Low Hanging fruit for buying a better life

What can I purchase with $100 that will be the best thing I can buy to make my life better?


I've decided to budget some regular money to improving my life each month. I'd like to start with low hanging fruit for obvious reasons - but when I sat down to think of improvements, I found myself thinking of the same old things I'd already been planning to do anyway... and I'd like out of that rut.

Constraints/more info:


  1. be concrete. I know - "spend money on experiences" is a good idea - but what experiences are the best option to purchase *first*
  2. "better" is deliberately left vague - choose how you would define it, so that I'm not constrained just by ways of "being better" that I'd have thought of myself.
  3. please assume that I have all my basic needs met (eg food, clothing, shelter) and that I have budgeted separately for things like investing for my financial future and for charity.
  4. apart from the above, assume nothing - Especially don't try and tailor solutions to anything you might know and/or guess about me specifically, because I think this would be a useful resource for others who might have just begun.
  5. don't constrain yourself to exactly $100 - I could buy 2-3 things for that, or I could save up over a couple of months and buy something more expensive... I picked $100 because it's a round number and easy to imagine.
  6. it's ok to add "dumb" things - they can help spur great ideas, or just get rid of an elephant in the room.
  7. try thinking of your top-ten before reading any comments, in order not to bias your initial thinking. Then come back and add ten more once you've been inspired by what everyone else came up with.



This is a question I recently posed to my local Less Wrong group and we came up with a few good ideas, so I thought I'd share the discussion with the wider community and see what we can come up with. I'll add the list we came up with later on in the comments...

It'd be great to have a repository of low-hanging fruit for things that can be solved with (relatively affordable) amounts of money. I'd personally like to go through the list - look at candidates that sound like they'd be really useful to me and then make a prioritised list of what to work on first.

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Upgrading barely-satisfactory household goods to better versions. Many such goods are bequeathed or obtained when the user can't afford better, and never replaced once they're in a position to do so.

Example #1: laundry apparatus. When I was younger and poorer I bought the cheapest laundry basket and airer I could get. They weren't very good, but I laboured with them for over a decade because they were satisfactory. A replacement set in my 30s cost me less than I would even notice spending, and vastly improved my laundry workflow and throughput.

Example #2: kitchen knives. It's alarming to me how many people think a bread knife and one other miscellaneous sharp knife constitutes a fully-equipped kitchen. If you spend any appreciable amount of time preparing food, and you only own one straight-edged kitchen knife you don't know the name of, you're almost certainly making life harder for yourself. Buy an inexpensive 5-piece block set and experiment with each type of knife on different foodstuffs.

Honestly, most kitchens do not need more than 4 knives. I own and use more, but I cook a lot, and have very good knife skills. I can do almost anything I need with a single large knife (ideally a santoku, but a chef's knife or chinese cleaver would do ok as well). One serrated knife for bread.

The most important thing is that whatever knife you use is good enough to hold an edge, and kept sharp. Have your knives professionally sharpened at least once a year (or learn how to do it yourself) and use a steel to hone them once a week or before/after any hard use (1/2 hr+ of prep chopping). It's also worth some time learning proper knife technique.

All that is much more important than having more than two knives, as long as your two knives are good choices. When I vacation in cottages with a kitchen, or when I visit relatives that I know do not maintain sharp knives -- if I will be cooking, I make it a point to pack my own knives (I bought a chef's knife caddy from a local culinary school for this purpose). And I am a massively nazi-ish light packer, typically packing for a week+ trip in a single carry-on bag (including my knives). That's how important this is to me. That said, I love cooking, and tend to do a lot even on vacation.

I think this principle generalizes. Tools are a nice force multiplier. For anything that you love to do, or need do frequently, having good tools that will last a long time is generally a hugely efficient upgrade in your QOL.

It can, of course, be taken too far. Upgrading everyday use tools to cheapest professional grade is a very good use of money. Upgrading to the best possible, or upgrading things you rarely use is generally not.

my solution was to pack a sharpening stone. and a steel.

I second the kitchen recommendations. I've been slowly replacing everything with OXO Good Grips products (not knives or utensils though) over the last couple years and I couldn't be happier with them. It's amazing what quality design and craftsmanship can do.

(On the subject of #2, does anyone else freak out when they see someone trying to chop mushrooms with a boning knife, and if so, would they like to form a support group?)

As far as kitchen equipment goes, a reliable can opener and a set of good (for whatever your definition of good is) kitchen towels are also inexpensive items that can seriously cut down on frustration in the kitchen.

How do you figure out what is best? I used the "sort by customer rating" function on Amazon when I bought my first set of household goods with decent results.

I have one of these. Can confirm, pretty good relative to other similarly priced knives I've tried, and even better than a high quality knife of the same age, when both hadn't been properly maintained.

