We recently launched an essay series where we ask our favorite writers to talk about the best money they ever spent — the things they bought that brought them the most value, that marked a turning point, and that helped them make sense of who they are. We’ll have many more installments to come, spanning everything from $100 trash cans to $2.75 ferry tickets to $42 balls of yarn.
To commemorate the end of 2018, we here at The Goods reflected on our own best (and one not-so-best) purchases of the past 12 months.
The best $13: Mitski’s Be the Cowboy CD
When Mitski, our best American rock star, announced her fifth studio album Be the Cowboy this May, I was sitting in the office of a now-defunct “feminist media startup” headquartered on Park Avenue, thinking that I’d made all the wrong decisions and that there had never been a season in New York so grotesque. The whole city smelled like the basement apartment I rented in college, where the walls were constantly peeling apart and one day the entire stretch of kitchen cabinets just flopped down to the floor. I was getting paid to run an Instagram.
But the lead single, “Geyser,” a love song stylized as a death march, smacked like a thunderclap. It jolted me awake and for that I felt like I owed Mitski at least a twenty, if not a monthly tithe. I changed my mind about everything, and tweeted: “Just decided I only care about one thing in 2018 and it’s the horror that there are so few true authorities on emotion and that we’re not doing nearly enough to keep them safe and rich!!!”
A few days later, when preorders opened for CD copies of the album, I bought one, despite the fact that I sold my car last year and my roommate put her boombox out on the curb the year before and I no longer have any way of playing physical media. I was motivated in part by the promise of an early access code for tickets to her tour, but mostly by the fact that it is my dream and duty to support artists who make my life better. If we can afford to pay artists what we owe, we should do it.
And there is no angle from which I can look at this purchase and see it as a waste! Now my dad has Be the Cowboy in his truck. He also has Mitski’s previous album Puberty 2 on vinyl, which I presented him with at Christmas two years ago and to which he said, “Ew, puberty?” Mitski got the money all the same.
—Kaitlyn Tiffany, reporter for The Goods
The best $1.39: yeast
For one American dollar and 39 American cents, you can buy three packets of Fleischmann’s Rapid Rise instant yeast, and with three packets of Fleischmann’s Rapid Rise instant yeast (and some effectively free water, easy-to-get flour, a little salt, a good lazy person recipe, and a bunch of time) you can make six loaves of bread that will wildly impress your friends and family. At less than 24 cents per loaf, this is a deal.
The real revelation of buying yeast isn’t that bread is something you can just make. (But it is! And wow!) It’s that all these things are fairly easy to have around, because you’re probably not making all six loaves at once. You (I) can wake up on a Saturday morning and decide “today is a bread day” without ever leaving the warm embrace of your (my) apartment. Cooking without having to go grocery shopping makes me feel self-contained and effective in a way that schlepping to the store every six days to buy a single onion never will. And then there’s bread. Yeast!
—Meredith Haggerty, deputy editor for The Goods
The best $240: tickets to an Ohio State versus Maryland football game
Despite going to a big football school, I’m not really a fan of watching it. The same cannot be said of my husband, Scott, who graduated from Ohio State and earlier this year convinced both my parents and his to trek to DC to watch the Buckeyes take on the University of Maryland.
We got married last year, and our parents had met a handful of times beforehand; still, they were polite around each other in the way of people who aren’t yet super well acquainted. I was a little dubious about the plan since Scott’s parents were coming up again the following weekend for Thanksgiving, and the drive from South Carolina is not exactly short — plus, my parents don’t know a thing about football.
But the weather was beautiful on the sunny side of the stadium. The overpriced Coors Lights were cold, the hot dogs appropriately smushed and college-y. And the game — which, the previous time we’d attended, had been a 63-3 bloodbath in OSU’s favor — turned out to be an unexpected nail-biter. By the fourth quarter, our families were high-fiving each other after every Buckeye point and groaning dramatically when Maryland pulled ahead.
Ohio State finally eked out a one-point win in overtime (more high-fiving!), and when my in-laws came to stay at my parents’ house over Thanksgiving, the polite restraint had melted away and it just felt like family. We’d paid for the tickets (and the hot dogs) with our joint credit card, and while it was a bit pricier than the usual family trip to the movie theater, it was far more memorable. Plus, we managed to find some entertainment that both dads could stay awake through — not bad for a couple hundred bucks.
