I think I need to make a distinction between being a deplorable consumer and a minimalist. I’m not a minimalist, though I do understand and appreciate many of the ideas of that subculture. Maybe I’ll move to minimalism one day, but there are some non-essential things that I enjoy that aren’t terribly expensive. They’re things that save time, save money, reduce effort, or otherwise add legitimate value to my (or Tradwife’s) life. I thought I’d list them out here by general price, but in no other particular order.
$100 and under
Kindle E-reader $60 – I’ve moved away from the older Kindle design to the Fire, but Tradwife still loves her older Kindle for reading. It’s certainly more convenient than her iPad Pro for general reading, and I’d much rather she accidentally destroy a Kindle at the pool than the expensive Apple cult product. I love the Kindle concept in general, and we have very, very few dead-tree books taking up space in our home anymore.
Samsung Blu-Ray player $70 – Yeah, I still watch DVDs and Blu-Ray discs. Sue me. But this thing is most practical because it’ll also stream things like Netflix, which is super handy, especially since my beloved old Wii finally croaked (RIP). Part of my cord-cutting has been to move to inexpensive streaming services (Netflix, anyway), and since I’m an old guy, I even sometimes buy discounted DVDs in the giant bin at Walmart.
Keurig $90 – Yes, you can easily get by with a less expensive basic coffee pot, but since Tradwife doesn’t drink coffee, single cups are way easier for me. And yes, the K-cups are more expensive than bulk coffee, but that’s ameliorated by buying generics in bulk at Big Lots. I know a lot of Serious Coffee Enthusiasts™ turn up their noses at Keurig coffee, but I don’t care. I just want a quick cup of basic coffee as I head out the door to work. And this thing has saved me hundreds of dollars versus buying coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts or McDonalds over the years.
WaterPik $60 – Here’s another somewhat specialized and possibly non-essential item – unless you have braces, as Tradwife currently does. The water flosser saves her a YUGE amount of time versus conventional floss! She loves this thing.
$50 and under
Kindle Fire $50 but often on sale for $40 – I’ve mentioned this before, but I still love this little thing. It’s completely displaced my original Kindle, and I use it for everything from scrolling through Twitter to reading email to watching YouTube to reading books. It also allowed me to quickly set up my Echo Dot and connect it to Spotify.
Echo Dot $50 but often on sale for $40 – This was a very rare impulse purchase for me, but this little thing is awesome. I connected it to (my daughter’s) Spotify family plan, so now we have tons of playlists. It also instantly gives me sports scores, Dave Ramsey’s podcast, local radio, local weather and traffic, you name it. This things saves a YUGE amount of time looking things up online.
Magic Box 2 $30 – This was a gift from the in-laws a couple of years ago, and it’s been awesome. It connects to the Echo Dot, and we can carry the thing around and listen to music while we’re outside drinking wine and watching the sunset, or at the pool, or even in the shower. Very useful!
Chef’s knife $50 – Everyone should have a decent chef’s knife, or at least everyone who cooks at home most of the time (which should be almost everyone). Anthony Bourdain even claims no one needs a knife set, just one good chef’s knife. I don’t know that I’d go that far, but a decent chef’s knife makes things bigly easier in the kitchen. Bourdain recommends the Global brand, which hovers around $100, but I’ve been perfectly happy with my Calphalon for about half that price.
Slow cooker $25 – Like I said, everyone should be cooking at home the majority of the time, and using fresh, reasonably wholesome ingredients. People like to pretend to be busy – in world where Americans watch six hours of TV a day – but most of us aren’t. But if you’re actually busy, and even if you’re not, a slow cooker is a godsend. There are a million recipes out there that basically just require the cook to dump a bunch of ingredients in the cooker, turn it on, and walk away for a few hours to do something productive (or non-productive, for that matter).
Cast iron skillet $30 – We’re all cooking at home, right? Right? These things are awesome for cooking all kinds of things, from steaks to vegetables to frittatas. I was skeptical for years, but Tradwife picked one up at Big Lots for like $15 and it’s been in heavy (heh) rotation ever since.
Iced tea maker $35 – Seems like this one has gone up in price quite a lot, because I got one at Walmart for $20 four or five years ago. Tradwife LOVES iced tea, so, much like my Keurig, this thing has paid for itself many times over versus trips to Starbucks or even McDonalds for take-out iced tea. It’s super convenient to make a few quarts of iced tea, then just chuck it in the fridge for later consumption.
$20 and under
Digital antenna $18 – Cut the cord and starve the beast! I detest cable companies and want them completely out of my life. Unfortunately, I have to pay Comcast to have internet in my home, but I’ll be damned if I’ll pay them to pump consumerist propaganda into my hope. For the extremely rare times I want to watch network TV (sports, mainly), I picked up some random digital antenna at Walmart. You can buy them everywhere, though, including about a million selections on Amazon. I even had a Super Bowl party and used the digital antenna with excellent HD-level picture quality. Highly recommended for cord-cutters!
Food storage containers $10 – Seems like a small thing, and it is. But having good storage containers encourages the saving of leftovers and brown-bagging work lunches. This is bigly better than spending money at Taco Bell or McDonalds for food-like substances that are essentially poisonous to the human body.
Travel mugs $10 – Going along with my Keurig, these things save me money by allowing me to bring my hot cuppa Joe on my work commute, rather than stopping at a coffee shop to spend money on their coffee.
Ozark stainless mug $15 – Similar to my travel mugs, Tradwife uses these to keep her beloved iced tea cool, even in the shockingly hot Arizona summers. She bought some no-name version at Big Lots, but it works just as well as the Ozark or Yeti versions.
Plackers $2 – I love these things! I keep them in my bathroom, desk, car, briefcase, and Dopp kit. Very handy, disposable, and easier to use than regular floss. Having them omnipresent encourages me to floss multiple times a day. Excellent!
So there ya go. A bunch of random, relatively inexpensive items I find make my life easier. What else should I try that’s worked for you?