From private islands and racehorses to tuxedos and classic cars—a bargain hunter's guide to finding value in luxury
If you feel like ruining your day, walk through your house with a pocket calculator and add up the cost of everything you own that you now wish you hadn't bought. You'll be in a bad mood before you even get to your garage.
I still brood about stuff my wife and I asked for and received as wedding gifts more than 30 years ago—all those $100 wine glasses, most of them broken by now. How much smarter we would have been to ask for something sensible, like cash. Then we could have gone to Pottery Barn and bought simple wine glasses, and invested the difference in something with a longer half-life than Baccarat stemware—such as a more interesting honeymoon.
Being a smart shopper is more rewarding, in the long run, than being a reckless one, and serious bargains can be found if you know where to look. Focus our spending on sensible luxuries, on quality items that will earn back their cost, and more, through years of use. In other words, by following the sound advice in these 22 "How to Buy Anything" tips from Best Life. Read on—and then invest in yourself and look younger and live longer with this proven list of 100 Ways to Live to Be 100.
1How to Buy a Private Island
If you have chronic dreams of getting away from it all—really getting away from it all—escaping to your own private island is no longer a fantasy. You can buy one outright for less than the price of a Brooklyn townhouse.
According to Chris Krolow, the chief executive of the digital broker Private Islands Online, sales are booming, and it's a buyer's market. (The host of HDTV's Island Hunters, he fields up to 200 inquiries a day.) Properties are available anywhere from the U.S. West Coast to the United Kingdom and, of course, the tropics.
The Exumas Cays in the Bahamas are especially hot. The 47-acre island Saddleback Cay, which has seven beaches and a 5,000-square-foot airstrip, is listed for $11.8 million via Sotheby's. Tahaa, a 7-acre private island in Tahiti, is going for $7 million. The 48-acre Crawl Caye, a World Heritage Site in the middle of a coral-filled turquoise lagoon in Belize, is a relative bargain at $3.9 million.
How to get started? Browse away online, then contact a broker. Most islands in the U.S. can be bought outright; in the tropics, you'll often buy a 30-year lease.
Best Life No-Brainer: If sale prices are a bit too steep (or you want to try before you buy), renting is a popular option. An isle called Cayo Despanto in Belize goes for $500-$1,000 a night; Little Way Cay in the Bahamas accommodates 13 and is yours for $10,000 to $20,000 a night; Wadigi Island in Fiji is $2,000 a night. Most come fully staffed with cooks, servers and guides. The actor Steve Martin, who once put his St. Barts villa up for sale, was renting it out for $28,000 a week. And finish off your bucket list with this definitive list of the essential 50 Things You Must Do Before You Die!
2How to Buy a Racehorse
You need not be royalty to buy entry into the "sport of kings." That's because stables have started offering multiowner partnerships. An initial investment of $25,000 will generally get you (or your group of friends) a 25 percent interest in a quality contender. "The ex-chairman of Dow Chemical owns a share in every horse at our stable," says Cot Campbell, president of Dogwood Stable, a top-ranked racing stable in South Carolina. "And the head of Prudential owned part of a horse named Smok'n Frolic, who earned about $1.5 million in three years."
A racehorse may seem like a luxury, but like everything else nowadays, one can be found at a steep discount. To pick a winner, deal with a reputable, professional stable that buys yearlings; to find a stable near you, contact the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association or the American Horse Council. Most stables will mail you a brochure of horses. Despite what you might imagine, buying a racehorse is much like buying a new car, and there's no reason to send a vet to examine your steed (quality stables have streamlined the vet-check process to ease the burden of purchase). As with any big investment, you'll sign a legal agreement. Then you'll fill out a license in the state where you're going to race (the stable also provides this at no extra cost).
Next: Enjoy the ride. The average horse runs 10 times a year. You and your brood will get free admission to the stables' box, meet the jockey and trainer, and hang out with your horse in the paddock before the race.
Best Life No-Brainer: Stable owners generally estimate that only 33 percent of horses make money. The good news is that you can write off the expense on your taxes, so it's a worthwhile investment, even if you don't win. "Horse racing isn't for widows and orphans," says Campbell, "but it's the most exciting venture in the world."
