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The Strategist Haul: What the Editors Bought in September

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist. Photos: Retailers

If you follow our monthly feature Your Shopping Cart, you know we have some eerily good intel on what you all are buying. Which led us to think that, as Strategist editors, we could turn the tables and highlight all the things we’ve been buying for ourselves. As you’ll notice, it’s both a blessing and a curse to be a Strategist editor; we’re picky, but sometimes we just have to get on with it. (It’s online-shopping expertise meets IRL needs.) Below, what we bought in September.

Leah Muncy, deals writer

Ever since Welly bandages hit the market, I’ve gone back and forth on buying a pack just for the cute little tin. (What is it about tins?) Its first-aid kits are expensive, however, and I don’t often need bandages, so I would usually have to give myself a stern talking-to in the Target first-aid aisle and keep walking. But when I ran out of acne patches this month, I decided this acne patch kit would be the perfect excuse to splurge: The pink tin fits easily into my makeup bag, and the patches are quite large — I sometimes even cut them in half for smaller zits. At $15 for 72 pimple patches and a cute little tin, I say that’s not a bad deal.

A friend of a friend of mine just started selling her ceramics online, and it took a Herculean amount of self-restraint (and a quick look at my bank account) not to just purchase the whole collection. I ended up going with one of her stilted vases, which has a sturdy square shape and a wabi-sabi-esque earth-toned glaze. It’ll be the perfect vessel for cuttings, cutlery, or even pencils and pens. The one I purchased is now unavailable, but this larger version is still in stock.

Chloe Anello, writer

When it comes to gluten-free baking, you can’t just use one flour. Most of my recipes require three or more flours in order to get the consistency regular flour provides, and to simplify it, many books use different blends, which consist of set measurements of alternative flours all, well, blended together. Instead of telling you which flours to use and how much, they tell you to use one of the premixed blends. At first, I kept them all in plastic bags because it was economical, and I really only used two books. But after investing in more cookbooks once I cooked my way through what I already had, I decided I needed a better solution for storing my flour mixes. I bought two sets of these jars. So far, I like them. They fit under my awkwardly sized apartment cabinet and are easy to get utensils in and out of when I go to scoop out flour.


My favorite blemish balm, which I wrote about over a month ago, was on sale. The first one lasted about three months after being used almost daily by two people (I share it with my boyfriend), which by my standards is pretty good. I also threw in this Peace Out retinol eye stick, too, mostly because I wanted to meet the shipping minimum but also because the idea of eye cream in stick form seemed handy.

Maxine Builder, editor

Aquaphor Healing Ointment

I started Accutane right after Labor Day, so I spent a lot more money on skin care than usual in an attempt to protect and moisturize my increasingly dry and sensitive skin. I got a lot of stuff on sale, like this extra-large pump bottle of Supergoop’s Everday Lotion and the “gratitude-size” bottle of Tatcha’s super-gentle camellia oil cleanser. But the single best purchase I made this September was a good old-fashioned tube of Aquaphor from Duane Reade, as recommended by the dermatologists we spoke to in this roundup of the best skin-care products for Accutane users. I’m constantly slathering it on my chapped and cracking lips in a way that veers on disgusting, and I will make no apologies for it. It’s really a cult favorite for a reason.

Kelsie Schrader, editorial coordinator

$13 for 3

I have become a bit obsessed with plantain chips over the past several months. The first ones I ever tried were from Fairway — the kind they make in house and sell in their bulk foods section. I think those are still my favorite (both the regular and lemon-dusted ones), but Trader Joe’s makes an equally delicious bag of them that I somehow end up with at checkout every time. They are really just the perfect snack. Little sweet, little salty. Crunchy. Faux healthy. All the things I want at 4 p.m.

This is a boring purchase, but my Garmin Forerunner 35 watch-strap fastener broke this month. I’ve had to replace the straps themselves twice in my twoish years of owning the watch, but as of right now, they’re holding up, so I opted for these silicone fastener rings over a full strap kit. They work, and provided the watch straps stay strong and I only ever need to replace my fastener again, they’ll have saved me money in the long run. One can dream.

Arielle Avila, junior writer

With a cross-country move coming up, I’ve had to scale back on my purchasing habits for the time being. Instead, I’ve doubled down on getting rid of stuff and finding things that might make the move a little less stressful. These storage bags, for one, have been lifesavers. I was able to fit two coats, three jackets, and ten lighter sweatshirts and sweaters into a jumbo bag that was vacuumed down to a flattened plastic pancake about five inches thick. Two of my beloved Beckham pillows were vacuumed down to a packable couple of inches, too. These are pricier than some other storage bags on the market, but they come with a lifetime warranty and I know these will be handy for long-term storage once I’m moved in.

