How to Live a More Luxurious Life on a Small Budget
Photo Illustration by Coveteur
Living

How to Live a More Luxurious Life on a Small Budget

From earning points on rent to purchasing clothing off of resale sites.

We all deserve to live luxuriously, but with rising rent prices, home costs, and inflation you may be thinking the life of luxury is not in the cards. Thankfully, upgrading your life just takes some strategic moves when you’re working with a very small budget—and the payoff can be huge.

“Luxury is all about quality over quantity, but it’s also about prioritizing what’s important to you,” says Bola Sokunbi, certified financial education instructor (CFEI), founder of Clever Girl Finance, and author of Choosing to Prosper. “Spend on what pleases you, not what pleases other people.” Sokunbi says finding what’s most important to you, and leaning into that, is the most crucial part of living a luxurious life. And that shouldn’t come with guilt—if you’re making something a priority, that’s for you. (Just make sure to save where you can.)

Ahead, a breakdown of the best ways to live a more lavish life when you don’t necessarily have the bank account of a person who can spend lavishly.

Shopping

Hack the Points System

In general, unless you’re shopping for unique things at places like estate sales, vintage stores, and the like—your money will go farther online, particularly for higher-priced items. (Think about the environment when shopping; if you’re already at a store or near a store, you’ll want to avoid shipping something from said store to your home.) With shopping online for big purchases, big hauls, and the like, you can make a purchase count three times over towards rewards.

How? 1) Sign up for any reward system that retailer has in place and sign in before making purchases (and check any promotions they’re running). 2) Use a credit card that offers points or cash back on your purchase. 3) Sign up for third-party cashback or rewards programs, like Rakuten (which gives you cash back) or MyPoints (which gives you points to use towards rewards). They both have web browser extensions so you don’t even have to think about it—you just click the extension and it’ll automatically show you how much you’ll get back or how many points you’ll earn with just that one click.

Find Promo Codes Via Browser Extensions

Browser toolbar extensions are the easiest way to make sure you’re not losing out (especially when making large purchases). Honey is another extension you can use, which basically scours the internet for promo codes you can use and automatically applies them at checkout.

Make Second-Hand, Renting, and Borrowing Clothing Your Go-To—Not Your Backup

If you can’t afford to buy new, you can look into second-hand and rental options, according to Colleen McCreary, chief people officer and consumer financial advocate at Credit Karma. “You can borrow top quality, on-trend outfits from sites like Rent the Runway for under $30 (just make sure you can afford the charge and follow the rules so you don’t pay any penalty fees for a late return). Or, if you’re like me, create a watchlist for items you want on Ebay to get alerted when they’re on the market and in your price range,” she says. “Lastly, no shame in relying on the closets of your friends and family—when you combine the closets of others, you suddenly triple your options.”

Sokunbi agrees, and says spending on what’s important to you is fine—with moderation. If you’re into luxury handbags, for example, try buying off a resale site, like TheRealReal or Vestiaire Collective, and make sure you’re cycling through your number of bags to sell them as well. (Pssst...I’ve personally had great success buying and selling items on Mercari, and they even have a luxury verification process for those wanting to make sure the items are authentic.)

Travel

Get a Credit Card With Lounge Access

If you travel a moderate amount during the year, it’s absolutely worth it to look into cards that can provide you with travel benefits. This can look like anything from free checked bags to waived Global Entry or TSA pre-check fees (more on that below) to priority lounge access. Most of these cards are, yes, going to have an annual fee (most no-fee cards don’t come with lounge access), but if you’re spending money on drinks before a flight each time you fly, a meal to get you through an hours-long travel day or coffee to keep you awake after a red-eye flight, it’s probably going to be worth it to look into a $250 to $650 card that will provide you with access to free drinks, free snacks, free coffee, a comfortable place to sit and eat and work, and even more benefits.

Amex Platinum is one of the best (though the pricier of the bunch), along with Chase Sapphire Reserve and Capital One Venture Rewards. But if you’re loyal to an airline, try looking into cards that work specifically with that airline to get upgraded status much faster and discounted access to lounges, usually at a much lower annual fee. (I love my Delta Skymiles Platinum American Express.)

