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10 Ways to Live Frugally Without Looking Cheap

Maryalene LaPonsie

Do you hate the idea of brown-bagging it as everyone else in the office goes out for lunch? Do you dread parking your old-school Camry in a lot full of BMWs? Do you hope no one sees you with your coupons in the grocery store?

If keeping up appearances is important to you, there are plenty of ways to do it without resorting to falling into debt. Here are 10 ways to look like you're living large without overspending.

[See: 12 Habits of Phenomenally Frugal Families.]

Buy used items. From designer clothes to luxury cars, you can buy high-quality goods at a reduced rate simply by opting for secondhand items. "I have a couple ladies who work for me who always look great," says Dawn-Marie Joseph, president of the financial firm Estate Planning & Preservation in Williamston, Michigan. "The majority of them buy their stuff from nice consignment shops."

If you're looking to buy a car, keep in mind new cars depreciate significantly in the first year, meaning there are deals to be found if you're willing to buy something previously owned. That's the strategy Joseph has used to buy Range Rovers ever since she discovered they are perfect for her dirt road. While the 2018 base price for a Range Rover is $88,860, Joseph says she has never paid more than $21,000 because she always looks for used vehicles with low miles. To make sure you're getting the best deal on a used vehicle, consider looking for certified pre-owned vehicles or having an independent mechanic inspect it prior to purchase.

Barely used, brand-name electronics, jewelry and furniture can be found at pawn shops and Facebook sales groups as well. However, if you're buying an item from a private seller, be wary of counterfeit goods and conduct transactions in a public place.

Rent, don't own. Sometimes you only need to use an item briefly to make a good impression. In that case, consider renting rather than buying. You can rent designer clothes through Rent the Runway, or try Mine for Nine to get fashionable maternity wear. There are also rental companies for baby gear, jewelry and handbags. These websites will let you borrow specific items for a certain number of days at a set price. Or you can sign up for a subscription plan that will let you rotate clothing items. For example, Rent the Runway will send you four items at a time for $89 a month with its RTR Update plan.

Purchase at the right time. If you do want to own something, research when the best time is to buy. "Retailers tend to discount earlier in the week," says Janet Alvarez, executive editor of the personal finance publication Wise Bread. You don't necessarily have to buy in the offseason to the get the best deal either, Alvarez says. There are sales cycles that allow consumers to estimate when prices may be lower. What's more, some categories of goods reliably follow certain pricing patterns. For instance, fitness products are often cheaper in January, while home prices generally peak in the summer, and the weeks leading up to Black Friday in November are generally prime time to buy electronics.

Buy high-quality products. In addition to buying at the right time, be discerning about how you spend your money. Buying an expensive item that you'll use frequently could cost less overall than if you end up buying a series of cheaper goods that don't get as much use.

"I like custom suits," says Don Orban, president of financial firm Midwest Retirement Advisors in Omaha, Nebraska. They cost more, but Orban says they end up being a more frugal choice in the long run. "They fit better. They wear better," he says. While you don't have to buy the most expensive items available, buying quality clothes, cars and electronics may save you money in repairs and replacements. Plus, you're more likely to use something that works well or fits you right.

Barter. Joseph recalls a woman she knows who makes beautiful jewelry and then barters it for hair and nail care. Rather than spending lots of money at the salon, she gets the same look for free. Any hobby or talent could potentially be bartered. For example, lawn care, child care, meals, transportation or photography could all be used to negotiate for other services and goods. It's ideal if you can barter with someone you know and trust personally, but sites like BarterQuest and U-Exchange can help you find bartering partners around the world. To avoid scams, be sure to look for user reviews and be wary of brand new bartering websites with few users, which could be a front for scammers.

[See: 12 Ways to Be a More Mindful Spender.]

Use loyalty programs. If you worry that using coupons will make you look like a cheapskate, check out the latest store loyalty programs. For groceries, chains like Kroger and Target have apps that let you clip coupons digitally and then enter your phone number or scan a device at checkout for savings. Meanwhile, the drugstore Walgreens lets customers accumulate points with its loyalty card, which can then be redeemed for discounts. Starbucks, Panera Bread and a host of other chains also have loyalty programs that reward visitors with discounts and free food.

Embrace DIY projects. "If you like to have a clean car, no one knows if you go to a car wash or do it yourself," Orban says. Similarly, looking fit and healthy can be achieved by working out at home rather than paying for a pricey gym membership. Dress shirts can be ironed rather than being sent to a cleaner, and basic yard work can be done by most homeowners at little cost.

Plan budget-friendly trips. While cars and houses used to be the traditional markers of wealth, Alvarez says younger generations are more impressed with their peers' experiences.

To stick to your budget, use loyalty rewards programs to earn points toward award flights, free hotel stays and complimentary upgrades. Scheduling travel during the shoulder seasons, when the weather is still good but the prices are lower, is also a good strategy. Travel credit cards can offer additional perks and points, but make sure you're able to meet the minimum spending threshold on your credit card to reap the most rewards and benefits.

Be strategic about presentation. Sometimes people can create the illusion of luxury while still saving money. Liz Revenko, senior financial planner with advisory firm Mosaic Financial Partners Inc. in San Francisco, knows that from firsthand experience.

"The best wedding cake I ever had was at my cousin's backyard wedding," she explains. The couple had a professionally made cake on display, which they cut during the reception. Then, it was taken back to the kitchen where plated cake slices were brought out to guests. Revenko's tablemates liked the cake so much that they went to the kitchen to ask for the baker's name. It turns out that the cake being served to guests came from the warehouse store Costco.

[See: 10 Fun, Frugal Ways to Spend Your Free Time.]

Skip spending more to elevate your status. Some items that used to be impressive are not as important anymore. "I think people, especially men, will spend money on a watch," Joseph says. However, the days of a Rolex being a status symbol are rapidly diminishing as fewer people wear watches. Expensive pens and cuff links are other examples of items that formerly were status symbols and now are largely overlooked by others.

If you want to impress your friends, spend your money on what matters to them. Or, better yet, don't worry about what's important to them and buy what's important to you instead.



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