Totally agree with kitchen knives - i really loved the ones I received as a gift for xmas.

To add to that - I'd also suggest a really good skillet (eg I have a scanpan one). One good skillet every ten years is much better than having to buy a crappy one every year after the teflon peels off (or worse, eating all that peeling teflon). Also consider a deep saute pan with a lid, if you do a lot of multi-meal cooking - it doubles as both big frypan and huge pot.

One good skillet every ten years is much better than having to buy a crappy one every year

I recently realized that the price of the skillet is quite comparable to the price of meat being cooked in it nowadays.

It's alarming to me how many people think a bread knife and one other miscellaneous sharp knife constitutes a fully-equipped kitchen.

You mean "one other miscellaneous dull knife", right? X-D

I am starting to think about bringing a pocket knife sharpener on trips...

You don't need sharpeners. Most mugs of decent quality have their stoneware exposed at the bottom. And this is a very good sharpener. You don't need steel. Your dull knife will be sharp (enough) within seconds.

Hah, good idea. I wouldn't do this to any knife I care about, but we are talking about pretty bad knives here.

That's pragmatics. Most kitchen work I do requires no really sharp knives Also I have children to take care of. Significantly sharp knives are a risk. But getting a plain old kitchen knife up to speed to cut meat is a real solution here.

If you have internalized the concept of what a sharp edge is and if you are using said knive to cut things.

If, on the other hand, you are a child, no or a very dull knife is the best option.

Sharp knives are safer than dull ones

That's an oft-repeated adage, but, having used both dull and scary-sharp knives, I'm not sure it's true.

Once you've cut the top off your first finger... you learn to grow much more cautious about using them ;)

What's the procedure for sharpening a knife with the bottom of a mug? Do you just drag the side of the knife along it a few times?

Yeah, you basically just run the edge across the exposed ceramic. The angle the edge makes with the sharpening surface is important, though. There's no single bevel angle that works for all knives; sharper angles cut more cleanly but are less durable and can't handle as much force, so a sushi knife needs a different bevel than a machete. Whatever angle you choose should be consistent all the way through.

Unless the knife is old or very dull, you're probably best off trying to match the factory angle. An easy way of doing this is to run a Sharpie along the beveled part of the blade and then check it after a couple of strokes; you're looking for the smallest angle that'll take the ink off all the way to the edge.

I don't think the bottom of a mug is capable of enough precision to make the Sharpie trick worthwhile (or even (=flat) enough to talk about choosing bevel angles), but here is more info about knife sharpening than most people need :-)

It's never going to give you as consistent an angle as a water stone is, certainly. But I'd still expect a difference if you tried to bevel one knife to 30 degrees and the next to 12.

You may be right about the Sharpie trick.

A general piece of advice: spend (relatively) more money on things you interact with the most, time-wise (as well as intensity-wise).

For example, if you spend a noticeable chunk of your working day with a coffee mug by your side, see if you can find a better mug (e.g. a double-wall one). Don't settle for a crap computer mouse, find and buy one which works well with your hand and mousing habits (and get a better keyboard as well, while you are at it). Etc., etc.

For the record, the coffee mug backfired in the office environment. Got my own aesthetically pleasing coffee mug that made me happier at work. Then proceeded to spend social capital getting my mub back from coworkers, then proceeded to worry about wasting social capital on something as insignificant as a mug, then proceeded to waste time doing a cost benefit analysis on having an aesthetically pleasing mug.

This is relatively upvoted. Is there a mug related meme I'm missing here?

I was just curious about what sort of mug could cause so much enthusiasm.

The mug. Turns out the simple minimalist style is popular with our technical staff.

As in, "I need to have exactly this kind of mug. It will vastly improve the quality of my life!"

Other solutions: 1) write your name on the mug 2) clean and hide your mug in your desk drawer when you leave 3) buy a mug for everyone

An alternative to 3 that doesn't leave you out of pocket would be to say "this is my mug that I bought, it's nice isn't it - if you like it so much, why don't you give me $X for it (which is how much I paid) and I'll buy another one for me."

An alternative to 3 that doesn't leave you out of pocket would be to say "this is my mug that I bought, it's nice isn't it - if you like it so much, why don't you give me $X for it (which is how much I paid) and I'll buy another one for me."

I think that's going to make you seem weird, unless you work as like a bond trader or something. Normal people don't do that sort of thing. And the GP's post was about being worried about expending social capital.

Then proceeded to spend social capital getting my mub back from coworkers

I think there is an underlying problem here which is not really related to coffee mugs....

True, but you pick your battles. Or the underlying problem is I find it uncomfortable to tell someone that 'that is my coffee mug'.

I guess I'm curious about why you couldn't just store your mug in a different place from your co-workers.

