After almost 6 months of working from home (i.e., bed) in a one-bedroom apartment, I’m about 95% of the way through a move to a preposterously decadent two-bedroom apartment, which means it’s time for another entry in my occasional series, “Affordable Luxuries.” Unfortunately, the two-bedroom apartment isn’t the affordable luxury: housing in big cities is far too expensive at every position on the income ladder, and my new apartment is no exception. But while housing is cripplingly expensive, luxuries don’t have to be.
Replace your refrigerator’s water filter
I’ve been making dad jokes so long some of them already have children in graduate school, but one of my favorites is to point out whenever a store has a double glass door that our proud ancestors were allowed to use both doors, while we are sternly instructed to “use other door.”
I get the same energy from people who own refrigerators with built-in ice and water dispensers but who insist you use tap water because “the fridge water is no good.” Invariably, the fridge water is no good because the owner hasn’t replaced the filter in 25 years.
There are two reasons this unfortunate situation persists. One is that owners may not know their refrigerator even has a filter. It’s usually tucked in the back corner of a top shelf, and if it was there when you bought the fridge you may not realize what it’s doing there. The other, even more curious reason, is because it’s extremely difficult to buy replacement filters. For example, the Sears corporation sells Kenmore brand refrigerators, which come with Kenmore brand filters, but does not sell Kenmore brand filters. To buy a Kenmore brand filter, you have to go to a different Sears-owned website, Sears Parts Direct.
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your perspective, a vast assortment of companies sell filters designed to replace the brand-name filter that came with your fridge. It’s fortunate because it means prices are extremely competitive for these products. It’s unfortunate because the companies have inscrutable made-up names, so deciding which ones to trust is largely a matter of faith. I have personally used Waterdrop filters the last few times I needed replacements, but that’s not an endorsement: I truly do not know whether they’re any more or less reliable or suspicious than the hundred other companies selling interchangeable versions of the same products. I do like to make sure filters are certified for both NSF standards 42 and 53, which you can Google if you’re interested in additional details.
A new filter should run you $15-20 and last 6 months, or about $3 per month — practically the definition of an affordable luxury.
Get a faucet-mounted filter
The District of Columbia water utility, for unknown reasons, has a mascot, Wendy, who represents, I think, a drop of DC tap water. Wendy encourages DC residents to drink tap water instead of bottled water, a sentiment I naturally share. But what if you don’t like the taste of your local tap water? That’s right, it’s another affordable luxury: a faucet-mounted water filter. I like the Culligan FM-25 in chrome since it matches my fixtures, but the white plastic FM-15A is an excellent choice as well. Either choice will run you $30 or less to start, with even cheaper replacement cartridges every 6 months or so.
Now you might ask, why would I need a faucet-mounted filter when I just replaced my refrigerator’s filter? Because you need different tools for different jobs! You can use your fridge filter to grab a quick glass of water, but if you want to boil some pasta, you’re gonna want to use the faucet. I use filtered water for everything — is that an absurd luxury? Of course it is. But it’s an absurd affordable luxury!
Get a new Wi-Fi router
I’ve been working from home for years, but when my partner was relegated to work-from-home status in the early days of the pandemic, what started as a nuisance became a crisis: our home wireless network did not support even basic audio and video streaming, let alone the 30-person calls that were now de rigueur.
I knew I needed to get to the bottom of the problem: was the problem faulty wiring, a defective cable modem, or an out-of-date Wi-Fi router? New Apple computers no longer come with ethernet ports, but fortunately I kept my antique laptop around and was able to quickly determine that the wiring and modem were fine: the wireless router was the bottleneck.
Thanks to the constant barrage of coupon codes Staples showers me with, I was able to buy an Archer A7 router for about $50 (I did have to add a couple bucks worth of pens to get my order to the $75 threshold to trigger the $25 coupon). Clicking through a shopping portal and paying with my Chase Ink Plus credit card brought my final cost down another couple dollars. Once installed, my wireless speeds with the new router immediately matched my wired speeds.
Given that work-from-home will be the rule for the foreseeable future, this would be worth doing at many times the price, but the fact it was so cheap definitely makes a new router an affordable luxury.