From our eighth-floor balcony, my wife and I watched the full moon rise over the ocean. Prior to that we walked in the surf, soaked in the hot tub, swam in the pool and had drinks at the hotel bar. In the morning, we had a full breakfast (included with the room) before driving onto the beach in Daytona, Florida (one of the few places you can do that).
The total cost of our luxurious stay at the Hyatt was about $30 for drinks and tips. The room cost only points from a credit card.
A deal like that is great if your income isn’t what it used to be (our case), or if too much of your money still goes to student loan payments. But even if you have a decent amount of disposable income, it makes sense to look for inexpensive ways to live well. The less you spend on this or that little luxury, the more of them you can have, right?
And the good news is that you can feel rich, have great experiences and buy luxury items for a lot less than you might think. You just have to learn how to live large on a small budget. Here are 10 ways to do exactly that.
1. Go to the Symphony for Free
Many symphony orchestras have a free night every year or other free events. For example, the Nashville Symphony has their Free Day of Music each year. The Houston Symphony has 10 free Summer Neighborhood Concerts this year, and in Los Angeles there is the Symphony in the Glen Free Concert program, which has put on 42 free concerts in the last 21 years.
Sometimes these free events are just for residents of the community, while other times they’re open to everyone who shows up. So when you Google “free symphony,” search several times, each time adding the name of any city near you.
2. Buy Quality Used Clothing
If you want to dress nice for that symphony concert, thrift stores are one place to start. You can find decent suits, and dresses tend to go especially cheap. I’ve also bought decent outdoor clothing at thrift stores, including a North Face vest. One financial blogger reports he bought a North Face parka for $5 and sold it for $85 on eBay, so you might fund your quality clothing purchases by selling an item now and then.
And speaking of eBay, it’s a great place to find name-brand pre-owned clothing for a fraction of what it costs new. For example, J Brand jeans that sell for close to $200 new are regularly sold in excellent condition for $25 to $40. For other great places to buy quality used items, see this post on reselling clothing online.
3. Take an Inexpensive Cruise
When we moved to southern Florida, we wanted to get out on the water. We found a coupon for the Naples Princess for $24 each and spent a couple hours cruising inland bays. Later, we found a coupon for the Big M Casino cruise. We had five hours at sea and a gourmet buffet for just $10 each (normally about $28). Yes, we played a few penny slot machines and a game or two of bingo. But the entire day still cost less than $50.
Combining coupons with day cruises is one way to keep it cheap, but longer cruises don’t have to be expensive either. In their Guide to Cruises Under $200, CruiseMates.com lists a Carnival Cruise Line four-night trip to the Bahamas for $179. They say the key to inexpensive cruises is “shorter itineraries and older ships.”
4. Buy Cloth Napkins
Little luxuries at home can make you feel richer. Cloth napkins are a good example of this, and they might even save you some money versus using disposable paper ones. If you really want to dress up the table, learn how to fold napkins into fancy shapes.
5. Stay in Luxury Hotels Cheap or Free
Travel credit cards and hotel cards can make nice places pretty inexpensive. We used the points from our Chase Hyatt Card for the night in Daytona Beach. We’ve also used our points for free nights in Miami, Denver, Coral Springs, Tampa and Lake Tahoe. In addition to the stays using points, we get an “anniversary” night at a category one to four Hyatt each year, which isn’t bad for a $75 annual fee.
You might consider a Marriott Rewards card too (I just signed up). You get a free night as soon as your application is approved, and if you spend $1,000 on the card in the first three months you get 50,000 points, which are good for up to six nights. The annual fee is $85, but it’s waived the first year, so you could get up to seven free nights the first year just from buying your groceries and such, and cancel the card before the 2nd-year fee is due.
6. Buy Quality Used Art
Want better paintings on your walls? Try rummage sales, flea markets and thrift stores. While you’re dressing up your home with high-quality art you might even get lucky, like Zach Bodish, who found a signed Picasso print worth $6,000 at a thrift store for just $14.
7. Buy a Used Luxury Car
They’re all used cars once they’ve been driven home, so why pay extra for “new”? Even luxury cars drop dramatically in price over the years. One car dealer who specializes in them says “they go for less than 1/10th of their initial price 10 years later.”
So if you think you can’t afford a luxury vehicle, think again. For example, according to Cars.com, a 2006 Mercedes-Benz C-Class, which sold new for as high as $54,000 depending on the style, now sells for a range of $5,653 to $14,761.
8. Buy Other Pre-Owned Luxury Items
You can also find designer purses and other nice items for a fraction of what they cost new. Watch for auctions on eBay for starters, and check resale sites like Tradesy. You can often find quality watches and jewelry at shops that sell coins and collectibles. And, as always, check those thrift stores.
That’s how one shopper got a designer handbag worth $500,000 for just $30. More likely finds are quality items for five or ten dollars that cost 10 or 20 times that new.
9. Find a Cheap Home in an Expensive Town
You don’t always have to be rich to live where the rich live. Consider Naples, Florida, which shows up on more than one list of cities with the most millionaires. Yes, after purchasing a home for $47 million, sellers recently listed it for an asking price of $68 million, and small two-bedroom homes on the street where my wife and I lived can sell for over $300,000. But when we lived in Naples, we bought a condo for $89,000, with the pool just a few steps away.
Keep an open mind and you might find that some types of housing or homes in some areas are far less expensive than the averages suggest. And there are a lot of nice things that come with living in a town full of wealthy people. In Naples, we went to the symphony for free, went to free outdoor concerts, and as residents we didn’t have to pay for parking at the beaches.
10. Eat Cheap at an Expensive Restaurant
Is there an expensive restaurant that you would really like to visit? Maybe it’s got a great view or unique decor, or some other attraction (good food would be nice too).
Try this to make it affordable: After you eat dinner at home, put on your best thrift store luxury outfit, watch and jewelry, and go to that fancy place for dessert. Usually a piece of tiramisu or pie with ice cream won’t break the budget, even at an expensive place. You’ll get to enjoy the service, decor, view, and ambience (most of what you go for) at a fraction of the price others pay.
Your Turn: Have you found ways to live large on a small budget? Share them in the comments!
Steve Gillman is the author of “101 Weird Ways to Make Money” and creator of EveryWayToMakeMoney.com. He’s been a repo-man, walking stick carver, search engine evaluator, house flipper, tram driver, process server, mock juror, and roulette croupier, but of more than 100 ways he has made money, writing is his favorite (so far).