November 2017

It’s Not All About the Benjamins: Appreciating Affordable Luxury

Author: Denise K. James

At age 18, I boldly stood in front of my family and told them that I planned to earn a bachelor’s degree in English. Naturally, they demanded to know what I planned to do with that degree—especially when teaching (the obvious answer in their eyes) only warranted a polite wrinkling of the nose from me.

“I’m going to be a writer,” I crowed, youthfully enthusiastic at the idea of struggling for my art.
They rolled their eyes at the time. Now, years later, they have to give me a certain amount of kudos for making it work. I’m the fulltime editor of a community magazine and a frequent contributor to regional publications. Despite this intellectual fulfillment, I’m still not rolling in dough. But you know what? That is okay! I’ve found ways to live richly. Sure, I’m still a little jealous when I see other people’s Instagram accounts boasting photo after photo of their lavish European vacations. I still feel a little ache in the corner of my gut when a pretty handbag, skirt or watch I will never (likely) afford flashes across the screen of my computer or appears in my fashion magazines. I’m only human, after all.

That’s why I’ve developed an attitude that welcomes affordable luxury. What is affordable luxury?”
you ask. It’s having access to whatever you, personally, happen to be able to love and afford. Obviously, that’s something different for everyone; what I can afford and what I love is not necessarily on your list. But working on your own list is important.

The luxury list
To create your list, first ask yourself: What is something I love that I can afford? In an effort to get you started and inspire your brainstorming, here are a few of my own affordable luxuries: Coffee with fresh cream; fresh flowers; monthly pedicures; flavored seltzer; fashion magazines; good music; the occasional road trip; sunlight; friendships; the beach…

If you notice, not everything on my list can be bought with money. But it’s all stuff I love that I can regularly get my hands on.

Recently, I put one of my famous “Questions of the Day” on Facebook and asked my network of friends what their favorite affordable luxuries are. Their answers were inspiring and entertaining.

Here are a few of my favorites:

“I think mine are coffee and books. It’s such a luxury to be able to buy a book whenever I please.”
“Great tasting food at a fabulous restaurant!”
“Independence!”
“Quality bread.”
“Weirdly, swimming pools. I always feel special jumping in a pool (not to be mistaken with above ground or kiddie pools).”
“YOGA. It feels great for the body, cleanses the soul.”
“High-end paper towels.”
“Coffee! Craft beer and prosciutto tie for second place.”
“Planting a million flowers!”
“My answer remains the same: books.”
“Sleep!”
“Good salon-quality shampoo and conditioner, and flushable wipes.”
“Caring about another person.”

Once you have developed your personal list, refer to it often. After all, it will make you feel good to read over items you want and realize you’ve actually obtained them. I like to keep a memo in my phone about my recent vacations. They aren’t anything ritzy or exotic—the mountains, Florida—but I paid for them myself and enjoyed the experiences.

Desire vs. culture
“Luxury has nothing to do with money; it has to do with meaning,” said Pam Danziger, author of Why People Buy Things They Don’t Need. “Luxury is anything you think it is—a mink coat, a dinner on the town, or a walk in the park—and your perspective on it varies according to your life stage, income level, all sorts of other things. It’s all about where your passion lies rather than the amount of money you have to spend,” she explained.

It’s no secret that today’s consumer-driven culture can make us feel inadequate if we don’t have the money to get what we want. More important, it can make us feel like we should want to make enough money to afford whatever the cultural status quo is: that extravagant trip or that pricey vehicle or the latest phone. The idea that a person should strive for as much money as possible is exactly why my family questioned my desire to become a writer. Can most writers afford whatever they want? Well, it depends on your definition of want.

In Sweet Valley University (you ladies read those, right?), a character once said: “True desire is attainable when one desires what is within reach.” I didn’t quite understand it as a teenage girl, but it resonated enough for me to remember it now. So, in other words, if you can manage what you desire and make it something you can afford, you’ll be a lot happier!

Maintaining gratitude
What happens if you have a list of affordable luxuries that you treat yourself to often, but you eventually start taking them for granted? Easy: Take the item away for a spell. Let’s take “sunshine” on my own list. Was I grateful for sunlight again after our rainy summer of tropical storms? Absolutely. And, was I thrilled to have good coffee with heavy cream this morning after I was too lazy to go to the grocery store earlier in the week and had to suffer through my “emergency coffee reserves?” Yep.

The trick to loving your life, my friends, is to imagine what it might be otherwise. If you grab a latte from Starbucks this week, take your car to get detailed or choose the organic container of blueberries at the store, then congratulations. Your life is luxurious indeed.

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