Elegant woman holding many shopping bags

Luxury for Low Money: Getting Beyond “I Deserve It”

Of course you deserve it. I do, too.

We’ve worked hard, and we’re sure not getting any younger. If we don’t indulge now, when will we? 

When I visited New York City recently, I spent an afternoon walking around Chelsea and the Village with an old friend. As we browsed through the shi-shi boutiques lining Bleecker Street, lust for beautiful and expensive things kicked into high gear. 

I ran my hands down thick wool sweaters, so soft they felt like touching clouds ($325). I admired the intricate handiwork on gorgeous throw pillows ($150 each) and picked up a heavy, deep blue, crackled-finished soup bowl (at $35/bowl, dinner service for six would go for … well, more than I have to spend).

stack of soft wool sweaters

Did you ever watch Killing Eve? In one episode, Villanelle, a psychopathic hit-woman, sends Sandra Oh’s character a box full of clothes. Luxurious, exquisitely tailored, obviously expensive clothes. Very, very, VERY expensive clothes.

Wouldn’t it be nice? Not to be stalked by a psychopath, but to have a closet full of uber-high quality jackets, blouses, and boots. To shop without concern for cost and pick up the $5,400 painting hanging in a Soho gallery that would look so great on the living room wall. To buy that $400 handbag calling your name.


Lusting After Luxury

I’ve never lived an expensive life and usually don’t lust after luxury. But a part of me – okay,  I admit it – a part of me wants to buy that cashmere sweater or designer jacket without looking at the price tag. 

More times than I can recall, I’ve felt slightly uncomfortable because my clothes aren’t just right. Too shabby, not stylish enough, not right for the occasion. Or they don’t fit just so, or fall to the right length. Often, I’m kind of held together by safety pins. 

And my house. I love my house, and my neighborhood next to a major university in a funky, diverse city. But I’ve lived in it for 22 years and it still looks like the “before” picture. 

Floors and ceilings need to be redone. My living room furniture consists of a mishmash of hand-me-downs and trash day saves. I sometimes don’t want people to come over because although I can envision my home with interesting art on the walls, shining wood floors, good lighting, and tasteful, comfortable furniture, in reality it’s, well, not ready for prime time.  

And I’m not getting younger! I deserve a gorgeously appointed home! 

And elegant clothes! 

Why can’t I have those, especially when I compare the lovely houses, stylish clothes, and other things some of my friends have to my own, shabbier possessions?

The truth is, I can. I can get just what I want. It’s simply a matter of time and attention.

Luxury for Less: Clothes

The reason I sometimes feel uncomfortable in my clothes is that I pay scant attention to them. 

I admire women who look well put-together, but honestly, as a single parent/small business owner, I’ve had other things on my mind. In the limited free time I have, I’d rather lie on my sofa with a book or take a hike in the woods than shop for clothes. Or think about them.

But if I did think about them occasionally, I’d probably have fewer held-together-with-safety-pins moments.

Here are some actions I can take – and you can, too – to experience sartorial luxury on a budget:


Alter for a Great Fit

This is a relatively low-money fix to feeling not-just-right in your clothes. 

If you sew, bringing a hem up is an easy fix. Even if your skill level doesn’t match the task, youtube can teach you anything you need to know.

When my nephew got married recently, I waited until the last minute to find a dress (not a strategy I recommend – waiting until you have to buy something often ends up costing more than you want to spend).

I was lucky, though. I found a simple linen sheath at Ann Taylor on sale for $80. Here’s a pic – I actually like it on me better than on the model shown here (a RARE occurrence). Unfortunately, I didn’t get a good picture at the wedding or I’d share it with you:

Classic and elegant, and I liked the way it fit … except in the chest, where it sagged.

Luckily for my budget, it was too late by then to take it to a tailor. Although the fix was beyond my skill level given multiple layers of lining and facing, I got on youtube, figured it out, and fixed it. It took a few hours the night before we left for the wedding, but ended up looking just fine.

Luxury? It’s Ann Taylor, not Jason Wu. But it felt simple and classy, looked good on me, and fit right. I’d call that a win.

If you don’t sew and aren’t willing to learn, it may be worth it to find a tailor you trust. For a few good-quality pieces, the 40 or so dollars you’ll spend to get that perfect fit will pay for itself. You’ll wear the item more often and feel great when you do.


Buy Used

I’m pretty committed to buying most of my clothes used (hard to do for last-minute purchases, though, like the dress for my nephew’s wedding). Believe it or not, luxurious Goodwill finds abound – but it’s hit or miss, and you have to spend some time shopping, and going back to shop again if you don’t see anything you like. 

At Goodwill, I found a Marmot rain jacket for my daughter, in like-new shape, for $10 (sells for $100 new). I also recently snagged a pair of Lucky Brand jeans for $5 (the original sells for $99). 

At any second-hand store, whether Goodwill or online, I only buy things that show no visible signs of wear. On ThredUp, a terrific online second-hand clothing store, you can check a filter for “like new” or “new” (sometimes they sell items that still have the original tags).

Wait For It: One High-Quality Item at a Time

Another way to get that luxury you deserve for low money is to buy one super-high-quality item at a time. 

If you really, really want something, wait for it. Save your money, a little bit each month, until you have enough for it. Waiting and saving like this will ensure that by the time you have the money, you still want the item.

Then search all over the internet to see if you can get a deal on it. Check out eBay and see if someone is selling that exact item, used. 

Before I buy anything online, I google the name of the item with the words “coupon codes.” Sometimes I end up with a discount. 

