Ask the grumpies: Lower cost pampering substitutes

In Monday’s post, Debbie M brought up the point that if you figure out what it is you really want when you’re thinking about that Caribbean vacation or whatnot, you can often figure out a way to meet that need much less expensively.  (I believe this may be mentioned in YMoYL, but don’t quote me on that.)

She says:

And then there’s also strategizing about what makes you happy. If you want to feel pampered, do you need to visit a tropical island? Or would you be just as happy with an in-town spa or fancy hotel, a massage, a facial, or, in my case, fresh-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies and a good book? Basically, whenever you’re about to spend money (or time), you can try to back up and figure out what your real goal is and then try to brainstorm if there is any better way to achieve that goal.

That got into a conversation in the comments section:  what other ways can you pamper yourself at a lower cost?

Debbie M asks:

And maybe oilandgarlic can share a list of Frugal Substitutes! We can always use more of those!  And Flavia, I’d like to hear more examples you’ve found where you can convert more expensive indulgences into cheaper ones.

At grumpy rumblings we are big fans of buying whatever you want at the grocery store, thus saving money from unsatisfying meals out.  (Though we do eat meals out!)

We re-read things sometimes instead of buying new.  And, in general, reading about things is a nice substitute for inventing a fantasy travel device.

But I dunno… we’re not big Mani-pedi people, so it’s hard to think about what is a substitute for something else and when what we do we’re doing because it is better than something else.  We actually prefer staycations.

Donna Freedman had a recent post about having a pretend breakfast cafe with her nieces and nephews as the staff.

Grumpy readership, help Debbie M out– how have you converted expensive indulgences into cheaper ones?

33 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: Lower cost pampering substitutes”

  1. NoTrustFund Says:

    Debbie already mentioned something along these lines but since kids my husband and I have taken a couple of getaway weekends or nights. Rather than get on a plane, which is not only $$$ but takes a lot of time, we go to nice places that are a close drive away. It feels luxurious but is way cheaper than paying for airfare.

    Doesn’t work quite as well if you need hot sunny weather in the winter, but I’m not a big beach person anyway.

  2. hush Says:

    Yes, staycations are underrated. My ideal staycation involves me, all alone, in my house, while everyone else is out of town for at least 5 full days.

    My personal idea of hell is our whole family going together to Disney World – a pricey, humid wonderland 3 time zones away from our home for which one must study up on various strategies to best enjoy everything and avoid lines. (I’ve got a free way to avoid lines: stay home! … grumble, grumble) However, it has been my DH’s true lifelong dream to go there with the kids (it was promised to him repeatedly as a kid, but never happened though his parents had the financial means). And my dad absolutely LOVES it, and would like to re-live the times he took me. And my 5-year-old son is obsessed with the princesses. So my DH and my dad are going to take the kids there, probably next year. Then I’ll finally get that lovely staycation.

  3. graduateliving Says:

    I love a good boozy brunch, but that can run me $20+ at a local place (mimosas are expensive!) Recently my partner, his brother and I bought some liquor and groceries and did a boozy brunch at home – way better! Not only did it come in $30+ cheaper for the three of us (as opposed to if we had gone out) but we got to hang out in PJs, listen to good music, not deal with other people, and make exactly what we wanted – eggs and asparagus, bacon, biscuits, oh my! We also successfully made Pims Cups, which I had never had and would have never tried if I’d had to fork over the $6+ to get them out – and boy, were they delicious!

  4. Linda Says:

    “Small stuff” I spend money on now that I know I could to do myself: manicure/pedicure (I don’t get nail paint, just like the process) and some waxing (although I can’t think of a possible home option for underarm waxing…the angles are all wrong to do it yourself). For the past several months I’ve also been getting my eyebrows threaded, which at my age I consider necessary since I can’t wear my glasses and pluck my eyebrows at the same time without a lot of difficulty, and I have no room in my small bathroom for one of those special mirrors. Threading is only $5 (plus a small tip) so it seems a small “luxury.” If I needed to cut spending more, I could eliminate the inevitable Indian lunch buffet I get when I go up to that area of town for my eyebrow threading, though.

