Things I recommend you buy and use, 2023 edition
In this year’s edition of Things I Recommend You Buy and Use I list the items and services that give me consumer surplus – a lot of “surplus” enjoyment above what I paid for the thing. I’ve added all the new items that I’ve come to enjoy since the last one I did two years ago, and kept the things from that one that I still use a lot.
Where I don’t think the brand matters I haven’t specified one, but I’ve tried to link to the thing I’ve personally got if possible. There is a slight complication with some items where I paid a lot less than they’re currently being sold for. When I think the item is only worth the price at the lower price I paid, and it seems possible it might fall to that level again, I’ve said so.
As usual, I’ve used Amazon affiliate links where Amazon seems to me to be the best place to buy something. I’ve tried to find US equivalents where possible, too. Last time, I spent most of the money I made on Scotch whisky to drink during the bleak early 2021 lockdown, so thanks to everyone who helped out there.
My bed setup:
A wool duvet – about £100 / $192
I bought this when I got a super king bed. It’s very warm, but unlike a feather duvet it’s thin, light and has no issues with distribution of feathers, etc, which becomes unwieldy in larger duvets. It does a great job.
A refurb John Ryan by Design mattress – about £650
I did quite a lot of research into mattresses when I was buying one. The first decision I made was to rule out “bed in a box” mattresses (like Emma, Simba, Eve, etc). These are normally made with foam, which gets very warm in the summer. This is a dealbreaker for me. However, if I was on a tighter budget I would consider one, but only bought as a refurb. Most of these services offer a 100-night money back guarantee, and while I’m sure they make it awkward to use it, they do end up with some mattresses being returned that have been barely used. Mostly they have refurb stores on eBay, where you can get them for about 50% off what you’d pay for an “unsoiled” mattress.
Anyway, for myself I decided to get a “traditional” pocket spring mattress, which gives better weight support. I liked John Ryan By Design’s website, which has a ton of info on mattresses, and struck me as a pretty customer-focused company. I ended up getting a refurb from these guys too, which knocked 40% off the price.
The specific mattress I got was an “Origins Pocket 1500 Mattress Outlet”, Grade C. This cost £584. It is by far the nicest thing I’ve ever slept on – much nicer than even the mattresses at the nice hotels I occasionally get to stay at. It needs to be flipped every month, which is a little unwieldy (I’m not sure if I would be able to do it without a second person to help), but makes me think I’ll probably own the mattress for many years. It’s so nice that pretty much every night I feel a sense of relief and joy when I get into bed.
Linen bed sheets (£130) and pillowcases (£30)
This is just a matter of personal preference, but I find linen pleasant to sleep in. It’s a bit cooler in the summer and just feels nice and premium to lie against.
An electric blanket – £72
In these days of expensive energy, an electric blanket is a great way to stay warm without spending a lot. I think this one uses about 100 watts at full power, so it costs about 3 pence an hour to run, and you don’t really need it on full for more than an hour or so to get the bed really hot. Then you can run it on the coolest setting overnight, which is probably about a penny an hour, if that. Compared to running central heating in the bedroom, it’s a saving (especially if you have awful electric heating like my flat), and I sleep better in a warm bed in a cool room anyway.
Heated throw-over blanket – £70 / $30
I bought this for my girlfriend on the same principle as the electric blanket. Focused, insulated warmth means she can sit on this or wrap it around herself on the couch and feel very warm and cosy, for not very much money to run. She loves it, and it more than pays for itself in lower central heating bills. The current UK price is higher than I paid (£50 in April 2021) but I’d say it’s still worth the money.
Life and travel
Activated charcoal pills – £13.50 for 60 doses / US prices vary
I’m fairly convinced that taking about a gram of activated charcoal after drinking is an effective hangover treatment. For reasons why this might work, there is a good Lesswrong post by Maxwell Peterson here. Activated charcoal seems to be good at soaking up things in your gut: it is already used as a treatment for people suspected of eating poison, and women on birth control pills are advised not to consume it straight after they’ve taken their pills. So it makes sense to me that it might deal with some of the unpleasant by-products of drinking, like formic acid, which is what methanol is metabolized into and seems to be the really bad one, and which charcoal binds to.
