1 Live Like Marie Antoinette on a Marie Callender Budget | The Billfold

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.


14 Comments / Post A Comment

Heather F G (#6,074)

Do Marie Antoinallenders have to eat involved breakfasts?!

garli (#4,150)

I don’t want to do any of these things, but I do want a 2 lb box of hair ties.

aetataureate (#1,310)

I am a professional sampler and welcome those who don’t want to buy anything. Truly. People’s labyrinthine excuses are really cute, too. “I’ll stop by later!” I don’t care if you don’t do that.

Nibbler (#5,331)

@aetataureate I recently stopped into a wine store for a wine tasting and did not buy any wine. I didn’t even look around. (I was on my way someplace else and couldn’t carry wine around.) Is this also okay?

aetataureate (#1,310)

@Nibbler My place doesn’t do wine, but we value getting people’s attention — you’re trying new things, realizing certain products are in your store, etc. Don’t feel guilty!

dotcommie (#662)

@aetataureate Being a free sample lady was my dream job when I was 4. So…you’re living the dream, friend!

Katni (#6,141)

I am firmly anti- bubble baths but am all for keeping celebration kits on hand. Except I would more often than not decide that I was going to “celebrate” surviving yet another random day-that-ends-in-Y, so I clearly am not responsible enough to be fabulous (or even to pretend to be fabulous).

@Katni Oh, I don’t know. Randomly breaking out the bubbly is pretty fabulous. Or at least, that’s what I tell myself…

ceereelyo (#3,552)

on that perfume tip – I wanted to try a new perfume and so I went to Nordstrom (I’m sure you can do this at any department store, Nordstrom is just mine of preference) and I was dabbing it but before I could commit I just had to take some home with me you see…I have to see how it works with my body chemistry. The beauty counter people will give you a vial to bring home (nordstrom also has this neato fountain of perfume you can fill a tube up with? if the perfume you want is featured, by all means fill fill fill). I went to the Sephora in the mall and did the same thing. When I was out – back to the mall. If there are several department stores in the mall, hit them all up! I wore $100 perfume for free for a good year (I also was rotating it with some other stuff I had), but yeah. I still haven’t bought the stuff cos I think I got tired of it and thus I saved myself from spending $100! I am also a fan of rollerballs which are fun and easy to transport wherever and last a surprisingly long time.

Heather F G (#6,074)

@ceereelyo A perfume FOUNTAIN? We’ve only got Nordstrom Rack out here in the backwoods, which I am seriously regretting.

I wish I could do rollerballs, but there is something weird with my body chemistry where all rollerballs end up smelling like Dimetapp on me, so I’m limited to impulse perfumes that come in travel sprays, so basically Bulgari.

@ceereelyo This is almost how I found my signature scent. I loved the smell of Miss Dior Cherie in the magazines. So anytime I found my place that had a sample bottle, I’d douse myself. I wanted to make sure it worked with my body chemistry. Once I was sure I did my first bottle was a gift from my boyfriend at the time. My next bottle was a gift from my parents. Of course now they stopped making Miss Dior Cherie and only make Miss Dior. I now buy it off of Amazon where I recently got the 3oz bottle of eau de parfum for the price of the 1.6oz at Sephora or any other perfume counter. I mix it up with other scents I have but Miss Dior is my signature scent. I have friends who associate it with me anytime the smell it.

Aconite (#6,401)

My single item weapon of choice is always a thing which has to be picked out and wrapped in a great ceremony. I also like ‘em a bit old-fashioned so I’d stop in here (www.fortnumandmason.com) for NO MORE THAN FOUR VIOLET CREAMS on my way home. The bags are brilliant.

omgkitties (#206)

Julia Carpenter you are speaking my language. I honestly believe that if I’m spending good money on something, it’s not enough for it to be useful- it needs to be beautiful, too. I don’t spend a ton, but I always go for cheap hippie bath & beauty products, plants galore (in lieu of flowers…though I give in to them occasionally), the softest pillows and throws I can get my hands on, and the odd trinket from my favorite thrift and vintage stores. My home is a shoebox and it feels like a palace to me. Cheers!

Eric18 (#4,486)

Yikes, I feel like alot of these things are people pretend they like to do to conform but secretly hate. i.e. Jazz. How about you just buy/borrow books that you actually will read instead of ones that you will use as conversation pieces?

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