—Tanya Pai, Vox copy chief and editor for The Goods
The best $192: a new coffee table
I‘ve lived in my apartment for eight years, which is a long time, especially when that apartment is in New York. I love my little home; it’s in a century-old building that is charming in all the good ways and only a couple of the bad. But this past year — which was a very, very long year — I grew restless. I didn’t want to move, but I did want a change. I needed to feel forward motion.
So I started slowly to replace everything that felt too familiar in the only home I’ve known as an adult. The first piece was the easiest, and also a bit of cheat. I didn’t actually get rid of the green lacquered coffee table I had taken such care to pick out so many years ago, but I did move it across the room to serve a new purpose as a bench. In its place I put a design-y acrylic table that looks fresh and new and opens up the space. I’ve since moved on to my dresser, and lamps, and armchair, and shower curtain.
—Julia Rubin, editor of The Goods
The best $20: a jar of honey and some bee pollen
One of the most well-known people in El Sereno — the quiet corner of Northeast LA I call home — is a 94-year-old beekeeper named Victor Jaramillo Soriano. Anyone who cruises down Huntington Drive, the neighborhood’s main drag, can spot his handwritten sign advertising “HONEY BEE MIEL DE ABEJA!”
This year, I made a couple of visits to see the beekeeper, aptly nicknamed “the honey man.” During one of my trips to his cart near the El Sereno branch of the LA Public Library (also a hub for various taco trucks), I spent $20 for a jar of his honey and a bag of his bee pollen. Soriano excitedly showed me the articles written about his beekeeping enterprise. He’s been covered by LA’s independent TV station KCET and shouted out in our local rag the Eastsider LA, among others. But more than the press he’s received, Soriano is enthusiastic about beekeeping. He’s been at it since 1948, and his zeal is contagious.
He sprinkled samples of bee pollen into my hand and the hand of another customer before we could turn him down. As if we were friends instead of strangers, we stood on the sidewalk downing the crunchy pellets like shots. Anthony Bourdain had died just a few weeks earlier, and somehow trying an unfamiliar food with new acquaintances seemed a fitting tribute.
Soriano is a bit of a honey and bee pollen evangelist, eager to make new converts. He credits his longevity to beekeeping, as bee pollen in particular is a nutrient-dense substance, even sold as a nutritional supplement. But buying it from a health food store doesn’t compare to purchasing it in its natural form — especially from a nonagenarian who sources it from the trees in my very own neighborhood.
—Nadra Nittle, reporter for The Goods
The best $13.95: a second set of measuring spoons
This was the year I bought a second set of measuring spoons. You might be asking: Isn’t one set of measuring spoons enough? I also thought that. The problem was that the good ones — the teaspoon, the tablespoon, and the halfs (fuck three-quarters) — were always dirty when I needed them. I like to think I do dishes a reasonable amount? But sometimes a recipe calls for teaspoons of wet ingredients, and then also teaspoons of dry ones, and the only choice is to rinse and dry them constantly, or do crazy things with fractions.
I should have done it sooner, given the disproportionate degree it has improved my life. But a second set of measuring spoons is the kind of purchase that requires a level of self-acceptance. I already have a set of measuring spoons; shouldn’t I be satisfied? Who do I think I am, buying a second set when the first is perfectly good? Why am I measuring so much, anyway? Wouldn’t it be better if I were a more intuitive cook who apportioned spices from her heart? Wouldn’t it be better if I just did more dishes?
Yes, definitely. But I’m not, and I don’t, and instead of addressing these personal flaws with still more self-improvement, I solved them by handing over $13.95 to make the problem go away.
I’m not saying this works for everything. I’m just saying in cases where it does work — when you are presented with the choice between sighing a lot or paying a small amount of money — I think you should buy the spoons.
—Rachel Sugar, reporter for The Goods
The best $4: a jar of bubbles
My son Sol is almost 2 years old and he loves bubbles. A lot. When we blow bubbles for him, he runs over and claps and screams, “Bub-bools!” And like many kids his age, Sol isn’t really attracted to the stuff we’ve actually bought for him to play with, a towering heap of bleeping and ringing plastic shit and quirky artisan wooden knicknacks that largely sits untouched in his toy chest.
