Things I recommend you buy, 2020 edition

A list of products that give me a lot of consumer surplus

Here is a list of products that I get a lot of consumer surplus from. I recommend any and all of these. The list spans cooking and kitchen equipment, through “work from home” products (a new 2020 category), to things I use when I go travelling (in normal times, I travel quite often for both work and pleasure). I usually do a lot of research before making any big purchase and I return things to Amazon that I don’t like, so I think I am a fairly reliable source.

This is the third edition of my “Things I recommend you buy” series, and is comprehensive – anything from old editions that is not included is no longer recommended. As a special bonus to my American followers, I now include links for Amazon US when I can find the same product on there (or virtually the same). As usual, all links are monetized because I am greedy and like money.


Kitchen

Butter dish – £3

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 – £4.25

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 Duo V2 7-in-1 Electric Pressure Cooker  –  £85 / $99

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. NB: At time of writing this was on sale for £60 or $70 in the US.

Salter Digital Kitchen Weighing Scales  –  £13

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.

Brita Water Jug and AmazonBasics filters – £16 and £22 for six

I don’t care about water impurities and most tap water tastes pretty delicious to me as is. But you simply cannot beat a glass of cold water straight from the fridge, especially on a hot day, and these jugs are narrow enough to fit in the door of most fridges. The Brita jugs seem to be about the same price as the AmazonBasics ones, but obviously they are identical in every important way, so I would just buy whatever’s cheapest at the time. AmazonBasics filters are considerably cheaper than Brita’s though, but like most people I use each filter for about six months before remembering that I “should” switch. (Some people like to fill their kettles with this water to avoid limescale, but I don’t bother.)

Silicone mould ice cube trays – £7 / $9

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.

Metal cooking tongs – £10 for two / $7 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  –  £8

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.)

Silicone pot scraper – £9

An amazingly useful counterpart to the flipper. This is excellent at scraping down the sides of bowls and pots when some of your sauce is clinging to it. Does an important job well.

The cheapest non-stick frying pan you can find  – from £3

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 £3 each. (Disclaimer: If there’s some health problem with using non-stick pans that you’re concerned about, just don’t use them. I haven’t looked into that.)

Hario 4-cup Glass Teapot  –  £20 / $18

This isn’t an essential by any means, but it’s an aesthetically lovely and well-designed tea pot that I enjoy drinking loose leaf tea from. Unlike most loose leaf teapots I’ve used, the basket in this is very large, so there’s lots of room for the tea to move around once it’s absorbed a lot of the water, and it’s easy to remove once your tea has brewed enough. It’s very elegant and a pleasure to drink from. Be warned, though – these can break pretty easily if you’re not careful with them. I buy tea from Char Tea, which is not exactly cheap, but lasts me for ages.

Victorinox chef’s knife  – £25 / $37 or Wusthof chef’s knife — £67

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 cheap feeling, though.

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 double the price though, and I would only recommend it to someone who cooks very often. (NB: At time of writing, the Wusthof is an eye-watering £90, which is too expensive for me to recommend, but I expect the price will fall.)

Lansky Knife Sharpening System  –  £32 / $35

Sharpening knives is a huge pain in the ass. Most people use a honing rod, which isn’t even meant for sharpening knives (but because people don’t realise that they think there’s a technique they just haven’t been able to master). I tried using a whetstone for ages, because it’s the most ‘authentic’ method, but that’s tiring and takes ages. I suspect most people just live with blunt knives until they eventually give up and buy new ones, which sucks. Cooking with a blunt knife is a horrible experience, and dangerous — blunt knives, surprisingly, tend in my experience to lead to more cuts than sharp ones, because you have much less control over them and have to exert much more force to cut through things.

While not perfect, this ‘knife sharpening system’ is vastly superior to any other method I’ve tried. It has a clamp that you use to grip the knife and a set of sharpening hones that slot into the clamp at pre-set angles, which you just run over the blade of the knife in sequence to get it sharper and sharper. It’s pretty easy, although the grip could be better, and I’ve used it to bring all my knives back to being as sharp as they were when I first bought them. This is quite a nice thing to have to help out family and friends too, because you can loan it to them or sharpen their knives for them as a favour. I also have this mount, which makes it a little easier to use.