Cleaning staff collects, washes and returns to storage all mugs daily. Hiding my mug in a drawer is a not-proportional response, the pleasing mug is to ease mental burdens not add to them.

As of this reply, I've spent more energy discussing the absentee mug than dealing with the absentee mug. I believe I'll take a catalog of this discussion to make an absentee mug protection decision tree to aid future less wrongers. Stay posted for results.

P.S. For the record: the mug has been released to the wild, may it bring joy to others, and if it really did love me it will come back. I've filled the gap by putting up an aesthetically pleasing calendar, I forecast that it will be less mobile.

If you type ten-fingered, get an ergonomic keyboard. They really help prevent RSI. When I tried it, I could feel the difference within an hour, and I really hate typing on a flat board now.

If you type hunt-and-peck, learn to type ten-fingered, then get an ergonomic keyboard.

By the same principle, learn Dvorak before getting the ergonomic keyboard.

I seem to recall that Dvorak keyboard's advantages tend to be much overstated. You also lose an important ability: to come up to any standard keyboard and start touch-typing.

I seem to recall that Dvorak keyboard's advantages tend to be much overstated.

I don't know what kind of response you're after. I got an objectively measurable 10wpm speed improvement, but more important (but not measurable) is that my fingers stopped hurting. I could equally say the advantages of ergonomic keyboards tend to be much overstated.

You also lose an important ability: to come up to any standard keyboard and start touch-typing.

No you don't. Or at least, I didn't.

I am not after any particular response. As far as I know, the claims about the advantages of the Dvorak keyboard are controversial (see e.g. this) and there are no rigorous universally-accepted studies which show it has a clear advantage.

As to you getting rid of RSI, I am glad it worked for you, but I don't see why your experience should generalize to everyone. As a counterpoint, I touch-type on a regular (QWERTY, non-ergonomic) keyboard and my fingers don't hurt. Instead, I get RSI from the mouse (I deal with it via more keyboard commands and a trackball) -- but I don't post "get rid of your mouse" as a general advice.

There is a big differences between:

"I use layout X and don't have RSI" vs "I had RSI with layout Y then switched to layout Z and stopped having RSI"

I would be inclined to say that the latter is strong evidence that layout Z is better than layout Y for avoiding RSI, whereas the former is only weak evidence for layout X

Don't think so. RSI is Repetitive Strain Injury, so any change in the pattern of use will make it better.

Like I said - there is weak evidence for the former.

However - if you don't have RSI, then it may not be because the layout is not optimal... it might be because you are less prone to RSI, or because you're young and able to bounce back from RSI easily, or because you just haven't been typing long enough to develop RSI yet.

Whereas somebody that already has RSI... already has it, so if you change layout and the RSI goes away - that's pretty good evidence that the layout-change has had a direct effect on the RSI.

that's pretty good evidence that the layout-change has had a direct effect on the RSI

Correct. What it's NOT good evidence for is the claim that the new layout is better. It's sufficient for it to be only different.

If you are a Linux user, learn Colemak instead of Dvorak. It's available in almost every distribution (and probably easy to install on Windows as well, but I rarely use Windows). It's both more ergonomic than Dvorak and is much closer to QWERTY, which means it's easier to learn and you retain most of your keyboard shortcuts (e.g. Ctrl+Z/X/C/V etc).

I have doubts about the wisdom of installing a non-standard keyboard into your muscle memory. For one thing, this means any time you type on a keyboard not your own you have problems. There are also many claims that the ergonomic advantages of Dvorak keyboards were severely overstated.

If you are concerned about ergonomics, the position and the movements of your hands are much more important than the key layout, anyway.

In the spirit of this thread, take a typing class. I find that taking classes are an effective way to get over motivation blocks, if that's what is preventing you from learning touch typing.

If you type ten-fingered, get an ergonomic keyboard.

Well, try one out, but I don't think they're automatically better.

I type ten-fingered on a flat keyboard (though an IBM model M buckling spring type) and my brief experiences with the "ergonomic" keyboards led me to abandon them. On the other hand, my job is not data entry :-)

Speaking about RSI, I find that what's important is to keep one's wrists elevated about the keyboard. My wrist rests are about two inches high.

An ergonomic mouse is good too. Looking up vertical mouse on eBay shows the kind of thing I mean. Reduces twisting by the forearm. That was a good investment for me, but then I suffer from RSI.

Wireless thumb trackball FTW. Logitech M570. Why would one have to move the shoulders to move a pointer on the screen, a thumb should be enough. Also doubles as a remote control for media PC, enables gaming on TV through it from the couch where it is awkward to push a mouse around, and so on.