    Actually, my age has a big influence on my “substitutes” these days. I do love to travel, but knowing how much (inevitably uncomfortable and stressful) flying time is involved in going to exotic locations, I’m usually much happier watching a good documentary that features the location. I’ve effectively ruled out a very expensive trip to Antarctica this way, and I’m OK with not going to China, most of southeast Asia, and some places in Europe and South America, too. (For some reason I have no desire to go to Italy, for example. I love Italian food, but I just don’t have a burning desire to go there to eat it.)

    Also add me to the camp that likes my own cooking better than what I can get at many restaurants. This helps keep eating out costs lower, although I do splurge on quality ingredients at the store.

    I wish I had learned to sew and tailor clothing, and am thinking that will be a good skill to learn someday. Not just because one can save money by picking stuff up at thrift stores and altering it, but because it is a pain in the a** to find someplace that can really tailor stuff properly and/or make the time to take stuff there/pick it up.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I still haven’t gotten my pants hemmed, though I did the other major chores I’d planned for Spring break.

      When DH suggested I go today, I said, “But then I would have nothing hanging over my head. What, then, would be the point of my continued existence?” Maybe I’ll do it this summer.

    • Flavia Says:

      I have a great tailor (not expensive, either), and it’s changed my life. I can pick up a cool dress that doesn’t *quite* fit, on final discount, and have him nip it in for $15-25. Highly recommended.

  5. chacha1 Says:

    I spend practically no money on grooming anymore. Most services in this category are sufficiently time-consuming that, while they are certainly luxuries, I can’t consider them “pampering.” I don’t feel like I have two hours to spare just to get my hair trimmed. No massages, no facials, no professional hair care, and I never did get into a mani/pedi habit. I do everything myself. Retin-A plus drugstore sunscreen & moisturizer have proved remarkably efficacious in fighting off Time. Garnier haircolor is cheap and easy. The hair is long and straight, so cutting it is easy. The only thing in this category that I really want to add back in is massages. I think the “pampering substitute” here is the regular addition of new liquid eyeliners. But even that is fairly practical; I mean, you’re not *supposed* to keep them more than six months or so.

    I do not even try to save money at the grocery store. To me there is no richer feeling than knowing that I really could buy ANYTHING there that I want, and after a few too many years of living on cheap starches I am very happy to be able to afford really high-quality food. Most often I shop at the fancy local version of Safeway, but occasionally it’s Bristol Farms or Whole Foods. (And fwiw I find BF more expensive than WF. But it has The Best selection of cheese.)

    Come to think of it, our small indulgences are almost all consumable. A quarterly visit to the sushi bar, a wine-tasting dinner every other month or so, fine chocolate (and cheese!), some duck breast from the chef’s market. I am hoarding some foie gras in the freezer. :-)

    If I am feeling overcommitted or stressed or just plain tired of being so damn responsible all the time, I give myself a time out. A few hours of reading on the couch on a Saturday, instead of running around trying to cross more stuff off the to-do list, goes a long way.

    I also give myself a shopping allowance. I spend about $100 per paycheck on books, movies or music, mostly from Amazon, or craft supplies. Browsing for things to add to my wish list or paging through the Fire Mountain Gems catalog is fun.

  6. Donna Freedman Says:

    Massage! Massage! I bought a Groupon for one at a new place to try it. Clever marketing monkeys that they are, they keep offering a new “special” to me (at or lower than the original Groupon) right after I’ve had a massage and am all happy and relaxed. And yep, I keep buying. No machine runs for 55 years without some maintenance issues, and massage helps work out all the too-many-hours-at-the-computer aches. Great for my mood, too.
    Of course, I find a long, hot bath to be incredibly pampering. A new library book is like taking a trip without going very far. Trying a new recipe when I don’t *have* to is fun, too. (Mmmm…soft oat rolls….)
    P.S. Thanks for the link love. And incidentally, Cafe Awesome is also open for lunch and dinner. Much cheaper than taking them out to eat, and they get to do the make-believe.

    • oilandgarlic Says:

      I also wanted to mention that with all those Daily Deal sites like Groupon, a massage or facial is more affordable than ever! Love the phrase “clever marketing monkeys”!

