7 mini-splurges to make you feel rich

Luxury may be out of fashion right now, but almost every budget has room for small indulgences here and there. These offer a big punch without breaking the bank.

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By Rachel Lehmann-Haupt, MSN Money

Even in the world of extreme luxury, I don't know many people who feel rich these days. With jobs disappearing, the Dow tanking, 401(k)s feeling more like 101(k)s and a general attitude of doom and gloom, even the rich are choosing to play it safe.

But while $800 haircuts and $100,000 showers feel like bling from a bygone era, big budget cuts are -- let's face it -- downright depressing. I want to figure out a way to treat myself without going broke.

Wondering how I might give myself an emotional boost but spend a bit less, I call Pam Danziger, an expert on consumer trends in the luxury market (and the author of "Shopping: Why We Love It and How Retailers Can Create the Ultimate Customer Experience").

"When the economy is bad, people cut back on spending and become more driven by value," she tells me. "That means only buying things that are worth it and that you really need.

"Retailers play to emotion and pepper their stores with powerful, emotionally laden clues that encourage the shopper to indulge, buy and spend. The best strategy for shoppers in order to block these efforts is to keep their left brain in control and use discipline when entering the retail environment."

Luxury spending in a recession?

Danziger recently compiled a report about the changes that consumers are making in response to the recession. The little indulgences we are giving up are expensive meals on the town -- bye-bye, $1,000 omelets -- and fancy spas and hair salons. To explore other little indulgences that will keep you feeling rich, I decided to go out on the town and change some of my own habits.

Talk back:What splurges do you still make?

Because expensive restaurant meals are out, I first invite friends over to my place for a cozy dinner at home and then head to my local farmers market for fresh ingredients. From there, I head over to the Chelsea Wine Vault in New York's Chelsea Market to buy some good-value wine to go with the meal.

Lisa Schock, the director of wine education and tasting at the store, walks me through a few good choices.

"For good value, Argentinian malbecs are on fire," she says, picking up a $17 bottle of 2007 Obra Prima Reserve. "It's big for a steak dinner and also a great cocktail wine because the tannins are soft and lush."

'Recession reds'?

My next stop is the Apple Store. Although some would call status symbols such as iPods and iPhones luxury items, the reality is that these items have become more of a necessity, Danziger says. Meanwhile, falling prices make some toys downright affordable: The cheapest iPod, a Shuffle model, can be found for less than $50.

Michael Perez, one of the Apple Store's managers, confirms that even amid the downturn, shoppers are

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snapping up budget indulgences: "We haven't seen that much of a drop in sales for lower-price-point items such as the iPod."

For those who won't be sated by an iPod Shuffle, try these six other small splurges:

1. A new handbag. Luxury bags that sell for thousands of dollars are now marked down by as much as 75%, Danziger points out, and a purse has more staying power than, say, this year's hot jeans. "A handbag is a good value because you don't grow out of it," she says. "Rather than buying an entirely new outfit, it can give last year's a whole new look."

2. A glass of champagne at a fancy hotel bar. At the Degrees Bar & Lounge at the Ritz-Carlton Georgetown in Washington, D.C., a glass of Mumm brut will set you back $16.

3. Fancy lipstick. Chanel Rouge Allure retails for $30.

4. A close shave. It's the male version of a pedicure. In New York, men can indulge in a deluxe open razor shave (with face massage and hot towels) at Paul Mole for $39.

5. Nice wine. The Chelsea Wine Vault suggested the 2007 Obra Prima Reserve for $17, a Loire Valley Fournier sauvignon blanc for $11 and, for bubbly drinkers, Il Faggeto prosecco for $13 and an Iron Horse sparkling wine for $25.

6. Doing lunch. Restaurants that will break the bank at dinnertime often are relative bargains at lunchtime. At New York's Bouley, for instance, the dinner tasting menu runs $85 without wine ($115 with the Kobe beef); lunchtime tasting menus start at $35.

As for me: I grab the malbec and the sauvignon blanc, and head home to cook up a pot of coq au vin with a side of steamed artichokes from the market. Before the pot reaches a boil, I pop open the wine to let it breathe, then put on last year's dress and my new lipstick, and get to work setting the table for a few people I love -- always the greatest luxury for me.

Produced by Anh Ly

Published Jan. 9, 2009