Things I recommend you buy and use, Rob edition
A few months ago my friend Sam Bowman wrote a blog post about 35 things he recommends his friends consider buying and using.
Many things on the list were very useful to me.
So I decided to write my own version to spread the love, with 27 products I use and recommend.
A common thread is that you should be willing to spend more on a thing you use every day, like a pillow, laptop, backpack, beard trimmer, toothbrush, or light bulb.
With 2 exceptions, I’m not earning any affiliate revenue here — I’ve got better things to do with my time than that. Note that £1 = $1.30.
Stannous Fluoride toothpaste — $4 a tube
Did you know there’s a toothpaste that is the same as any other toothpaste, but does a better job at preventing tooth decay and gum disease? It’s toothpaste that uses stannous fluoride rather than sodium fluoride. Read more about stannous fluoride and its strange history here.
Remember not to eat, drink or wash your mouth after you brush—always let your teeth be bathed in fluoride, so itcan reverse any tooth decay! This is free and increases the impact of brushing your teeth by 50%+.
(I assume you’re already using an electric toothbrush. They save a lot of time, clean your teeth better, and even a cheap one will do just fine.)
Reservations: I couldn’t clarify whether the temporary ‘tooth staining’ issue with previous formulations of stannous fluoride has been reduced 100% or only 90%, but I use it twice a day without any issue.
HOMMINI Sleep Mask — £15
Until recently I didn’t use a face mask to sleep. This was a mistake. They are helpful when the sun comes around the sides of blinds and wakes me up; when travelling and I don’t have a fully dark room; when I want to sleep on planes and avoid being distracted by other people’s screens; and other similar situations.
I keep one in my bed and put it on as soon as light wakes me up in the morning, and another in my travel bag.
My impression is that face masks have improved a lot in recent years. The best one I’ve found so far is the HOMMINI Sleep Mask which also comes recommended by Sam Bowman. It’s light, comfortable, breathe-able and fully blocks out light.
It comes with a nice little pack where you can also slip some ear plugs.
The Wirecutter has other suggestions.
Sony WHH900N/BDC Bluetooth Noise Canceling Headphones — $200 to 300
I held out on buying a pair of these for years because they’re pricey, but that was a dumb mistake. Noise cancelling headphones help make a noisy office, noisy public transport or noisy plane significantly more comfortable and calm.
I listen to audio for 2–8 hours a day so it’s a no-brainer to drop some money on proper headphones.
Noise cancelling also helps prevent you from damaging your hearing while listening to music.
Audio via Bluetooth now works well, and if you get a pair with an NFC tag on the side you can connect and disconnect your phone just by tapping it against the side of the headphones—avoiding what was previously a painful process every time.
Hand gestures on the side make it easy to start and pause music, or jump forward and backwards on a podcast/audiobook.
I’ve found the battery life incredibly long — 20 hours between chargers, so I’ve never had it unexpectedly run out.
Reservations: In the summer, over-ear headphones can make me overheat. I need to get in-ear headphones for this. You definitely can’t use these while working out. It’s also annoying to still have to keep a micro-USB charger around.
If these ones are too expensive, you can get other ideas for noise cancelling headphones from The Wirecutter.
Beyond Burgers and Beyond Sausages — $2–3 a patty/sausage
Plant-based meat has been having a moment in the sun recently, and for good reason. Beyond Burgers and Sausages taste a lot like meat, without requiring you to cause animals to suffer and then kill them.
Nutritionally they’re good too. I eat a few every week. And they’re only set to get better.
My only complaint is they could be cheaper.
The Burgers are available all over the US and UK now, including at lots of fast food chains. So far I’ve only seen the Sausages in the US, though personally they’re my favourite.
I’m the opposite of posh, but for £8 I can avoid having to untie and retie my shoelaces all the damn time.
I estimate this saves me a few hours a year, making a shoe horn a no-brainer.
I don’t want to have to think about what adaptor plug I need every time I go to a new place. So I just leave this in my suitcase and it can handle any situation.
Reservations: it sits loosely in some outlets.
Chopsticks — $7
They’re more fun to eat with and slow you down from eating too fast. They are also easier to clean.
Plus if you can eat spaghetti with chopsticks you’ll look like a global cosmopolitan badass / prat.
Any cheap wooden ones will do.
INCASE Icon Backback — $100–200
It’s good for carrying electronics, personal items, a laptop and everything else. I use a backpack every day and whenever I travel, so I may as well have a good one.
Unfortunately it looks like it’s doubled in price since I bought it for $100, so look for some great alternatives on The Wirecutter.
LIFX colour-changing lights — $30-40 a bulb
I’ve gotten really addicted to these and now own 20 of them. What’s good about them?