    • Linda Says:

      I never would have thought to add massage to the list of luxuries because for me it is a regular “maintenance” routine, too. My “frugal hack” for massage, though, is to get it done through my chiropractic office visit. It’s part of my treatment plan to rectify all the sitting in front of a computer to get an adjustment and one hour massage every three weeks. My insurance picks up the cost of a 30-minute massage and I just pay the difference, which comes out to $35. :-)

  7. Leah Says:

    One of our big luxuries is food. Like chacha, we don’t worry too overmuch about what we buy at the grocery store. I shop sales in so much as I’m at the store and go “oh, a different brand of what I was going to buy anyway is on sale” or “oh, look, the pork roast we like to keep in our freezer for crock pot pulled pork is on sale.” We like making our own sauces, experimenting with food, etc. Without even trying to keep down spending, we found out we spent about $450 in the last 6 weeks for the two of us. This seems like a lot and not much all at once, especially since I do no major work to keep the price down.

    I love to travel, but my job has me so exhausted these days that I don’t do any (as others said, it’s no luxury to travel when you’re tired already). I’m looking forward to this summer, when we’ll be doing a driving vacation through Canada to go visit my parents and friends in Washington/Oregon. That’s plenty enough for me. We camp or stay with people we know, so it’s a luxury while also not being too darn expensive (other than gas).

    My other little luxuries are a pedicure every once in awhile, but even that I keep pretty rare so that it stays special for me. I also love Netflix because it keeps me from wasting time with cable.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Oh! I often combine vacation travel with business travel. I bring the family along with me– the hotel is paid (or we only have to pay $20/night for the additional adult) and my plane ticket is paid. Then the family goes out and does fun stuff while I, um, work (and network!).

      • Leah Says:

        yeah, I wish. My school wouldn’t even cover my sub for a day so I could go to a conference in-state (a conference at which I was speaking!). I would love to combine vacation and work travel if I even did any work travel. I used a personal day for the sub and was just happy that my husband’s school was willing to pay for our hotel and travel expenses since he went to the conference too.

        At least I have summers. I do some work during the summer, but I can do that from my parents’ kitchen table just as well as from my own.

  8. oilandgarlic Says:

    I’ve been meaning to respond with my frugal substitutes but I could probably do a whole post. The gist of it is that I try to figure out WHY I want the big indulgence. Am I stressed? Do I want to try something new? In the past, I would assume that the best way to satisfy my want is a spa day or travel. Now I realize that I can satisfy that need for pampering in multiple and often cheaper ways. I could do a at-home facial. I could buy flowers and put a slice of lemon in my water. I can put on relaxing music. I could convince my husband to give me a massage. Of course all of this might require getting kids out of the house! I also “pamper” myself with good food. As for something exotic and new, maybe I can satisfy that need by watching a foreign film, getting to know new people, taking a class, practicing my rusty Italian, or trying a new ethnic restaurant.

    I’m also with Linda re: age affecting travel. I really hate getting on airplanes (bad back!). While the desire for international travel is still there, I am also happy to check in a nearby hotel and do a more local vacation instead.

    I think if you address the source of your longing, it’s actually quite easy to find a frugal substitute at least some of the times.

  9. First Gen American Says:

    I’m a big fan of baths..but because of my height, I splurged on a soaking tub when we remodeled our bathroom so I could actually fit into my tub without freezing 1/2 of my extremities. I also spent $20 on a diamond file foot scrubber that takes the place of the pedicure .

    If you have a big chaotic family life, alone time can be pretty luxurious.

  10. rented life Says:

    I’ve had one mani/pedi my whole life–at 30 I decided to see what the big deal was. Eh. I chip finger nails easily and toes I can do myself anyway. We only go on vacation when we can afford it–that is a luxery we’d always give up first. Last year we stayed with friends, so that helped (and was a nice visit). Cost is a bottle of wine and entertaining their kids while we’re there. This year we’re only doing a day trip. I do spent money on my hair dresser but that’s because she’ll give me a cut that always looks good, can withstand long growing out periods in case I can’t afford/can’t find time to get back right away, and frankly, I’m rather terrible at cutting my own hair (I did that in grad school). She’s worth the $35, and since it’s not an every 8 week thing or anything I’m fine.

