Everybody likes nice things.
But have you ever felt like nice things were just out of your budget? Like, when you were scrolling through Instagram, came across your friend’s vacation pics, and thought, “That’s cool and all, but I don’t have an extra thousand bucks just laying around.”
If so, you are not alone. The reality is, many of us aren’t making the salaries we hoped we would, 70% of us are graduating college with massive student loans, and then some of us just started this whole money thing and it still feels scary to spend it.
Today I wanted to write something for those of you who feel like luxury is just out of reach. Whatever your reasons, whether it’s six-figure student loans, or underemployment, you don’t feel like you have room in your budget for anything extra.
But if you never have room for fun, then it’s easy to get down at life. And that’s how budgets get wrecked.
Here’s the good news: You don’t have to spend a lot of money to add a luxury into your life. Luxury isn’t about spending money. It’s actually about appreciating the small details. And you don’t have to kill your budget to get it.
So maybe you don’t have an extra thousand dollars, but maybe you have an extra $50. And the best part is that some of the nicest luxuries don’t even cost a thing. Here are 22 ways to get that luxe feeling when you don’t have much money.
Note: Some of the links below are affiliate links.
1. Fresh Flowers for the Home
You saw this one coming, right? Fresh flowers are an instant mood booster and add natural beauty to the home.
Buy a few cheap supermarket bouquets and mix them up into separate arrangements. Don’t worry about making them look symmetrical–perfectly arranged flowers look kinda generic. For a more elevated look, take your inspiration from Dutch paintings, or nature. For example, I love how loose and organic this looks:
For more of a how-to, Fox Fodder Farm, one of my favorite New York florists, did a great piece on how to arrange supermarket flowers so they don’t actually look like supermarket flowers.
I also really love this Loewe video for how to arrange flowers for color. Who wants to come over for a flower arranging party?
2. Gift Yourself on Your Birthday
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably make a beeline for Sephora to get your free beauty gift on your birthday. But here are some lesser-known deals you might not know about:
Coffee lovers–by signing up to be a Starbucks rewards member you’re entitled to a free drink or food item on your birthday. Free coffee is always a good way to start the day.
Haven’t kept up with your eyebrow game? During your birthday week you can get a free brow arch just by showing a valid photo ID (no purchase necessary). This isn’t available at all locations, though, so you might want to call your local store and ask first.
I love Fresh! When you sign up for their rewards program, you get a free welcome gift and then another free gift for your birthday. However, if you don’t live near a store you do have to spend at least $25 to have them mail the rewards to you.
I’ve got a major sweet tooth, so I never let this one pass me by. If you join Pinkberry’s loyalty program, you get a free small fro-yo during your birthday month.
Who needs an entire cake on their birthday? If you have a Sprinkles nearby, you can get a free cupcake on your birthday.
3. Watch Stylish Movies
On lazy weekend days, watching movies with excellent costume design always inspires me to mix up my closet a little bit. Here are my favorites:
Me Without You
Taking place in 1970s England, this is a coming-of-age story about a lifelong, complicated friendship. Every single outfit, and Michelle Williams, is on point.
🎥 Watch it on Amazon Prime.
The Talented Mr. Ripley
It’s January and it’s pretty warm (45 degrees!) in New York today. That means I’ve got warm, sunny seasons on my mind. Every single scene in The Talented Mr. Ripley gives me ideas for my summer looks. The gorgeous Italy backdrop doesn’t hurt, either.
🎥 Watch it on Amazon ($2.99 to rent)
A Single Man
Nicholas Hoult’s fuzzy white sweater still haunts me in my dreams, and Colin Firth has never looked better. Since it’s directed by Tom Ford, the fashion designer, you know this movie is going to look impeccable.
🎥 It’s not streaming anywhere right now, but you can check to see if your local library has it.
In the Mood for Love
I feel so lucky to have watched this in a movie theater. It’s one of those movies. Besides the fact that it’s dripping with style–the cinematography, the music, and the 1960s Hong Kong setting–the truly original love story always gives me the feels. Must watch, y’all.
🎥 Watch the full movie on Youtube.
4. Simplify and Declutter
Messiness is the opposite of luxury. My husband and I recently hired someone to clean our apartment, and man, walking into a clean, organized home was an amazing feeling. You don’t have to hire someone to clean, but taking the time to put things away where they belong, or hiding them out of sight, makes a big difference in the overall look and feel of your home.
5. Buy Sheet Masks on Discount
I bought five packs of Karuna masks once on clearance, not knowing it was the ultimate score. Later on I found out they normally retail for $8 per SHEET. Places like TJ Maxx and Nordstrom Rack consistently carry name-brand beauty products for less, with sheet masks often being priced at $3 or less. So instead of splurging on a facial, get the luxe feeling at home by steaming your face after cleansing, putting on a sheet mask, then layering on your favorite beauty serums.
6. Cook Restaurant-Quality Meals at Home
Do you have a favorite meal you love to order, but then makes you feel guilty for splurging? I bet there’s probably a recipe floating around online, so you can make it at home. One of my favorite recipes to DIY is Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Chocolate Molten Cake. With just six ingredients it’s dead-simple for baking newbs like me. You most likely have everything already and just need to get the Valrhona chocolate. To make them even more special, I love baking them in ramekins (bought for cheap from TJ Maxx).