3How to Buy a Classic Car
Don't think of your first classic car as an investment. "The best you can hope for is a minimal loss or maybe a maintaining of its value," says Karl Brauer, Senior Director of Content and Executive Publisher at Cox Automotive. Ultimately, that shouldn't matter. You're buying something unique. "You should think, I'm doing this because I love the car and I want to drive it." That said, there are a few guidelines.
Research is key. Most likely, you know what you want—say, a mid-'60s Corvette. "Research the ownership of the car and what it's like to own one," says Brauer. Use the Internet to find local owners' clubs and networks. "The nice thing about the car community is that it's a community of enthusiasts (it's their love, not their job), so people like to help others get into the hobby." Specialists can be found in almost every city, and local clubs will recommend the best.
Buy insurance. Classic-car insurance is a bargain, with some caveats. It can't be your daily ride and you must have secure parking. But man plans have no mileage limit and, like other classic insurers, uses "agreed value" instead of Blue Book plus depreciation. This means you assert the car's value and back it up with photos. If the car is totaled, the insurer will pay out the agreed value.
There isn't one way to get the best price. "I've bought vehicles at auction, a couple off eBay, a couple in person," says Brauer. Just go in armed and educated. "If you're bidding sight unseen, money should not change hands until you've seen the car in person."
Best Life No-Brainer: Dealers offer security. You will pay more, but you'll have recourse. "Even if the dealer says the car has no warranty," says Brauer, "you're buying from a business with a reputation to protect." Cooper Classics Collection is a great place to start and even provides financing.
4How to Buy the Best Table at a Restaurant
The keys to securing a plum table at an exclusive restaurant or nightclub are discretion and deference. At a restaurant, don't confront the maitre d' at the check-in stand in front of the other customers. Meet him in the middle of the restaurant after he has seated another table, says psychologist Mark L. Brenner, PhD, author of Tipping for Success. Introduce yourself, explain your story (why it's important that you are seated), and be sure to close with the universal code: "I'll be happy to take care of you in the right way if you can make these arrangements."
Another option is to call from a cell phone within the restaurant and make the same pitch out of earshot of others waiting. How much to tip? Depending on how long the wait is, anywhere from $5 to $15 will do the trick. "It's never as much as people think," says Brenner. Pass the tip using the one-hand or two-hand shake method once the maitre d' delivers. To keep the quid pro quo on the down low, fold the bills into quarter sections and conceal them in your palm. After you shake his hand in appreciation, he walks away with the gratuity.
Best Life No-Brainer: In a hotel setting, ask for the reservation manager if you run into an issue. With a doorman at a nightclub, it's usually necessary to take a gamble on the advance tip. Ask to speak with him privately and be sure to have the bills prepared ahead of time. As you'd expect, the more exclusive the venue, the bigger the tip should be. There's a reason the doormen at Las Vegas's trendiest clubs are rumored to make as much as half a million a year.
5How to Buy a Road Bike
There's a saying amongst cyclists: Friends don't let friends buy bikes online. It's not that good deals aren't to be found there (indeed, from an absolute price standpoint, just the opposite is true), but rather because online purchases don't come with the innumerable (and often unwritten) fringe benefits that many real-world shops provide, such as a fit service, free tune-ups, and the all-important test ride. These factors are so important that they comprise the first step in bike buying: Choose the right store. Here's how to find a good shop and select the perfect set of wheels once you're there.
Buy local. Your relationship with the bike shop doesn't end when you sign the sales receipt. Odds are, you'll need those bike experts to true your wheels, tighten cables, and even swap out worn parts at some point. Do you really want to drive an hour to get a tune-up? A good shop will also organize group rides, provide maintenance clinics that teach skills such as how to change a tire (it's much harder than it sounds), and employ a sales staff that caters to every skill level. You're going to rely on their bicycling knowledge until you develop enough of your own, so if you get attitude, or if the salesman seems uninterested, go elsewhere.