You can program them to turn on automatically in the morning and off again at night. If you’re living somewhere the sun doesn’t rise until late, you can use them to mimic the sun and wake you up naturally in the morning. You can put a big one on your desk, set it to a blue hue, and find it’s just as bright and effective as a winter ‘SAD lamp’.
Similarly, you can set them to dim and turn a warmer colour at night, to avoid blue light interfering with melatonin production and therefore your sleep cycle.
Finally, they’re great for parties.
Try a few and see. They have mini ones now which are cheaper, and bright enough for a bedroom or lounge room. They’re regularly discounted 20–40% on both lifx.com and Amazon, and cheaper if bought in packs of 4.
They’re meant to keep working for at least 10,000 hours, giving them an hourly cost of at most 0.4 cents.
I don’t know if other colour changing bulbs are better as I’ve only used these ones.
Reservations: The app isn’t that great.
Night Shift on MacOS / Night Light on Android / etc — $0
No matter what system you use, if your software is up to date you can set your phone and computer screen to automatically turn redder at night. This helps prevent blue light from screens interfering with your sleep and circadian rhythm.
I run the kettle 3–5 times a day.
For the best taste of tea and coffee I want it to go to 90°C, not 100°C. I could let it go to 100°C and then put cold water in it, but that would 30 seconds every time, or 12 hours a year (?!).
Instead I just get a kettle I can tell to go to 90°C, and ‘keep warm’ until I’m ready to use it.
The cost is worth the time saving many times over.
Melatonin — $0.02 a day
On average melatonin helps you get to sleep 10–15 minutes faster than otherwise, and maintain a regular circadian rhythm.
It’s also incredibly useful for getting over jet lag.
I take 0.3–0.5mg every night 30 minutes before my desired bedtime.
If you find it makes your dreams too vivid, or otherwise interferes with your sleep, start by taking a lower dose and build up gradually.
Idiotically, despite being acceptably safe, it’s a prescription medicine in the UK and Australia. You can order it online, or stock up next time you’re visiting a less fascistic country.
A fan for sleeping — $10–40
My body tends to run hot, and in summer or spring I struggle to sleep because of the heat. I’ve never lived in a house with air conditioning, but that’s no problem.
I just leave a fan on low all night, rotating back and forth, and the breeze cools me down the perfect amount for a lot less money, and without drying out the air.
Did you know the electricity cost of leaving a fan on full-blast constantly for a year is under £60?
Given the huge impact on comfort and sleep quality, not having one is crazy.
McCafe — $3 for a latte
McDonalds sells coffees that are as good as any cafe chain, but 30% cheaper and often faster.
A spare laptop charger — $30–60
Some people only own a single laptop charger. This is a mistake.
Firstly, you have to carry it between home and office, which wastes 30 seconds every time you have to unplug it and put it in your bag.
Secondly, if you lose your only one, you have to immediately drop everything and go buy a new one, probably at an elevated price in a retail store.
Thirdly, you’re more likely to forget to bring it with you somewhere than if you always keep one at your desk, and another in your bag.
Fourthly, at some point your charger will likely break, requiring you to buy a new one anyway.
Together these costs make it a no-brainer to keep two laptop chargers on the go.
External portable battery — $10–30
A pretty obvious one, but nevertheless.
The peace of mind that comes from knowing I can always recharge my phone and headphones even if I’m travelling for a few days and forget my charger is easily worth the money.
I got one with one USB-A and one USB-C port.
Quest Protein Bars — $1.5 to $2 a bar
I don’t know what witchcraft they use to make these, but they taste great, have 21g of protein, almost no sugar, and only 200 calories, so they’re great if you’re a regular gym-goer.
Other ‘food substitutes’ with sugar alcohols give me indigestion, but Quest bars are fine for some reason.
Kirkland Signature’s Minoxidil Foam to prevent hair loss— $9/£9 a can
Did you know there’s not only one, but two drugs that uncontroversially delay male-pattern baldness?
If you put minoxidil on your scalp once or twice a day, it increases blood-flow to the skin and substantially slows hair loss for most people. It has few side effects.
It’s a bit annoying to use and not exactly cheap ($250–400 a year) but if you’re a vain idiot like me, maybe you’ll find it worth the effort.
Don’t get Regaine — it’s exactly the same thing but double the cost for the brand name alone. Get the foam not the ‘topical solution’, as the solution makes your hair look oily.
The other drug is finasteride, but there’s some concerns that it affects libido and can cause erectile dysfunction in a small fraction of users, so I haven’t tried it and can’t exactly recommend it.
I used to have a cheap beard trimmer but it took too long to do a thorough job of trimming my beard, and would run out of battery after a few uses.
This one trims my beard in half the time, saving me about 3 hours a year (!). And it only needs to be charged every 3 months.
