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Treat Yourself Without Breaking the Bank

In today’s economy, recession spending is all the rage. Or, should I say, recession saving? Nobody wants to be the jerk living the high life while the rest of the world suffers through ramen noodles and thrift store clothing. With all the emphasis on cutbacks and living within your means, even getting a haircut can make you feel wanton and wasteful.

When I started reevaluating my budget, there was definitely some fat to trim. Manicures, taxicabs, and a personal trainer definitely had to go. After I eliminated the most wasteful expenditures, though, there were so many things that I just couldn’t get rid of. Although I could color my hair at home, I didn’t think I could live without going to the gym, and is it really such a crime to have the occasional brunch? Why is it that “cutting back” really means “eliminating everything fun”? I didn’t mind letting go of the extras, but I couldn’t bear to stop doing all the things I love and the things that make me feel good.

Even in a recession, there’s no need to stop doing every last thing that makes you happy. Eliminating each piece of personal comfort or indulgence might save you some money, but isn’t happiness worth the expense? When it’s time to tighten the belt, you don’t have to give up everything you love. There are plenty of ways to keep treating yourself well without spending every dollar you have.

Lookin’ Good, Feelin’ Good
In this recession, many women feel pressured to cut back on their personal care, since it’s so easy to see makeup, hair, and beauty as expendable. There’s no need to settle for Supercuts, though. To keep your hair professionally coiffed for less, look for salons that do stylist training and sign up to get a student cut or color. Usually, the students are already professional stylists who are just learning a specific new technique, so you’re not risking any serious disaster. An experienced professional supervises the service and it’s usually complimentary. I have a friend who gets her hair professionally cut, highlighted, and blow-dried at a famous Manhattan salon every two weeks and she doesn’t pay a penny. She’s on the list of models for their classes and not only does her hair always look amazing, they even give her free styling products.

By booking with students or new technicians, you can get reduced rates on lots of different salon services. It’s possible to get deals on waxing, massages, facials, manicures, and more just by asking for an appointment with a junior-level staffer. Experienced professionals who are new to a particular salon often offer special discounted rates too, in order for them to build up their client list. Some salons also offer discounts on services performed during the early part of the week, when they’re not as busy.

One of my own favorite treats is getting my makeup done by a pro—all for next to nothing. Cosmetic counters in department stores always take appointments for customers to come in and get their makeup done. Some require a product purchase, but if you don’t want to buy what you’re wearing, you can just stock up on what you use regularly.  The artist might try to sell you the colors she used, but unless you discover something new and fabulous, there’s no reason you can’t just buy your usual staples. It’s a great way to indulge before a big event or whenever you’re feeling blah.

For men, getting a professional shave can be a relaxing and soothing treat, but there’s no need to spend a fortune at a fancy salon. Small barbershops offer shaving services for a fraction of the price. Not only is it less expensive, but getting groomed by a gruff old man feels much more unfussy and authentic than being pampered at a hipster hangout. Old-school barbershops are also less likely to pressure you into special facial treatments or products you don’t need.

Fitness is still important, recession be damned. If you want to try yoga or Pilates, take weekday or morning classes; they’re less crowded and can be cheaper than classes after work or on the weekends. If you’re getting ready to start a gym routine for the first time, consider getting an off-peak membership, where you’d use the facilities during its slower hours. If your schedule allows it, the savings can be significant.

On the Town
There’s no need to stop eating out at restaurants just because you’re watching your budget. It might be more frugal to eat at home, but it’s definitely less fun and everyone needs a break from cooking now and then. Many cities have a dedicated “Restaurant Week,” where local restaurants serve special menus and charge reduced prices. It’s a great opportunity to try a new cuisine or a new hotspot, all for very moderate prices. Even if your town doesn’t do a restaurant week, most eateries usually aren’t as busy from Monday to Wednesday, so some offer prix-fixe menus or special tastings for customers who dine on those days. By doing a little legwork, you can find deals like a two-for-one burger night or Wine Lovers’ Night, where all bottles are 50 percent off.

Speaking of food, whoever said that restaurants were only for evenings? If you’re dying to try a new restaurant but want to save some cash, treat yourself to lunch. You’ll find a very similar menu, except with smaller portions and lower prices. Plus you might not feel tempted to buy that expensive bottle of wine at lunchtime.

When it comes to entertainment, try seeing a matinee instead of an evening movie. They cost less and after it’s over, you still have plenty of time to hit up happy hour for more frugal fun. If live theater is your favorite, you can usually get last-minute show tickets at a discount. As long as the show isn’t a sold-out box-office smash, there are often reduced-price tickets available first-come, first-served on the day of the performance.

We all know that saving is in and wasteful spending is out, but with a little flexibility and some simple investigating, you’ll find that there is an abundance of deals to be had, allowing you to keep treating yourself (and your wallet) well.  

Allison Ford

Allison is a writer and editor who specializes in beauty, style, entertainment, and pop culture. She was part of the editorial team at DivineCaroline (now More.com) for more than three years. She loves makeup, sparkly accessories, giraffes, brunch, Matt Damon, New York City, and ice cream.

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