Or maybe it’s just a placebo. If so, that’s fine – the feeling of a hangover is mostly the thing I’m trying to avoid. In any case, when I take three 330mg tablets of charcoal after an evening of binge drinking, I wake up feeling less tired and run down than I do when I don’t do that. And it’s so cheap that I don’t mind if it’s not even an effective placebo and, eg, I’m only remembering to take charcoal on times when I’m sober enough that I wouldn’t have had a hangover anyway. Charcoal isn’t perfect – it still doesn’t let me sleep completely soundly – but it makes a noticeable difference.
The main thing to watch out for when ordering charcoal is per-pill dosage. Amazon listings tend to list “serving sizes”, which can be 3-6 pills, so you’ll need to backwards compute from that info to find out how much is in a pill. The one I’ve linked to is about ⅓ of a gram per pill.
0.3mg melatonin – hard to get in the UK / $7
Melatonin is one of the other supplements I use for sleep, but I use it sparingly. It’s the hormone your body produces by itself to sleep. Firstly, I avoid doses over 0.3mg – read this on why this seems to be the “correct” dosage, despite many brands selling it at much higher dosages (up to 10mg, thirty times what I want!). Secondly, I find that if I take melatonin over successive nights, I find it harder to fall asleep naturally. I’m guessing that that’s a homeostatic effect, where my body produces less melatonin itself in response to the extra stuff I’m taking orally.
I find melatonin to be a lot better at keeping me asleep than sending me to sleep. I tend to only take it in three scenarios. One, I’ve been drinking and I want to sleep through the night. Two, I’m travelling to somewhere like San Francisco and want to avoid waking up at 2am feeling like it’s morning. Three, I’m knackered after a disruptive few days and want to “reset” my sleep with a night of deep and long sleep. It works well for all three of these.
Because the British state doesn’t allow adults to decide what chemicals to put into their own bodies, it’s hard to get melatonin at all in the UK. I normally just buy it when I’m in the US.
Benadryl (US) or Nytol (UK), aka diphenhydramine
The final pill I recommend is for sleeping while travelling. I find sleeping on airplanes very difficult, and am not rich enough to fly in the lie-flat beds they have in business and first class. But I travel back and forth from the US quite a lot, and if I don’t sleep at all on the overnight return flight, the entire day after I’ve returned is hellishly exhausting. I am a bit cagey about using sleeping medication in general, but a good friend of mine recommended taking the antihistamine diphenhydramine for this – sold as Benadryl in the US and Nytol in the UK (nb, UK Benadryl is something different). It works really well for me, and I am normally able to get 5-6 hours of decent-ish sleep on the flight now, which is enough to survive the following day, and makes the long, boring flight pass by more quickly.
TRTL neck pillow – £25 normally / $49
In a previous issue of this, I recommended the J-Pillow for airplane sleep. I still like that, but it’s just too bulky and unwieldy to be viable for frequent travellers. Instead, I’ve started using the TRTL “pillow”. This is a bit of flexible plastic wrapped in a fleece cover that you wrap around your neck, and it props up your head as you sleep. It’s surprisingly good – not perfect, but I’ve found that I prefer it to propping my head against the side of the plane. And if you’re in a middle or aisle seat, it’s worth a try. The current UK price of £45 is too much to be worth gambling on, so wait for it to come down to order unless you really think this will work for you.
Silicone earplugs – £9 for five pairs / $12.40 for six pairs
I think earplugs are essential for sleeping on airplanes, and noise cancelling headphones are not a substitute (too bulky). I’ve gone back and forth on whether wax or silicone earplugs are better over the years, but I think silicone ones ultimately are better. Wax is a bit better for shaping to your ear canal, but I always worry the wax will go too far in. Silicone just plugs up the entire entry point to your ear, and it’s reusable over a week or so, so you only need one pair per trip.
A padded eye mask – £4 / $10
An eye mask is also very important for travel, and for sleeping during the summer if you don’t have great curtains. The number one thing I look out for in an eye mask is for padding around the eyes so that your eyelids aren’t touching anything, which is uncomfortable and unnatural feeling. This mask works well for me, and is invaluable when I’m trying to sleep on a daytime flight.
Packing Cubes (Slim) – £13 / $27 for four
These help you keep your clothes organised, particularly once you have dirty clothes you need to keep separate from the clean ones, and these ‘slim’ models fit very conveniently into the Osprey backpack. Brand is unimportant but I would recommend the slim design over the more boxy square options – four fit well into a cabin-sized suitcase.