Some ideas of mine: both things that I already have, or am thinking about buying:

  • a nice pedometer/fitbit - measuring your daily activity is the first step towards making sure you do it more regularly, and a good pedometer (with software to see your progress) is within the price range
  • a waterpik (to make flossing more interesting and thus more likely)
  • a really good-quality umbrella (for areas that are rpone to bad weather) because struggling with flimsy ones is more pain than it's worth to buy a quality one.
  • a good quality laptop bag/airline carry-on bag (especially if you lug your heavy laptop around a lot...)
  • healthy snacks for while I work (jerky and dried fruit)
  • an Ingress addiction (makes me walk a lot and it's free)
  • a shoe rack (i have a habit of tossing them all over the floor, and it's an easy way of tidying up the floor while remaining easy to dump my shoes)
  • sleep-tracking software and sleep-cycle alarm clock (to wake me up gently during REM cycle - these are often free)
  • large prints of nice pictures to stick on the wall behind my computer monitor so I have something nice to look at while working
  • do a defensive-driving course (driving safety is always useful for longevity)
  • take some meditation classes (for the ability to notice when being distracted and be better able to focus when needed)
  • take a toastmasters course (so as to be more confident with public speaking which is an importnat part of being a social leader)
  • take up a regularly scheduled low-impact exercise (eg tai chi)

a good quality...airline carry-on bag

Recommendation here: Several years ago I bought one of the Eagle Creek Tarmac series of bags because I was flying a lot. They are expensive (less than $300), but have a lifetime warranty including damage done by an airline (every other bag I saw excluded damage done by airlines). They are very tough, well designed, visually distinctive and just small enough to fit into most airlines carry-on maximum size. Last year I bought some packing cube nock-offs and that has also made packing and unpacking more enjoyable.

I'd second the recommendation of a waterpik for flossing. Tooth problems suck, so it's worth shelling out to avoid them.

I purchased a Blunt umbrella for AUD$90 mid last-year when i lost yet another umbrella due to windiness. If you don't think you'll leave it behind you anywhere I'd recommend it.

Also just purchased a Jawbone Up, I felt was a good balance between subtly motivating good behaviours without being too involved. Mainly bought it for the alarm function though.

I buy biltong from Byron Bay Jerky, only place I found that uses grass-fed beef. Prices are pretty comparable across providers for this but if you can find someone to split the 2.5kgs with then you've got a pretty good deal. Other healthy snack ideas would be nuts (pre-soaked to remove phytates), chia pudding (chia seeds + some sort of milk + flavourings. i use coconut milk but any will do), coconut chips & more involved things like frittata muffins.

Meditation classes seem a good option, I've tried a couple though and they had a lot of spiritual baggage that didn't appeal to me. If you find a secular class I'd be interested.

Cycling is a low-impact exercise, and has the benefit of being able to get you places. Replacing your commute with a bike ride - if feasible - would be a good way to integrate exercise into your life.

"nuts (pre-soaked to remove phytates)" what are phytates, and why should I be scared of eating them? (given I've been eating un-soaked nuts since I was a kid without (apparent) ill effect)

The biltong looks good. I'm surprised about the grass-fed beef thing... is is just that Byron Bay is the only company that claims to use grass-fed beef? AFAIK grass-fed is much more common in Australia than, say, the States - due to our huge outback ranches - almost all sheep are grass-fed, and a much higher percentage of beef is free range too.. though I'll admit I haven't done serious research on that front.

I agree re: the spiritual baggage in meditation, but I guess I was hoping to just ignore that part... there seem to be a few classes where I live, so I'll give them a go and see where they lead. I've also sat through a lot of spiritual guff in my past (non-rational) life... so I might have a higher patience for sitting through the BS

Cycling is indeed a great idea, but I work too far away for me to go directly from beginner to cycling-to-work :( I tried various ways of getting there and have come to the unfortunate conclusion that it's actually quickest to drive (30min vs 1hr20min public transport) Luckily I've discovered that I can listen to audio-books while driving, so I've started doing that.

wiki has a small blurb on phytic acid (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phytic_acid) that highlights its propensity to bind to minerals and render them useless. there's some rumblings in paleo circles about the role phytic acid plays in tooth decay - they got their info from the weston a price foundation - but i don't think anything concrete has been discovered. it's not going to kill you by any stretch but soaking and slowly roasting your nuts is pretty easy to do and makes them better nutritionally.

agree there is a taste trade-off with some cuts of beef, but to be honest i haven't had grain-fed beef in quite a long time so i couldn't really get specific with you. depends on where you sit on the health/enjoyment spectrum when it comes to food. not clear that my position is better than yours

i might just be quicker to get annoyed by meditation woo-woo, who knows. the centre i went to made us chant that we were the lowest of the low. not a fan of that

fair enough about the bike, my bike commute takes about 50 minutes which is probably approaching the limit of what you'd want to do as a beginner (which i am as well, literally every other cyclist overtakes me)

sorry about the late reply, new to LW so i haven't yet done a good job of integrating it into my browsing habits

