What’s the Best Thing (Under $50) You Bought Yourself in 2020?

Stanley Kubrick, “The 5 and 10,” for LOOK magazine, 1947. Collections of the Museum of the City of New York

A few days ago my friend R. messaged a few others in our circle, “We’ve been doing these ice breakers at work where you name the best thing you bought for yourself during the pandemic,” and she shared a link to a listicle in New York magazine’s The Strategist. Naturally, the four of us then had to discuss our own noteworthy under-$50 purchases from 2020.

I’d love to hear some of yours! What thing did you purchase just for yourself (under $50) that turned out to be a smart investment in terms of usefulness, happiness, or any other metric you choose?

Here are five of mine (two scent-related, three not)…and these aren’t affiliate links, by the way. I’m just telling you about things I like!

I’d actually subscribed to Keap BK shortly before the March shutdown, and I kept my account active and now I’m so glad I did. Every other month, a high-quality fragranced candle arrives at my door—you can set your own frequency and choose your own scent(s), so it’s a pretty flexible plan.

In the summer months, I burned Green Market (above); now that it’s winter (again?!) I’m back to my favorite, Northlands.

I started ordering skincare from Good Molecules when a trusted coworker recommended this brand to me. Their products are streamlined and effective and very reasonably priced: most under $20, some under $10.

My skin feels surprisingly healthy right now, considering the weird stress of the past ten months, and Good Molecules deserves most of the credit. (Reduced exposure to NYC pollution probably helps, too…)

I really miss browsing at perfume counters around Manhattan and Brooklyn, but I’ve compensated somewhat by shopping online for sample sets. Maya Njie (via MUSE)…Dawn Spencer HurwitzYosh (above)…I spent time enjoying the work of various independent perfumers this way.

I also attended two online perfume-sampling events hosted by Arielle Shoshana (each priced $10-15, including sample sets, if I recall correctly) and enjoyed every minute of both.

via B and S Instagram feed

Early on, a wise friend advised me to create new routines at this strange time when so many of our usual routines have been taken away from us. One of my new routines: weekly orders of truly remarkable bread from a local bakery.

There were days when the prospect of picking up this bread was the only thing that got me out of the house. Mr. Professor and I have finished every loaf to the last crumb. Our lives would not be complete without it. None of this is exaggeration.

I purchased fewer clothing items this year than I have in a long time, and nothing dressy or decorative, since I was relying heavily on my existing stash of machine-washable items during the stay-at-home months.

But I managed to score a beautiful embroidered denim coat (similar to this one, but longer and more flowy) for $50 at an Anna Sui sample sale and I wore it throughout November. It just made me feel good inside as well as outside.

Here’s to all kinds of small pleasures in 2021! And don’t forget to share a few of your own favorite “acquisitions” of 2020 below.


  1. Nice ones, especially the jacket! I bought some Homesick candles: France and United Kingdom, for about $30 after discounts and shipping. Also decided to try some incense and got matcha-scented ones (they smell nice unlit; not sure how the scent fills the room compared with the smoke alone) and a cute ceramic holder shaped like a paper crane. Cheers to small pleasures indeed!


  2. Hi Jessica: you inspired me with one of my best, probably the best, perfume purchase under $50: a Bee Bottle of Nahema for $44.09! I felt I was lacking in rose perfumes, and I trust your nose, so when you mentioned it in a recent post, I jumped when I had 37% extra off at Frag’net. Clothing-wise, I did not get any under $50, but I did get one of the Pendleton Reversible plaid wool skirts with some very good discount. Where I work, I can wear it twice a week!


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