    Recently mom and I did a DVD exchange instead of buying anything. (She made out better, I have more movies than her.) We also trade books, recipes, etc. Tomorrow I am buying meat from a local farmer (also friend, so I know this is good stuff) at a huge discount compared to the grocery store.

  11. femmefrugality Says:

    This is such a fabulous train of thought! I haven’t ever implemented it, but I’m going to start now. I still think I want to do the tropical island thing sometime soon. Can’t lie. What I want out of it is some time with the boyfriend away from the kids. (I love them, but we are in some desperate need of an alone vacation.) I also want to travel. I enjoy the experience. I like seeing different parts of the world. Until we can afford it, though, our travels are to places we can drive to but haven’t seen before. With kids in tow. :p

  12. jacq Says:

    What I like about vacation is not having that feeling that I should be doing something – relaxing guilt free. I have taken the motorhome 10 km away from home to the next town for a “weekend away.” It feels as good or better as a weekend with mountains that’s an hour away. And I feel like I “should” be hiking those mountains and fishing those mountain lakes since I’m there and it’s epic whereas in the next town over, I just sit around and think, play board games, go on a little bike ride, have a little fire and read and write because there’s nothing to “do”.

  13. Debbie M Says:

    Ooh! I’m famous!

    I guess these days my idea of pampering myself is recoving from my stressful job and it’s defined as not having to do anything (totally cheap!)

    And normally as a middle-class American with no dependents, basically every minute of my life is pretty luxurious. But I feel like I should comment here.

    I really like finding a new recipe that is easy, halfway nutritious, and affordable for something I really, really like. Then I can have that delicious thing any time I have the ingredients and the energy, which is awesome.

    I don’t know if this counts as inexpensive, but I also feel pampered by having savings. Once I was driving to visit a friend 200 miles away on a long holiday weekend. Fifty miles into the trip, my car wouldn’t go into any gear higher than second. Fortunately there was a repair shop handy, though they wouldn’t be able to even start on it until Tuesday. In the olden days I would have had to cancel my trip, beg a friend from home to come get me, and beg another friend to drive me back the next week to pick up my car. Instead, I just rented a car for a week, took my trip, and brought my own self back to pick up my car. That was fantastic. Never having to worry about cash-flow problems is a great luxury to me. In most cases (unlike this one), it doesn’t even result in me spending more–I just get to spend it when it’s handy or when there’s a good opportunity.

    Oh, here’s a cheap one–mending clothes. You know that horrible moment when you notice something about a favorite garment that means you really should not be wearing it ever again? I love when it turns out that I can fix it.

    Oh, here’s a really good one–I used to spend a lot of money taking college classes. Now I just audit classes, go to libraries, and use my internet access. Getting loads of interesting information handed to me on a platter is a luxury I really enjoy. And if it turns out I don’t like the text, I don’t have to read it anyway and memorize things from it for a test–I just look for other books I Iike better. And if I decide I don’t like the instructor, I can just stop going without wrecking my GPA, graduation chances, etc. (I long ago decided to only earn more degrees if either I could get them paid for by an employer or if it became clear that getting one would increase my salary–these things never happened. And that’s really okay–except for the part where I think it would have been fun to be called Doctor Debbie.)

  14. Frugal Substitutes: The Master Chart | Oilandgarlic's Blog Says:

    […] The idea of finding frugal substitutes for expensive wants turned from a comment, courtesy of reader and commenter Debbie M, to a full-fledged post at grumpy rumblings. […]

  15. mochimac Says:

    Frugal substitutes. What I really want is a day of just flat out shopping and there’s no real substitute for that, other than to just sit at home and ignore Etsy because I end up spending without thinking.

    I find that just going outside helps, however. If I feel the urge to spend, walking outside, breathing fresh air and just being around people helps sometimes. Not all the time.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Why do you want the shopping? Because you want new stuff? Because you want new experiences? Because you need to get out of the house? Because you feel the need to get rid of money?


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