Soaking and slowly roasting nuts takes more than the time to just open the packet and eat.. so it probably won't happen. I could force myself to do it - but I don't see enough value in doing it to do it... (only something that was likely to kill me would make that change) because I have other fish to fry. Thanks for the explanation though - it is interesting to know :)

From my perspective - convenience is a big factor in the food I eat. I like good-tasting food... I really like easy food. That includes easy-to-find (it's much easier to just go to the local butcher than to hunt down grass-fed beef). and the inertia that comes from this is a hurdle big enough that there has to be a really good reason to get over it. I have other things I'd like to spend my "could I be bothered" points on first ;)

re: woo-woo urk that does sound awful - yeah I don't think I'd put up with that for long either.

re: timing me too... ;) plus - too many channels, too many things to do...

Answering my own question (re: grass-fed beef in Aus)

"It's important to know that most big-supermarket beef around the country will be grass-fed meat finished on grain, but if the meat comes from southern Victoria or Tasmania, where grass is more likely to be in abundance, there's a good chance it was reared entirely on grass or silage"

Also there seems to be a taste/health tradeoff for grass vs grain-fed beef. wagyu, after all, is the epitomy of grain-fed beef...

healthy snacks for while I work (jerky and dried fruit)

Citation required.

Dried fruit is very high in sugar.

The fructose in sugar (50% of the calories) can in general only be used for one thing: to make fat. The exception is if your liver glycogen is depleted (eg after a hard workout, perhaps a teaspoon of fructose could be used to replenish it - and in fact in this scenario it is the most efficient way to replenish your liver glycogen.

Sugar is also quite addictive and binge-inducing. I have a theory as to why this is I will tell you at the next LW dinner.

The case against jerky is less compelling, but you might want to look at the list of ingredients next time you are near a packet.

more information required on what you're asking?

I bought snacks for while I was working.. .that were healthier than the alternatives.

Dried fruit is basically sugar with a bit of fiber, very high calorie density, too. Considering it healthy is a bit of a stretch.

does it compare as healthy compared to chocolate or mints? Also a snack with fibre (even with sugar) is better than a snack with little-to-no-fibre - if it helps with satiety and is better from a fidgeting-must-eat perspective.

Sure, there might be snacks that are even better than dried-fruit... but as a first step improvment it was a good step.

See above. If you need more glucose in your blood, small amounts of foods that produce glucose can do the job. Or you can train your body learn to do gluconeogenesis (ie release stored glucose) by regularly having long gaps between meals.

According to the lecturers in the "learning to learn" course, a lot of what feels like the need for food is actually the need for a break. According to them, when working hard intellectually the brain needs a break after a while to restore equilibrium and to remove built-up waste. So a break and a glass of water may be all you need. That's what the 5 minute break in the Pomodoro cycle is for.

Yes, I am aware that snack/fiddling is probably a signal that I'm not hungry (thanks, though, I might not have been). I will also drink a glass of water rather than snack if I think I'm actually hungry... but I'm quite aware that I'm not hungry when I'm snacking.

The point of these snacks isn't to ingest nutrition. In this case - i have been snacking as a way of fiddling (I think). I figured that if I was going to fiddle/snack anyway - I might as well make it less-unhealthy - because I have other things that are more important to work on than in stopping this particular habit (I'll come back to it, but as stop-gap measure... healthier snacks is better than unhealthy snacks.

I also take pomodoro breaks - but it doesn't entirely negate the snacking need...

Hi taryneast, these are cool ideas. Could you please give examples of

  • A quality large umbrella to buy
  • Where to take a behind-the-wheels defensive-driving course

Re: Umbrellas

Well, I found mine in local shops. A large umbrella with more spokes than usual (12 instead of 8) and sturdy construction. and a foldable umbrella that was listed as being able to turn inside out and be popped back without damage. My finds were accidental.

However, if you're looking on the internet, there are really good umbrellas out there. I was thinking: http://www.wantist.com/products/senz-storm-proof-umbrellas OR http://real-self-defense.com/unbreakable-umbrella/ Depending on your inclinations

Re: defensive driving

In this case, I think google is your friend. "Defensive driving" is the codename for driving safety courses in Australia - it may be different where you are located - so try "Driving safety course yourlocation" and you should get a few hits.

In this case, I think google is your friend. "Defensive driving" is the codename for driving safety courses in Australia

Defensive driving often means 'safety lecture' in America too. Certain types of traffic offenses can be forgiven if you take a review course on traffic laws and anger management. I had to take one of these, and it was worthless. Which isn't to say that there aren't good courses, but I agree that research is very much in order.

