If you’re of a certain age, you might remember the old show Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous where Robin Leach extolled the lavish lives of celebrities and other rich folks living the reality of “champagne wishes and caviar dreams.” Younger folks keep up with the Kardashians, rappers, athletes and other got-bucks figures. In both cases, the scenes played out across TV, movie, computer and tablet screens seems to be far beyond the attainability of ordinary folks.
In fact, it’s possible to live a rich life even if you aren’t rich. In many cases, attaining your own caviar dreams means doing your own fishing, at least figuratively (rich folks have “people” to do that sort of thing). In other cases, living well means knowing when to save, when to splurge and when to step away from so-called “bargains.”
Live in a Great Neighborhood
Of course, one tried and true means of affording a great apartment or a house is to share the cost with one or more roommates. This can work if you’re either very young or have a tight crew with whom you get along. On the other hand, picking roommates out of an online or newspaper ad is like playing roulette once you’ve graduated from living in a college dorm. Sometimes it works, other times, not so much.
A variation on that strategy is to rent a room or a “mother in law” apartment from a single or empty-nester couple. In many cases, you will have your own bathroom (essential!) as well as the run of the house, including the kitchen and in many cases, the laundry room. If you go in with the understanding that your relationship will be cordial rather than one of master or mistress and servant, this arrangement can be very economical.
These offers are usually advertised in local media, not in the major news outlets. In some locations nonprofit agencies serve as matchmakers of sorts for home owners or renters with extra space and home seekers. The advantage with using such services is that everyone is usually thoroughly vetted before any matches are made.
Drive a Nice Car
If you have $20,000 or $30,000 to blow on a new car, more power to you. However, if you’re willing to go used, you can save thousands and still have a great-looking (and great-running) ride. However, you must (absolutely must) do your homework. Check out Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds, Carfax and other resources so that you have a general idea of what you should expect to pay and red flags to avoid.
Have an idea of the features you want and be firm on the non-negotiables, but be willing to be flexible on nonessential aspects. For instance, if the car doesn’t have a great stereo but is otherwise perfect, you can obtain one as an after-market purchase for a reasonable price, or just plug your iPod in the car charger. On the other hand, if the ride is running on a set of Maypops (tires that may pop at any time), be prepared to negotiate the price WAY down if everything else is OK. Tires are expensive.
Above all else, have the car checked out by a mechanic and take it for a test drive before putting down any money. This cannot be emphasized enough. If the seller balks at either request, you must walk. If you are willing to spend a bit more for a car, obtaining a certified pre-owned vehicle with a warranty removes much of the risk of buying used.
Travel Locally and Internationally
Two words: package deals. This doesn’t mean group travel packages, which are often quite expensive. Instead, look for deals on aggregate services like Travelocity or Expedia that allow you to book flights and hotel rooms together, often for less than the cost of booking either alone. Another way to save is to rack up frequent-flier points. Concentrate on one or two programs and look for ways to add to your point balance. Many programs allow you to earn points by purchasing nonrelated goods, or by eating out.
Traveling during the shoulder season is another way of saving money, especially if you’re traveling internationally. Many locations are very pleasant to visit during the fall or early spring. Just be sure to check the calendar for local celebrations that could result in booked-out rooms if you wait too long to make your plans.
Hostels and Y’s represent another money-saving way to save money on accommodations. If your idea of a hostel is a bare room with rows of metal bunk beds and grungy bathrooms, you are at least 20 years behind the curve. While it’s true that you will likely be placed in shared accommodations, in all likelihood you’ll have at least some secured space to stow your possessions and the bathrooms will be CLEAN. If you’re really averse to sharing your space, some hostels and Y’s have single rooms with private baths that still represent a bargain compared with many hotels. If you want one, book early – they tend to go fast.
In-town transportation can cost a fortune if you cab it everywhere. Of course, in some locations, that’s the only safe way to travel. However, in many cities public transit is safe, if somewhat confusing to navigate. Check out the public transit website (nearly every system has one) and order timetables in advance if possible. Ask conductors and ticket agents for directions if you’re totally confused.
Special tip for Europe: second-class Eurail train fare is the way to go – it is nearly as comfy as first class, totally safe and WAY cheaper than first class. It’s also the way the locals travel, which means you have a better chance of making international friends during your stay. If you intend to travel extensively throughout the continent, purchase a Eurail pass BEFORE you leave the U.S.
Eat Well and Healthily
During the spring, summer and fall, nearly every city and town hosts one or more farmers markets. If you like fresh fruits and vegetables (which you really should), this is the best way to obtain them, other than growing them yourself. One bite of a freshly picked peach or strawberry and you’ll be spoiled for anything you can purchase in a store.
Purchasing in bulk is also a way to save money on food. If you’re single, you can still purchase in bulk. The key is to invest in storage containers and freezer bags that will allow you to divide your family-sized steaks, cereal boxes and canned goods into manageable portions that you can refrigerate or freeze.
Dress Well and Look Great
By now many people have become hip to consignment shops or second-hand outlets run by organizations like the Junior League. You can definitely score designer threads at far below designer prices. Sticking to the classics is one way to avoid looking dated if you’re shopping last year’s fashions. On the other hand, stocking up on a wardrobe of “bargains” can be very costly if the clothes fall apart during a single laundry cycle.
Beauty schools are a great resource for makeup and hairstyles. The students are usually very advanced and supervised, so you shouldn’t come out looking Goth or with a shaved head unless that’s what you’re into. Having your “face” done at an upscale makeup counter is totally legit way of getting a professional makeup job done for free, although you should be prepared to buy something unless you really hate the results.
Champagne Wishes on a Beer Budget
The overriding theme in the above examples is to realize when it’s wise to spend a bit more versus when it’s safe (or even wise) to economize. Concentrate your dollars on your non-negotiables and use sweat equity to substitute for those services that rich people often pay for. And take lots of photos during your trips.