How to live beyond your means

Even when you're spending money you don't have, there are savvy ways to stretch your cash.

Most articles about personal finance preach a gospel of thrift, advising readers to save and plan and pay down debt. Reckless consumption is a serpent to be shunned.

Sometimes, though, you just don't want to hear another sermon about Sound Financial Planning.

So if you're looking for practical advice about getting your financial house in order, stop reading now. This is a story about sinning and getting away with it.

Does that mean you should live fast and leave a beautiful corpse? Not really. But here are a few ideas on getting good stuff, going places in style, and being prepared for the day the bill comes.

Learn to shop
Ditch the khakis and denim button-downs – haute couture no longer means expensive. The reason is fashion arbitrage, the art of spotting and exploiting inconsistent prices in different markets.

For example, normal prices at New York-based Barney's can be laugh-out-loud outrageous, with $1,000 cotton sweaters and the like. But twice a year in New York and Los Angeles, the upscale retailer hosts "warehouse" sales at locations away from its main branches.

There, the discounts start deep and get more aggressive over the sale's two-week run. Examples: a silk-and-cashmere jacket by Zegna marked down from $1,400 to $150; Ferragamo shoes, once $400, walk out the door at $89.

Another option for serious shoppers are the sales hosted by a group of women calling themselves the Billion-dollar Babes, at which prices can drop as low as 80 percent below retail.

The events take place a few times a year in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and New York, and feature a glittering array of designers. Besides the ubiquitous Fendi, Gucci and Prada, participants have included brands that are less frequently seen discounted, like Vivienne Westwood, Helmut Lang, and Jimmy Choo.

Can't get to a coast? There's always the Web, where discounts sprout faster than you can say "production overrun." Check out a site from Italy called It sells high-end clothing at low-end prices. Beloved by European fashionistas since 2000, Yoox began shipping to Americans last year.

Suburban Chicago hosts a different sort of shop-til-you-drop festival: the ritziest rummage sales on earth. Two Winnetka churches, the Congregational and Christ Church, annually vie for the title "biggest" (certified by Guinness), but each offers an impressive selection of wares from affluent North Shore locals.

There are rooms devoted to everything: handbags, handkerchiefs, treasures, and furs," said Murph Henderson, a frequent attendee. "The selection runs the gamut from super high end to K-mart."

'Rent' -- don't buy
Automobiles. You want to drive a fancy car, but don't have a fancy budget? Leasing is the answer. The best option is to get a second lease – leasing a car that's already been leased once before. This way, you'll drive a car that's been "gently used" but your debt obligations will be much lower than to lease a brand-new vehicle.

If you go for a model whose design hasn't changed much recently – say, a two-year-old Lexus -- many people won't even notice that the car's model year is not quite au courant.

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