Yeah - I'm pretty sure defensive driving course in Australia are all hands-on, not just a safety lecture. I could be mistaken in that, but when I went looking, that is what I found - courses that get you actually driving in different conditions. Of course, there could also be dud courses out there in Aus too, and I happened not to find them because they don't tend to drift upwards in google searches... ;)

I didn't figure this to be boring advice. This is a repository of it's own. I'll add a link to it from boring advice though... eg "there's lots of things that cost relatively little and can improve your life a lot... see "

I don't think lots of the advice in the 'boring advice repo' is boring either :-)

  • one-on-one cooking tutoring (get s/o who's good at household cooking to teach you to shop, knife skills, expand recipe repertoire)
  • take a level in badassery (lockpicking lesson, car repair, archery class -- anything that will give you a frisson of pleasure when you think - yeah, I know how to X)
  • trip to unusual/disciplined environment (Ignatian retreat, etc)
  • throw strange, themed party that your friends will remember and discuss for a long time
  • fix whatever egronomic thing annoys you most, at present (standing desk?)
  • pay s/o to reorganize messy thing in way that makes it easier for you to maintain the tidiness going forward w/o ugh of doing the initial clean-up yourself

Tutoring is a general one. I was just talking to somebody the other day who independently was excited by the idea of paying a PhD student to privately tutor them in advanced math.

Might seem trivial, but what's a good way to find someone willing to teach cooking skills? Asking friends until you get a hit? Posting on Craigslist or Reddit? I'd like to learn to cook better, but I don't know anyone who would be willing to tutor me off-hand.

You can self-teach. I guess it depends on your confidence with knives, but watch videos of how to do knife work, and don't go totally overboard trying to chop as fast as a professional chef, as fingers are valuable. Do the motion the way they do it, but slowly enough to be sure you will not hurt yourself. As you gain practice, you may feel comfortable naturally speeding up.

As for cooking and baking. Look up recipe on the internet. Do exactly what the recipe says. Do you not know what a step means or how to do it? Google it, watch videos, try to follow the directions as precisely as possible, and see if the result is any good. If the recipe is good and you follow the directions, you'll get something good. Cooking, especially baking, is like science, just follow the directions, and you can get close to the desired outcome.

If you're kind of a natural you can learn to spot problems with recipes before you make them, or improvise your own flavors and make them better, if you're not, that's ok. There are a lot of techniques you can learn but dipping your toes into cooking is not that hard, and a non professional can make excellent meals, it just takes more time. If you find a big passion for it then there's a whole world of resources about how to do things out there :)

Look to see if there are food or cooking clubs in your area -- a lot of times members will have information classes or get togethers.

I also had a great experience taking some classes in turkish cooking at a turkish cultural center where I used to live. Here's a link if you live near west haven ct:


I grabbed a 3 year old item because that's me rolling out some bread dough in the picture, but they still do these.

If you live anywhere near a decent sized city or college town, there's a good chance that "cooking classes " will turn up something good.

Yup, I think those are good approaches. There are also franchise-y places like CulinAerie that will offer classes. But I think craigslist/friends might be best if you want someone to tailor to your needs/experience. Also worth finding out wherever restaurant line cooks tend to look for normal job postings and trying to place an ad there.

Having basic car repair skills is an amazingly empowering thing. Pick up an aftermarket guide ($25-30) for your car and watch some youtube videos for specific repairs.

Is the time-investment more cost-effective than just paying a specialist?

And if so - for what kinds of repairs do you get the most benefit?

I would say that for some basic stuff, you probably will save money. The two things I've done that saved money even accounting for time spent (because they were easy to do but are sort of expensive to have a mechanic do) included changing my spark plugs and replacing the motor for a window.

How much incidental (non-helpful) knowledge must you learn in order to know what are the things that are worthwhile and what are not?

I bought my repair book speculatively. Subsequently, as repairs became necessary I googled to get a feel for what the normal costs for that repair were and the cost for the parts. Then I looked at my book to see how much sense the instructions made to me and decided from there whether I thought I could get the job done for less time than the price difference would be worth, roughly speaking. I didn't learn anything new to make the estimate and my only previous automotive repair experience was having changed my oil once or twice with my Dad as a teen. I did not think of myself as mechanically inclined at all, but had been working with a group of mechanical engineers for a few years which gave me the confidence that if I broke something while learning, I could buy a replacement part or, worst case, pay an expert to fix my error.

Agree. For some people it may be useful to spend the money on gifts, if they can see an increase in quality of relationship which is to them important.

