7 Grown-Up Purchases That Are Worth the Money

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The fastest way for a student or graduate to get off on the wrong financial foot is by dropping cash on the wrong kinds of big-ticket items. On the other hand, wise and targeted spending on the right things is an investment that will pay off in the long run. Take a quick look at seven items that are worth spending your hard-earned money on—along with a handful to steer clear of.

1. A GOOD MATTRESS

You might be able to cut corners on a lot of furnishings for a new or rented living space, but opting for an economical crash pad is going to haunt you every night. Good spring mattress and box spring sets can be had for as little as $500, with some online providers offering high-quality memory foam for roughly the same amount. Go cheaper and you risk sleepless nights—or worse, having to buy a replacement in just a few short years.

2. A 401(K)…

You don’t necessarily have to look at it as a purchase—though many do—but a 401(k), or retirement account, is some of the best money you’ll ever spend. Socking away even a small portion of your paycheck every month can pay literal dividends down the road.

… AND/OR A ROTH IRA.

The type of account you use to save for retirement is ultimately up to you—the point is to put as much money as you can away starting as early as you can. If your employer will match your 401(k) contributions up to a certain amount, max that out first (because why would you turn down free money?). However, if your employer doesn’t match funds, a Roth IRA (or other personal retirement account) might be your better bet. With a Roth IRA, it’s up to you to deposit a portion of your hard-earned paycheck. The benefit to that, though, is you’ll be able to withdraw money from the account during retirement tax-free.

3. QUALITY TOOLS

You may not believe you’re that handy, but the time will come when you’re in desperate need of fixing a faucet, hanging a picture, or assembling a new bookshelf. While it might be tempting to pick up the cheapest hammer at the hardware store, spending a little more is likely to get you a tool that will last a lifetime.

4. A CROCK POT

You might balk at paying $100 for a good crock pot when fast food is cheap, but the experience of coming home to a hot, fresh meal after a long day is priceless. It’s not fancy and probably won’t come in amazing colors, but a crock pot is an essential kitchen item that can make food to last you for days—saving you lots of money (and lots of disappointment over sad takeout meals) in the long run.

5. INSURANCE (FOR YOUR HOME, YOUR HEALTH, AND YOURSELF)

It never feels like it’s worth the money … until one day when it is. And trust us when we say that after your upstairs neighbor’s bathroom floods all over your bedroom, or you need emergency surgery, or—God forbid—something terrible happens, you and your loved ones will be glad you shelled out the cash. Life insurance in particular may seem like an unnecessary expense, but even as a young person, it can help shield your family from having to take on any debts you may owe or incurring major funeral costs. And though your company may automatically enroll you in a group policy if you’re employed, that protection generally doesn’t follow you around if you leave your job.

6. A SET OF GOOD TIRES

Giant pieces of circular rubber tend to look the same in a dealer showroom, but opting for a more durable tread can save you more than just breakdown hassles—a proper set of new tires can maintain car-to-road traction, increase driver comfort, and prevent accidents.

7. A SOLID PAIR OF SHOES

Not sneakers—shoes. A well-crafted pair can see you through years of travel, work, social activities, and spare you the trouble of having to keep purchasing the same middling quality pair over and over again. If you need to visit a cobbler to make sure your boots are in good shape a few years from now, it’s a sign you’ve made the right choice.

AND A FEW THAT AREN’T, SUCH AS:

EXPENSIVE HOTEL ROOMS

You shouldn’t knock yourself for taking a vacation, but opting for the most elaborate room when you’re likely to just be sleeping or changing in it isn’t the wisest use of your discretionary funds. Unless you’re paying for close proximity to your destinations, opt for the best room and board you can find that doesn’t have a walk-in closet.

LATEST-MODEL ELECTRONICS

Overpriced and buggy, brand-new electronic equipment can be a money vacuum. Don’t fall for sensational showroom displays or hyped-up reviews: it’s likely that an older model discounted to move will offer many of the same features.

