11 Purchases Under $20 That Will Seriously Upgrade Your Life


Apr. 26 2020, Updated 10:24 p.m. ET

Source: istock

When it comes to adulting, most of us could use a little help. I, for one, wish they taught us how to do taxes in high school, or how to start a car with jumper cables, or, you know, the kinds of things that are actually practical in day-to-day life.

And while I can't offer you much help when it comes to Uncle Sam, I do think that a large part of adulting is learning how to use your money wisely to reduce the general stress in your life. Sometimes that means splurging $10 for something you thought you could get away with for $3, because the higher-end product will work better and last longer in the end.

From cooking and cleaning to just improving your overall quality of life, here are 11 purchases you can make for under $20 that will make adulting much, much easier.

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1. Electric Kettle

Electric kettles are commonplace kitchen items in most places outside the U.S. That's because they boil water much faster than the stove and are incredibly versatile. Many electric kettles even have knobs you can adjust to set your desired temperature, which can be a game-changer for tea and coffee snobs who scoff at the taste of overly boiled water. 

Plus, they're the simplest way to make cheap and easy meals without having to turn your stove on. 

This Hamilton Beach one is available on Amazon for $19.96 and it's lasted me six years of everyday use.

2. Soups

Source: istock

Now that you have your electric kettle and have been racing with your roommates over who can boil water the fastest, it's time to figure out what else you can make with your new toy.

Several people on reddit agree one key to better adulting is keeping food at home so you don't have to grab fast food or order delivery when you run out of groceries. Not to mention they're great for people like me who can never decide on what to eat. And of course, in the event there's a snowstorm or power outage, you'll be totally prepared.

"Always have cans of soup in your cupboard," writes AtheistComic. "This can be a pretty cost-effective and nutritious meal and it's faster and better for you than McDonald's, especially when you have low energy. Read the salt content on the label to be a god-tier souper."

We recommend stocking up on Campbell's chicken noodle and tomato soups (because YUM), Progresso for a well-balanced full meal, and some cans of Annie's chili, which are always deliciously filling.

Plus, they're so cheap — at less than $5 for a pack of four — you don't have to pick your favorite just yet.

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3. Slow Cooker

Honestly, such a huge part of adulting is learning to feed yourself nutritious, tasty meals every day that aren't just variations on mac n' cheese. A more advanced part of adulting is learning to plan these meals in advance (meal prep, anyone?). 

Slow cookers take the spotlight in both arenas — you can make impressive meals for almost no money and very minimal effort, and you can prepare big batches of food to eat throughout the week.

As one redditor shared, "Every Sunday, I throw together something like this for my whole week's lunch:

- Fry and mince onions with garlic, pepper and salt until the oil is no longer brown.
- Chuck them in the slow cooker with a couple of cans of chopped tomatoes, basil/mixed herbs, splash of red wine, beef stock cube with some water, salt and pepper
- Stir every so often and chuck some more water in it if it's looking dry
- Turn off slow cooker [a few hours later], boil a bag of pasta and throw it in the slow cooker to sit overnight

Delicious throughout the week and costs absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things."

A decent slow cooker will put you out $18.44 on Amazon, and will save you hundreds (if not thousands) on eating out.

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4. Steel Soap

As far as I'm concerned, a small truth of adulting is that it's often worth the extra money to avoid small frustrations down the line.

And that's why steel soap bars are my No. 1 recommendation to anyone looking to upgrade their kitchen. As someone who often cooks fish or meat with onions or garlic, I absolutely despise smelling the ingredients I chopped on my hands hours after finishing my meal.

These handy steel soap bars are pretty much magical — they eliminate all lingering odors the second you wash your hands, and can also be placed in your fridge to get rid of all the smells there.

I'm having trouble coming up with a better way to spend $8 — take a look on Amazon.

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5. A Nice Corkscrew

Source: Amazon

Sure, you could get a flimsy corkscrew for $2, but as we just discussed, being an adult means splurging a little to avoid headaches down the line. And if you've ever used a plastic handle corkscrew, you know the wing kind works MUCH better. 

You don't have to put your back into opening a bottle or worry about the handle flying off with these things. And for $10.99 on Amazon, it's the kind of purchase that pays for itself in the long run. Plus, this kind comes with a stopper — so your wine won't go bad if you don't finish the whole bottle in one sitting.

Speaking of which, you can also get premium wine that tastes like it should be expensive for under $10 from Trader Joe's.

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6. Baking Soda and Vinegar

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Maybe it's because I grew up in a Latin family that loves to clean, but the first thing I buy whenever I move into a new place is a big box of baking soda and jug of white vinegar.

Sure, there are thousands of cleaning products out there, but these natural products are tried and true when it comes to pretty much anything. Gross mattress? Pour baking soda on it, vacuum it up, and it'll be good as new.

I use vinegar to clean my floors and windows. For microwave I throw 1/4 cup of white vinegar and 1 cup of water into the microwave until steam forms on the windows, then give the whole inside a good wipe down.

On Amazon, a half-gallon of vinegar costs just $2 and a 5-lb bag of baking soda that will last a long time comes out to $3.99.

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7. Library Card

Source: iStock

Sure, having a clean house and stocked kitchen is nice, but adulting takes many shapes and forms. Exposing yourself to culture through literature and movies is a great way to better yourself all around.

Library cards come in super handy when it comes to personal advancement, and getting one will literally cost you zero money. Plus, libraries are incredible resources beyond just books. 

You can borrow CDs, movies, and print for very cheap — and a library card will give you access to apps where you can download books and audiobooks for free.

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8. If you have pets, get yourself a hand vacuum.

Source: Amazon

What annoys me most about adulting is that purchases I would have found super annoying and boring as a child or teen now fill me with excitement. 

Take a vacuum cleaner — how DULL! Except since I have a small dog who sheds like it's his job, this small handheld vacuum cleaner actually works miracles — and costs only $11.88 on Amazon

Also, the fact it's so small and quiet makes it ALMOST enjoyable to clean my pup's hair around the house.

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9. Day Planner

Source: iStock

I know we all have devices in our pockets that remind us of our to-dos, but I honestly never find them as useful as a planner where I can see my day laid out in front of me. They help not only keep your days on track, but also allow you to get a better big-picture idea of what you spend your time doing.

As CybReader notes on reddit, "The amount of people who don't use one then wonder why they forget appointments, bills or birthdays is baffling." Word. 

I keep my lists, appointments, due dates, errands, and everything else in my planner. If I leave home without it one day, I truly feel lost without it.

Spend the $9.99 on Amazon, even if you have a phone and laptop. I swear you'll thank me.

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10. Hand-held Steamer

Full disclosure: I don't have one of these, but I see the merits so much I'm legitimately ordering one right now. I 100 percent do not own an ironing board, and even when I do fold my clothes, they end up with strange creases or wrinkles that I try to just pass off as "fashion." 

But this hand-held mini-steamer that costs $19.99 on Amazon will make you FEEL like more of an adult, which will make you more of an adult in turn. It heats up in 90 seconds and is perfect for the lazy folk among us who don't want to wait too long or work too hard at looking sharp.

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11. Gym Subscription

Source: istock

Adulting means become an actual person who takes responsibility for and care of themselves. Self-care is honestly the first step if you want to be able to do anything right in your life.

Getting a gym membership is a small purchase in the short run that can change your quality of life if you commit to using it on a regular basis. You know what they say, healthy mind in healthy body — a good workout can clear your head, make you feel stronger and more confident, and all-around improve the overall you.

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