No affiliate links, because I am lazy.
Prices given are what I paid, usually during a sale.


  • Bag of travel meds (£20). Many discomforts are now optional. No brainer. Paracetamol/ibuprofen lysine/aspirin/melatonin/ACC/loratadine/loperamide/calcium carbonate/Kwells. Besides saving yourself 1-2 days of misery a year, you can also save your unprepared friends, which for me was 3 times last year. 1
    Cost per year: £20.

  • Bowflex SelectTech 552 dumbbell (£180). By my desk; much harder to avoid than the gym. 15 dumbbells in one. I love how little space they take, and the design is extremely satisfying. You can get by with one.
    Expected lifespan: 15 years?
    Cost per year: £12.

  • Power rack and barbells (£1000 for own gear, or £30 / month gym membership). Barbells give me big structural and mental changes. Commercial gyms are fine but you can do far better in environment and cost if you have room for your own gear, or know somebody who does. I was lucky enough to have a mate with a free garage. They also keep their value really well, so resale should be roughly the same as initial cost, which might mean that you actually save relative to gym.
    Expected lifespan: Bar should be 10+ years. Rack maybe 20 years. Plates N/A.
    Cost per year: £50 if you have space / £250 if renting a space with two other people.

Advantages of garage gym over commercial gym:

  • Privacy
  • No time wasted commuting
  • No time wasted queueing
  • Can workout in anything, save on gym gear
  • Music of choice
  • No idiots dropping 150kg from head height at 110dB.
  • No disease
  • Open 24h
  • Plausibly cheaper than public gym (< £250/year if you can split with friends).

Buyer's guide

I got a set second-hand. For iron plates, £2 / kg is a good price. You want to append "Olympic" to your search queries, just means everything is a standardised size and fits together.

Garages are pretty costly in cities. Outside of London you can find them for <£80 a month. Split between two people takes you to £480 a year, comparable to the cost of an average peak-time gym membership, minus facilities but plus private gym advantages you'd otherwise pay £1000 for.

Other gear

There's no limit to the amount of gimmicks you could buy, from 30x markup powders to belts and so on.

I'm trying out weightlifting shoes for barbells (£70). Feel nice and nonslip, and subjectively make squats easier. You're advised to get a UK size too big, because your feet expand under load.
Expected lifespan: 3 years?

  • Nonemergency medicine in the UK. There are 1-year waiting lists on the NHS for many, many minor ailments and suboptimalities. So I’m very impressed with the online pharmacy Treated (semaglutide, zyban, finasteride) and expect to be impressed with their spinoff Focused (ADHD). It’s an actual pharmacy, i.e. it gives out legal prescriptions. You can get things cheaper on sites like Voy though. In contrast, private insurance covers ~everything and isn’t that much more expensive than buying these prescriptions. But it’s still in-person and only a bit faster than the NHS, and might involve a song and dance for elective things, where Treated is instant and computerised.
    Cost per year: £500-£2000 per year depending on what you get.

  • Dahon Espresso D24 folding bike (£320 on the Cycle To Work scheme, down from £530). Full size wheels and front suspension: fine for offroad. Folding means you can take it on trains, subways and car boots despite the size. The wheels it comes with are ridiculously thick, but you can get road ones. Probably saves me about 100 hours a year walking, and also gives me joy. I loved the old version, which had a bike pump hidden in the seat column.
    Expected lifespan: 10 years light use with £100 annual service.
    Cost per year: £120 per year, amortised.

