The Best Things in Life …

Can be expensive. Here’s what’s worth it.

A variety of items featured, such as the espresso maker, turntable, and headphones.
Photo illustration by Slate

Check out our Holiday Advice From the Experts series, where our beloved advice columnists weigh in with inspirational gift ideas. Jamilah Lemieux advocates for a bit of self-care to get you through the season. Read Nicole Cliffe’s take on classic toys for children of every age. Carrie Bauer recommends educational (but fun!) gifts for kids, and her fellow Ask a Teacher columnists offer some of their favorite teacher gift ideas. Click here for gifts to help you bond with your teen, and here for an inspiring list of children’s book ideas.


Few of us have so much discretionary income we can afford to shell out for everything we fancy, but every once in a while, luxury items come along that are worth the splurge. Here, we present our list of gifts that Slate staffers deem worthy of your hard-earned cash. From small, everyday luxuries to all-out extravagances, there’s something for everyone.

Rifle Journals

At some point last year, I started writing in a journal—and, for the first time in my life, I stuck with it enough to fill an entire notebook. At first, I filled a couple of empty notebooks I already had lying around, but when I ran out of those, I decided to reward myself by buying the kind of special, fancy journal I always covet at stationery stores but had always considered an impractical expense. I went with this beauty by Rifle Paper Co., the brand known for its pretty floral designs. I can’t wait to fill it and pick out my next one. —Heather Schwedel, staff writer

Jade Harmony Yoga Mat

I’ve been practicing yoga regularly for nearly five years now and have been subsisting on a series of five-dollar mats from Five Below for the majority of those five years. Those mats do the job perfectly fine, but I’ve recently discovered the pleasure of practicing on a sturdy, well-made mat that doesn’t flake and stick to my sweaty body. Any dedicated yogi would appreciate an upgrade to a Jade Harmony, the Mercedes-Benz of yoga mats. —Abby McIntyre, assistant managing editor

Liberty Puzzles

Puzzles are the antidote to our current digital age, and they’re generally reasonably priced gifts. (Bonus: They can also be swapped or, well, regifted easily). Liberty puzzles are different. They’re laser-cut from wood, which results in puzzle pieces that are delightfully nontraditional in shape and make for a much more challenging puzzle experience. The designs are extraordinary. The painted pieces feel and look heftier. They’re expensive—but that’s part of what makes them such a great present. Susan Matthews, features editor

Burlap & Barrel Spices

Burlap & Barrel’s spices are an absolutely worthy splurge. I appreciate that they take extra care in building single-origin and traceable supply chains, and the company’s thoughtful approach to its product is reflected in the flavor—these spices really taste like they were bottled at the source. Their grilling set has a super delicious spice I’d never tried before, black urfa chili, which has a sticky consistency I didn’t think was possible for a bottled spice. I appreciate the more unique spices like sumac but also seek out replacements for more basic spices, like the dusty bottle of cumin I’d been working my way through for years. At more than four times the cost of normal spices, these definitely qualify as a luxury item, but I swear their turmeric made me feel like I’d never really tasted turmeric before.  —Asha Saluja, operations manager for Slate podcasts

Breville Barista Express

Two Slate staffers recommend the Breville Barista Express, so we’ve included both of their endorsements.


For espresso lovers who enjoy quality coffee but are not particular about getting top-of-the-line equipment, the Breville Barista Express is the perfect midtier machine. Even with no barista experience, I’ve been able to pull consistent, tasty shots. The built-in grinder and steam wand are convenient for making all sorts of milky espresso drinks. Even though I make a latte every day, I’ve saved a ton of money by no longer buying them at coffee shops! —Laura Lai, analytics engineer

My husband and I love our afternoon espresso drinks—straight espresso for him and a small cappuccino for me. After years of dropping $10 a day at Starbucks, or making them at home on our subpar machine, we decided it was time to get serious about our home espresso situation. We spent about a year doing research and tastings and calculating the cost of at home versus outsourcing our indulgence to a coffee shop. We finally bit the bullet and splurged on this beautiful machine. While a $500 espresso machine is certainly a luxury for most of us, I assure you, it is worth it! We’ve had the Breville for four years, and we make at least two espressos each day. After nearly 3,000 perfect drinks, it is still humming like new.  —Faith Smith, executive producer, Slate Live