Wellbutrin / Bupropion or other anti-depressants— $0.35 a day
Are you not happy all the time?
Maybe you should look into trying anti-depressants and see if they make you more cheerful.
Obviously we’re talking about serious medication here, so I’ve written about the pros and cons of this in its own lengthy piece.
If you travel, get a nicely-organised toiletries bag.
My toiletries are always in this bag hanging in the bathroom, ready to go at a moment’s notice.
Pitrok is a hard crystal that you rub on your skin and which works as an underarm deodorant.
Pros: seems to work really well, doesn’t stain clothes, doesn’t irritate my skin, lasts a long time, cheap.
Cons: you have to put it on right after a shower.
I love it.
I can’t be bothered to hang up or organise my clothes properly, and basically live out of a suitcase even when at home.
A coat rack in my room can absorb towels, shirts, coats and bags, and helps to reduce the clutter, without me having to tidy up in any meaningful sense.
It’s also a nice place to put some pot plants or throw random items like keys.
Life Extension Enhanced Zinc Lozenges to prevent colds— £0.30 each
However, you need to use the right kind chemical form of zinc, use it at the first sign of symptoms, and ensure it hangs around in your throat for quite a while to work.
These tablets are the ones to get.
Only use them after a meal or they’ll give you indigestion.
You don’t want to take too much zinc in total, so don’t take them every day — only every few hours early during a cold.
Though sometimes I use them prophylactically on a flight or during a conference.
U2F security keys — $10–20 each
How much would you pay to make sure your Google Account wasn’t hacked? For me, it’s in the tens of thousands of dollars. But people’s Google Accounts are phished and hijacked in huge numbers every day — it’s really easy to do.
Criminals can easily intercept any second factor codes you receive by SMS.
And the six digit codes you get from Google Authenticator are no protection against phishing.
The only realistic way to protect yourself is to get two to four Universal 2nd Factor keys (U2F) and use them exclusively as your second authentication factor.
If you’re a public figure, or a likely target of phishing, you need to go further and activate Google Advanced Protection.
You can see which other websites support U2F here — they include Dropbox, Twitter and Facebook.
If you’re looking for a password manager — and you should use one — you want 1Password.
Airline loyalty schemes — make a few hundred dollars a year
Taking full advantage of airline loyalty schemes is too complicated for me to bother with.
But the simple approach is to open 3 accounts, one for each major airline alliance. For Star Alliance I opened an Avianca Lifemiles account, for Oneworld I opened a JAL Mileage Bank account and for SkyTeam I opened a Korean Air SKYPASS.
I used those ones because they’re know for having good deals when you go to convert those points into flights. But almost any would have been okay.
Now I can accumulate points for almost any flight I take, and use them to buy flights from any major airline.
Store away your 3 membership numbers somewhere that’s easy to find whenever you’re booking flights.
Then just let the points build up over a few years, and use them to grab some discounted flights some day.
Reservations: Arguably even thinking about all this isn’t worth the time/effort.
US Credit Cards plus Google/Apple Pay — Make a few thousand dollars a year, or $50–100 per hour of work
It’s crazy to me as an Australian, but American residents can get 2–4% of all their spending returned as cash-back just by using credit cards.
Even more wild, many credit cards will also pay you $500–700 if you spend $3000–5000 on them within the first ~80 days after you receive the card!
Exploiting this in full by regularly opening and closing cards is called credit card churning. You don’t have to go all the way to make a bit of money here.
Annoyingly, US credit cards usually don’t have PayPass like those in the UK or Australia, but you can get contactless payment by putting them on your Google Pay or Apple Pay app on your phone.
In rough order of goodness, here’s a few cards that i) offer good rewards for each dollar you spend, ii) have a great sign-up bonus ($500–700), and iii) charge no overseas transaction fees:
- Capital One Venture card ($500 for $3,000 in spending)
- Chase Sapphire Preferred card ($600 for $4,000 of spending)
- Barclayscard Arrival Plus card ($700 for $5,000 in spending)
- Barclayscard Uber Visa card ($100 sign-up reward for $500 in spending, but earn 4% back on all restaurant purchases)
I’ve put affiliate links for the first two — I’ll get $100 if you open an account using either of those links, which I’d appreciate.
Just never actually borrow money on your credit card, as that’s unreasonably expensive. Set the balance to be paid off in full every month. And ideally cancel the card within the first 12 months to avoid paying the ~$99 annual card fee that you’ll incur from the second year onwards.
Reservations: Arguably thinking about all this isn’t worth the time/effort.
Other things Sam Bowman recommended that I liked
The full list of things Sam recommended and the explanation for why is here.
Investing: Vanguard (This one is actually really important.)
Monzo UK bank account (Sam’s affiliate link)
Uniqlo Airism underwear — £9.90
Let me know your thoughts below!