My final travel sleep tip is to try the app Timeshifter. This is basically useful in two different ways. The first is to use the app as it suggests: tweaking your sleep and light schedules in the days before and after a long-haul flight to “hack” your body clock to adjust to jetlag better. This works OK, and is probably better than doing nothing, but it can be hard to stick to it and live a normal life as well.
The second is much simpler, and it’s to take the best single bit of advice from the app and just do it yourself – on the day of a flight West (eg, to America), don’t drink coffee and avoid light (wearing sunglasses) between waking up and getting on your flight, and then try to sleep on the plane for basically as long as you can. Once you wake up, have some coffee then. I’ve found that this is the single best thing I can do when I fly to America, and it’s pretty easy to manage with the help of a bit of benadryl. You can get the exact schedule in a free trial, which covers one trip, and just copy that in future.
In the kitchen
Kuhn Rikon peelers – £8.35 for three / $14
These peelers are by far the best I’ve ever used for peeling potatoes, other vegetables, and orange peels for cocktails. I’m still using the first of three, which is still remarkably sharp and effective after five years. You might could buy a set of three and give two away as gifts.
Debuyer carbon steel pan – £42 for a 24cm pan
I’m a fan of cast iron pans, especially for things like steak, where the iron’s mass is good for retaining heat after you’ve put the steak onto the pan and getting a good sear. But the downsides of cast iron are that it is heavy and bulky, and that it can be a pain in the ass to use for things like pan sauces because the roughness of the surface of the iron catches a lot of the sauce. Carbon steel pans are a good “sweet spot” between these and more normal steel pans, because they’re lighter and thinner, but very dense and pretty good at retaining heat. My go-to for everything I fry except big steaks, where I still use my cast iron pan. This current price is a bit higher than I spent (I paid £25), but I think this will last my whole life, so the extra price would still be worth it to me.
A cast iron skillet – £19 / $20
Cast iron skillets are incredibly cheap and incredibly versatile. You can buy an ‘unseasoned’ one for £12. Seasoning isn’t difficult but requires some time — a cold winter Saturday, say — spent at home building up the coating by rubbing a thin layer of oil over it, baking it to polymerise the oil, letting it cool, and repeating a few times. The result is an almost indestructable pan that you can use for frying, roasting (I can fit a small chicken onto mine), etc, for the most part without any sticking. It’s not as good as a very expensive tri-ply pan, but I find myself using this for almost everything — except eggs, which do need a proper teflon non-stick pan in my experience. Seasoning instructions are here, and you can do it while working from home one day.
Meat thermometer with alarm (£17 / $19) plus the reverse sear method for cooking steak
I like to cook steak at home, especially when I can get a big thick one like a rib-eye or sirloin from somewhere like Turner and George or Txuleta. In my opinion, the easiest way to do this really well is to use the “reverse sear” method, where you cook the steak in the oven first, and then sear on a hot pan shortly before serving. If you use a fairly cool oven (100 degrees or so) and a meat thermometer with an alarm, you can stick the steak in and just let it come to the desired internal temperature, and then sear it. It makes the whole process very easy. I like using a thermometer that stays in the meat to avoid having to check on it repeatedly while it’s cooking with a conventional thermometer. I don’t think you need one with an app, etc, unless you’ve got a really big house.
Chef’s Press cooking weight – 13oz is £25 / $25
Weighing food down when cooking is useful for maximising surface area with a hot pan. I find these especially useful for when I’m cooking deboned, skin-on chicken thighs, which I like to cook skin-down at a medium temperature for 10 minutes or so with a weight on top. This crisps up the skin and renders out a lot of the fat. These weights do the job well, but they’re a bit of a luxury purchase, because you can just wrap a tin of tomatoes in foil and use that as a weight instead. It’s up to you.
Butter dish – £9
This iconic butter dish is one of those things that you only realise you needed after you buy it. The irritation of trying to spread cold butter on bread and tearing the bread, or using too much butter when you try to take off a knob and let it melt onto hot toast, is easily worth £3 to never have to deal with again. Put the butter in this, leave it out of the fridge, and you’ll be glad you did.
Monosodium Glutamate – £3.30 / $8
MSG is maligned by people with a latent Calvinism that tells them that there are no easy wins in life and anything enjoyable must be bad for you in some way. It is absolutely delicious, and is a very easy way to make any sauce or braising liquid much more savoury and rich-tasting – I use it mostly in ragu and chillis, as well as many sauce-based Chinese dishes I make (see Every Grain of Rice below). It’s very cheap, you only need a little, and it is an absolute must-have for any chef.
