Live Like Marie Antoinette on a Marie Callender Budget

I have a Marie Antoinette appetite for decadence, but my wallet can’t keep up. And so, from babysitting days to college days to first-big-girl job days, my budget has learned to adapt in small ways, to make room for small luxuries. So I can eat my cake and have it, too.

Rather than drop $10 at Jimmy John’s every week, I have learned to save money for the small wonders that add up to a lifetime of Marchesa-esque mystique. Try it yourself: side effects may include walking taller (well, gliding taller), occasionally-affected accents and a general aura of eccentric fabulousness (boa wearing is optional).

Don’t buy in bulk. Revel in the purchase power of single items bought at singular times.

For me, this is Diet Coke. I pick up single Diet Cokes at the sandwich shop, at the newspaper kiosk, at the bookstore. For my friend Becca, it’s eyeliner. Reward yourself with this small indulgence. No one enjoys digging through a two-pound box of hair ties.

Subscribe to one magazine

Any magazine. For me, it’s The New Yorker aaaaand National Geographic (I struggle with chronic indecision, OK?). But the point is, that monthly weight in the mail is a reminder that you are an informed citizen of the publishing world. You can stack leftover copies in the bathroom, along your bedroom walls, on coffee tables. Even if no one else sees them, rest assured knowing you have instant reading on hand at any minute. Even better: there’s no “first class” level to a subscription. That’s right, ma cherie. You and Carla Bruni are, in this way, the same. You are both ELLE subscribers, and if you were seated side-by-side at a French café reading the latest issue, paparazzi would have to stare for an entire 10 seconds to tell which one of you is the former First Lady.

Take bubble baths.

Preferably, in a clawfoot tub. Less preferably, in a hotel tub. Least preferably, in one of those six-inch-deep things that collect water from the shower. Doably, in a hole you dig yourself in the backyard. The point is to be able to say, “Oh sorry, dahling, I was in the baahth.

Buy proper liquor glasses.

This is a simple budget tweak that will make all the difference. You can find cheap but distinguished-looking champagne flutes and martini glasses at any thrift store (and a cheapish cocktail shaker while you’re in the market). You’ll know it’s worth it when the occasion calls for a something-and-something with a twist of lime and you can say, “Oh no, don’t grab the mug/cup/glass — reach for the tumblers.”

Throw out your microwave.

Microwaves are evil. They don’t just nuke yesterday’s coffee; they nuke any sort of glamour you can possibly eke from a less-than-glamorous day. Can you envision decadence by any name leaning close to a microwave, squinting at the “reheat” setting? No! If you’re buying frozen food (and hey, we all do it, the Trader Joe’s frozen aisle has hooked us all), heat things up in the oven and sip wine out of your proper wine glass (see previous tip) as you flip through a magazine (see previous previous tip). Do you see that? That’s a halo of luxury encircling your head.

Use your library card like a grown-up.

Bookshelves are made to be lined, my friend. Do you think Elizabeth Taylor had bookshelf fillers at her place? No sirree. Go to the library. Sign up for a card. And grab some shiny spines. Grab the things every person is meant to own: an Oxford Shakespeare anthology, The Great Gatsby, War & Peace. Every library has millions of copies of these tomes. Even if you don’t read them, their places in your living room are luxury-making enough. Best part of this tip: every month, you return the old books and trade ‘em in for upgrades!

Wear perfume every day.

And don’t buy your bottles full-price at the department store. Get down and dirty — hunt for that stuff on eBay, at garage sales, at those dreadfully alluring sidewalk booths. Find a scent that works for you and make it “your” scent. You know how old movies describe the “lingering scent of her perfume?” You want that to be you.

Play Juliette Greco on Spotify.

Or whatever makes you feel fancy (Juliette is mine). I’m all for some Drake playlists on any other day, but when it comes to feeling decadent, you need something a little old world. Find what makes you stand straighter: Billie Holiday? Erik Satie? Pick your poison, pick the station and pick a volume that straddles the line between “Do you hear how fancy I am?” and “DO YOU HEAR HOW FANCY I AM?”

Go to a Whole Foods or other organic market. Graze on free samples. Buy nothing.

The yogurt sample lady at Whole Foods and I are practically on a first-name basis. But nothing classes up a day like wandering the hand-crafted soap aisle with a custom cheese plate in hand. The “buying nothing” is important. You’re going to be tempted by the half-priced avocados and the glimmering bottles of ethnically-sourced fish sauce. Soothe these impulses with another lap by the guy passing out bites of organic papaya.

Have “celebration materials” tucked away, easily accessible, at all times.

This is important. In the back of your fridge, keep a bottle of champs and a small silver tin of caviar (with crackers, like the nice crackers). You’ll know when to break it out: you got a promotion, your best friend is engaged, it’s the New Year, you made rent. You’ll lead the toast, you’ll crunch into that cracker and you’ll feel like a bona fide luxuriante.


Julia Carpenter and Beyoncé own some of the same things.


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