Sabatino’s Truffle and Rosemary Salt

L’Estornell Olive Oil

These small but luxurious food gifts brought me so much joy when I received them as a gift last year. Sabatino’s truffle and rosemary salt transforms any dish with a hint of black truffle—from your eggs in the morning, to that shitake mushroom side dish, or as the finishing salt on an otherwise plain roast chicken. Pair it as a gift with a bottle of L’Estornell olive oil. It is the ultimate olive-y olive oil and truly elevates any loaf of bread or plain salad. Game changer. —Meryl Devulder, project manager, Slate Studios

Catbird Candle

I never thought I’d spend $38 on a candle. As a rule, I eschew products designed to tickle the olfactory system—incense, perfumes, and Yankee Candle all make me gag. But then I discovered this outrageously expensive Ghost Rose candle from Catbird, and I made an exception to my rule. Its subtle, calming smell of English rose, Champagne, and peony manages to hint at spring, without giving an open-handed slap to my sinuses. It looks lovely, too, encased in its slightly sheer black holder that glows with the soft light of the flame. Each time it runs out—and it lasts forever—I think I’ll find myself a cheaper rose alternative. But each time I go back.  —Torie Bosch, Future Tense editor

Compagnie de Provence Hand Cream, Olive Wood

I first received this hand cream as a gift, but now that I have experienced it, it has become a staple of mine. I have never smelled an olive tree, and thus cannot judge its authenticity, but the incredible scent is both subtle and sophisticated. The blend of sweet almond, olive, and grape seed oil absorbs right into your hands leaving no trace of grease. —Cleo Levin, commerce production associate

Diptyque Scented Candle

These candles are so ridiculously expensive I don’t typically buy them for myself. But my loved ones know that I’m obsessed with them, and so I’m occasionally the very happy recipient of them as gifts. They come in all different scents and sizes, but “Baies” is my absolute favorite. I love the fragrance so much I did once splurge on the 600 g one, and it lasted forever and made my apartment that much more enjoyable. Treat yourself! —Shelby Jordon, senior manager of performance strategy, Slate Studios 

EltaMD UV Clear Facial Sunscreen SPF 46

I was wary of spending $35 on a small tube of facial sunscreen, but after too many bad experiences with cheap sunscreens that pilled or made my face too shiny, I decided to try this highly rated one. I’m sorry to say it’s worth every penny. The texture and finish are exactly what I want in a lotion, and it doesn’t make my face break out. I like that it has a mix of physical and chemical sunscreen ingredients, too. —Christina Cauterucci, staff writer

FarmHouse Fresh Hand Cream

Voluspa Candles

My two favorite splurges are FarmHouse Fresh hand cream and Voluspa candles. FarmHouse Fresh shea butter is luxury in a tube, and I love how the smell of its “Whoopie Cream” scent is reminiscent of vanilla cookies. Voluspa candles make a room smell like a spa, and the containers they come in are beautiful to reuse to store items like jewelry and hair ties. I love the Prosecco Rose scent. —Erika Anderson, regional sales director

Marc Jacobs Highliner Gel Eye Crayon Eyeliner in (Stone)Fox 58

When Sephora ran out of its store-brand silver eyeliner, and I urgently needed some for my wedding, a sales representative convinced me to upgrade to this Marc Jacobs product. It costs more than twice as much, but now that I’ve tried it, I’ll never go back. Long-wear eyeliners are often waxy and tug on my eyelid as I apply them; this one goes on more smoothly than a pencil, yet refuses to budge until it meets with makeup remover at the end of the night. The shade is shimmery but not over the top, an easy transition from basic black that’s perfect for holiday celebrations. —Christina Cauterucci, staff writer

Quiet Town Shower Curtain

Who would spend $62 on a plastic shower curtain liner? Not our household, I thought—even as I found myself trooping to a big-box store every so often to replace our cloudy, brittle, and soap-streaked piece of vinyl. We started using a see-through liner rather than a curtain to impart more of a sense of space in our cramped apartment bathroom, which worked fine as long as the liner was at least semipristine. But every time I ripped open a new package, I’d feel a wave of nausea from its chemicals and a rush of guilt about the lifetime of PVC I’d tossed.


