MY SPRING CLEANING this year was less eventful than last year’s, except I found my fanny pack. I bought it in the early 1990s but misplaced it some years ago. It was so handy for air travel, especially international trips, that I ignored all fashion worries.
I forgot what I paid for the fanny pack, but it was certainly one of my best buys. Frankly, only a few such purchases stand out. Here’s my list of half-a-dozen similar items. Spoiler alert: The correlation between price and satisfaction seems rather weak.
1. Best car. I’ve owned a dozen cars over the past 30 years, from a compact coupe to a luxury SUV. I have little interest in cars, but I developed a special attachment to one. It’s a 2003 Honda Odyssey that my daughter still drives.
I bought it years ago from a close friend who was moving abroad, and it’s proven to be reliable, comfortable and low maintenance. We drove it to almost all the major national parks in the west, including a few in Canada. Even now, it comes in handy for hauling stuff and occasional airport rides. I recently replaced the transmission, so it should be with us for some years to come.
2. Best financial asset. To jumpstart my wealth building in mid-30s, I had to tighten my belt. The apartment rent was an easy target. With a realtor’s help and my own research, I found a two-bedroom townhouse for sale. It was neither in the most sought-after neighborhood nor aesthetically pleasing, but it was good enough for a recently divorced engineer with a hectic work schedule.
Despite my modest expectations, the quality of life in the townhome was surprisingly pleasant. Amenities like libraries and convenience stores were all within walking distance. My parents were delighted to come over in summer and spend a few months with me. The house was large enough to host occasional get-togethers with close friends. Above all, the financial benefits of this purchase were crystal clear.
My monthly housing payments were only slightly more than my old rent, but my net spending dropped, because the homeowner’s association dues included cable and most utilities. On top of that, part of each mortgage payment increased my home equity, especially with my accelerated principal payments. I sold the townhome after four years and invested the proceeds in stocks. That seemingly unattractive house was arguably the smartest investment I ever made.
3. Best furniture. With my minimalist mindset, I never paid much attention to home furnishings, but my wife did. She bought what she thought would make the house look good. In my humble opinion, which I managed to keep to myself, most were unnecessary. But there was one notable exception.
We needed a new sofa. I wanted something basic and comfy, but my wife fancied a trendy living room set. She dragged me to a furniture warehouse, where we browsed for a few hours. I spotted a lay-flat electric reclining sofa that also met my wife’s décor standards. It was pricier than I’d hoped. My wife hurriedly sealed the deal before I changed my mind.
The bulky set arrived a few days later and, since then, has completely transformed our TV watching experience. Viewing movies at home became more enjoyable than premium theater seating. My wife had long wanted a TV in the bedroom, which I’d resisted for good reasons. With a sofa that turned into a cozy bed at the press of a button, she doesn’t bring it up anymore.
4. Best appliance. My daughter and I shared a common feeling toward our canister vacuum cleaner. We both hated it. It was clunky and heavy. Attaching the accessories, pulling it around the house and plugging the cord into different wall sockets made cleaning even more of chore. But my wife refused to replace it, pointing out that it worked well.
Our prayers, however, were answered: The cleaner stopped working. I was never so happy to see something break—and I promptly rushed to Costco to get a cordless cleaner. Now, vacuuming the home couldn’t be simpler.
5. Best musical instrument. As a self-taught amateur musician, I love to learn new musical instruments on my own. I usually start with used instruments and get better ones later if I keep at it. Our garage is stuffed with guitars, keyboards, percussion instruments and more. While a few were pricey, my favorite is a basic portable keyboard bought almost 20 years ago.
It’s the only instrument with a permanent place inside the house. Both my daughter and I play it regularly. With a built-in speaker and prearranged music, it’s perfect for impromptu performances in casual settings. I’ve used the keyboard in live concerts, alongside my other fancier synthesizers, and I still use it for home recording projects.
6. Best travel accessory. My Swiss Army knife, which I’ve mentioned before, was a nostalgic buy, but its versatility paid off later. With its handy attachments—scissors, nail clipper, pliers, Phillips screwdriver, to name a few—it was indispensable during our vacations, especially camping trips. Sadly, I made the mistake of putting it in my carry-on and had to leave it at airport security. I still haven’t found a worthy replacement.
While I’ve been happy with most of our purchases over the years, only a few rank as exceptional. What turned these few from good to great? It seems they all have three things in common, much like the low-cost diversified funds in my investment portfolio. First, each item served its intended purpose, but didn’t come with bells and whistles for which we had no use. Second, we used them extensively. Finally, each item was low maintenance and involved low overhead.
Sanjib Saha is a software engineer by profession, but he’s now transitioning to early retirement. Self-taught in investments, he passed the Series 65 licensing exam as a non-industry candidate. Sanjib is passionate about raising financial literacy and enjoys helping others with their finances. Check out his earlier articles.