down stairs to a shitty, expensive, shared machine for 9 years. I hung up all my laundry to dry so there's your sustainability savings.

If your apartment is quite quite small this won't work (though there are smaller machines), but it was a massive upgrade to my quality of life and mental health.
posted by phunniemee at 9:21 AM on November 12, 2021 [12 favorites]

Do you have a smart watch? They can be bought used, and it makes exercise more fun for me.

I have a really nice wool blanket that is "my" blanket, and no one else in the family uses it. They could, but they don't. It wasn't $500, but it was up there. It's nice to have a nice thing for yourself.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 9:30 AM on November 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

For $500, you could get a great pair of noise-cancelling headphones and have money left over for a one-year subscription to the music streaming service of your choice. As somebody who lives in a small apartment and has kids, I have found that to be a great way to get some time to myself without leaving home.
posted by yankeefog at 9:48 AM on November 12, 2021 [11 favorites]

I do have some work things in this category like a standing desk but feel sad about using this gift for myself on work stuff

I will say, I totally get this; you don't want to use a gift on work. But, we spend a lot of our time at work and everyone I know with a standing desk says it's a game changer and makes your body feel a lot better, which is a gift to you. I'm currently using my kitchen counter as a standing desk, if that tells you anything.

I will also second good boots, if you're going to be going out at all this winter.
posted by joycehealy at 9:50 AM on November 12, 2021 [5 favorites]

This is a fun question to think about — my parents often give me cash with the desire that I do something nice for myself with it, but I often just fritter it away on groceries and bills or whatever, and I like this idea more, to be really intentional.

I think what I'd do is buy all new underwear. I bought a set of Arq undies and the matching crop tank as a gift for myself postpartum, and I've been buying another set each paycheck because it feels so nice to have underwear I actually like and feel good in. (The crop tank is perfect if you go up two sizes - I've also bought the bras but don't really recommend them.) Also the company is a tiny mom-owned, Portland-based business that uses GOTS cotton and US sewing factories and I feel good about them too.

Another thing that would actually improve my life would be to replace like three different old and busted Ikea lamps we have with nicer versions, but I don't feel as excited about that idea. Also, great work going back to the gym, and good luck with your hopes to expand your family. xx
posted by monster_a at 10:26 AM on November 12, 2021 [4 favorites]

I'd want a dishwasher, or laundry in the home. Automating those two chores gives you so much time! They're not luxury gifts I guess, but time is the true wealth.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 10:41 AM on November 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

If you already have good earphones, what about a really good chair?

I know you said you'd rather not spend this on work stuff, but -- as with the selection of a mattress -- think about the number of hours you spend there and then decide how much impact it will have on your life. :7) I spent over $200 last year on a chair, and while I hesitated then, I am *so* happy now.

We had a professional take photos of our family a few years ago. The kids were teens to pre-teens then -- and while they have changed a lot since then, those pictures are still really precious to us. Damn expensive prints, yes, and we didn't get the digital negatives, but totally worth it
posted by wenestvedt at 10:43 AM on November 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

I like the photography session idea. I was just thinking recently it would be cool to have a set of professional headshots for my online professional presence, but also it would feel weird to actually spend money on it. If someone offered it to me as a gift I'd be stoked.
posted by rollick at 10:59 AM on November 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

You didn't mention if you wear jewelry. My mother recently bought me a beautifully crafted and understated pair of rings from a local jeweler. You can find really special vintage pieces second hand.

I never would have bought the rings for myself and I will always treasure them. I've worn them almost every day since she gave them to me.
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 11:00 AM on November 12, 2021 [3 favorites]

Seconding joycehealy's suggestion on going ahead with the standing desk. It really is a game changer, and while it can feel un-fun to spend a gift on "work stuff", if it makes you overall happier and healthier, perhaps relieves issues with pain or discomfort, man that's a heck of a gift.
posted by xedrik at 11:01 AM on November 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

The dishes we really like have been a gift at every meal. I know you feel like they're for the whole family, but things like that are a joy every day.
posted by ldthomps at 11:10 AM on November 12, 2021 [3 favorites]

Can you make this into a gift of time, such as a way to reduce your cooking, cleaning, or childcare burden? That could be regular housecleaning or a robot vacuum, as mentioned already; prepared food (gift card(s) for takeout); or a babysitter? Or some other purchase that would reduce the time you spend doing things you want to do less of, so you have more time to do what you want to do?
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:18 AM on November 12, 2021

You can get an inflatable paddle board for around 500. I often just sit on mine and paddle, so you don’t even have to stand if you don’t want to. Plop your kid in front, a tiny snack cooler in back and every summer weekend is just happiness.
posted by gt2 at 12:06 PM on November 12, 2021 [3 favorites]

I have a standing desk and a desk treadmill and yes I use them during work hours but the exercise gives me endorphins and saves me time outside of work to do other things, so I view these as purchases for personal pleasure. You can probably get some kind of standing desk plus treadmill for around $500.

Example: not technically a desk but many are using as one and this treadmill gets you close to $500 at around $620. There are many cheaper standing desks on the market now, as well as treadmills you can get for $200-300. I only shared this one because it's the one I got, has a still-reasonable price point, and it has lasted for a while now with no belt slippage or anything. There are many others on the market that seem made by companies without a lot of other products. The company that makes the one I purchased has been making and selling other fitness equipment for quite some time, which to me made it a better choice.
posted by crunchy potato at 12:15 PM on November 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

First off, I'm sorry you're going through infertility, I've been there and it sucks.