If the item you want is in a local boutique, give the owner your email address and ask her to let you know when it goes on sale. Even better, ask if there’s anything you can do in return for a discount. For example, are you good at social media marketing? Offer to review the store’s campaign and suggest improvements. Write well? Offer to write a few emails for their online community.

Also, shop out of season. You’ll pay less in March or April than in December for the gorgeous, warm winter coat you’ve got your eye on that costs a fortune but is JUST EXACTLY what you want. 

Make sure that the few purchases you make (new or used) exude quality. Take care of them. Hang them to dry instead of putting them in the dryer, which eats natural fibers (ever wonder what all that dryer lint is? Yup, your clothes wearing out). 

Wouldn’t you rather have one well-made, luxurious-feeling blazer in a neutral color, that you can wear with a variety of skirts, pants, and blouses – and that will last many years – than lots of cheaply made ones likely produced by underpaid workers in Asia or South America? And that will probably fall apart after one season? 

I would.

Luxury for Less: Home Furnishings and Decor


The first and probably most important way to make your house feel elegant, and even luxurious, involves getting rid of excess stuff. That’s right: clear, clean, de-clutter, Kondo-ize. 

What’s the first thing designers who stage homes for sale do? They tell the sellers to get rid of all clutter, even pieces of furniture that take up space but don’t add aesthetic value.

uncluttered corner of living room

I’m slowly decluttering my home. I recently gave away my grandmother’s piano that held sentimental value but took up too much space (and no one ever played). Now my dining room – the only place the piano fit – feels clear and spacious. I still have a long way to go, though, before my house feels free of excess stuff. 

Once Again, Buy Used

Once you’ve cleared everything out, you can add a few pops of luxury. Maybe a textured throw pillow or two to add a splash of color. Or scour craigslist for the perfect dining room table. 

I have a small living room and want a glass-topped coffee table to make the space seem less filled up. And not just any glass-topped coffee table; I want a Noguchi. Originals sell for close to $2,000 (ha!). Reproductions sell for between $300 and $500 – still WAY too much money. 

So I’m keeping my eye on craigslist. I know that if I wait long enough, I’ll find what I want for less. Once I see a Noguchi knock-off, or something similar, for under $150, I’ll jump.

Noguchi coffee table


Do It Yourself

DIY’ing offers another strategy for bringing luxury into your home for small money. 

I want a world map for my kitchen wall. An original, hand-painted wall map that will make me feel like I’m looking at art rather than at a mass-produced pull-out from National Geographic. 

I found some on Etsy for $250 and more. 

But what if I bought a $30 watercolor-ready canvas from Michael’s, and a set of $15 watercolors? I have a projector – I can project a map onto the canvas, trace the outlines of the countries, then go over those outlines with a Sharpie. Then I can paint the countries in.

Maybe it will be a $45 disaster. But maybe I’ll love it, and I’ll get my original art-map for $205 less than if I bought one online. I’ll keep you posted …

Getting What You “Deserve” – For Less

Okay, okay, I know I don’t really “deserve” anything. I’m extremely fortunate and privileged, and recognize that millions of people around the world work a lot harder than I do just to barely subsist. 

Still, the siren call of beautiful things pulls at me from time to time. Mostly, I relegate those desires to the “fantasy” department of my brain. 

But sometimes, with some planning, waiting, and elbow grease, I can indulge.

What do you do to keep the “I deserve it” monster at bay? Or better yet, what do you do to bring luxury into your life for low money? Let me know in the comments.

6 thoughts on “Luxury for Low Money: Getting Beyond “I Deserve It””

  1. Thanks for this article. I think you hit on 2 really key ideas: take your time and research.
    Two shares:
    – My spouse and I have been very intentional in getting items for a house we bought a year ago. I got a small bookshelf and end table for $15 each at Goodwill and used gift money to buy two trees for the yard. But, after hours many hours online and in used furniture store hours, we could not find the kitchen cabinet we wanted, so I spent many more hours reading reviews of and we just bought one that we love new.
    – Re: clothes: A good local consignment store is worth it’s weight in gold. My personal challenge is making time to go clothes shopping. Not sure if it’s because it’s not a once and done thing or because it feels like an indulgence instead of a necessity (even when it’s something I need). Does anyone else struggle with this?

    1. Enjoy the kitchen cabinets! I have a small kitchen and found some really nice cherry, shaker-style cabinets at a building reclamation center – $800 for my whole kitchen. Sometimes, though, to get what you want you have to buy new. Good for you for putting in the time to do the research. Also, agree about the value of a good consignment shop!

  2. Most of the time at the instant of decision, it’s easy to just buy it. I love stuff, who doesn’t? Another good resource for high quality clothes is estate sales in high end neighborhoods. I scored a gorgeous vintage Yves St. Laurent jacket and a Givenchy blazer for less than $100 for both. I’m keeping those till I die (or weight too much to fit them). One way to know if you can tailor the clothing is if there’s at least 1/2″ in seam allowance (the inside extra material along the stitching) in the areas you need more room. 1″ is even better. It is also more work (and thus more $) if there’s lining, padding, interfacing to deal with. As you’ve probably discovered with your dress, it’s more labor.

    1. Yes! So easy just to buy – but I’m resisting. Estate sales are a great idea – I’m going to check them out. What a great score on the jacket and blazer!

  3. Great post! I had never heard of ThredUp. I’m totally going to check that out! I love the effects of decluttering too. Freeing up space seems to improve the energy in the house and somehow declutter my mind too.

    1. Thanks, Amelia! Thredup is great – definitely check it out. And yes, decluttering makes any space seem more elegant.

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