  • Powdered greens (£25 for 100 days). I like leafy veg, but the cost and the low shelf-life makes me eat it less than I want. I mix 10g of this into my morning shakes and feel virtuous at least. Wait for it to be 40% off.
    Cost per year: £80

  • Zinc acetate lozenges (£10 for 30). There’s some evidence that keeping particular ligands of zinc in your mouth when you have a cold speeds up your recovery, maybe by a full day. Many other viruses also perish under zincky attention, so they’re out of stock as of Spring 2020.
    Cost per year: £5

  • Tretinoin. The skin anti-aging thing which actually works. It’s not over the counter though: these people are overpriced but fine. (I use about a third of the stated dose to keep the puffiness down.) It makes you more sensitive to UV so it will also make a sunscreen guy of you. Cost per year: £100 at my rate

  • Sleep mask (£8). I slept poorly after I moved to the city, mostly because of ambient light. Now I don’t! You want one which curves away from your eyelashes and isn’t too hot. This is excellent.
    Expected lifespan: 2 years?
    Cost per year: £4

  • Two single duvets. If you or your partner are blanket hogs, you might benefit from having two separate duvets on the bed.
    Additional cost per year: £0.

  • Beary Quiet earplugs (£10). The best, for my shape anyway. 40 dB decrease, always still in by morning.
    Expected lifespan: 1 year
    Cost per year: £10

  • Oxymetazoline (£8 for months). Never mind the Vicks or the steam bath. This clears your nose in seconds; makes sleeping when ill much easier.
    Cost per year: £8

  • Anyone can book a winter flu jab for about £10. IIRC, in expectation this should save you about 12h of misery / lost work.
    Expected lifespan: 1 year
    Cost per year: £10

  • Either stannous fluoride (£3 for 2 months) or hydroxyapatite toothpaste (£3 for 2 months). (The normal kind of toothpaste has the less effective sodium fluoride.) I haven’t seen one with both, so might be good to alternate. Expected lifespan: 2 months.
    Cost per year: £15 over normal paste.

  • Blood tests are cheap now! (£30 or so.) Even if you don’t feel bad, there’s very little reason not to check, say every two years. Vitamin D and iron are a good start; “subclinical” deficiencies of them are common. I found I had slightly low ferritin, and this was such a cheap thing to fix. This service signs you up to a biannual subscription, but you can just cancel after the first one.
    Expected lifespan: 2 years
    Cost per year: £15


  • Queal shakes (£1 per meal). I was skeptical at first: “complete meals” (artificial food) seem procrustean (assuming dietary science is finished) and joyless. But it’s based on oats and soy protein. This dissolves much better than Huel and has loads of flavours. I pad it out with rice protein powder and so usually get about 5 shakes out of a bag.
    Cost per year: Same as a solid breakfast.

  • MSG powder (£4 for 200 meals). Average vegan food is good but just needs a lot more fat and umami. I get the latter from a sprinkling of magic dusts (MSG and nutritional yeast). There is no good evidence that it has any negative health effects, and in fact it’s a little healthier than table salt (less sodium).

  • You want one good chef’s knife. (You hurt yourself less with a really sharp knife since its motion is more predictable.) I just bought a random £25 one in Tesco and it is excellent. Expected lifespan: 3 years if you sharpen it
    Cost per year: £10

  • Fastbake breadmaker (£50). CARBS COMPILER_. British supermarket bread is crap. This makes 900g of warm, chewy, custom bread for about 55p. Chuck in poppy seeds or linseed or nuts for 10p, done. Wholemeal is trickier, needs a little bit of vitamin C powder. Power is maybe 5p.
    Expected lifespan: 4 years?
    Cost per year: roughly the same as shop bread.


  • Filco Majestouch mechanical keyboard (£99). Feels amazing, built like a tank. The noise takes some getting used to. I went for Red switches (quieter but also less tactile). I don’t need a numpad but maybe you do. (PS: you have to love Japanese web design, as long as you don’t have to rely on it.)
    Expected lifespan: 10 years? Or never if I get into soldering.
    Cost per year: £10

  • Sublime Text (£35). I do basically all of my writing and coding in this editor. Wonderful search, regex, markdown, and build options. Packages for everything. There are languages that really need IDEs (Java comes to mind), but I don’t write in em. You can get it free, but I wanted to support it. I hear VS Code is even better but I am content.
    Expected lifespan: Forever.

  • Alacritty (£0).

  • This blog is hosted on Netlify, they are amazing and free for small fry.