Okay, I did break my no-shopping rule but with good reason. I bought two bottles of this Peach & Lily serum for the price of one as a part of Ulta’s 21 Days of Beauty Sale. Leah unearthed the deal in a daily microsales, and after reading former Strategist writer Lori Keong’s review of it, I couldn’t pass up the one-day discount. I’ve been using it for about three weeks now, and it’s even better than the Great Barrier Relief serum I purchased back in June. I see a noticeable difference in my skin minutes after applying it, and with weeks of consistent use, my skin is definitely smoother and brighter. It’s no longer half off, but once I finish the two bottles, I’ll happily pay full price for it.

Jordan Bowman, writer

I interviewed Jon Gray from Gastronomical and Ghetto Gastro back in August for What I Can’t Live Without and he was talking about the flavor complexities of the Matcha Waffle Pancake mix. I knew I wanted to get my hands on it but in the end went for the Ancestral Roots flavor. Not only does it taste great alone; it also pairs well with a bit of honey or powdered sugar. And as Jon Gray says, “Our waffles are ceremonial grade, and I think every day aboveground is worthy of ceremonies.”

Cross Classic Ballpoint Pen

I’m not very into the stationery world. The best pen is often the one that’s right in front of me. I don’t realize how much I hate a pen until I start writing frantically during an interview and it turns into a puddle of ink and smudges. I resisted the urge to get a new pen until I tried my brother’s Cross rollerball pen. It’s light in the hand and writes smoothly enough to make my haphazard interview notes look somewhat legible. No need to worry about smudging or any of those other annoying details that you might get from a dreaded fountain pen. The titanium version also has a nice grip, which I prefer over the more classic silver or gold option.

Lauren Ro, writer

I’d been looking at evil-eye jewelry on Etsy for a while but hadn’t find anything I loved. Then I saw one of my friends wearing this bracelet at a dinner recently and had to have it. She told me she got it at the gift shop at the Kemper Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, so I went looking there. Turns out it’s made by Erica Young, a Cleveland-based Black artist who sells jewelry under her brand On the Lookout. Sadly, all the evil-eye styles are currently sold out (I have this one), but you can still get her other, equally lovely seed-bead bracelets, like this one made with silver star beads.

I am very low maintenance when it comes to my hair. I buy my shampoo at Costco and rarely use conditioner. (I’m a Kirkland Signature Moisture Shampoo girl all the way, supplementing with Head and Shoulders 2-in-1 to combat dandruff every once in a while. For what it’s worth, the Costco shampoo is supposedly a white-labeled dupe of the much more expensive Pureology shampoo.) Then I read Dominique’s recent story about the best sulfate-free shampoos and thought, Why not? Although my regular shampoo is also sulfate free, the experts (and Dominique) made a convincing case for Verb, and I bought it immediately. It’s expensive, considering that a 34-ounce Kirkland shampoo sells for $11 while a 12-ounce Verb costs $18, but I love it. It has a subtle scent, and a little goes a long way. My hair, which is on the oily side, feels super-clean but also still moisturized, and I can go an extra day without washing, which I couldn’t really do with my other shampoo. I’m considering buying the conditioner, too.

Katherine Gillespie, writer

I grew up eating these coffee-flavored candies in Australia, where Indonesian food was somewhat more plentiful. After randomly coming across them in a Rockaway Beach Polish deli (would love to know more about how they got there), I couldn’t resist buying a couple of packs for nostalgia’s sake. It’s safe to say that I’m now hooked on their caffeinated, caramelly taste once more. And while my more local bodega probably won’t ever start importing candy from Jakarta, it turns out that you can buy it pretty easily and cheaply online.

I recently moved into an apartment with old-school picture railings in the living room and bedroom, which I was excited to realize meant I wouldn’t have to take my chances with drywall and a drill in order to hang artwork. This all-in-one system from Stas is almost too good to be true: It’s cheap and took me less than five minutes to set up. I had my doubts, but the hooks secure firmly on my crumbling, less-than-pristine molding and the “zippers” make it easy to adjust the position of each frame. I now consider myself a gallery girl.