Sistema Microwave Rice Steamer  – £8

This is the most popular item I’ve ever recommended. And for good reason. 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 easy cook rice that’s kind of gross. (And, as with any sub-par method of doing something, there are macho eejits who think they’re impressive for doing it the stupid way.)

This rice steamer works perfectly in the microwave. Just throw 250g of dried rice (any kind seems to work, I like jasmine mostly — you can buy 5kg sacks very cheaply in any oriental supermarket) and about a pint of water and let it microwave for twelve 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  –  £5-7

The brand doesn’t matter, as far as I know, but having one of these on hand, 5kg or so, is such a useful thing to have around the house. With the above steamer you’ll always have a quick and easy side dish for most meals. You can increasingly buy these bags in mainstream supermarkets, but any oriental supermarket will have them if not.

Wooden lemon reamer  –  £4 / $7

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.

A cast iron skillet  – £15 / $15

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.

Instant Read Food Thermometer  –  £8 / $17

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. This also allows you do to do the reverse sear method of cooking steak, which for thick steaks is the best and easiest method I've tried.

Cookery books: Every Grain of Rice, by Fuchsia Dunlop (£17 / $27) and The Food Lab, by J. Kenji López-Alt (£29 / $31)

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, 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 – £70 and 10p each

All 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 (I’ve tried other brands at the same price level but many do not work properly, not letting enough water through the pod). 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”.

Aeropress – £26 / $32

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  – £17 / $18

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.


(Working from) Home

Felt desk mat – £15-20 / $13

This has been the best addition to my home office setup since lockdown began. It’s really inexpensive but 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.

Sin&Mi Desk Lamp – £11

I have been doing a lot of calls this year on a Macbook with a very bad webcam. In general, I look terrible. The only solution I have found is a bright LED light. This one is cheap, bright and much lighter than any of the circular ‘influencer lights’ I have seen others using. I shine it directly at my face, which might be bad for my eyes, but makes me look great.

Mekeet Silicone Toilet Brush – £11 / $11

Traditional toilet brushes with stiff plastic bristles are disgusting: they get dirty, can splash toilet water back onto your face as you use them, and carry dirty water back into their holders. Ugh. This one is much better: it has thick, soft bristles made of silicone that carry less water and dirt and do a better job of cleaning.

Cillit Bang: Black Mould Remover – £2

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.


Travel and personal items

HOMMINI Sleep Mask –  £10

If you ‘get off the beaten track’ when you travel, like me, you might find yourself in bedrooms with bad curtains that let a lot of light in. If you’re jetlagged at all, then it’s even worse. Most eyemasks, in my experience, are terrible — flimsy and letting in loads of light around the sides, and often putting an uncomfortable amount of pressure on your eyelids. This one is the only one I’ve ever used that actually works, thanks to two enormous eyepads that keep all light out from around each eye and keeping the area in front of your eyelids raised for comfort. This is a travel essential for me.

Osprey Farpoint 40 Rucksack  –  £80

I’ve used this for long trips in China and Sri Lanka, and it does a good job after coming highly recommended from “one bag” travelers online. It distributes weight well across your back and doesn’t get too sweaty. This is the right size for most non-business travel I’ll be doing once I’m vaccinated. There is also a women’s version, the Fairview 40, which my girlfriend has and which she recommends. It’s the only backpack she has tried where the waist straps sit at the right part on her waist.

Packing Cubes (Slim) –  £11 / $20

I invested in a set of these after reading people rave about them on travel forums. I was sceptical about them but they really are useful. They 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.

Gillette Fusion Razors and own brand baby oil – £17 for ten and £2

There’s a lot of posturing and misinformation on the internet about “the best way to shave”. The main culprits are subscription services, like Dollar Shave Club, and “manly” forum posters who advocate using a safety razor and blade. Personally, I disagree with both – I’ve tried every subscription shave service’s offering and all are bad, and all end up being about the same price as just buying a brand name’s blades. Subscription services are almost never actually cheaper than the alternative. The safety razor gang expect a huge amount of extra investment and work, since they demand you whip up a lather with a badger hair brush every time you want to shave, and it doesn’t even work well – it’s rarely as smooth as just using a multi-blade brand-name razor and some baby oil.