Instant Pot Electric Pressure Cooker – £85 / $83
I still love my Instant Pot, especially for making chicken stock – I save up the bones from a few roast chickens, roast them again to brown them, and then pressure cook them for three hours or so. The best thing about that is that the steel inner pot can be removed and placed straight onto the stove, so I can then boil the stock down to a thick, rich reduction that I use for pan sauces. I use my IP for this and other dishes at least once a week, often more than once, to make thick stews and sauces for pasta extremely quickly — in between a third and a fifth of the time it would take to get the same results in an oven or on a stovetop. The Instant Pot is extremely safe, unlike traditional pressure cookers which scare the shit out of me, and has an all-important saute function so you can fry meat, soften onions, etc before cooking and thicken liquids after cooking in a single pot. This model also makes yoghurt.
My favourite recipe to make in it is this Serious Eats ragu bolognese, which ends up being very easy to make and gives me enough food for several meals, so I make it in advance and freeze some portions. The best source for pressure cooker recipes is Serious Eats - here is a rough list of my favourite recipes.
Salter Digital Kitchen Weighing Scales – £15 / $10
A digital weighing scales is essential for basically anyone who cooks — a scale is essential for following many recipes and a digital one allows you to zero out with a bowl of your choosing on top, so you can be much more precise much more easily than with a mechanical scales. It’s hard for me to imagine how you could follow recipes with any degree of accuracy at all without one of these. A must have.
Silicone mould ice cube trays – £9 for small ones, £12 for big ones
The real consumer surplus is buying bags of ice from a shop, but carrying those home can often be a pain, and I can’t always remember to keep my freezer stocked with them. These silicone ice cube trays are a useful complement – what’s nice about them is that they are very easy to get the ice out of, instead of standard trays that often shatter the cubes. I keep a ziploc bag in the freezer and periodically empty these into it, so I have a reserve of ice whenever I need it. I also use the big ones for drinks like negronis and gin and tonics.
Metal cooking tongs – £10 for two / $10 for two
Along with a wooden spoon or spatula, these are the best utensils for cooking with, especially frying a bit of meat. I really dislike silicone-ended ones (too floppy) and just want plain steel. For that reason, if you don’t mind waiting a few months for delivery, you can safely buy one from AliExpress for about £3. You only need one – the longer the better – so if you buy the Amazon pair, you can give the shorter one to a friend.
OXO Good Grips Large Silicone Flexible Turner – £10
Not much to say about this — it’s just the best flipper I’ve used for eggs and other things that need flipping. It’s big and silicone, so it won’t melt at high temperatures. (Never buy plasticky, non-silicone cooking equipment.)
The cheapest non-stick frying pan you can find – £4.50
Non-stick coatings always break, and usually pretty quickly. Once you’ve had the misery of watching an expensive non-stick pan flake and degrade over time, you’ll understand that you should never splash out on anything with a non-stick coating and should instead think of them as disposable, like paper towels, getting uber-cheap ones. But you need them for eggs — it’s so much simpler to fry and scramble them on non-stick. You can buy them at IKEA for £4.50 each. BTW, I’ve tried the "Blue Diamond” range that is supposed to not break the way Teflon does, and it’s not nearly as non-stick.
Victorinox chef’s knife (£28 / $54) or Wusthof chef’s knife ( £92)
The Victorinox is unbeatable at the lower end of the price range, keeps its edge for a long time, and is sturdy enough for anything except cutting through bone. Unless you cook so much that you want to shell out for a knife twice the price, it’s pretty much the only kitchen knife you need. The handle is plasticky and a bit cheap feeling, but it’s a great knife otherwise.
Although I use and like my Victorinox, I cook so much and firmly believe that you only need one knife for 95% of what you do in the kitchen that I treated myself to something more expensive. My Wusthof chef’s knife is a joy to use and has a weight and strength that the Victorinox doesn’t, allowing it to cut through joints and some bones. It is much more expensive though, and I would only recommend it to someone who cooks very often.
A note on sharpening
I’ve previously recommended the Lansky knife sharpening system. I still think this is the best way of sharpening knives at home, and it’s what I use, but it’s a pain to use and I think most other people just aren’t happy with the amount of work and set-up it involves. I’ve started getting the London Sharpening Service to come to my flat to sharpen my knives – for £63 (using the discount code on their site) for eight knifes, it’s decent value if you do it about once a year. I’m happy with the quality of the work they do, it’s pretty quick, and they have a same-day service depending on what time you order.