I would consider using the money on reducing your stress as you deal with fertility trauma. A cleaning service, regular meal delivery, a car service to and from treatments, acupuncture if not covered by insurance.

If that's a nonstarter because you're keen on a physical object, I'd think about luxurious things you can treat yourself with once you're done with an appointment.

You could crawl into bed with luxurious sheets, or pull on some cashmere loungewear and a pure silk eye mask.
posted by champers at 12:26 PM on November 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

The thing that has enabled me to survive WFH and kid chaos and otherwise make chores enjoyable is great noise cancelling headphones (Sony WH-1000XM4) and then I use a V-MODA Boom mic to turn them into a very high quality video conferencing headset.
posted by Diddly at 12:44 PM on November 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

Nordstrom personal shopping is free* but if you’re inclined I can recommend the experience tremendously. I hate to clothes shop and my spouse did this for me - saved hours of shopping time and probably an equal amount of relational stress. We emailed them beforehand with which items and how many (roughly) I was looking for.

*it’s priced into the clothes so there’s no additional fee.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 12:47 PM on November 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

Ham radio.

Record player.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 1:21 PM on November 12, 2021

First, I’m sorry for your struggles and I’m so glad so many things are looking up and that you’ve been offered this gift! Since you say you’re loving gym time, how about some new gym clothes (from a brand focused on sustainability, fair treatment of workers, inclusive sizing)? You could spent $250 or $300 and get a few good pieces that will make you feel even better when working out. I say this as someone who refused to buy any nice workout stuff for years — and still rarely do — but how I have loved having a beautiful sports bra (apparently they exist!) made from recycled plastic bottles (I guess it’s legit?), yoga pants that are comfortable & bright pink Nike running shoes an ex got me. It may not be for you but you can get a bunch of good stuff and it’d be something for YOU that you could use everyday.
posted by smorgasbord at 1:37 PM on November 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

i think, an experience, not an object. scuba lessons, skydiving, weekend trip to moma, take a bunch of friends to a concert...
posted by j_curiouser at 1:50 PM on November 12, 2021

i see you live in nyc, so not moma, but maybe some other art experience in a different location
posted by j_curiouser at 2:12 PM on November 12, 2021

Just a comment re: MOMA, but if you enjoy the museum, a standard membership costs way less than $500 but oh man is it worth it. Regular admission is so honking expensive that I always felt like I had to make a full excursion out of it "to get my money's worth". Being able to just drop in for half an hour whenever you want feels extravagant, especially if there's a special exhibit and you get to breeze past everyone waiting in line. There have been a couple times when we ended up in midtown with some time to kill and went in basically to use the bathroom and chill on a bench for a few minutes (guest tickets are $5 so it's cheaper than doing the same thing at a bar or coffee shop!).
posted by yeahlikethat at 2:41 PM on November 12, 2021 [6 favorites]

A subscription to a monthly fruit box (or whatever food you like that you'd like to have regularly). This is my default when my parents ask me what I'd like as a gift and it's great. Surprise fruit every few weeks (despite having had a monthly box going for a while now, I always forget about it and am pleasantly surprised when it shows up). They're often exorbitantly priced given that one can buy fruit at the supermarket or farmers market easily, but sometimes they send things I wouldn't spring for or are much nicer quality than what my usual supermarket carries.

Also seconding gym clothes that you like and that are functional. If you anticipate doing any winter outdoor exercising, having fleece-lined leggings is pretty great. And, you'll need to replace your shoes every now and then, so an extravagant gift card to your shoe emporium of choice could also be a nice gift.
posted by snaw at 4:06 PM on November 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

I’ll second the cordless stick vacuum idea, I was recently gifted one and it’s changed my cleaning exponentially.

If I had that to spend on just myself:
Cooling sheets & new pillows
Professional bra fitting and replacement bras
One of the Zingerman’s food clubs
Replace all of my old spices with ones from Penzeys

It might go against the “just for you” idea but I’d love a new mattress.
posted by librarianamy at 5:49 PM on November 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

We recently got linen bedding from etsy and it is seriously the bestest. Every time I go to bed, I think about how lovely it is to have the bedding and what a great idea it was.

Other things to consider - a great chair with a "pouf" foot rest, fancy coffee grinder, ember mug for toasty warm beverages, a really great coat that you feel amazing in, a minimalist gold necklace or ring, a ukelele, a big box of chocolates just for yourself, a really lovely set of wine glasses (Glavin has some amazingly light and beautiful pinot noir ones), a pair of knee high ass kicking boots.
posted by ellerhodes at 6:29 PM on November 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 8:06 PM on November 12, 2021

Fresh flowers once a week for X weeks? Massage sounds great, too!
posted by Bella Donna at 2:05 PM on November 13, 2021

NY Botanic Garden Membership. $90

It's healthy, it's beautiful, it's relaxing...any day all year long.
And bring along a guest for free.

(maybe best gift I've ever given).
posted by artdrectr at 8:17 PM on November 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

I know it's a work thing, but a treadmill desk really changed my life. I no longer have back/neck pain at the end of the day, and I do intense computer work all day long.
posted by sickinthehead at 8:25 AM on November 19, 2021

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