Forbes.com
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updated 1/26/2005 4:40:37 PM ET 2005-01-26T21:40:37

The world is full of big-ticket items. From multimillion-dollar oceanfront estates to shares in a charter jet or a bespoke Savile Row suit, it's easy to spend a lot of money to buy the best.

But, the real trick is knowing that you don't always need to. Even people who can afford to buy anything they want still appreciate a good deal — particularly when it comes to life's little indulgences. These are what might be called "affordable luxuries:" well-made, elegant items that give pleasure, but don't need to cost a fortune.

"Luxury has nothing to do with money, it has to do with meaning," says Pam Danziger, who tracks consumer behavior for luxury marketers and is the author of Why People Buy Things They Don't Need (Dearborn Trade Publishing, 2004). "Luxury is anything you think it is — a mink coat, a dinner on the town or a walk in the park — and your perspective on it varies according to your life stage, income level ... all sorts of other things. It's all about where your passion lies rather than the amount of money you have to spend."

Indeed, while the "Super-Affluent" among us, which, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, are the top 5 percent of the population who have annual household incomes of $150,000 or more, may be inclined to buy things they really don't need, mere "Affluents" ($100,000-$149,999) and "Near-Affluents" ($75,000-$99,999) tend to be much more particular about how they spend their cash. "Even a sale won't be enough to draw them into something if it's not within the category they're shopping for," notes Danziger.

Watching the wallet
After minding their wallets for a couple of years following the tech-bubble's burst, luxury buyers rediscovered their passion for affordable products in 2004. "Last year was the year of the consumer trying to step up," says Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for The NPD Group, a Port Washington, N.Y.-based market-information firm. "From where they shopped to what they bought, consumers were looking to spend a little bit more for something a little bit better, even if it meant having to buy a little bit less as a result."

Among those areas that Cohen sees as benefiting from consumer desire for "new-and-improved" products — a.k.a., "affordable luxuries" — are home electronics (stepping up to high-definition television, for example), home renovations (out with Formica countertops, in with sleek, new granite), apparel (chicer, better-fitting, designer-label jeans) and automotive options which the dealers absolutely adore (the Northstar System, DVD players to keep the kids busy, etc.). "Consumers have been saying, 'Give me a reason to go out and buy something,'" says Cohen. "'New-and-improved' has done just that."

Be they new-and-improved or simply things to which we aspire, we've compiled ten affordable luxuries that are sure to fit in your budget — and stoke your passion. They include everything from Tiffany & Co. martini glasses to hand-made stationery, and they can all be yours for around $200 or less. If you have the luxury of time and a credit card, at least, they may be worth the indulgence.

© 2012 Forbes.com

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