Treats and little luxuries provide a welcome pause in a busy life. If you drive yourself too hard, without some pleasurable interludes, you are going to get stale and bored. I work from home and it’s easy to get into a rut. The mind craves novelty and new stimulation to keep it energised. In a life without pleasure, it’s easy to slip into a mind-set of fear and scarcity. So how can you feel like you’re living the luxury life when you’re on the tiniest of budgets?
The challenge is that things like buying a coffee and a pastry every day or having a monthly magazine subscription all add up over time. When I realised that going without these little indulgences would over a year, give me enough money for a decent holiday or pay a chunk off the mortgage, I stopped. These days when I feel like a treat, I ask myself if there’s a low cost or no cost way to enjoy it. If you get creative there are so many fun and economical ways to indulge yourself and your loved ones.
To get you thinking, I thought I’d share a few of my own ideas:
1. Replace your coffee shop habit with an at home drinks nook
I love coffee shops and cafes! In my favourite ones, the environment is cosy and inviting and the drinks always feel a step up from the ones I make for myself at home. These days I rarely visit coffee shops because whilst I love them, the cost feels excessive for the value delivered. One coffee and a pastry or savoury can set you back about £7. That’s a heavy price to pay for a half hour break.
However the secret to happy frugality is not to do without but to find ways to achieve the same feeling of pleasure for less. To this end, I set about studying what it was about good coffee shops that made them so enjoyable. Here’s my list:
- The drinks have a high end feel to them, served in gorgeous cups, with the highest quality ingredients and extra flourishes such as a dash of fresh cream and a candy cane or cinnamon stick in a hot chocolate, or an iced coffee served in a tall glass over ice.
- The delight of discovering that a tiny treat has been put on the saucer holding the drink. Particular favourites include a small square of chocolate brownie or freshly baked biscotti.
- Tables lit with wonderfully scented candles or twinkling tea lights in winter.
- In summer, a coffee shop with an outdoor space or freshly picked flowers on the table.
- Great music such as chill out or jazz playing softly in the background or sometimes a pianist, a real treat!
- Comfy seats with plenty of cushions.
- A stack of magazines, newspapers and old books to browse through.
Once I had my list, I focused first of all on up-levelling my drinks. My current favourites are iced coffee on warm days or hot chocolate when it’s chilly. So I bought a good brand of hot chocolate and some cinnamon sticks. I also got some vanilla extract (not to be confused with the synthetic flavouring vanilla essence) to add to my iced coffees. Over the next few weeks, I experimented with various hot chocolate and iced coffee recipes and adjusted them to suit my tastes.
I also put together a cosy drinks nook in our sitting room, complete with scented oil burner, a few roses from the garden and favourite reading material. When are drinks are ready, we put some favourite background music and the scene is set for me to go and make the drinks.
2. Find inexpensive ways to have flowers
When I had a well-paid corporate job, I used to buy fresh flowers on my way home from work on a Friday. I still love flowers but fresh flowers can be expensive in the UK.
After being given a rose bush as a wedding gift four years ago, we realised that if we bought a few more, we would have an abundant supply of fresh flowers throughout the summer. We have several different types of beautifully scented roses and it’s wonderful to be able to assemble a vase of flowers from the garden at a moment’s notice. We’ve also had success growing lavender and sweet peas which look wonderful in a small bud vase with the roses.
In winter when there are no flowers in the garden, I will invest in flowering pot plants and the occasional stem or two of real flowers from the florist.
I have been converted to buying faux flowers which have come on leaps and bounds over the last few years. I go for small posies rather than big, elaborate arrangements because they look more realistic. I either display these on their own or put them in with a few real flowers for a more authentic look. It’s not good to put the stem of a faux flower in water but I overcome this by popping the stems in a test tube to protect them from the water in the vase.
3. Use fresh herbs and salad all year round
To me, using fresh salad leaves and herbs all year round feels very decadent. However, pots of fresh herbs from the supermarket always wilt on my windowsill within days. This year I’d had enough and decided to experiment with growing my own from seed on my sunniest windowsill. Living in the UK, with limited sunlight in winter, I wasn’t expecting a huge success but I was pleasantly surprised. A particular triumph is my fresh basil which has grown from seed into the most glorious plant. The more cuttings I take from it, the more it seems to flourish! I have also grown fresh pea shoots very successfully which make an elegant and refreshing salad.
4. An afternoon out and some new books
One of our favourite trips out on a rainy Saturday afternoon is to visit a library. Whenever we go somewhere new, we often drop into the library to see what it’s like. I dream of discovering an elegant old library reading room complete with burnished wooden desks and the glow of green bankers lamps. Alas most libraries have been thoroughly modernised but they can still be inspiring. If you are craving fresh stimulation, there’s little more rewarding than borrowing a stack of books to bring home.
The only caveat about borrowing books from a library is to make sure you note down the return date and get them back on time. If you fail to do so, fines can mount up at an alarming rate, especially if you’ve taken several books.
I am sad that public spending cuts have seen libraries closing all over the UK these past few years. When I was little, we rarely bought books and I came to love our weekly visit to the library and the thrill of returning home with new reading material. It’s a pity that many children today are denied this pleasure. The only silver lining is the start of community libraries. These form when local people have rallied together to take over their library when it’s facing closure. Community libraries tend to be warm, friendly places and some even have coffee shops, crèches and social spaces where local people can get together. How wonderful!
5. The joy of freshly baked pastry
Ever since I was forced to do Home Economics in school, I have rebelled against the idea of making my own pastry. However last week I bought a roll of puff pastry from our local Co-op for the very reasonable price of £1.35. For this modest sum, I was able to muster up two delicious treats.
I cut the roll in half and with the first half I made some delicious cheese swirls. Simply open out your roll of pastry, and liberally spread on butter and wholegrain mustard. Grate plenty of extra matured cheddar cheese over the top of this. Then simply roll the pastry back up and cut it into 1.5cm slices. Heat this in the over using the temperatures and timings indicated on your instructions and you’ll have a generous pile of lip-smacking cheesy swirls to enjoy with friends and family.
I used the other half of my puff pastry to make a pie top for my chicken and leek casserole. Again this was a mouth-watering success!
If you want to capture your own ideas for low cost and no cost luxuries, I have created a printable for you to download and use. See pdf below.
What low and no cost frugal luxury ideas do you have? I would love to hear your ideas! You can leave me a message in the comments section on the blog or a voicemail on my podcast.
Incidentally, if you are interested in frugal living, you might like to buy my printable on Etsy. It’s called ‘Make your Holiday Magical without Blowing the Budget’ and you can find me there at ‘myyearbydesign’ without any spaces.