  • Wire up your laptop for calls (£5). Who knows how much social difficulty in your life is due to people disliking latency on your calls? Replace the cable every couple years just in case.

  • Bose QuietComfort 25 (£150). Being able to turn down noise is a superpower: actual focus. They even made working in an open-plan office intermittently tolerable. They don’t work that well on conversations, but are excellent for humming appliances, engine roar, wind. Lasted 3.5 years so far. These are the wired ones because I resented paying an extra £100 for a transponder; I’ve had to replace the cable twice, 2 x £7, and probably about £20 of batteries.
    Expected lifespan: I guess 5 years?
    Cost per year: £30

  • Nicotine lozenges (8p a day). Better than caffeine. Vaping is cheaper but riskier and restricted in many locations. Takes a little while to get used to the mild burning. This is the only thing on this list with real risks. DO NOT EAT A WHOLE ONE WHEN YOU START; start with 0.5mg or less and don’t swallow it.
    Cost per year: £30

  • Amazing Marvin is the nicest to-do list ever. It’s programmable and supports dozens of different productivity systems, recurring reminders, timers, whatever. Lifetime subscription is pretty cheap during Xmas sales too (£150).
    Expected lifespan: Forever. (10 years)

  • 45W Corn Light (£20). I don’t have SAD, but during winter I noticed a little bump in mood and energy from hanging up 3 of these very bright blue LED clusters. Each is about 400W equivalent in terms of halogen bulbs.
    Expected lifespan: Probably 10 years.

  • A big plastic timer (£15). Useful for cooking and for remembering that the pomodoro work technique exists. The original brand is ridiculously expensive.
    Expected lifespan: 10 years.
    Cost per year: £1.50

  • ThinkPad Carbon X1 laptop with customs maxed out (£1600). Light, fast, beautiful, runs Linux without a peep. m.2 drive is worth every penny. 1
    Expected lifespan: 6 years.
    Cost per year: £250

  • Xournal (free).

  • Docdrop (free) (e.g.). I never watch videos; this pulls out the transcript for me.

  • I don’t know if it counts as productivity, since I spend about an hour a day playing with it, but Roam is the best personal knowledge base software I’ve seen. Text, maths, code, images, bidirectional links, single-copy imports… It promises to unify me across decades. (My blogs also do this, but only for the top 1% of thoughts.) Workflowy and Notion are a tree: Roam is the awesome power of a graph, which is what thoughts are like. Currently free, soon to be pricey.


  • Airalo eSIMs (£15). Finally, the solution to data when travelling. As soon as you land, in the airport, any time of day. Currently you need a newer phone to use eSIMs though. Cost per year: £60

  • Berghaus Freeflow 35+8 backpack (£80). This has a clever mechanism at the back to shrink and grow the volume by 25%, and also a harness to leave a gap between your back and the bag, preventing deathly hike sweats. On extra small mode it fits even stingy Ryanair airline cabin requirements (there’s some optical illusion about you wearing your cabin bag on your back, I’ve never been bothered about it in 43L mode. (If you wear two jumpers and a jacket just for passing through the gate, 35L is two weeks’ basics, no cabin bag.) I’ve had this for 8 years, maybe 100 difficult trips including long haul airports and 1km mountains, and it’s fine.
    Expected lifespan: ‘Lifetime guarantee’. (20 years?)
    Cost per year: £4

  • Moto G7 Power (£160). I resisted getting a smartphone for 8 years. I still think it’s a huge threat to productivity, and a privacy disaster. But for travelling it is a massive help: boarding passes, Maps, taxis, translation, mobile data. Also allows me to replace my ereader, my GPS, my trips to ATMs, my camera, my printer. Group chats have been relatively useful already. The new UK Railcard is app-only too. This has the largest battery life on the market (26h of low-res video playback), and is cheap and good. Expected lifespan: 4 years.
    Cost per year: £40

  • lets you see who’s going to be where you’re going.

