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9 Cheap Cooking, Travel, and Life Essentials I Can’t Live Without

Nina Semczuk

One of the silliest-looking items in my kitchen is a green, hard avocado holder. The device, made for one specific use — holding half an avocado — seems ridiculous and probably unnecessary. Do I really need the equivalent of an avocado purse? But not only does the cute little container add joy to my drawer of personality-less Gladware, it saves me from using single-use plastic like Ziploc bags or plastic wrap, and it prevents my avocados from turning into gray, mushy messes. And, with a price tag of less than $10, the food saver is one of the best small purchases I’ve made in recent years.

Thinking about its low cost and frequent use inspired me to round up the other objects in my life that punch above their weight class. While you, like me, may be tempted to think that a higher price indicates higher durability or value (and it can, in some cases) there are plenty of affordably priced things that can make a world of difference in your day-to-day life.

I’ve used most of the following products for at least three years — and they’ve immeasurably improved how I cook, travel, and get around town. And the best part? Nothing costs more than $25.

1. Silicone Baking Sheet – $13.99 for set of two

Courtesy of retailer

Instead of ruining my pans with crusty, gooey baked bits, these silicone baking sheets protect my bakeware and easily wipe clean. They’re oven safe up to 480 degrees, ideal for roasting vegetables like onions, carrots or asparagus, and I use them when baking cookies, too.

2. Wide Mouth Mason Jars – $10.43 for 12

Courtesy of retailer

At less than a dollar per jar, this is one of my favorite cost-saving hacks. Along with using mason jars for traditional means, like housing my homemade pickles, they also work as toothbrush holders, vases, oatmeal carriers, small present holders, and dry goods storage.

3. Electric Collapsible Travel Kettle – $19.99

Courtesy of retailer

When I served in the military, I packed my Bonavita half-liter travel kettle whenever I had room in my rucksack and access to an outlet. Now that I’m out, I still bring my portable kettle when I travel; knowing I can make hot tea, coffee or oatmeal regardless of where I am provides me with a sense of comfort worth far more than $20. While my Bonavita’s lasted me more than seven years, if I had a collapsible model like the one above, I would have opted for that version to save on space.

4. Magnetic Phone Car Mount – $8

Courtesy of retailer

This portable phone mount attaches to the air vent of any car; I like this model because it’s small and can be used in rentals since it slips on and doesn’t require installation. The only potential drawback is that you have to affix a thin magnetic sticker to the back of your phone case to use the mount. But I’ve had one on each of my phones for the past five years and never had an issue.

5. iPhone Wallet Case with Credit Card Holder – $15

Courtesy of retailer

While my cluttered desk might suggest otherwise, I am a sometimes minimalist, at least when it comes to handbags and wallets. I prefer using my phone case to carry a credit card, ID, and my subway pass. For one, I keep a better eye — and closer hand — on my phone than my wallet, and it also prevents me from hoarding piles of business cards and paper detritus. There’s only space for the necessities.

6. Seche Clear and Seche Vite Top and Bottom Nail Polish – $9 for both

Courtesy of retailer

A few years ago, I found a nail salon whose manicures lasted at least four days longer than other establishments. While the place used regular OPI and Essie polishes for the color coats, they used the polish brand Seche Vite for the top layer. I bought my own and it works just as well at home as in the salon. I’m so addicted that now I brush on a layer after a salon manicure if they don’t use it.

7. Portable Travel Pill Box – $9.98 for pack of two

Courtesy of retailer

After one too many times of finding a ginger powder explosion when opening my backpack after a flight (ginger supplements help my motion sickness), I finally stopped carrying them in plastic bags. Traditional pill bottles take up too much space in my budget airline-sized carry-on, but this small case that fits anywhere changed my life (and keeps my bag from getting searched because of suspicious powders).

8. Velcro-Free Eye Mask – $5.99

Courtesy of retailer

Alright, so I grew tired of ripping chunks of hair out every time I pulled off my eye mask (a necessity for a good night’s sleep). An adjustable, velcro-free version not only saves me untangling time, it also travels better. My old version somehow attached itself to whatever stray material it could find, but this one is much more obedient.

9. Stowaway Backpack – $24.89

Courtesy of retailer

For years I resisted “packable” things, like ponchos, hats, and backpacks, convinced they were more gimmicky than practical. But then I had limited luggage room and a trip to Thailand on the horizon, so I tried out this Eddie Bauer daypack. Now, I take the thing everywhere with me — two straps means fewer shoulder aches and better versatility. In the past few months it’s accompanied me hiking, biking, farmers’ market-ing, and to the library.

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