  • Amazon Prime
  • If you ever need to print things, find a non-evil printer (I like my Brother one pretty well)
  • Organizey-things - over-door hooks, closet bar hanging shelfy thingies, tables with layers, spice rack, desktop shelves, etc.
  • TaskRabbits or whatever to do ugh-fielded chores plague you and get them out of the way
  • A pair of damn good thoroughly all-purpose shoes - for most people's sets of purposes, this means probably black, closed-toe, comfortable to walk in, non-athletic-looking enough to pass in semiformal contexts (boots are possibly a good choice).
  • Seconding the advice to get a Kindle. Even if you only ever load it with free/pirated/library books it is a nice thing.

Ditto on shoes. Are they walked out, but still usable? Do you think they have another year or another season in them? Nope, go get new shoes.

I feel silly about this one but...buy a water bottle you actually like and you will stay more hydrated and thus more productive. It felt weird to me to spend >$20 on a water bottle but it has totally been worth it.

Throw out all your socks and buy 15+ pairs of one style.

Buy clothes that fit (especially shoes).

Get a full spectrum light bulb for your workspace.

The Standesk: a standing desk for $22 http://iamnotaprogrammer.com/Ikea-Standing-desk-for-22-dollars.html

This is the top reviewed anti-fatigue mat on the wirecutter, they had multiple people test many different mats: http://www.amazon.com/CumulusPRO-Professional-Anti-Fatigue-Comfort-20-inch/dp/B007PQXJUA/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1420615284&sr=8-1&keywords=cumuluspro

Kitchen knives were brought up several times. This knife won a blind competition against much more expensive competition: Victorinox chef's knife. I have one. http://www.amazon.com/Victorinox-Fibrox-8-Inch-47520-5-2063-20/dp/B000638D32/ref=sr_1_2?s=kitchen&ie=UTF8&qid=1420615402&sr=1-2&keywords=chef+knife

I'm going to focus more on entertainment in terms of real products as I expect this category to be underrepresented in this thread:

Spotify Premium: ~$10/mo, unlimited commercial-free music streaming (+ ability to sync to mobile for offline listening). They have an enormous library. I have essentially stopped buying albums because they are all available on Spotify (might not be as useful if you listen to really obscure music, but it's worth searching their library before buying a subscription. You may be surprised what they have. I just bought my dad (a huge audiophile and musician) a 6 month subscription for his 65th birthday and he just downloaded Rolling Stone's top 10 albums of the year that he otherwise would have bought and is really happy with it.

Netflix: Unlimited streaming is ~$7/mo, which is all I have. They have a large library and are starting to become content producers as well as just aggregators. Of course if you're easily seduced into binge-watching when you really want to be doing other things, it might not be a good idea. Personally, I get a lot of enjoyment out of it and it's cheaper than one movie ticket a month. Lots of classic movies as well as more modern stuff. However, it's relatively easy to "run out" of stuff to watch on Netflix, at which time you can just cancel your subscription.

Roku: If you don't have a Smart TV, it's the best of all of the 3rd party options (FireTV, AppleTV, Chromecast, etc.). Get the "Roku 3", it's under $100 and has access to a lot of streaming services. The best feature is "Universal Search" where you search for a title and it looks across all of the different streaming services and lets you find the cheapest (or free) offerings. (Not offered as far as I know with any of the other products because they all push their own content stores first).

Aux-port/Cigarette-lighter Car Bluetooth Adaptor: ~$30-$40. Gives you in-car bluetooth if you don't already have it. I recommend the Belkin one on Amazon. It's been well worth the price in terms of added convenience for me.

Windshield/Dash Suction-Cup Mount for Smartphone: Cheap. If you use your phone for driving directions, it's much more convenient (and a lot safer) than having the phone in your lap. Keep in mind that in some areas, it may be illegal to mount it to the windshield.

Radar Detector: ~$200 – $700. Get either a Valentine or a Cobra. They're about the cost of one speeding ticket and can help you avoid tickets. (This is not an endorsement of driving too fast of course). Valentine is simple but effective and indicates front or back direction of radar source. Expensive, but no bells and whistles. Cobra has a wide range of products with a wide range of prices. Not directional, but has lots of bells and whistles like learning false positives, traffic-cam alerts through GPS, and connection to a network for crowd-sourced data (think Waze, but for stuff like speed traps). Again, these may be illegal in your area—make sure to check first.

Tablet/e-reader: I prefer to read textbooks on a tablet and other books on my Kindle Paper-white. Had an iPad provided by my previous employer before I left and I'm really missing it more than I thought I would for textbooks. I'm looking into a new tablet and really want one with good palm-rejection and a stylus for taking notes (If anyone has suggestions, please let me know).

Textbooks: I give myself a monthly education budget and buy a new textbook (and sometimes solutions guide) every couple months. There are also free options of dubious legality like libgen.org or libgen.info. e-textbooks go great with tablets.

