Category: money

How To Live a Champagne Life on a Beer Budget

Yes, you CAN live a champagne life on a beer budget! A cute home, a nice wardrobe, even travel - it's possible! //

Dear Sarah,

So this is a pretty awkward question, but I do hope you’ll answer it. I know that you are a teacher at a non-profit and you’ve made a few references to you salary of “two dollars.” But you are always dressed so well! And you travel all the time and it sounds like you live in a really nice neighborhood! How do you do it? You don’t have a trust fund do you? ;D

You’re right! That is an awkward question! But, in an effort to hook up some other ladies who are trying to squeeze liquid gold from the proverbial stone, I’ll share my secrets of financial skulduggery.


Buy second hand

Guys, it is not an exaggeration that 75% of my wardrobe is thrifted. And a lot of it is swankity swank brands pilfered from deep in the racks of my local Goodwill. Not only does thrifting save me heaps of money, I feel endlessly clever and lucky when I score an Anne Klein cocktail dress for $20.

Anybody can walk into Anthropologie and put together a cute outfit for $500. It takes an artist to create an ensemble out of the $2 bin. Here are my trusted thrifting tips.

Swap clothes with your friends

Most of us have tons of perfectly nice pieces that – for one reason or another – we’re not wearing. Maybe it doesn’t fit anymore, maybe we’ve progressed past our stripe obsession, maybe we got dumped while wearing it.

Whatever the reason, you can rehome your gently used goods and get some free goodies of your own by hosting a clothing swap! Essentially, you just invite all your girlfriends to your house for drinks and bags of second-hand clothing, but if you’d like a better breakdown, check out this post.

Be extremely intentional + strategic about what you buy

You won’t spend as much money on clothing if you think very, very carefully before you buy something new. Before you add something to your shopping cart (either in real life or online) ask yourself these questions:

  • Can I wear this with at least three other items that I already own?
  • Do I feel comfortable and confident when I put this on?
  • Is this the best cut for me? 
  • Is this the best color for me?
  • If I layer this with other things, can I wear it for more than one season?
  • Is this classic enough that I’ll still be able to wear it next year? And the year after this?
  • Is this well-made? Will it still fit and look good in a year or two?
  • Does this fit my body today? Not five pounds from now?
  • Am I comfortable with the production practices of the company that’s selling this item?

Ooooof. That’s a lot of questions for a fitting room at Marshall’s, right? You might not be able to check every box for every item you purchase, but keeping these questions in the forefront of your mind when you go shopping will reduce buyer’s remorse by approximately 99 percent.

And a weird tip: I feel better about my thrifted, second-hand clothes when I display them nicely and keep them in tip top shape. I splurged on those fancy ‘huggable’ hangers so everything I own hangs nicely. I display all my prettiest jewelry and I keep my boots shined and my sweaters lint-free. My wardrobe looks like a million bucks even though it costs $20!


Eat out less

Under the heading of “so incredibly obvious I hesitate to mention it,” eating out is expensive. And unhealthy. And unless you’re enjoying haute cuisine, you’re probably perfectly capable of making food at home that is just as delicious as the $13 plate of pasta that TGIFridays is serving you. My favorite pizza is $20 for a 12-inch. I CAN BUY THREE FROZEN PIZZAS FOR THAT PRICE.

If you find yourself eating out because it’s Friday night and the cupboards are bare, make a practice of stockpiling “emergency” food for such occasions – frozen pizzas and burritos, Trader Joe’s curries, or those frozen vegetables with sauce. These cost a fraction of a meal out and you can store them almost indefinitely.

Learn to cook awesome things at home

Again, painfully obvious. Cooking will help you save money, maintain a healthy weight, and impress potential lovers.

If you, like me, are lazy, you can spend your Sunday night making one giant pot of soup, one giant pot of oatmeal, one non-lettuce salad thing, a casserole-y thing and eat all of that over the course of the next week. Super easy! Super cheap!

Leann Brown’s cookbook Good And Cheap is a revelation and teaches you how to eat well on $4 (!!!) a day.

And a weird tip: I find I enjoy dining at home a lot more when I make it a proper ‘experience.’ I use placemats and cloth napkins. I plate my food nicely and garnish it if I have some parsley kicking around the crisper. I put ice in my water and light a candle if I’m feeling ambitious. You can create a restaurant-worthy atmosphere in your breakfast nook with pretty minimal effort!

Be your own mixologist

Did you know that most bars charge a 1,000% markup on their bottom shelf liquor? A ONE THOUSAND PERCENT MARKUP. Why is no one rioting in the streets?!

Of course, there are lots of reasons people go to bars, but if you’re really going there for the Vodka Gimlets, you’ll save yourself a lot of money if you just learn to make them yourself. Here’s what you need to stock a party-ready home bar and here’s a bartending guidewith 780 drink recipes. Get to mixing my friend!

Stop wasting food

Americans waste 165 billion dollars worth of food every year and I’m responsible for at least one billion dollars of wilted fresh herbs that I only used in one dish.

You can waste less food if you only buy what you need and eat what you buy. It sounds obvious, but check your fridge and pantry before you head to the grocery store and always shop with a list. Only buy enough fresh produce for that week and learn to adjust recipes to fit what you’ve got on hand.

Freeze extra portions if you don’t think you want to eat soup every day this week and if you see that fruit is about to go bad, peel it, chop it and freeze it for future smoothies.