Gillette Fusion Blades are the most popular brand for a reason. You can shave with them in the shower without looking at what you’re doing, and they usually last a couple of weeks before they need replacing. Baby oil is my “shaving foam” of choice, I just use the cheapest I can find. I’m going to try Amazon’s alternative, on the advice of a trusted friend, but I haven’t yet.

Primark sunglasses – £1.50-£2

Unless for some reason you want to 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 pair for £1.50 and 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 – £10

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 / $15

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.

Philips Series 3000 Nose, Ear & Eyebrow Trimmer – £20 / $12

As many people get older they will find that their nose hairs start to get longer than they would like, occasionally poking out of a nostril for others to see. This is unpleasant-looking and inconsiderate of others (just as, for example, not wearing deodorant is). This Philips nose hair trimmer is a very easy to use and effective solution to this, and extremely cheap for the quality of the built — others I’ve seen for just a pound or two less feel badly made and much less nice to use. This also comes with attachments to trim your eyebrows, and can do ear hair as well, if those are things you need to do.

J-pillow travel pillow – £16 / $19

I really hate flying overnight because I can never sleep. The J-pillow doesn’t really change that, but it’s the closest I can come to sleeping while sitting upright, and it’s astonishingly comfortable compared either to the crappy pillows they give you on those flights or the U-shaped pillows that most people use. The “J” is an extra arm that goes under your neck, so you can lean your head naturally to the side and forward with some support. The pillow is firm enough to support the weight of a large male head.

Melatonin (must be 0.3mg) – £7

Almost all melatonin is massively overdosed — the optimal dosage is about 0.3mg. This is a good post that discusses the benefits and science behind it. It doesn’t really send me to sleep, but it does well at keeping me asleep. I use it irregularly, especially after I have been drinking alcohol, which would otherwise wake me up at 4 or 5 am.

Quies earplugs – £4 / $11

I’ve found Quies’s wax earplugs to be the best earplugs I’ve used. They’re disposable, but can be reused quite a few times before you throw them away. Since I am deaf in my right ear, I get twice as much use out of a box as most people, but they’re still good value even accounting for that. My thanks to Geoffrey Gray for the recommendation.

TePe Interdental Brushes – £2 a pack

Faster and less unpleasant than flossing, these do a great job but you need to get the right size for your teeth. I use the red kind now, but my teeth are fairly close together. It’s worth getting a mixed pack first to see which is right for you.


Electronics

Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 earbuds – £80 / $80

I forewarn you that I’m severely deaf in one ear so my earbud recommendations may be insufficient for ‘audiophiles’, but I listen to music all the time. I have had both these and the Airpods Pro (as well as the Sony WF-1000XM3s and a bunch of other wireless earbuds I bought, tried and returned for not being right for my needs). These are an absolute bargain for what they are – they are small, well-designed and sound great. At £80 nothing else comes close. The one flaw, and the reason I got the Airpods Pro instead, is that they are useless for phone calls. If you’re only looking for earbuds for music, these are pretty much unbeatable. If you use earbuds for calls all day, the Airpods Pro are pretty much the only option you’ve got (all other wireless earbuds I’ve tried sound awful in calls), but at £200 are not exactly consumer surplus.

Panasonic RP-HJE125E-K Ergo Fit In-Ear Headphone – £7

I no longer use wired earbuds, but for those who do, these are the best – they’re really comfortable and sound good, and so cheap you don’t mind losing them.

Anker SoundCore Portable Bluetooth 4.0 Stereo Speaker – £22 / $22

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, there are loads) – £3

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. What a smart little invention.

TeckNet Classic Wireless Mouse – £6 / $12

Not much to say about this other than it’s a comfortable, portable bluetooth mouse for £6. It’s the equal of Logitech mice that sell for forty pounds or so, and generally just works when you plug it in without needing extra software. The side buttons (which you might use to go forward or backwards on a web browser, for example) don’t work on macOS, unfortunately.

ELECOM Paper-Feel Screen iPad Screen Protector – £11 / $18

This is much cheaper than the leading brand and, to me, just as good. I much prefer using my iPad and Pencil with this on, even for normal tasks, and it doesn’t mess up the picture quality as I had feared. It also applies very well – I had a few bubbles after putting it on that disappeared overnight, which other reviewers report as well.

