I love the idea of tricking yourself into feeling rich. While it may be nobler to just accept a lower standard of living, the idea of frugality can just feel like such a bummer in the moment — especially when we’re taunted by photos of people living their best, cocktail-and-bachelorette-party-infused lives at all times. In my experience, focusing on the Spartan lifestyle I “should” be living tends to have the opposite of its intended effect, making me feel sorry for myself and thus somehow prematurely deserving of a reward.
It’s the same when I try to get on a healthier diet. If I fixate on all the crappy things I can’t eat, I just crave them more. But if I think about biting into all the fresh, juicy produce that’s in season, I’m much more motivated. So it goes with saving money — if I focus on all the things I’m not spending on, I feel like a petulant child who’s just been told, “No more TV.” But if I think of all the small luxuries that are within my budget, I can do it. (What a novel metaphor, right?! Someone ought to create a website name based on that premise…) Still, the more substantive consequence of this essentially materialistic approach is that it makes me more mindful of and grateful for all the nice things I have, as pedestrian as they may seem to some. Below are a few of my favorites.
1. Fresh herbs – I used to think this was one of those things foodie people just preached about to feel superior, but I have since seen the error of my ways. Fresh herbs take your food from 0-100. Dill for chicken and potato salad. Cilantro for Mexican and Asian dishes. Basil for basically anything. True, they can be pretty expensive but a) it’s still less than eating out, and b) you can grow them at home. We just shared this article on TFD about starting a home garden. It’s thyme to grow your horizons (sorry not sorry).
2. Fresh citrus – Fresh lemon makes your sad, dry chicken breast delicious. Fresh lime makes your struggle tacos chic. And both can be squeezed into ice water for the best, zero calorie summer bev.
3. Eating al fresco – And calling it “al fresco” (lol). No matter what’s on your plate, there’s just something so idyllic about a picnic in the park, and it’s so much less expensive than brunch out (plus no drunk fools downing bottomless mimosas to your right). No matter how many zeroes are in your account, you’re just a block of cheese and a $6 bottle of prosecco away from feeling like an extra in Call Me By Your Name.
4. Nice sleepwear – I feel like the pampered feeling I get at hotels largely just comes down to the white terry cloth bathrobe and slippers. Conversely, the lethargic and gross feeling I get at home is 90% due to my sitting around in a threadbare oversized T-shirt. Did you know you can get a satin nightie for $10 on Amazon? I sure didn’t. But the more expensive one I bought at a vintage store was well worth it.
5. Print Magazines – Is there anything more cartoonishly luxurious than laying on a chaise lounge reading a glossy mag? They’re so cheap right now (RIP publishing) that it’s pretty much a crime not to stock your living room like a dentist’s office. You can often get them through airline miles, and if not, they’re constantly having sales. (Vanity Fair is $10 right now for an entire year! With a free tote! Get your sassy 90s mom on!)
6. Nuts (and pine nuts) – No explanation needed. Pine nuts are nature’s candy.
7. Nice condiments – A glass jar of fancy(ish) mustard is the leather jacket of foods. You don’t need it, but then again, don’t you? Granted, it doesn’t have to be expensive. You can make a lot of condiments from scratch.
8. Getting something tailored – Life is too short to go around feeling awkward in a blazer that’s too long in the sleeves, or to let a nice dress gather dust because it doesn’t fit in one place.
9. An abundance of conveniences – I spend way more time using the cheap stuff in my life, ie. bobby pins, hair ties, gum, chapstick, socks, and the like than I do my nicest things. There are never enough of them, and it’s always annoying. Get 100x more bobby pins than you need. Put a chapstick in every purse you own. Poof — you’re rich!
10. Having a clean place – Sometimes I feel like my apartment looks cheap, but really, it’s just messy. Under the dirty dishes and junk mail and crumpled clothes is a nice, perfectly livable space waiting to breathe. We discussed this amongst our team and concluded that having some baskets around in which to toss clutter is a game changer. Even more so if you have one for blankets, and the blankets are rolled (not crumpled).
11. Having open space – Counterintuitively, getting rid of stuff often makes a place more elegant than buying more. Just editing out a few knick-knacks or leaving an open shelf can be a welcome relief on the eyes.
12. A full pantry – On the opposite end, having a fridge or pantry bursting with (unexpired) groceries is one of my favorite feelings, as it’s so often not the case. Even if it’s just towers of canned veggies and dry grains, it’s comforting to know it’s there.
13. A pitcher of ice water – This was another great tip from Mary, who said, “I keep water, tons of ice, and a sliced lemon in a lil carafe and leave it out on my bar cart or dining table all day. It stays cold and makes me feel fancy.”
14. Candles – The rule of candles seem to be that everyone gets them as gifts and no one really uses them. Let’s use them! Even if only for ourselves. Especially if only for ourselves.
15. Softer light bulbs – Speaking of lighting, no one deserves heinously fluorescent bulbs when the softer, glowy kind are the same price.
16. Real wine glasses – Take it from someone who overestimated the cost of glasses and insisted on drinking Franzia from mugs for the better part of her adult life. Turns out a set of 6 stemmed glasses is $15 from Ikea. AKA the price of one overpriced cocktail at a bar.
17. MoviePass – This one is a little controversial because it’s a tad pricey to some at $10/month. But if you go to movies often anyway, it’s a great deal. And how luxurious to see as many as you want in a month without spending more than $10? You can see things that only looked mildly appealing in the trailers. Just smuggle in your candy and popcorn >:)
18. Cotton balls/q tips/Kleenex – This is similar to the bobby pins point, but I think it deserves its own mention. As an underbuyer, I often don’t get these things (because TP, right?) but when I do, I remember how nice they are to have around.
19. Thrift store jewelry – Arguably the best thing to buy secondhand because it never has holes or stains. Plus, you’re just as likely to break or lose your expensive stuff, anyway.
20. Pretty dishes to store said jewelry/cotton balls – While you’re picking up some costume jewelry, grab a few little candy dishes for storing them in your vanity or bathroom.
21. A long night’s sleep – Alas, the best things in life are free, and in my book, sleep is high among them. All the fancy skin products in the world can’t replace the beauty benefits of consistent, solid rest, and while a nice mattress isn’t cheap, so much of getting good sleep comes down to lifestyle (minimal drinking, exercise, and just giving your eyes ample time away from screens before bed). I’m missing my bed just thinking about it…
What are your favorite cheap indulgences?
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