Sistema Microwave Rice Steamer – £8 / $18
This is the most popular item I’ve ever recommended. And for good reason – I use this multiple times a week and it’s completely foolproof. Making rice in a saucepan on the hob absolutely sucks. You either do it the ‘correct’ way of not stirring it for ages and risk burning the bottom, or you use not very nice easy cook rice.
This rice steamer works perfectly in the microwave. Just throw 250g of dried rice (any kind seems to work) and twice as much water and let it microwave for thirteen minutes, then stand for another five. It comes out light and fluffy and you can actually leave it standing for a long time (at least half an hour) and it retains the heat, so it eliminates one major cooking headache. And since microwaves are very energy efficient, it’ll save you electricity too. Get the 2.6 litre version, the 4 litre version is too big for most microwaves.
A big sack of Jasmine rice (£7 for 5kg)
To go with the microwave rice steamer, I recommend buying a big sack of Thai jasmine rice from an East Asian supermarket or a big supermarket that stocks them (Sainsbury’s and Asdas near me in Clapham both do). I can get a 5 kilo bag for £7. This is enough for about forty servings, and the rice tastes good.
Wide-surface microplane – £22.50 / $18
Microplanes are good for things like grating cheese, zesting lemons, etc. I prefer a wide one like this because it makes cheese easier to grate. Since cheese’s flavour is maximised by maximising surface area, this is a superior approach for anyone on a diet who still wants cheese on their food – you can get a lot of flavour from a small amount of food.
Tea from Char teas
I like Char teas for loose leaf tea, especially darjeeling, lapsang souchong, jasmine green tea, and their English Breakfast blend. A biggish order (£40 or so) tends to do me for about a year, and I think the quality is better than what I’d get at a supermarket. They usually have some kind of deal that gives you a free bag of tea, etc, which is nice.
Shop Cuvee wine glasses – £27 for six
This is a matter of personal taste, but I despise large wine glasses – they feel flimsy and unwieldy to drink from. There is a very specific shape of wine glass that I like, which is small, tall and fairly robust. I searched high and low in shops for these, until I eventually found what I wanted at Shop Cuvee. They’re not exactly cheap for wine glasses, but I like drinking out of them and I haven’t broken one yet.
Coupe glasses – £8 each
Again, these glasses are not cheap, but I get a lot of consumer surplus from them. I like making simple cocktails at home (whisky sours, manhattans) and serving them in these makes me feel like I’m at a real-life cocktail bar. Compared to an IKEA glass, these are expensive, but compared to going out and getting a cocktail at a bar, they’re very cheap.
Wooden lemon reamer – £6 / $8
If you don’t own one of these you have probably wasted hundreds, maybe thousands, of calories on squeezing lemons and limes over the course of your life. They are £4 each, you only ever need to buy one once in your life, and they get all the juice out easily. Especially good if you like the taste of cocktails but don’t like wasting money on them by going to cocktail bars — with one of these, you can make one of my famous Cuba Libres with ease! One thing, though – if you’re doing a lot of lemons or limes in one go, a squeezer is better, but it’s more to wash-up, so for just a handful the reamer wins.
Instant Read Food Thermometer – £8 / $11
Any instant-read food thermometer will do here, but this is one of those things that you don’t realise you need in the kitchen until you have one. It’s good for checking the temperature of roasted meat and oil if you’re deep frying at home without a proper deep fat frier. For the little baking I do, it’s useful to check if a sourdough is ready too.
Cocktail shaker – £9
You can make quite a few very nice cocktails at home with a small number of fairly inexpensive shelf-stable bottles and a shaker like this. My favourites are negronis, boulevardiers, Manhattans and wh
Cookery books: Every Grain of Rice, by Fuchsia Dunlop (£17 / $27) and The Food Lab, by J. Kenji López-Alt (£29 / $28)
These are my desert island recipe books. Every Grain of Rice is recipes from around China (there’s very little of the sort of Cantonese food you’d get from a Chinese takeaway) and makes it astonishingly easy to make delicious and very exotic meals without going nuts buying lots of obscure ingredients that you’ll never use again. In fact, other than a wok (which you can get for a few pounds at many larger Asian supermarkets), there are only about six basic things you need to buy to make half or more of the recipes in the book, all of which can be bought at a standard oriental supermarket. I particularly like the book’s emphasis on vegetable-heavy dishes, which makes the dishes generally inexpensive to make.