Then earlier this year, while reading the World of Interiors (itself worth the splurge), I found a solution: Quiet Town sells smartly colored “nonchlorinated” vinyl shower curtains that don’t emit strange odors. Their Sun Shower collection comes in transparent pinks, blues, and yellows ($35), clear ($28), and two-tone editions (the $62 ones). Made of heavier vinyl than your average liner, it doesn’t cling to you during a shower. It has fancy brass grommets. Thus far, it’s incredibly easy to clean. And it makes showering more fun, like bathing while wearing tinted sunglasses. – Jared Hohlt, editor in chief

Wander Beauty Baggage Claim Eye Masks

These under-eye masks are refreshing and fancy in equal measure and are a great gift for the self-care enthusiast who has everything. Like so much of skin care, whether the serum does anything is sort of a mystery to me—but I don’t care because it feels soothing on my skin, especially after a day that involved crying and/or general stress. Unlike most full-face masks, they stick to skin really well. They’re perfect to use while reading a book or while in the bath. —Shannon Palus, staff writer

Yves Saint Laurent Rouge Volupté Shine Oil-in-Stick Lipstick

I have a pretty sizable lipstick collection, but I find myself returning to my Yves Saint Laurent Rouge Volupté Shine Oil-in-Stick Lipstick again and again. Yes, the name sounds mildly gross, but every aspect of it, from the way its weight presses into my hand when I hold it, to the way it lasts lightly on my lips, feels like a brush with luxuriousness. Its versatility also makes it perfect for travel: one application gives you a mild pink while three builds to a bold red. And the “shine oil-in-stick” somehow moisturizes your lips, while leaving a desirable stain as it dries off. Best of all, it smells like lipstick should smell: like the mildest of perfume that only I can discern. —Inkoo Kang, staff writer

AfterShokz Air Open-Ear Wireless Bone-Conduction Headphones

I spend a good chunk of time either biking to work or running around my city, and these headphones allow me to listen to music or podcasts without blocking out my surroundings (especially while biking). If you care deeply about audio quality, these headphones aren’t for you. But they’re worth every penny if you’d rather not shut out all the noise around you but want to keep yourself entertained during your commute or workout. —Megan Wiegand, senior managing editor

Audio-Technica Open-Back Headphones 

My day job means wearing headphones all day … but as any audio professional knows, headphone fatigue is real. My husband recently gifted me this pair of headphones, and the comfort level is off the charts—meaning zero headphone fatigue. The audio sparkles, and I’ve picked up subtleties in recordings I never get on my other headphones and earbuds. Note: Because they are “open-back” (you can hear some ambient noise while wearing them), I don’t bring them to work, since there’s a bit of bleed, particularly if you have an open office plan. But for home listening and editing, they are a joy to wear and worth the splurge.  —Michele Siegel, managing producer, Slate Studios

Audio-Technica Turntable

For the intrepid music lover in your life, there are few better gift options than a state-of-the-art record player. While it’s tempting to go for cheap models like Crosleys, which are small, compact, and easy to use, these players’ flimsy needles damage records over time, have a tinny sound quality thanks to the built-in speakers, and break easily. Whether you’re a casual listener or a hardcore collector of fine German-pressed imports, it’s far better to splurge on a pricier but higher-quality model. My recommendation? The Audio-Technica ATLP120USB—a sleek, sturdy turntable that treats records delicately, brings out a full sound from vinyl recordings, and lasts for years. You can optimize your listening experience with nifty features like an anti-skating mechanism to prevent skips as well as knobs and a slider for adjusting speed and pitch. While it does not come with speakers, you can customize the sound by connecting your own through an auxiliary cord. (I personally use these.) When you hear its warm analog sound, you’ll find the Audio-Technica ATLP120USB is well worth the payout. —Nitish Pahwa, copy editor

GoPro Hero8

Consider a GoPro for that loved one who wants to remember her adventures—it’s worth the splurge. You get a 360-degree view of your experience for a little more than $360. Whether it’s recording tricks on the slopes or a scenic bike ride with the family, the recipient will find plenty of occasions to capture the world in a new way. —Aldana Cardich, ad operations specialist 

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