7. Go to the Library and Indulge in All the Free-ness
When I was in between jobs and cash strapped, the public library saved my budget. Some days I’d spend hours pouring over current issues of magazines and then going through the archives. When I found a magazine that seemed really interesting, I’d check it out and read it at home. I also didn’t have cable, Netflix or Amazon Prime, so being able to check out movies for free was also a much-appreciated benefit.
8. Entertain at Home
Here in the city, it’s easier (and more expensive) to just meet your friends for dinner or drinks out. So when you entertain at home, it really seems special. Having a dinner party is labor-intensive for sure, but you don’t have to spend a ton of money to make it look elegant. What I’ve done is hit up a dollar store to buy the table cloths, place mats and votive candles for super cheap.
As for food, I’m a big Trader Joe’s fan, and their frozen appetizers are actually pretty tasty. To save both time and money, check out Bon Appetit’s top picks for the best Trader Joe’s frozen apps.
9. All-White Bedding
A neutral color palette for your bedding can make every day feel like you’re waking up in a hotel. Plus, even if you don’t make your bed, everything still looks crisp and clean. Watch out for sales at Macy’s or check out Target. I like this sham set a lot, because the texture just adds a little dimension to the monochrome look.
10. Try Sample Sizes at Sephora
You can get a sample of almost anything from Sephora, so don’t be shy about asking for one. Or three. Plus, by trying before buying, you’ll be better informed whether or not a product will work for you.
Have a special event, or just want to look extra nice? Head to the Beauty Studio for a free, 15-minute makeover, which will focus on one part of your face. Need help with eyeshadow or blush? This is for you. Sephora also offers a 45-minute full face makeover if you buy a gift card or products valued at $50 or more. I got the 45-minute makeover to get ideas for my wedding makeup, and I was surprisingly happy with the results. Learn more about the beauty services here.
11. Wait for Restaurant Week
Maybe you’ve been meaning to try that cool new restaurant, but can’t pull the trigger because of the price. Check if your city has a Restaurant Week, when there’s usually some kind of discounted pre-fixe options at participating restaurants. When I lived in Boston, my best friend and I would always take advantage of Restaurant Week so we could try restaurants that were normally out of budget. Better yet, if dinner is still too expensive, try the lunch option instead.
12. Take a Relaxing Bath
Maybe you don’t have the budget to go to the spa. But you can still recreate that spa experience at home for less than $10. Set up your favorite soothing tunes, dim the lights, and don’t forget the bath bombs.
13. Buy an Actual Magazine
In today’s digital world, buying a physical magazine feels like such in indulgence. I hardly buy souvenirs when I travel, but I won’t hesitate to buy a magazine for the flight. And when I’d go to the laundromat I’d always get a little thrill looking at all the magazine options. I’ve tried digital magazines, and it’s just not the same. There’s something about that magazine paper that’s just so alluring. Physical magazines are something to savor, and take your time with, which is the definition of luxury.
14. Add Green to Your Home with a Plant
I once turned down having my own office, because there weren’t any windows in there. Flowers don’t last long, but if you want a way to upgrade your apartment for fairly cheap, think about getting a plant, especially if your apartment isn’t filled with natural light. Plants can be a nice way to bring the outside indoors.
Dating back to the 1600s, Cire Trudon is the oldest candle company in the world. So owning them can feel like you own a little bit of history. The Madeleine taper candles are also scentless, so if you love to throw dinner parties, these will automatically add polish to the table.
16. Spend the Day at an Art Museum
I never feel poor when I’m surrounded by beauty. Not only is it inspiring to be around the best of the best, but art has this way of making you see the world a little bit differently.
17. When It Comes to Designer Items, Think Small
You use your phone every single day. But you might wear a fancy dress once or twice a year. So which purchase is actually more practical? I see designer phone cases go on sale all the time. Here are my favorites right now:
18. Rent a Fancy Dress
So maybe a new dress isn’t in the budget. But maybe you can rent one instead! I rented a Proenza Schouler dress once for a nice dinner with my husband, and it was a thrill to receive a fancy dress courier’ed to my office. All of these dresses cost $40 or less to rent.
19. Skip Dinner and Order Dessert
Eating out can really cut into your budget, but what if you ate at home and just went out for dessert? If you don’t have to pay for dinner and drinks, then ordering the most decadent dessert on the menu all of a sudden seems way more reasonable.
20. Swap In Matching Containers
Achieve a more intentional, uniform look by swapping regular soap and shampoo bottles with matching containers. I recently changed out my soap dispenser with a green Muji bottle and it was $4.50 of pure happiness.
21. Donate Money
Nothing makes me feel richer than being able to support the organizations or causes I care about. In college, I remember I made about $60 per week from my work-study job, and one day I donated $50 of it. Maybe it was a stupid, naive decision–I had only $10 to for myself to last the whole week–but it felt oddly powerful.
22. Do Absolutely Nothing
The best luxury is having all the time in the world. The next time the weekend rolls around, instead of cramming in a bunch of errands, dedicate an entire day to doing absolutely nothing.
What are some ways you add luxury to your life without spending much money?