Wake-up light / Dawn Simulator Alarm Clock: ~$100 Some love em, some (like Eliezer) don't get any benefit from them. I kept a sleep journal for a month and it seems to work for me. I'm in a much lighter sleep when the alarm finally goes off (if I don't wake up naturally from the light). If you're techy, you can build your own with an arduino or raspberry pi pretty easily. On that note...

Arduino / Raspberry Pi: ~$30-$40. Very fun if you want to learn DIY electronics. Arduino is a microcontroller whereas raspberry pi is a full computer. I'm just getting started learning embedded systems and electronics myself (taking a class on edX starting this month called "Embedded Systems". If anyone else here on LW is planning on taking this, let me know).

My favorite fiction Novel (aside from HPMOR): The Shadow of the Wind - by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Great story, deep characters, a love story, a mystery, and some of the most beautiful prose I've ever seen.

Nice sunglasses: $15 - $300. Get some brown/amber-tinted, polarized lenses with a nice lightweight aviator frame. You'll never look back. May be a bit hard to find at the lower price point, but not impossible.

Hope some of this was helpful!

Radar Detector: ~$200 – $700. Get either a Valentine or a Cobra. They're about the cost of one speeding ticket and can help you avoid tickets. (This is not an endorsement of driving too fast of course). Valentine is simple but effective and indicates front or back direction of radar source. Expensive, but no bells and whistles. Cobra has a wide range of products with a wide range of prices. Not directional, but has lots of bells and whistles like learning false positives, traffic-cam alerts through GPS, and connection to a network for crowd-sourced data (think Waze, but for stuff like speed traps). Again, these may be illegal in your area—make sure to check first.

Alternatively, one could focus on driving more slowly and more safely, so as to reduce the risk of dying in an automobile accident. Your life is valuable.

But in certain places the optimal speed to drive at (i.e. minimizing some linear combination of probability of dying, time spent, fuel used, etc.) may exceed the legal speed limit (i.e. maximizing revenue from speed tickets).

Then again, going fast and then braking right before a radar may itself be quite dangerous.

But in certain places the optimal speed to drive at ... may exceed the legal speed limit

I'll make a stronger claim: in many places (e.g. US highways) the optimal speed to drive does exceed the legal speed limit for the simple reason that the probability of an accident is a function of the difference between your speed and the speed of the traffic around you, and the traffic on interstates generally goes faster than the speed limit.

On the other hand I've never been pulled over when doing the same speed as cars around me, and I've been speeding for over a decade at this point.

I think I have seen it claimed that (because driving faster is more dangerous) driving faster, especially near or above the speed limit, is generally a net expected loss in time when you offset low-probability long-time hospital stays against high-probability short-time improvements in travel time.

Back of envelope: your overall accident risk per mile driven is on the order of 10^-6 to 10^-5. Suppose the speed limit is 60mph and you drive for a mile at 70mph, and suppose this gives you an extra 10^-6 chance of an accident. It also saves you 1/7 of a minute. So it's a net loss if the (appropriately weighted) time cost of an accident is more than 10^6/7 minutes, which is about 100 days.

That sounds unlikely on the face of it. (Not least because maybe a substantial fraction of those accidents are little ones in which no one is hurt much.) On the other hand:

  1. Something like 1/200 of all road accidents are fatal. Perhaps ones that occur above the speed limit are more likely fatal, but let's leave that aside. If you expect to live another 40 years, then a 1/200 chance of death is about 70 expected days lost. (It's not clear that those expected days quite correspond one-for-one with days spent in hospital after a non-fatal crash.)

  2. It also seems pretty plausible that driving sufficiently far above the limit to need a radar detector actually puts you (overall) into the regime where your accident risk per mile is substantially above the overall average. If it's 10^-5 instead of 10^-6, for instance, your expected time lost due to accident only needs to be 10 days to make this a bad idea; that's substantially less than the "death cost" I just estimated.

  3. Of course accidents have costs other than the time you stay in hospital. You may have to pay to have your car fixed. You may have to pay higher insurance premiums for a while. You probably attach disvalue to the pain and inconvenience of injury beyond the time spent in hospital. There may be paperwork that wastes a lot of your time. The injury may have lasting effects that reduce your quality of life. You may injure someone else, in which case you may have a legal fight to deal with and maybe some time in prison, which might be even worse than hospital, or a fine. Etc.

I dare say it does sometimes happen that the overall optimal speed is faster than the limit, but I suspect it's less common than most of us like to think.

driving sufficiently far above the limit to need a radar detector

That's probably a bigger deal on certain roads than on others.

I find that yellow or other warm-colored sunglasses have a noticeable positive effect on my mood.

Not sure why you were downvoted. Tried to reverse that for you. I agree actually. I just love the way the world looks through them, especially nature. And most sunglasses put a gray tint on the world instead of making it warmer. Why would anyone want that? That's why I said you'd never go back once you tried it.

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