Ambar Pardilla, writer

Boyata Laptop Stand
Photo: Courtesy of the Vendor

I started working from home early into the pandemic. Since then I’ve changed jobs twice, spent too much time staring at screens, and have developed a bit of neck pain at the ripe old age of 25. I had a laptop stand before this one, but it really didn’t do too much to help me actually stay in the perfect ergonomic position that experts recommend. Since this one can easily move up and down, I don’t have to stay in one static position for eight hours a day. And I even use it as a laptop desk when I don’t want to leave my bed. My neck definitely feels better already after a couple of weeks. I bought it in champagne gold (which is more of a rose gold), but you can also get it in several shades of silver, black, and pink.

This keyboard was another addition to my mini desk update. It was on our list of best keyboards — our tech writer Jordan Bowman likes how easily he can switch between typing on his laptop and his iPad. As someone who isn’t particularly tech savvy (I can barely keep up with the hype on the latest iPhone), it took all of two minutes to figure out how to connect it to my work laptop. The laptop doesn’t make too much noise even when I’m in a typing frenzy, either — which is especially handy when I’m having writer’s block and need all the silence I can get. And I got the matching mouse to make sure my wrist doesn’t hurt after a long day.

Emma Wartzman, kitchen and dining writer

Wonder Valley started by making beautiful olive oil out of California (which I also highly recommend!), but they have a full slate of beauty products too. I recently tried their oil cleanser, which is a supremely gentle and lux way to wash your face. I use it when my skin is feeling a bit dehydrated and I need a break from something harsher. It’s lovely.

Pineapple Collaborative just came out with its newest product — the Salt. I generally only keep a bowl of kosher salt and one of Maldon on my counter (I think those are the only kinds you really need). But this has become an instant favorite. It has a beautiful blush pink color, a mild salinity, and the grain size is somewhere in between my go-tos. I’ve been sprinkling it on eggs in the morning and in salads and to finish fish, meat, and roasted veggies in the evening. The first batch sold out super-quickly, but you can preorder now for shipment in mid-November.

Jessica Silvester, contributing editor

Carrie Underwood is not a style icon of mine, so I sort of surprised myself when I was moved to try her workout line. I guess I’m branching out in new ways now that I live close to a Dick’s Sporting Goods, which exclusively carries the Calia by Carrie Underwood collection. Also, I couldn’t help but notice that the pieces looked more expensive than they were (a good 25 percent cheaper than Lululemon). And it turned out they fit that way too–the high-rise leggings made my butt and thighs appear sculpted and smooth, which they aren’t, and the boyfriend tee, while oversize, actually had very flattering lines too. Both items are also quite cozy. I can already tell that they won’t hold up as well in the wash as Lululemon, but considering the sale prices, I still feel like they were very much worth it.

What caught my eye about this clean-beauty fragrance was the name, because my son has a thing for wolves. I was out shopping with him when I saw the perfume on display in this jewel box of a boutique that popped up this month in Hastings-on-Hudson. “A wolf perfume!” I said, and took a whiff of it mainly to entertain him. But it instantly seduced me with its subtle notes of amber and vanilla, warm yet clean, exactly what I’d been looking for in a new fall fragrance. And I loved how it came in this pocket-size rollerball vial, which I now keep with me in my purse at all times and dab on whenever I want to shift my mood.

Dominique Pariso, writer

With the purchase of these Uniqlo x Ines De La Fressange wool trousers, I only have one thing to say: Let Meg Ryan Fall commence! Also known as the most beautiful time of the year (solely because I am no longer sweating through my tank tops).

I also bought this Apple TV. I didn’t get too bogged down in the Apple TV versus Roku versus Chromecast debate. I know very little about tech, but what little I do know boils down to this: I need easy-to-use devices and the Apple TV delivers on that front. If you’re okay with the old remote design (which I was), it’s also on sale at Target right now.

Karen Iorio Adelson, senior writer

I’m going to Hawaii in December, which I’ve decided means I need a whole new “beach” wardrobe. One of my new additions is this linen shirtdress from J.Crew, which I plan to wear as a swimsuit cover-up and also for dinners out. Plus I think it’ll just be a nice spring-summer dress even when I’m not on vacation. I like that it comes in petite sizes because — since it’s designed to be a little oversize — I think the regular sizing would be a little overwhelming on me since I’m short. It fits very nicely and the linen feels like good quality.

I also picked up this raffia bucket bag, which definitely has a beachy vibe, but I think I’ll still get some use out of in the city.

Gabrielle Cody, Strategist intern

Just because something is cheap doesn’t mean it won’t last a while. This purple foldable stand from FiveBelow fits any smartphone or mini-tablet. You can raise the stand up to 5.5 inches and the base is weighted, so it won’t fall over. Plus it’s foldable and fits in the palm of your hand, so you can bring this stand anywhere.

