Living in Los Angeles exposes one to a lot of luxury-spending opportunities. Most of them are wasted on me.
I don't get the appeal of a $500 T-shirt, a $2,000 purse or a $100,000 sports car with a trunk smaller than the overpriced handbag.
But the appeal of some perks the rich enjoy is obvious even to skinflints like me. In fact, when I can get a taste of the luxe life at fraction of the price, I go for it -- because what I envy most is the luxury of less hassle. And there are ways to buy that without being Leona Helmsley.
Richie Rich perk No. 1: A private jetNo security lines. No set schedules. No wasting hours on a tarmac or at a luggage carousel. Just zip to your destination -- and would Madame like her prime rib rare or medium?
The appeal is obvious even to fellow cheapskate Warren Buffett, who for years resisted buying a private jet before caving. Now the investing superstar understands the appeal. In his latest letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, Buffett declared that "once you've flown (private), returning to commercial flights is like going back to holding hands."
Of course, Hollywood's greenest types now frown on private airplane transportation, citing the contribution of increased carbon dioxide emissions to global climate change. So we can solace ourselves that we're doing less damage to the planet stuffed back in coach.
But here are ways for fliers to get a taste of luxury:
- Be elite.If you fly a lot, concentrate your trips on one airline to qualify for its elite frequent-flier status (typically 25,000 miles flown a year). That will qualify you for shorter security lines at many airports and win you more-frequent upgrades to first class.
- Invest in an airport lounge.Again, if you travel frequently, consider investing in your airline's lounge pass. Most are quiet, comfortable places to read, work and get a free snack.
- Get a pass.Even if you travel infrequently, consider buying a day pass to an airport lounge if you have a long layover. Day passes typically cost $25 to $50.
- Pick the right flights.Choose nonstops and flights that depart early in the day to minimize hassles. Because airports and airlines are so overbooked, any weather or mechanical problem can touch off a cascade of delays that get worse as the day progresses. The later you leave and the more connections you have to make, the more likely you are to get caught in the gears.
Richie Rich perk No. 2: A personal assistantSomeone to mail your packages, pick up your dry cleaning, wash the dog, fill your prescriptions and listen -- for the 100th time -- to your complaints about your ex.
Personal assistants are a de rigueur accessory in La-La land. Their full-time pay ranges from $40,000 to $120,000, said Jack Lippman, the owner of the Elizabeth Rose Agency, a Los Angeles placement agency for domestic help. The more experienced the assistant and the more intense the job, the higher the pay.
Wannabes who can't quite shoulder those costs turn to services that provide assistants for as few as four to eight hours a week, usually for about $30 an hour.
Can't quite swing that? Here are ways to shed some of the hassles of daily living:
- Investigate which businesses near you will deliver.In my neighborhood, for example, are several dry cleaners that pick up, deliver or both; independent pharmacies that bring medicine to your door; and a delivery service that picks up food from most area restaurants.
- Schedule pickups for packages.This isn't just a perk for businesses. The Postal Service and most delivery companies will come to your home to collect packages if you schedule in advance. It sure beats standing in long lines to ship holiday packages.
- Hire an errand service. These businesses have cropped up in many areas and do everything from waiting for the cable guy to stocking up for your New Year's Eve party. Craigslistis one way to find them.
- Check out the world of virtual assistants.If your task can be handled on the phone or the Web, a virtual assistant can do it. They can buy movie tickets, wrangle with customer service departments, research airfares and write letters. There are a ton of sites to choose from, including Elance, Workaholics4Hire.comand GetFriday.
Timothy Ferriss, the author of the best-selling book "The 4-Hour Workweek," extols the value of virtual assistants and recommends considering one anytime you can pay less for the outsourced task than your time is worth. A quick way to assess the value of your time, he says, is to knock the zeros off your annual pay, then cut the result in half. Thus, if you make $50,000 a year, your time is worth about $25 an hour.