DIAMONDS

The idea that someone should shell out two months of their hard-earned cash for a stone for his or her betrothed? Yeah, that’s the work of a mid-20th century advertising campaign. For the most part, diamonds are terrible investments—in fact, they lose more than 50 percent of their resale value as soon as you leave the store. To sell one back, you’d likely have to offer up your diamond for less than what a retailer paid for it wholesale—which is generally 100-200 percent less than what you, the customer, paid for it.  Diamonds aren’t even especially rare—the only reason they seemed that way is, again, because one major diamond corporation artificially restricted the supply to keep prices sky-high.

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7 Pieces of Reading Advice From History’s Greatest Minds

When it came to books, Albert Einstein subscribed to the "oldie but goodie" mentality. He wasn't the only one.
When it came to books, Albert Einstein subscribed to the "oldie but goodie" mentality. He wasn't the only one.
Lucien Aigner/Three Lions/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

If there’s one thing that unites philosophers, writers, politicians, and scientists across time and distance, it’s the belief that reading can broaden your worldview and strengthen your intellect better than just about any other activity. When it comes to choosing what to read and how to go about it, however, opinions start to diverge. From Virginia Woolf’s affinity for wandering secondhand bookstores to Theodore Roosevelt’s rejection of a definitive “best books” list, here are seven pieces of reading advice to help you build an impressive to-be-read (TBR) pile.

1. Read books from eras past // Albert Einstein

albert einstein at home circa 1925
Albert Einstein poses at home in 1925 with a mix of old and new books.
General Photographic Agency/Getty Images

Keeping up with current events and the latest buzz-worthy book from the bestseller list is no small feat, but Albert Einstein thought it was vital to leave some room for older works, too. Otherwise, you’d be “completely dependent on the prejudices and fashions of [your] times,” he wrote in a 1952 journal article [PDF].

“Somebody who reads only newspapers and at best books of contemporary authors looks to me like an extremely near-sighted person who scorns eyeglasses,” he wrote.

2. Don’t jump too quickly from book to book // Seneca

seneca the younger
Seneca the Younger, ready to turn that unwavering gaze on a new book.
The Print Collector via Getty Images

Seneca the Younger, a first-century Roman Stoic philosopher and trusted advisor of Emperor Nero, believed that reading too wide a variety in too short a time would keep the teachings from leaving a lasting impression on you. “You must linger among a limited number of master thinkers, and digest their works, if you would derive ideas which shall win firm hold in your mind,” he wrote in a letter to Roman writer Lucilius.

If you’re wishing there were a good metaphor to illustrate this concept, take your pick from these gems, courtesy of Seneca himself:

“Food does no good and is not assimilated into the body if it leaves the stomach as soon as it is eaten; nothing hinders a cure so much as frequent change of medicine; no wound will heal when one salve is tried after another; a plant which is often moved can never grow strong. There is nothing so efficacious that it can be helpful while it is being shifted about. And in reading of many books is distraction.”

3. Shop at secondhand bookstores // Virginia Woolf

virginia woolf
Virginia Woolf wishing she were in a bookstore.
Culture Club/Getty Images

In her essay “Street Haunting,” Virginia Woolf described the merits of shopping in secondhand bookstores, where the works “have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack.”

According to Woolf, browsing through used books gives you the chance to stumble upon something that wouldn’t have risen to the attention of librarians and booksellers, who are often much more selective in curating their collections than secondhand bookstore owners. To give us an example, she imagined coming across the shabby, self-published account of “a man who set out on horseback over a hundred years ago to explore the woollen market in the Midlands and Wales; an unknown traveller, who stayed at inns, drank his pint, noted pretty girls and serious customs, wrote it all down stiffly, laboriously for sheer love of it.”

“In this random miscellaneous company,” she wrote, “we may rub against some complete stranger who will, with luck, turn into the best friend we have in the world.”

4. You can skip outdated scientific works, but not old literature // Edward Bulwer-Lytton

edward bulwer-lytton
An 1831 portrait of Edward Bulwer-Lytton, smug at the thought of people reading his novels for centuries to come.
The Print Collector/Getty Images

Though his novels were immensely popular during his lifetime, 19th-century British novelist and Parliamentarian Edward Bulwer-Lytton is now mainly known for coining the phrase It was a dark and stormy night, the opening line of his 1830 novel Paul Clifford. It’s a little ironic that Bulwer-Lytton’s books aren’t very widely read today, because he himself was a firm believer in the value of reading old literature.

