How To Live Rich For A Lot Less

By Stephen D. Simpson, CFA | March 15, 2011 AAA
How To Live Rich For A Lot Less

Almost everybody wants a piece of the high life, even if we all have different ideas of what exactly that means. For some, that provides the motivation to work a little harder, save a little more and make tough choices. Other people, though, find it much harder to resist the impulses and get themselves into financial trouble by living a little too high on the hog. (The Oracle of Omaha has a net worth in the billions, but his lifestyle is not as rich as you may think. Check out Warren Buffett's Frugal, So Why Aren't You?)

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For those looking to enjoy a bit more of the good life without overextending themselves, here are a few ideas to consider.

Buy Used
Even the greatest luxury cars share a common problem with their mass-market cousins - when you buy new, you incur major depreciation costs in the first couple of years. Buy a BMW M5 or Mercedes CLS and the depreciation in the first three years will be approximately 45% of the purchase price. That's pretty pricey hit to take just to have that new car smell. Buy a used CLS, though (say one from 2007), and the purchase price may drop by as much as half. The car will still run well, and may well be covered by a "certified used" warranty. Moreover, take a look around the world and you will see a lot of used Mercedes, BMWs, and the like still on the road, so it is not as though you are buying a car with only a few good years left.

This same basic idea can be applied to a lot of other high-ticket items as well. Well-built and properly maintained RVs and boats can operate for a very long time indeed, and there is little economic use to paying that premium for "new." It is true that buying used often involves haggling and requires a careful eye (and/or a thorough examination by a trustworthy mechanic), but that is the non-financial price that has to be paid in the hunt for a bargain.

Buy, Don't Build
Houses, too, are a case where the used-versus-new argument can come into play. Although the housing crisis has thrown a lot of the old rules upside down or sideways, a lot of people used to be willing to pay a premium for a new house supposedly built just for them. In practice, these were often cookie-cutter edifices that were customized only in trivial cosmetic senses, but people were still drawn inexorably to the "new." But if a buyer is willing to occasionally pick up a hammer or take on a little risk, buying older can give someone an opportunity to buy an asset that would otherwise be out of reach.

Go Off the Beaten Path
Folks who want to live better for less also need to be willing to go a bit off the normal track.

What's luxury living without vacationing on a nice beach with a pleasant adult beverage nearby? Not a lot of people realize, though, that unconventional destinations like Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey all offer gorgeous and safe alternatives that cost substantially less than more famous resort destinations.

Similarly, auctions are an under-appreciated way of acquiring luxury-quality items at very appealing prices. eBay is only one such example and is an especially good one. Estate sales, bankruptcy auctions and auctions administered by trusted names like Sotheby's all give regular people a chance to get quite a lot without necessarily spending very much money. Again, it takes time, it takes due diligence and it takes knowledge, but the opportunities are there for the willing. (Saving money can be a chore, but these tricks put money in your pocket with no effort at all. See 5 Painless Ways To Save More Money.)

Buy Quality - and Take Care of It
Sometimes you really can save more paying more. When it comes to items like furniture, some clothing, housewares and tools it really can make sense to pay more. High-quality goods will last longer, perform better, and save you the cost and hassle of more frequent replacement and repair, to say nothing of just making you feel better when you use them and can appreciate the quality.

Keep in mind, though, that proper maintenance is critical. Houses, furniture, tools and the like can last for generations if properly cared for an maintained. That's the key to this whole trade-off - buying quality goods is cheaper in the long run because they don't have to be replaced, but that equation relies entirely on treating them right.

Be Patient and Bargain Hard
With this suggestion, readers should try to emulate the behavior of many of the wealthy executive movers-and-shakers whose lifestyle they would like to copy. Successful executives are often not only fierce negotiators, but are also patient when necessary.

When shopping for high-end merchandise, don't be afraid to wait for sales or discounts. True, there are not regular sales for top-end goods, but that does not mean that it does not happen from time to time. Likewise, the introduction of a new line or version is often accompanied by an effort to discreetly move out whatever is left of the now-obsolete merchandise - stores will not post gaudy signs to advertise it, but there can be some rather significant markdowns when that happens.

If you find that you cannot wait, do not be afraid to negotiate hard on the price you pay. There really is no such thing as a must-have house or car, so negotiate with the full knowledge that you can always walk away and find something else if you do not like the price. Most people already know that there is ample room to negotiate when it comes to cars and houses, but not everyone realizes that many other stores will negotiate on a discreet basis - jewelry, art, personal services and furniture can all be purchased for less than the list price if you are willing to ask.

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Learn To Create Luxury
When all else fails, there is something to be said for doing more with what you have and creating luxury yourself. Nobody is born knowing how to cook, and just a few classes and a willingness to practice can give you the tools to make restaurant-quality meals at home. Likewise, there are other ways in which people can learn to create a more luxurious experience or effect. Learning a bit about interior design and/or how to dress properly can help people do more with what they have and really accentuate and maximize a few high-end selections.

The Bottom Line
Short of lucky birth, there really are no shortcuts to becoming wealthy. That does not mean that there are no shortcuts to living like the wealthy. With a few well-chosen compromises, some self-education and a lot of persistence, it is possible to live quite well without spending all that much.

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