Look Into Priority Pass

A few of the above credit cards give you a free Priority Pass, which lets you into 1300+ airport lounges or areas around the world, alongside discounts at airport restaurants and shopping. If buying outright, rates start at $99 per year to $429 per year.

Utilize Your Credit Card for Free Global Entry or CLEAR Membership

Many travel-focused or general lifestyle credit cards (not just the high annual fee ones) give at least some credit or waiver towards Global Entry, TSA pre-check, or CLEAR. Double check your credit card to make sure you’re flying priority easier and cheaply. (More often than not, Global Entry is the way to go vs TSA pre-check, as pre-check is included with Global Entry and the difference is about $20, which again, can be free based on your credit card.)

Be Mindful of Your Miles

Experts agree that travel will always be the best return with miles—not merchandise or cash back. That being said, use them in a way that makes sense for you! But if you are redeeming airline miles for flights, make sure to also look at the partner airlines and check how much the route would cost using their miles system. Oftentimes, you can transfer miles to that particular airline because many times airlines will have very different miles values for the route. Make sure you’re getting the best deal! Also, look up transfer offers if you're thinking of doing the transfer because sometimes you’ll get even more miles credited to your account, thanks to online transfer promotions, though you’ll often need to use the promo code.

Food + Socializing

Join a Social Club

Do I think everyone wants to be a member of a social club? No. Are they a good chunk of money? Yes. Do I think they could probably provide you with some great things, particularly in a remote-first working arrangement? Yes. Do I think you can get a discount? Yes.

Some things to consider: Are you new to a city? Do you travel a lot? Do you already pay for a gym membership, or other amenities which a club provides? Did the pandemic cut off some of your social opportunities? You may want to look into a social club, a.k.a. a club where you pay a monthly fee to use their facilities, which often includes co-working spaces, gyms, bars, and even pools. Many clubs offer under 25 or under 30 discounts (that rise when you hit those ages), in the idea that it’s prorated for your income. Keep an eye on ones that are just opening in your city (this is especially true for those in bigger cities) because oftentimes founding members get a discount a.k.a. you pay less if you’re one of the first to join. This is also true for members-only workspace clubs.

If that’s not at all a fit for your budget, look into your job perks—does your company reimburse you for co-working spaces (and can you convince them that this membership is primarily for working)? Does your company pay for wellness activities or your gym? You could get your membership (or a portion of it) paid for this way. If you’re self-employed, talk to a financial expert to see if you can get most, if not all, of your dues written off come tax time. Some social clubs and workspaces to look into: Soho House, The Ned, NeueHouse, Heimat, The Wing, CORE, and Spring Place.

Utilize Rewards Programs

If you’re a Capital One account holder (any account or credit card will do), you can get half off any beverage from a Capital One cafe. Starbucks has a rewards program that is quite good, as do most popular chains. You’ll often get discounts, if not free regular coffee, when you use your own mug or travel cup.

Home

Earn Points on Rent

BILT is the first credit card where you can pay your rent with zero fees. Here’s how: They partner with certain properties that make paying with a BILT card a breeze. If you don’t rent from one of these and pay your rent through an online portal (it adds a percentage on as a processing fee for credit cards), BILT works like a bank account (a.k.a. you have a routing number and account number) to put in instead. And if you pay by check, BILT will send the check on your behalf each month (either to you or to your landlord).

It works just like a credit card should—racking you up points on what you pay your rent and when you use it for other credit card purchases. Not only can you then use the points for rewards with their partners (American Airlines, United, Virgin, Emirates, Hyatt, IHG, and also fitness partners like Rumble, SoulCycle, Y7 Studio, etc.), but you can also use your points to pay towards your future rent or even towards a downpayment with participating properties. The best part is you’re improving your credit score one month at a time. I use it for my rent and it’s a game changer—I’m currently saving up points for a big trip to Europe next year.

Buy Second-Hand Furniture

Save your money (and the earth) and buy second-hand furniture. You can search vintage stores, resell stores (like Housing Works), thrift stores, Facebook Marketplace, and more for seriously stunning items at a massive discount. You can also buy pre-used stuff from rental services like Feather and Fernish, oftentimes with very little use.

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