“In science, read, by preference, the newest works; in literature, the oldest,” he wrote in his 1863 essay collection, Caxtoniana. “The classic literature is always modern. New books revive and redecorate old ideas; old books suggest and invigorate new ideas.”

To Bulwer-Lytton, fiction couldn't ever be obsolete, because it contained timeless themes about human nature and society that came back around in contemporary works; in other words, you can’t disprove fiction. You can, however, disprove scientific theories, so Bulwer-Lytton thought it best to stick to the latest works in that field. (That said, since scientists use previous studies to inform their work, you can still learn a ton about certain schools of thought by delving into debunked ideas—plus, it’s often really entertaining to see what people used to believe.) 

5. Check out authors’ reading lists for book recommendations // Mortimer J. Adler

mortimer j. adler in 1983
Mortimer J. Adler in 1983, happy to read the favorite works of his favorite authors.
George Rose/Getty Images

In his 1940 guide How to Read a Book, American philosopher Mortimer J. Adler talked about the importance of choosing books that other authors consider worth reading. “The great authors were great readers,” he explained, “and one way to understand them is to read the books they read.”

Adler went on to clarify that this would probably matter most in the philosophy field, “because philosophers are great readers of each other,” and it’s easier to grasp a concept if you also know what inspired it. While you don’t necessarily have to read everything a novelist has read in order to fully understand their own work, it’s still a good way to get quality book recommendations from a trusted source. If your favorite author mentions a certain novel that really made an impression on them, there’s a pretty good chance you’d enjoy it, too.

6. Reading so-called guilty pleasures is better than reading nothing // Mary Wollstonecraft

mary wollstonecraft in 1797
Mary Wollstonecraft in 1797, apparently demonstrating that a book with blank pages is worth even less than a novel.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

To the 18th-century writer, philosopher, and early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, just about all novels fell into the category of “guilty pleasures” (though she didn’t call them that). In A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, she disparaged the “stupid novelists, who, knowing little of human nature, work up stale tales, and describe meretricious scenes, all retailed in a sentimental jargon, which equally tend to corrupt the taste and draw the heart aside from its daily duties.”

If her judgment seems unnecessarily harsh, it’s probably because it’s taken out of its historical context. Wollstonecraft definitely wasn’t the only one who considered novels to be low-quality reading material compared to works of history and philosophy, and she was also indirectly criticizing society for preventing women from seeking more intellectual pursuits. If 21st-century women were confined to watching unrealistic, highly edited dating shows and frowned upon for trying to see 2019’s Parasite or the latest Ken Burns documentary, we might sound a little bitter, too.

Regardless, Wollstonecraft still admitted that even guilty pleasures can help expand your worldview. “Any kind of reading I think better than leaving a blank still a blank, because the mind must receive a degree of enlargement, and obtain a little strength by a slight exertion of its thinking powers,” she wrote. In other words, go forth and enjoy your beach read.

7. You get to make the final decision on how, what, and when to read // Theodore Roosevelt

theodore roosevelt in office in 1905
Theodore Roosevelt pauses for a quick photo before getting back to his book in 1905.
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division // No Known Restrictions on Publication

Theodore Roosevelt might have lived his own life in an exceptionally regimented fashion, but his outlook on reading was surprisingly free-spirited. Apart from being a staunch proponent of finding at least a few minutes to read every single day—and starting young—he thought that most of the details should be left up to the individual.

“The reader, the booklover, must meet his own needs without paying too much attention to what his neighbors say those needs should be,” he wrote in his autobiography, and rejected the idea that there’s a definitive “best books” list that everyone should abide by. Instead, Roosevelt recommended choosing books on subjects that interest you and letting your mood guide you to your next great read. He also wasn’t one to roll his eyes at a happy ending, explaining that “there are enough horror and grimness and sordid squalor in real life with which an active man has to grapple.”

In short, Roosevelt would probably advise you to see what Seneca, Albert Einstein, Mary Wollstonecraft, and other great minds had to say about reading, and then make your own decisions in the end.