How To Save While Splurging

Who says you have to live a life of austerity? Even those of us with serious budget constraints can often indulge in "non essential" items from time to time. Here are some of the most common splurges - and the thriftiest way to get them.

Books, magazines, music, DVD's, videos: Remember the public library? Free. You just can't keep what you borrow (but hey, it reduces clutter). Or buy used - the written word does not age. Pre-owned music and movies are often a bargain, and if you purchase from a reputable source you can usually return it if it doesn't work. Oh, and after you are done enjoying it? Sell it back.

Gourmet coffee: Fancy coffee drinks can easily run over three dollars a cup. Rather than forgo the café altogether, order drip coffee for a third the price. Doctor it up with flavored creams, cinnamon, nutmeg, and chocolate that are usually provided for free. Or switch to tea - it's almost always the least expensive item on the menu.

Theater Tickets: Simply must see the latest show? Go for free by volunteering to be an usher. Inexpensive seats can often be had during preview nights and matinee seatings. Discounts are usually available for groups, teachers, seniors, and students. For performances that haven't sold out, theaters will often sell remaining tickets (called "rush tickets") hours before curtain time for a fraction of their original cost. Many big cities have ticket outlets that sell day-of-the-show tickets for half-price.

Organic grocery items: Die-hard organic food aficionados will debate whether pesticide-free, free-range products are a luxury or a necessity, but no matter - they can often be bought without the considerable markups associated with luxury grocery stores. Farmers markets, co-ops, even swap meets are all good places to seek deals. Stock up and freeze organic delicacies when they are at the peak of their season, abundant and cheap.

Fine dining: If it's the white tablecloth experience you're craving more than the actual food, refrain from going when you're starving so you're not tempted to over order. Or go for lunch or breakfast rather than dinner - the food is the same but the cost is greatly reduced. Look for coupons and promotions in local newspapers. Many frugal foodies invest in "Entertainment" books. They offer "two-for-one" deals at some of the most exclusive restaurants in town (as well as for more reasonably-priced eateries).

Massages: True, it's not the same as the real thing, but massage chairs can work wonders for tired, stressed-out shoppers. A famous luxury store located in most malls almost always has display models on the floor, just waiting for some weary soul to sit in them. Investigate massage schools in your area too - they are often on the lookout for people to practice on.

Cosmetics and beauty products: Let's face it, when we buy department store products, it's often the label we are attracted to, not the superior quality. So buy the item from your favorite line with the absolute lowest price point: i.e., a $12 make-up remover rather than the $120 eye cream. "Gift with purchase" promotions are a great way to stock up on indulgent skin care products and cosmetics as well. For the price of a lipstick and a sun block you can get a whole slew of complimentary goodies.

Designer clothes, accessories, jewelry: Fashion mavens on a shoestring look to consignment stores, online auctions, and estate sales to purchase top-notch glitz for a fraction of what it would cost new or retail. Even thrift shops sometimes stock high-end items, particularly if they are located in the swankier part of town. Look for shops that benefit the ballet or the symphony; moneyed fashionistas often donate to them first. Designer-inspired goods are another way to get the look of luxe. Low-cost replicas make real sense for trendy fashions.

Classes: Community colleges offer some of the best educational courses around, and for rock bottom prices. If you care more about the knowledge than the credit, ask about auditing the class for free.

Hair salons: Have some time on your hands? Be a hair model at a high-end salon. It will take longer than if you are paying for it, but since highlights and a cut often cost several hundred dollars, an extra hour (or two) in the chair is often the most economical way to get the latest look.

Spas: Okay, so the spa really is a major splurge. But instead of wishfully pressing your nose against the windows of your favorite indulgence, consider booking an appointment for a manicure or for time in the steam room rather than a pricey facial or body treatment.

Health clubs: Avoid signing up for a membership in January, that's when most gyms bump up prices for countless New Year's resolution makers. Be on the lookout for specials that are offered in the summer months. Find out if a portion of the initiation fee and membership dues are covered by your health plan. Inquire about family memberships or if you can get an extra discount if a friend joins with you - it pays to ask. Do not be afraid to negotiate fees with the salesperson - prices are rarely set in stone.