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Rocking a Champagne Life on a Beer Budget

by Ashley on February 13, 2012

My month ahead features Mardi Gras & opening the first play of the semester– so you’re going to see lots of fab guest posts in February! This post comes to us from the savvy and sexy Sarah Von of Yes and Yes fame.  This gal’s blog has been a daily read for as long as I can remember, and her post is perfect for the Fashion + Finance series. I hope you love this post as much as I do!

Image by James Meakin

Dear Sarah Von,
So this is a pretty awkward question, but I do hope you’ll answer it. I know that you are a teacher at a non-profit and you’ve made a few references to you salary of “two dollars.” But you are always dressed so well! And you travel all the time and it sounds like you live in a really nice neighborhood! How do you do it? You don’t have a trust fund do you? ;D

You’re right! That is an awkward question! But, in an effort to hook up some other ladies who are trying to squeeze liquid gold from the proverbial stone, I’ll share with you my secrets of financial skulduggery.


Guys, it is not an exaggeration that 75% of my wardrobe is thrifted. And a lot of it is swankity swank brands pilfered from deep in the racks of my local Goodwill. Not only does thrifting save me heaps of money, I feel endlessly clever and lucky when I score an Anne Klein cocktail dress for $20. Anybody can walk into Anthropologie and put together a cute outfit for $500. It takes an artiste to create an ensemble out of the $2 bin. Here are my trusted thrifting tips.


Honestly, I don’t eat out much, partially because being a vegetarian often limits me to soup/salad or pasta. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay $12 for a plate of noodles I could have made at home for 75 cents. When I do go out, I usually frequent lil hole-in-the-wall ethnic places because they are a) delicious b) cheap.  Mango in St. Paul even lets you bring in your own wine without a corkage fee!

But grocery shopping is my shoe shopping – I’m all a’salivating over the caramelized onion chutney and the imported cheeses and the out of season fruit. And you know what? I buy every last thing that takes my fancy. Because I’m pretty sure I perform better when fueled by buffalo mozzarella and fresh pineapple.

If I don’t want to spend too much money, I frequent my local Asian grocery store (red peppers for $2 A POUND!) and the Hmong farmer’s market. So cheap!


I have the lamest car you could ever imagine. Seriously. Does it get any less awesome than a 1994 Ford Tempo? But it’s (mostly) rust free, only has 60,000 miles on it and isn’t going to get stolen when I go to work in the ghetto. And I bought it with a personal check. No big monthly payments for me!


I do, in fact, live in a nice, slightly swanky neighborhood. I’m a total design and home whore, so living in a boxy, seventies-style apartment in the suburbs was simply not an option. I squeezed my way into this pricey real estate market by sheer luck and by taking an apartment in need of a really good cleaning and a new paint job. I’ve gussied it up (photos to come!) using these tricks.


I am huge fan of the thriftyhipster and generally trawling the internetz for free or cheap fun. Honestly, you can usually find me doing ridiculous things to entertain myself (see “visit Scientology church” 30 new things goal) but I’m not opposed to dropping change on an event I really want to see.


Of course, travel can be expensive. But it doesn’t have to be! I religiously follow my own advice for traveling on the cheap. And honestly? I just make travel a priority. I’m always planning and saving for my next trip (Next time? Mt. Everest base camp and the Trans-Siberian!) Some girls save up for Jimmy Choos, I save up for Jakarta.

Money Tricks

I only really have two bits of financial wizardry, but I’m happy to share them.

I created a basic budget for myself, just using an excell spreadsheet and cataloging my monthly income and bills. From there I figured out how much money I should be putting away each month for retirement, future travel, etc and then a gave myself a weekly allotment of fun money. I go to the ATM once a week, withdraw that amount in cash and once that money is gone, I’m stuck eating at home and watching library dvds till Sunday comes round again. I realize that putting yourself on an allowance seems pretty dire and deeply unsexy, but it has actually made shopping more fun and made me appreciate my purchases a lot more.

The other trick I employ is the money vs. time mind game. I think about how much time I’d have to spend at work to equal the cost of the thing I’m about to buy. It’s crazy to think that I could take two days off for the cost of a purse! And given the option, wouldn’t you rather have two days to do what you want rather than a different thing to carry your phone around in?

So how to do you guys fake the good life?

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