The Frugal blogosphere is awash in posts that teach you how to cut corners at home in order to save every last dime, and if you read personal finance blogs regularly, you might have convinced yourself that you must make a choice between a life lived well and a life lived frugally. And while reusing toilet paper rolls and the lionization of the dryer sheet may have their times and places, being responsible with your finances does not necessitate a complete sacrifice of luxury.
That’s right, today I am committing a cardinal sin of personal finance blogging: I’m going to tell you to spend money. But just a little bit. I’m going to give you license to live your life luxuriously–provided you do it in a frugal way. Because despite what the laundry detergent makers and obsessive coupon clippers out there might tell you, being frugal is not the same thing as being cheap. Being frugal means being smart. There are plenty of ways to live in high style without paying the price later, and here are a list of examples of how to do this to get you started.
Budget wisely to allow for regular indulgences. Regularly using and adhering to a zero-based budget allows you to make smart choices about where your money goes. Not only does telling your money where to go empower you, it also maximizes the amount of money you have to use on targeted goals. This is probably why many first-time budgeters report that after they started using a budget for the first time, it felt like they got a raise.
Along with allowing for each month’s required household expenses, a family’s budget includes different discretionary categories that require choices about where to send your money. Your budget should always includes some choices that enhance your life and make you feel happy about adhering to your financial program. Depending upon the amount of disposable income left over in your budget, you should figure out one or two small luxuries that can fit into your regular budget and include them every month.
Buy yourself a set (or two, if you can) of nice, high thread count sheets. Nice sheets can be expensive, but a good set is well worth the money, and you don’t have to buy a name brand to get a luxurious experience. Besides, I promise you that if you buy a nice set of sheets, you will never regret it. All you have to do to make this luxury a reality is to be smart with how you spend your money: with linens, the thread count is important only in the fitted sheet, top sheet, and pillow cases. You can buy duvet and shams at a lower thread count, and in a more decorative print. Hint: decorative prints, even from “upscale” brands you find in a department store, are probably not more than 250 thread count. So you don’t want to buy the sheets that go with that fancy patterned duvet. Instead, buy plain white high-thread-count sheets, and by high I mean preferrably over 500 thread count. Now, bear in mind that this is yet another industry that isn’t highly regulated, so 500 here might not be as soft as 300 there. But shop around, and remember you are looking for how the sheets feel, rather than how they look.
Personally, I am partial to the 1000 thread count sheets made by Bed, Bath, and Beyond. They are two-ply, and I don’t think that they probably actually are 1000 count sheets, but they are plenty dense in thread count and a great bang for your buck in terms of nice sheets. Another good place to check for lower-priced high thread count sheets is Overstock.com or BlueFly.com. Just don’t be fooled by a fancy name on sheets: premium linen brands like Sferra Brothers, Frette, and Pratesi price even their lower-thread count lines (250 or below) at $1000 or more a set. To get something that really feels luxurious from those brands, you’d have to spend several thousand dollars. And that’s not being a little indulgent, it’s being a lot stupid, unless you’re Oprah. And maybe even then.
- Change your sheets every day. Can you tell that sleep is important to me? Continuing on the sheet theme, one of my favorite indulgences is to change my sheets often, every day if I can manage it. Face it: there is nothing quite like getting into a bed with clean sheets. Maybe that’s part of what makes staying in a nice hotel fun–nicer sheets, and they’re changed every day. Hmm. I might be onto something here.
- Invest in a high quality mattress at least every ten years. You never really realize how much having a good mattress adds to your life until you replace that old one. We recently bought a new mattress and I’ve been sleeping better than I have in years–better than I have since the last time I got a new mattress, come to think of it. When buying a mattress, don’t forget to haggle and be wary of shady salesmen. Here’s a guide to mattress buying that should help you. You have to sleep, so you might as well get a good rest while you’re at it.
- Eat a little bit of chocolate every day. If you have just a little bit of dark chocolate–like a square of it or less than one ounce–it’s not very many calories and it’s very satisfying. There is something about allowing yourself to have a piece of fancy chocolate once each day that feels very luxurious and indulgent, without too much fallout. Besides, dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants, so you’re doing your best to fight cancer when you get a daily dose of it.
- Arrange your toiletries on a towel in the bathroom. I actually heard this one from watching an interview of Jerry Seinfeld, believe it or not. He pointed out that when you stay in a hotel, they’ll put out all of your toiletries and things on a towel in the bathroom so that it’s all arranged for you in the morning, and that he thought why not do that at home? So he does. Of course, he probably has “people” who do it for him, but the advice is still good: pampering yourself in this way is a free way to make yourself feel special for no money at all.
- Make up a few aromatherapy towels and store them in the refrigerator. If you scent a towel with a little eucalyptus oil, it’s very refreshing, particularly after you work out. They have a refrigerator full of these towels at the gym, and when you go to a spa like Burke Williams in LA, there’s usually a little refrigerator full of them as well. But there’s no reason why you cannot do this for yourself at home: just get a few washcloths, wet them, and put a couple drops of eucalyptus oil on them. Roll them up, wrap them in saran wrap, or throw them in a ziplock, and put them in your refrigerator for later. I even did this when I had bad morning sickness and it helped a little in controlling the odor-inspired nausea.
- Buy the expensive dishwashing soap. Sometimes just a small indulgence goes a long way. I first read about Caldrea Lavender Pine Dish Soap on Apartment Therapy about two years ago, and I bought some of it to use to wash Mini’s bottles by hand–something I was doing quite a bit at the time. The special, distinctive and somehow relaxing scent of the lavender pine soap made me feel like I was being pampered even while I was in the middle of doing housework. And yes, for dish soap, it’s quite expensive, but given the enjoyment it gives you, and how infrequently you have to buy it, sometimes it’s fun to just buy the expensive dish soap.
- Put a coffeemaker in your bathroom. Now, stick with me here. I realize this one sounds a little crazy. But if you have children, then you know that time is at a premium. And one of my favorite treats is when Mr. Right-Click gets up with Mini early on a weekend morning and lets me sleep in. But when I do eventually wake up, I like to have my coffee before I start dealing with the day. And the thing is, if I go downstairs, and Mini is alerted to the fact that I’m awake, then my day has started, my friends. So having the coffee maker in my bathroom (once again with the hotel theme here) allows me to have coffee before dealing. Which is so important. So so very important, my friends. Because it’s the little things that make your life run more smoothly.
- When you’re super tired, put cold spoons on your eyes. Being a parent means getting less sleep than you want. This is just the reality. Sometimes you have so little sleep that your eyeballs are aching in their sockets. This is a morning when you want to get out the cold spoons and apply them to your eyes–it feels remarkably good. And so what if this is something I first discovered because I had such awful hangovers in the latter years of my drinking career? The fact is, it works. (And by the way, if you have really bad bags under your eyes, try a little Preparation H under your eyes–this is not a luxury tip per se, but it is a lifesaver on days when you look like it’s been weeks since you’ve slept.)
And you, internet? What are your favorite ways of living luxuriously without totally destroying your budget? Share!