The Food Lab is based on the blog of the same name at SeriousEats, and I consider its recipes to be definitive. It’s “American food” in the broad sense, which includes stuff like lasagna and lots of salads as well as stuff like buffalo wings and hamburgers. No other recipe approaches this book’s mac and cheese recipe, which is super easy and amazingly delicious, and almost every other recipe from the book I’ve tried has been a big success too.
For London restaurant recommendations, Cheese and Biscuits by Chris Pople is by far the best guide.
Nespresso machine and Solimo Nespresso Pods – from £100 and 10p each
Most coffee pods taste pretty much the same to me, and usually in the morning I just want something hot, caffeinated, and fast. I used to swear by Aldi’s pods, at 13.5p a go, but Amazon’s “Solimo” own brand are even cheaper at 10p a pop. Occasionally I indulge myself with some 16p Starbucks pods bought from eBay, but this is me splurging for no real reason. Always get Lungo for the maximum amount of coffee possible, and I top mine up with hot water for an American-style cup – what the Italians call an “Americano”.
On the Nespresso machine front, I’d just try to avoid the “vertuo” range, which uses pods shaped like wide discs that have been designed to prevent third parties producing their own pods. You might need to shop around to find a machine for under £100.
Aeropress – £30 / $39
An Aeropress is good for when you want a cup of coffee that actually tastes very nice, and is vastly cheaper and easier to use and maintain than most other ways of doing that. I don’t bother grinding my own beans – most of the benefit comes from using one of these, and if you like coffee enough to taste the difference with beans you grind yourself, you don’t need my advice here anyway. For everyone else, this is a fantastic little device and pairs nicely with the Nespresso, for when you’ve got a few minutes to spend on a really nice cup. If you’re reading this to find a gift for someone else, this is one of the best items on the list. I recommend brewing using the inverted method.
Potato ricer – £19 / $24
This device is for mashing potatoes and it works brilliantly. You simply boil them whole, put them into the masher, and squeeze, and you instantly get lighty, fluffy strands that make a perfectly smooth, creamy mash. You can even leave the skins on — it squeezes out the flesh only. It is by far the best and easiest way of making mashed potatoes. I recommend adding some butter, milk or cream, lots of salt and pepper, and some Dijon mustard – mustard is the secret to nice mashed potatoes.
Bathroom and shower
Interprox interdental brushes – £5 for six
These have only started working for me since I got braces that straightened my teeth out – prior to that, my teeth were too tightly packed together for brushes to fit in between them at the base. Now, I find them excellent for getting rid of bits of food, and much less uncomfortable and annoying than flossing. The ones here are shaped at a right angle, which makes them easier to use on molars. You can re-use these for a while, like a toothbrush – just rinse them in between uses. Note that they come in different sizes for different tooth widths – I use pink, red and blue for different teeth.
Silicone toilet brush – £10 / $15
Everyone should have a toilet brush. The main advantage of a silicone brush over a normal plastic brush is that this one retains less solid matter from the toilet, and it’s easier to clean in the toilet water. It does a very good job of cleaning the sides of the toilet. There are lots of options for this on Amazon from various fake Chinese brands, but this is the one I’ve got.
Cillit Bang: Black Mould Remover – £3.60
I hate cleaning the shower but this has made it very straightforward. Really, you just spray this on your tiles, let it sit for a few minutes, and wash away. It does an incredibly good job - the sort of thing you’d usually have to pay someone to achieve.
Nose hair trimmer – £11 / $18
This is one of those things that it’s easy to forget about existing, but it’s good to have for most men over thirty. Most come with attachments to do eyebrows too. The one I have isn’t available anymore, but this looks similar from the same maker.
Adult braces – about £3,000
Getting braces as an adult was a bit of a pain, but I’m very glad I did. Before getting them, my teeth were very crooked, and some teeth accumulated a lot of plaque because they weren’t getting brushed enough. I did a year of wearing train-track type braces, but at least they were tooth-coloured, so they weren’t super-obvious. The whole process was expensive at £3,000, and it was remarkably uncomfortable at times (the braces are uncomfortable, occasionally the process makes your teeth hurt, and having to wear little rubber bands to drag your teeth in certain directions is really annoying). But I think it’s one of the best things I’ve done, and I suspect it’s helped me in the American settings I often work in, where crooked teeth are very unusual. I went to the ABC Smile clinic in London, and was a big fan of the two young dentists who ran it, but I gather that they’re in high demand.