I didn’t think tonic water did much for anyone’s skin until I tried this one. I have acne-prone skin and there is always a breakout somewhere on my face. A little spritz in the morning and at night calms my face from any redness or irritation. I especially love to use it after washing off an exfoliating mask to help calm my skin.

Jenna Milliner-Waddell, writer

I’ve officially been in my apartment for a year. I have a habit of moving at the end of each lease, but I decided to stay with the caveat of switching my lease to month-to-month. As consolation I bought a few new things. When I saw that Urban Outfitters restocked these tortoise-shell-looking utensils I immediately bought them. I also picked up a new rubber tree and am still on the hunt for the perfect pot. I would love a new sofa but haven’t found anything perfect yet for my tiny space. I went looking at Humble House in Brooklyn, where there were a lot of great options, but I picked up this key chain instead. You can’t shop its store online but it’s available on the maker’s website.

Shopping in person has its perks sometimes. I randomly found a few of these leave-in conditioners at a TJ Maxx in South Jersey for $6 each, so I picked up two, which saved me $4 each on the mini size.

Tembe Denton-Hurst, writer

September is my birthday month. This year, I celebrated by going to Turks and Caicos and renting an insane villa with four of my closest friends and my partner. Naturally, there were gift bags. I gifted everyone a Strat-classic medium-size L.L.Bean Boat and Tote handbag with their initials embroidered on it. I chose the green because I already own it and use it almost daily. It’s the perfect bag. It’s big enough to carry my laptop and sturdy enough that I don’t worry about stuffing it full. They were definitely a hit and felt like a nice thank you for all of my friends committing to such a big trip.

Seven Days in June by Tia Williams
From $15
From $15

On the topic of books, as part of the gift bags I gave each person a book I felt matched their reading interests and personality. For the friend who dates a lot and liked My Sister the Serial Killer, I gifted Luster, by Raven Leilani, which has a sort of sexy but gross energy and feels a bit cinematic. One of my friends read Such a Fun Age and loved one of the supporting characters, so I gave her Seven Days in June because it’s unapologetically Black, easy to read, and has a love story that makes me smile. For my best friend who’s a screenwriter and vintage Black film buff, I gifted her Hanif Abdurraqib’s A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance, which deals with Black performance and its impact on American culture. And for my best friend who should probably write a Sex Diaries I gifted Kink, an anthology of short stories about sex written by some of the literary scene’s heaviest hitters (Roxane Gay, Carmen Maria Machado, Brandon Taylor). I didn’t buy my partner a book because she doesn’t read.

Louis Cheslaw, associate editor

I’ve always loved the look of wool turtlenecks but don’t love how scratchy, tight, and hot they can make my neck feel. On a recent walk around Todd Snyder’s Madison Park flagship, I spotted this timeless, cozy, and — most important — cotton solution that I plan to dress up (with blazers and Oxford shirts) and down (with jeans and boots) all the way to next summer.

I’ve also been going back into our office, which means wearing masks throughout the day again. I already appreciated how soft, comfortable, and washable Atoms’ masks were, but it was seeing Brad Pitt wearing one at the U.S. Open that persuaded me to restock my supply.

Anthony Rotunno, senior editor

I’d been intrigued by Oofos’s line of “recovery” footwear ever since a friend told me the sandals she got were one of the only things she could wear after some knee problems. (The shoes, for what it’s worth, are American Podiatric Medical Association approved.) I resisted the urge to buy a pair for a couple of months — I didn’t need another pair of plastic shoes — but finally caved ahead of a September trip, when I knew I’d be doing a fair amount of walking. Leah’s review of the sandals she bought also pushed me over the edge. Given the time of year, I opted for these clogs instead of the brand’s open-toe styles. Slipping your feet inside, you immediately notice the soles’ cushioning; at first they felt somewhat uncomfortable, but in a good way that made me wonder just how not ergonomically designed my other shoes may be. That discomfort subsided quickly enough, though, and now they feel great — stable, supportive, and so easy to wear (especially for travel).

Like many people, I got bit by the post-quarantine new-pants bug and picked up this pair of jeans from Acne on a bit of a whim. I’m typically a straight-verging-on-skinny guy, so their wider leg is a departure, but a pleasant (and trendy) one. The denim, while substantial, feels light and soft — not suffocating and scratchy like new jeans often can. And the color is a great middle ground: Neither too light nor not too dark, it’s the type of shade you could wear at anytime of year.

The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural anxiety remedies, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

The Strategist Haul: What the Editors Bought in September