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  Texas : Features : Humor : Column - "A Balloon In Cactus"

Appearing Rich

by Maggie Van Ostrand
Maggie Van Ostrand
People can easily become famous just by being rich. But when they're famous enough, they never pay for anything at all. Just one of life's little irritating ironies.

Celebrities are given designer clothing and all they have to do is mention the name of the designer. There was a time when movie stars bought or had made their own evening clothes for the award shows. Not any more. "Who are you wearing?" asks Joan Rivers. Never do you hear a celeb say, "Oh, just a dead bunch of minks," you hear "Vera Wang," or "Isaac Mizrahi" or, if you're Cher, "Bob Mackie."

Celebs are also given the latest in electronics, makeup, and even cars and fabulous vacations.

The thing is, you no longer have to BE a celeb to live like one and, best of all, minus those annoying paparazzi trying to shove their cameras up your dress. Pesky dudes.

You, too, can get more out of life than what you can afford.

A quick study of Shel Horowitz' book, "The Penny-Pinching Hedonist," or even just a scan of his http://www.FrugalFun.com links, are full of useful information on how to live as though you have big bucks when you haven't.

Horowitz' favorite way to see top name entertainment free of charge is by ushering.

He writes, "This is so easy and so much fun, I'm amazed more people haven't caught on! But most people haven't realized how many venues depend on volunteer labor - and comp them with free admission in return.

"If you notice a show coming up that you'd like to see, contact the promoter (the phone number is almost always on the ads and posters) and ask if they'll be needing volunteer ushers for that event. Whether your taste runs to hard rock, jazz, classical, folk or pop, there's sure to be a venue near you that uses volunteers: not just ushers, but people to put up posters, sell food and apparel during intermission, and so forth. Some shows even have volunteers doing stage security, but that can be a rough gig.

"What do you do as an usher? Show up early and learn the theater layout, sometimes insert an addendum into the program, cover your assigned territory by handing out programs, tearing tickets, and/or showing people to their seats, and sometimes make a sweep through the hall after the show, collecting abandoned programs, soda cans, and candy wrappers."

Worked for this Caffimage reporter, whose favorite job was as a volunteer seat saver at the Oscars. I'd tell you all the big stars I saw and even spoke with, but then you'd be so jealous, I'd feel guilty. Better let you just guess.

According to financial adviser MP Dunleavy, "Vicarious wealth by volunteering. Major charities always need volunteers, and they often hold a yearly bash where you can meet and mingle with the rich and famous. Or you can volunteer at a local theater or arts organization and gain access to pricey cultural events without paying a dime. Black-tie events are not only for those who can afford the $500 door ticket. It is for those who hold the doors, too."

As to clothing, there's one rule only: Never Pay Retail. It's wiser to buy used designer duds than to spend the same amount on something new at Wal-Mart or Target. Pick up a phone book and look for consignment stores in a tony area. As noted by Dunleavy, a freelance writer in New Jersey bought a Christian Dior suit for $58. That's fifty eight dollars. Don't let the fact that these secondhand joints are now euphemistically called "Consignment Stores" stop you. You can get some great jewelry there, too.

Work the web. If you see a pair of Manolo Blahniks you just have to have because you identify with Carrie Bradshaw, check out Overstock.com, or SHOEbuy.com, or go to the clearance section of your favorite store. You'll be amazed at the bargains.

Dunleavy says to time your purchases, that national retail chains like Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, etc., have a merchandise cycle of about six to eight weeks. After about four weeks of being out on the floor, the chain then rotates full-price items to discounted tables. Advises wise shopper Dunleavy, "Keep your eye on the cycle at your favorite stores so that you're always buying at a discount."

Another way to live like the rich without being rich, is to hang with them. Check out charitable events in your area, either online or in the local newspaper, and volunteer. You can suck up to the fat cats and, dressed in your discount finery, no one will be the wiser unless you tell them.

Travel to the same places as the wealthy, but don't pay what they pay. Check out http://www.luxurylink.com and bid on, say four nights in a Junior Suite with champagne and flowers in "Exquisite Montreal Hotel XIXe Siecle" or "Greek Goddess Adventure: Maupintour LLC, 7 nights, all meals, and all activities as per itinerary..." or "3 nights in a Junior Suite in the Tuscan Countryside L'Andana Hotel" -- See how simple it is?

Or you could join an international hosting or home-swapping service. Whether there's a small fee to join or it could be free, you might get an apartment in Paris, or a London flat, in exchange for your place, for a given period of time. Horowitz, with his wife and daughter, stayed for 12 nights in Wales for a total of $50 for lodging. See http://www.homeexchange.com/ and http://moneycentral.msn.com/ content/Savinganddebt/Travelforless/P36626.asp-

It's almost sleight of hand. If you hang with the rich, you're perceived as one of them. Change your mindset to that of a rich-living person, which, of course, you now are. You are living rich, without BEING rich. The result is the same.

If you end up married to someone who really does have money, just remember not to have kids. That way, according to Andrew Oswald, an economist at the University of Warwick in England, you can save a lot of money, since most rich people just send theirs away to expensive boarding schools.
Copyright Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus"

July 9, 2005 column
Email: maggie@maggievanostrand.com
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