Solimo razor blade cartridges – £17.76 for 16, or £1.11 each
I was a long-time devotee of Gilette’s shaving cartridges (Fusion and Mach 3), which are better than all the other mail-order competitors that have come onto the market in recent years, like Harry’s and Dollar Shave Store. And I think using a safety razor with razor blades is much more trouble and time than it’s worth, especially if you use a badger brush and shaving soap. My goal is to have a shave that is very smooth, that I can do quickly and without paying too much attention (ideally without a mirror in the shower), that doesn’t cost too much money.
The first brand that has beaten Gilette’s products for me are Amazon’s own-brand Solimo shaving cartridges. They are extremely cheap at about £1.17 per cartridge, each of which is good for at least seven shaves (which is two weeks for me, since I shave every second day), compared to about £2 per Gilette Fusion cartridge. And they work very well – much better than Harry’s, etc.
Men-U shaving cream – £20 for about 18 month’s worth
Men-U’s shaving cream is just great. It provides a smooth, close shave, and doesn’t have the problem that foam does of covering your face with a huge volume of gunk that makes it difficult to see and clogs up your razor. Because the packaging is very small, it’s easy to travel with. And it lasts forever – each bottle lasts me for about 9 months, and the pack I’ve linked has two.
Muji pens (£2 each)
This is well known already, but I reckon Muji’s pens are the best in the business (better than the popular Pentel G2, in my opinion). I tend to prefer the slightly wider 0.5mm gauge one, but the narrower one is good too. They draw a clean, delicate line.
Primark sunglasses – £2.50
Don’t waste money on a pair of designer shades and spend your life worrying about them. Sunglasses are disposable. You put them down in the park or you accidentally sit on them on the bus, whatever. The point is that you don’t want to waste any more than is absolutely necessary for a pair of sunny-g’s, especially since they all look the same anyway. Primark is a winner here — you can get a couple of pairs for £2.50 each and be sorted for a year. They usually have wayfarer-style pairs that will have your friends thinking you’ve spent a good ten or fifteen pounds more than you actually have.
Uniqlo Airism underwear – £13
Uniqlo’s Airism line of underwear is made with space age fibres that look and feel great, and do well on warm days. I suggest getting one size larger than you normally would.
PitRok Crystal Deodorant – £6 / $14
I use this for two reasons: it lasts forever, and it doesn’t create a hardened build-up on my clothes like roll-ons do. I was very sceptical about using a crystal deodorant, but I am confident that it works at least as well as any normal deodorant and a number of people who know me personally (and so are probably decent judges of how well it works) have started using it themselves, also successfully as far as I can tell. Each stick lasts about three years of everyday use.
Anker SoundCore Portable Bluetooth 4.0 Stereo Speaker – £22 / $28
This really is an amazing piece of kit. The sound is loud and handles bass well, the speaker feels very sturdy, but best of all the battery seems impossible to run down. Extremely useful to have, whether you put it in the bathroom to listen to in the shower or bring to the park to annoy people around you.
Popsockets (buy off-brand from AliExpress) – £7
This glues onto the back of your mobile phone or phone case and pops out to act as a little handle for when you’re using your phone one-handed. It sounds stupid and most people hate the little bump the Popsocket makes when it’s not in use… until they try one for themselves. I don’t ever worry about dropping my phone while using it with one hand anymore, and it’s all thanks to this.
Second-hand Herman Miller Mirra 2 chair (£200, if you’re lucky)
Herman Miller chairs are rightly famous for being very comfortable. I like the Mirra 2, which has a plastic back that is very supportive. They’re extremely expensive, but also very durable, so you might have some luck looking for a second hand one being sold on somewhere like eBay. I got mine for £200 from a guy who got given one by his work, and just had to pick it up in an Uber. It’s still going strong four years later. It’s possible that the “Work from Home Revolution” has driven these prices up, though.
Charmast phone battery – £18 / $29
One of the coolest things about Japan is the ubiquity of mobile phone charging batteries in virtually every convenience store, which you can rent with an app for a few pounds and then return to any other convenience store over the next day or two. This basically solves the problem of smartphone batteries being too small for how much people use them. I imagine most people already have a mobile phone battery, but most need you to carry around a charging wire too, which massively increases the amount of advance thought you need to put in to keeping one on you. This one has the charging cable built in and a USB-C input charging port, so you really just need the battery and you can charge it with any Macbook charging cable. It’s not quite as good as Japan, but it’s a decent DIY approximation.