Rather, he likes to play with everyday items: iPhones, keys, remote controls, stuff that adults tend to view as purely functional but children recognize as actually wondrous. Bub-bools, however, are an exception to the rule. A cheap-ass bottle of bubble solution is the one item in our household that is explicitly intended to bring Sol delight, and actually consistently does so.
I don’t remember the specific moment when I realized bub-bools brought Sol so much joy. But I do remember the specific moment when they brought me joy. A few months ago, I was plagued by concerns that Sol’s speech was not developing at a normal rate, which can be a sign of autism.
To a degree, these concerns are standard issue for first-time moms (particularly first-time moms who are anxiety-prone to begin with), but they were starting to take up more and more real estate in my brain. Our pediatrician confirmed that Sol was indeed slightly delayed in his speech, but it was probably nothing to worry about; I summarily ignored her and immediately contacted our local child development program for a home consultation.
When the speech therapist came over and started playing with Sol, she asked us to bring out his favorite toys — a doll, a ball, a car — to see if he was able to correctly name them, to no avail. When she whipped out a bottle of bubble solution — “bubble” is a relatively easy word for most kids to say, she told me sotto voce — his face broke out into a huge grin. “Bub-bools,” he said for the first time ever. “Bub-bools.”
I wouldn’t say that Sol’s home assessment (which came back normal) totally alleviated my maternal concerns; anxiety is par for the course with parenthood, and I don’t think any document in the world could really change that. The bub-bools, though, definitely helped.
—E.J. Dickson, reporter for The Goods
The worst $49: a Juul starter kit
I love excess and I hate repercussions. Sometimes I dream of a “perfect” world without risk, or pain, or STDs, or calories. For a couple years in college, I enjoyed the art of smoking — a pastime with many well-known repercussions. After experiencing a few of them myself, I spent a long time on the quitting roller coaster. It was a strenuous process with worthwhile outcomes.
It was only a year after my last cigarette that I first saw someone using a Juul. It is exceedingly dumb to buy a nicotine-delivery device after a hard-won struggle to quit, but truly I thought that this time would be different. I bought my own Juul on the kind of bad day where you want to do things that are much worse than smoke. The $49 kit came with the Juul device and four 5 percent nicotine Juul pods in mint, creme, mango, and “Virginia tobacco.”
To me, the Juul promised consequence-free excess — all the practical pleasures of smoking with none (or maybe just less?) of the cancer. My plan was to use it occasionally at parties, or maybe once in a while as a treat.
I abandoned this plan in the first 20 minutes, which might be described as a single, long inhale. The Juul is an incredible product. To me, it felt cleaner and more discreet than smoking. The best part was using it everywhere I went — trains, planes, other crowded public spaces. I loved my Juul! That said, it is easy to love a product that’s expressly designed to administer a highly habit-forming drug. If Glossier put nicotine into their face cream, I’m sure by now I’d have amazing skin.
A week into using the Juul, I was using it constantly, nearly to the point of vomiting. After two weeks, I threw it away. I don’t know if the lesson here is that the Juul has too many consequences, or not enough. In any case, when I see a flash drive, my brain starts to crave that sweet, sweet mango. The Juul will likely haunt me for the rest of my life.
—Jamie Keiles, reporter for The Goods
The best $300: a plane ticket to LA
The best $300 I spent this year was a flight to Los Angeles. Part of this was because I had a great time, sure; our Airbnb had a surprise pool that we didn’t know about until we arrived, and I finally got to see the site of Vanderpump Rules in the flesh. But the real reason I went to LA was because I had had a very specific idea of what LA was like, and that I was almost certain I would love it.
Neither of these things turned out to be true. But realizing that the city of LA was much, much different from what I had hoped finally freed me from daydreaming about an alternative timeline in which a blonder, tanner, more outdoorsy version of myself was living her best life on the West Coast. That $300 showed me that, for whatever reason, the disgusting, depressing hellscape of New York City is the only place I want to live — for now, anyway.
—Rebecca Jennings, reporter for The Goods