Services & Security

  • KeePassX password manager (£0). Works on every platform: Linux, Win, Mac, Android. Probably saves a few minutes a week and a lot of mental overhead. See here for why you want this.

  • Protonmail is free and actually secure.

  • NordVPN (£50 per year). VPNs are imperfect, but they help mitigate a few different problems (IP tracking, unencrypted traffic, ISP logs, public wifi spoofing, geo-locking, app requests). I used to recommend PIA, but their new owner is extremely scummy, a major adware vendor. Again, see here.



  • Pi-hole ad blocker (£25). Stops ads at the source, for every device in your house at once.
    Expected lifespan: 5 years.

  • Vanguard ETFs. One of the most surprising facts is that automatic index funds outperform “actively managed” (paying a finance person) ones, after you subtract their fees. Vanguard are the original and are among the lowest fees, about 0.15% of your return. I use a variant of the Simplicity Portfolio and rebalance every 6 months. You may be amused to hear that they are “communist”. Above, I said that only nicotine has any real risk - but these are a layer of abstraction over the stock market, so obviously be careful.

  • Focusmate (£3 a month). I work from home a lot, and this lets me force myself to have arse in chair by 8:30am. That’s worth it alone. One friend thinks it makes him 20% more productive on top of that; I’d say 5%. (Come join me in the EA room!)
    Expected lifespan: 1 month.

  • Emergency backup bank account (Free). A couple times in the last decade I’ve been locked out of my account due to a false-positive for fraud, or lost my bank card. To be able to get to the bank / to work during the day (or four) this takes to resolve, I have a backup bank card with about £100 on it. You can also just stash a little cash in your house, but this is more general than that. Free, takes maybe one hour including the appointment some UK places make you do.
    Expected lifespan: Forever.

  • I use iCloud for photos as a hedge against Google attacking my account for no reason.


  • KS Miami bluetooth speaker (£20). Surprisingly good bass; makes watching things on a laptop much less dreadful. Good battery life too.
    Expected lifespan: 4 years.
    Cost per year: £5

  • Tailored socks. One of my favourite possessions. I have socks which actually fit for the first time. (The creator took 6 measurements!) It was a gift, but I would probably pay £30 if I was rich.
    Expected lifespan: 3 years.

  • Two actually nice shirts (£40). There are a lot of weddings in my life at the moment. And besides that it’s nice to surprise people once in a while.
    Expected lifespan: 3 years.
    Cost per year: £15

  • Uniqlo Airism pants. Hard to describe the ways they are better but they are.

  • Fairy lights make all rooms nicer, any time of year (£20 for loads).


Rather than just telling you their cost, I should say how much good they do per pound. Ignoring the free ones, which you should just go and get now, I think the best are:

  1. Vanguard ETFs. Negative cost, and they’re hard to beat on returns/fee unless you’re full-time Finance. NaN:1
  2. Sleep mask. Massively improved sleep quality, without having to alter the room, close the windows, whatever. 100:1.
  3. Dumbbells. A cheap gym membership is £150 a year; using these a couple times a week for 2 years means I’ve saved hundreds of pounds and dozens of hours commuting. They should last 15 years, so maybe total 30:1. (During the present lockdown, with gyms closed, the dumbbells get a temporary massive boost too.)
  4. Meal shakes once a day. Saves money (if a lunch would otherwise be £4) and time. Also a handy automatic prepper store. 10:1.
  5. Mechanical keyboard. Assuming this decreases my RSI risk by 1%, it will have paid off 10 times over. But also in comfort and fun alone. 10:1

Why write this? One of the big bottlenecks to improving your life is just knowing that it’s possible to improve a given part. For some reason people don’t share their data on this, probably a reaction against vulgar consumerism.

See also

  1. though I feel honour-bound to mention that Kwells is scopolamine, a famous hallucinogen / entheogen / interrogation drug.


Owen commented on 22 May 2020 :

These are some good points for sharing. Loving the cleanliness and layout of your site, by the way.

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