Felt desk mat – £11 / $13
This makes my whole worktop feel much more premium and professional. It also encourages me to keep the area tidy, which helps me focus. A bargain at the price and a must-have for a winter spent working from home.
I’ve always been a fan of cats, but I was reluctant to get some living in an apartment. But I’m glad I did – they are cute, affectionate, and fun to play with. And they make it much less boring to be at home alone when, eg, you’re working from home. In terms of litter, food and vet / insurance bills, I’d estimate that they cost about £1000 a year for two.
If you’re considering it, I’d make sure that you do have some space for them to run around and play in inside, if they can’t go outside; be OK with not having loud parties too frequently; and be confident that you will be able to give them this kind of environment for the next fifteen years. I’d suggest getting two, because they’ll keep each other company, and I’d strongly advise against taking them from their mother too young (eg, before 12-14 weeks old). This last point is for both your and their sakes – taking them too young means they may not develop psychologically properly, and they may not get litter-trained by their mother. Ours came fully litter trained, and have basically always used the litter tray as you’d hope for. It’s amazing how easy that has been, especially compared to how troublesome dogs can be on that front.
The best cat litter is the kind that clumps around their excretions, so you can pick it up with a little shovel with holes in it that non-clumped litter slips through. This makes that whole side of things very easy. You should also get a bin that comes with a big plastic bag inside that you can dump the clumps into.
Services I recommend
Octopus Energy for energy (£50 sign-up bonus)
Energy is hellishly expensive in the UK right now, so there is not much price benefit in switching companies. Octopus is still by far the best energy company, though – it has innovative tariffs for people with smart meters, that give you very cheap electricity overnight (good for heating your water tank or charging your electric car), it is experimenting with incentives for people to accept new energy generation near them (eg, cheaper electricity for people near wind farms) and even incentives for people who use less electricity during high-demand times of the day. It’s a very good company.
Monzo for banking (£5 sign-up bonus)
What I like about Monzo:
The instant spending notifications that help me keep track of spending and alert me to any payments being made that I wouldn’t have otherwise been aware of.
The payments functionality, which makes it extremely quick and easy to send money to friends who use Monzo and split bills.
The Monzo.me feature which allows people who don’t use Monzo to make a card payment to me, instead of an awkward bank transfer.
The card replacement speed — when I needed a new card they had one to me the next day, and I was able to immediately freeze my card through the app.
The fact that customer service is done through text, rather than on the phone, which saves me a lot of time.
The ability to set up ‘Pots’ of money that separate my money from my main account, allowing me to budget week-to-week by transferring my weekly spending money into my main account every Friday.
The general fluidness of the app and ease of using it compared to other bank apps which are extremely unpleasant to use, in large part because of all the anti-fraud measures.
Wise for international payments
I’ve saved a huge amount of money using Wise for transferring money to and from the UK. It’s very cheap and much faster than a normal bank, and they don’t hassle you the way lots of other foreign exchange services do. Wise also offers stuff like a bank card you can use abroad, which I don’t use but looks good.
Vanguard for stocks and shares ISAs
I’ve written about how I budget and save money here. I try to put as much of my savings into my stocks and shares ISA as possible, and with these the two key things I aim for are (1) low fees and (2) a broad-based investment. I can get both of these things by investing in Vanguard’s VWRL All-World ETF inside a stocks and shares ISA. I think this is the right move for most other people looking to save money for the long term.
Other stuff that I like
My Airpods Pro 2 sound great, are good for making calls with, and have very good noise cancelling.
My Q Acoustics 3020i speakers and Fosi Audio amplifier are a nice, simple home speaker setup that works with Bluetooth.
My self-build PC is great for gaming, and I’ve been able to upgrade it in a piecemeal way over the years.
I think the Wine Society is pretty good value for wine, although Lidl is pretty great too.
They’re not cheap, but Darn Tough socks are comfortable and durable, come with a lifetime guarantee, and are the only socks I’ve ever owned that don’t feel terrible if you have to wear them two days in a row (eg, when travelling).
The £27/month I pay to The Gym group feels like an absolute bargain for the size of the gym I go to, and the amount of equipment it has that I use. I almost never have to wait for a squat rack.