AliExpress Silicone iPhone cases – £2

AliExpress is great for certain things, and no-name electronics peripherals are a good example. The downside is that they can take months to arrive, especially in the year of Covid, but they are so cheap that you might not mind the wait.

Services and utilities

Energy: Bulb

It’s strange to me that so few people switch energy providers frequently. It’s extremely easy (you can do it all online in about five minutes and don’t need to have an old energy bill handy) and the savings are huge — £200 a year for most people, easily. I guess energy is a pain in the ass for most people because you typically get a 12 month contract at a good rate, but if you forget to switch again after that contract expires you get moved on to an expensive Standard Variable Tariff.

Bulb is the energy provider I recommend, because it only has one tariff for all customers, so you don’t have to think about it too much if you’ve moved to them, and the rate is (currently) very low — for me it was the cheapest on the market excluding a company that had terrible reviews and seemed dodgy. It’s all done online and via text, which I prefer to having to speak to an actual human being on the phone.

Edit 4 March 2021: I have just switched to Octopus Energy, to try their Agile tariff, which charges you according to real-time supply and demand. I don’t recommend this for people who aren’t prepared to adjust their use to avoid the peak hours of 4–7pm. If you want to sign up to Octopus in general, or for the Agile tariff, my sign-up link is here.

Banking: Monzo

I strongly prefer the ‘challenger banks’ to incumbents, and Monzo is the one I use, but I’ve heard good things about Starling too. 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.

Betting: Smarkets

I enjoy betting on politics, where I have a decent track record – I made a nice profit betting on various aspects of the US election this year. I used to use Betfair, but unfortunately Betfair has embroiled itself in a scandal by refusing to pay out on Biden’s win. Instead, I now use Smarkets, which is a much better-designed site, takes a smaller commission than Betfair, and paid out on its US election markets promptly.

Investing: Vanguard

If you want to save for the long term then investing makes sense. The best thing to do, I believe, is to find a passive investment fund that tracks the market as a whole — then you aren’t trying to beat the market (which is not possible to do consistently). You want to look for low fees — fees are a fixed percent of your capital, and can be quite a large fraction of your returns. The best platform I’ve found for this, which offers a (tax free) stocks and shares ISA, is Vanguard. I use their All-World fund but the Lifestrategy fund looks fine too. Please do this instead of using your bank’s default stocks and shares ISA – you may be able to save thousands of pounds, or even tens of thousands, over your life if you do. Vanguard is owned by its shareholders too, which is nice if (unlike me) you regard the profit motive as something sinister.

Currency exchange: Transferwise

Transferwise is very fast and very cheap for exchanging money, and unlike other currency exchange services I’ve looked into they don’t phone you up constantly telling you about their “great new rate”. The actual system is very elegant, and the company has not served me wrong so far, and since I am paid in dollars I make a lot of currency exchanges every year.

Healthcare: Babylon

Babylon is an app that allows you to speak to a doctor or other healthcare professional over a video call and be diagnosed, and get a prescription, over the call. If you register with them to be your GP, as I have, it’s free under the NHS. It’s excellent and vastly better than a real GP for what I have used it for – I have usually been seen within fifteen minutes of needing an appointment, and last time I needed a prescription I had it in my hands thirty minutes after first making the appointment. Please check that the downsides – the in-person clinics you need to go to for some things – suit your needs before you switch.

Video management: Plex

If you store a lot of movie files on your computer, Plex does a great job of acting like a Netflix-style interface to cast them to your TV, allowing you to browse them with correct titles, movie covers, cast lists, etc, just like you’d get with a movie streaming service’s app. Works great if you’ve ripped a lot of your old DVD collection to your hard drive.

Other software and services you might like to try:

  • Spotify – for music streaming and podcasts

  • Spark – for email on macOS and iOS

  • Google Photos – for online photo backup and search

  • Things – my favourite iOS to-do list

  • Citymapper – the best public transport mapping app

  • OneTab – for saving all your Chrome tabs at the end of the day.

  • Bitwarden – a password manager (I highly recommend using one). LastPass is also good.

  • The Camelizer – for showing you historical prices on Amazon.


Some things I like, but aren’t exactly a bargain

Apart from things, my favourite way to spend my money is on food. Here are my and my friend Ben’s top 21 restaurants in London.

Some other good “Things I recommend you buy” lists:

Thanks for reading – Sam.