Figure out which foods make you feel fancy and purchase accordingly

This post is titled “How to live a champagne life on a beer budget” but you might not feel very champagne life-y if you’re eating beans and rice every day. We’ve all got a few foods that feel “fancy” to us – mine is a nice chunk of high-quality Parmesan. Maybe yours is prosciutto or chocolate souffle.

If that food makes you feel like a baller, find a way to make it part of your life. Use it as a garnish or watch for sales. Learn to make it yourself. Eat soup for lunch so you have more space in your budget for cured meats.


I have the least awesome car you could ever imagine. Seriously. Does it get any less awesome than a 2003 Ford Focus? But it’s rust free, only has 100,000 miles on it and isn’t going to get stolen when I go thrifting in a dicey neighborhood. And I bought it with a personal check. No big monthly payments for me!


I do, in fact, live in a nice, slightly swanky neighborhood. I’m a total design and home whore, so living in a boxy, seventies-style apartment in the suburbs was simply not an option. I squeezed my way into this pricey real estate market by sheer luck and by taking an apartment in need of a really good cleaning and a new paint job. I’ve gussied it up using these tricks.


I am huge fan of the thriftyhipster and generally trawling the internet for free or cheap fun. Honestly, you can usually find me doing ridiculous things to entertain myself (see “visit Scientology church” 30 new things goal) but I’m not opposed to dropping change on an event I really want to see.


Of course, travel can be expensive. But it doesn’t have to be! I religiously follow my own advice for traveling on the cheap. And honestly? I just make travel a priority. I’m always planning and saving for my next trip (Next time? Mt. Everest base camp and the Trans-Siberian!) Some girls save up for Jimmy Choos, I save up for Jakarta.

Money Tricks

I only really have two bits of financial wizardry, but I’m happy to share them.
I created a basic budget for myself, just using a spreadsheet and cataloging my monthly income and bills.
From there I figured out how much money I should be putting away each month for retirement, future travel, etc and then a gave myself a weekly allotment of fun money.
I go to the ATM once a week, withdraw that amount in cash and once that money is gone, I’m stuck eating at home and watching library dvds till Sunday comes round again.
I realize that putting yourself on an allowance seems pretty dire and deeply unsexy, but it has actually made shopping more fun and made me appreciate my purchases a lot more.
The other trick I employ is the money vs. time mind game. I think about how much time I’d have to spend at work to equal the cost of the thing I’m about to buy.
It’s crazy to think that I could take two days off for the cost of a purse! And given the option, wouldn’t you rather have two days to do what you want rather than a different thing to carry your phone around in?

How to do you guys fake the good life?

P.S. If you love this kind of stuff, you’d love my free, private Money & Happy Facebook group. Click here to join 3,000+ awesome, like-minded people!

Photo by Marion Michele on Unsplash

6 Smart, Somewhat Fun Things To Do With Your Tax Return

Looking for financial advice on what to do with your tax returns this year? These fun, basic money tips will get you pointed in the right direction!  Click through for 6 money ideas you can use today!
Ahhh, Spring! When a lady´s thoughts naturally turn to tax returns! Wait, what?
Though not quite as tantalizing as Marc in accounting, tax returns are one of the joys of this time of year. And if you, like me, earn approximately $2, you can count on some serious bank. But since we´re all trying to be grown ups here, how´s a girl to spend that?

6 Smart, Somewhat Fun Things To Do With Your Tax Return

1. Pay off Credit Card Debt
But you knew that already, right? Riiiiight?! It´s not a particularly sexy way to spend your money, but super important and, in the long run, you´ll be really, really glad you did. If the siren song of Visa often overwhelms you, stick those credit cards in a bowl of water in the freezer.
2. Contribute to your IRA or 401K
Yes, again. Deeply unsexy. Super important. Your 65 year old self will thank you!
3. Invest in Yourself
You are your biggest asset, yo! Why not take a class or workshop that will make you a little more pinkslip proof? Maybe you can learn how to write grants, use that software that nobody in the office understands or create a basic website.
If that doesn’t float your proverbial boat, use a bit of this money to buy supplies for your Etsy shop, buy a laptop to help along your freelance writing or get some wicked headshots to kickstart your acting career.
4. Green up Your Living Space
Because I love any excuse to feather my nest. And this excuse is pretty damn valid! Low flow shower heads, fluorescent bulbs, water heater blankets, non-toxic cleaners and compost bins all go a long way towards reducing your carbon footprint.
And after spending money on all that un-fun stuff, you can probably validate a wee shopping spree at global exchange, a fair trade retailer that helps artisans from developing countries sell their wares at fair prices.
5. Donate to Your Local Food Shelf
With the downturn in the economy, more and more people are accessing food shelves, and fewer people are donating to them. Help turn that around with a cash donation or even just donating all those canned peaches you´re never going to eat.
6. Buy Something Fabulous and Frivolous
After all that do-goodery and responsible spending you deserve some tomfoolery! Maybe add a classic piece to your wardrobe that will last forever? Or splash out on a really nice haircut? Or fly to Vegas for the weekend with your girls! Buy yourself something fantastic that will bring you compliments and memories for the months to come.

How are you going to spend your tax return?

P.S. How to pay off your soul-crushing debt a lot faster + You can choose to want less.

photo by Dmitri Popov // cc