Consider the whole package. Once a bike catches your eye, don't be distracted by its individual components. Manufacturers often install one high-end part to catch consumers' attention and then skimp on the rest of the component package to make up the cost. Consider the component system as a whole, making sure that most of the parts are of the same quality. A top-of-the-line Shimano Dura-Ace rear derailleur won't do you an ounce of good if your off-brand brakes fail in traffic.
Upgrade to carbon fiber. Many great sub-$1,000 bikes exist, but if you can afford to shop above that price point, you'll be rewarded with carbon fiber. Most $1,200-plus road bikes come with carbon-fiber forks, and many also have carbon-fiber handlebars and seat posts, all of which dampen road vibrations better than aluminum (the material of choice for less expensive frames). Bottom line: The more carbon a bike has, the more enjoyable it will be to ride.
Best Life No-Brainer: If you can afford it, go for a Cannondale Synapse Carbon bike
6How to Buy a Stock
Read Benjamin Graham's 1949 classic, The Intelligent Investor (updated in 2003), which Warren Buffett has called "the best book on investing ever written." Predicting market meltdowns such as the one from 2008, Graham explains in 531 pages how to profit off other investors' panic.
Best Life No-Brainer: Don't have time to read it? Then you don't have time to tend to a stock portfolio. Instead, buy the whole market through a fund such as the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index (VTSMX). Sure, you give up the chance to make 20 times your money, but you're almost guaranteed not to lose your shirt either. In fact, in the past five years, nearly 70 percent of mutual funds that own shares in big companies failed to beat the market, and small-cap, mid-cap, and international funds did even worse versus comparable indices, according to data from Standard & Poor's.
7How to Buy Your Kid a Future
If your children are still in diapers, they're probably not ready for your lecture on the power of compounding interest. Get their nest eggs started yourself with UTMA custodial accounts. You can contribute cash, stock, and even real estate to these accounts, which the kids won't be able to touch until they're 21 (depending on which state you live in). And because the first $850 in annual earnings is tax-free, and the next $850 is taxed at the child's rate, these accounts are a handy place to stash assets that are weighing on your own tax bill, like unsold shares of stock.
Best Life No-Brainer: As soon as your kid gets his first summer-job paycheck, open a Roth IRA for him. You can invest up to $5,000, or whatever he earns. By the time today's 15-year-olds are 65, that five large will be worth a cool $92,000...or perhaps a lot more. And to feel 17 again, click here 12 Instantly Effective Age Erasers.
8How to Buy A Sound System
Great sound systems don't come in one box. Sure, you'll have to read a few manuals when it comes time to connect some wires, but you should buy each component from a different manufacturer, says home-theater expert Chris Boylan, editor and cofounder of Big Picture Big Sound. That's because no single company performs strongly across the board. At the very least, your home-theater setup will require a receiver, a DVD or Blu-ray player, and speakers. Spend the most money on the latter; surround sound is a must for watching movies. "It can really draw you into a film by creating a soundscape that surrounds you from all sides," says Boylan. The pièce de résistance is a 7.1-channel surround (that's seven speakers plus a subwoofer), which will include a dedicated center-channel speaker for clear-sounding dialogue, but a 5.1 system will work fine if you're tight on space or budget.
Best Life No-Brainer: Test the components in a shop, but purchase online using a comparison-shopping engine, such as this one, to see which retailers offer the best prices.
9How to Buy An Investment Property
The bursting of the housing bubble made it clear that Florida condos aren't a surefire path to riches, but does that mean you can't make money in real estate? No. It's just that most people don't understand a fundamental truth about investing in property: It's about income, not capital gains. Before you buy, do the math: If the property can generate rental income in excess of the mortgage, taxes, insurance, maintenance, and, if necessary, management fees, you have a good investment.
Best Life No-Brainer: "Real estate isn't a tech stock, it's a blue chip," says economist Christopher Thornberg, of Beacon Economics, in Los Angeles. "Like a blue chip, you don't get your value from the appreciation of the investment, you get it from the dividend it sends you each month, and that dividend is the rent." If the property goes up in value, that's gravy.
10How to Buy Your Own Story
Two words: the Mormons. Okay, before you laugh, consider this: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the formal name of the Mormon Church) maintains the largest genealogy library in the world, the Family History Library, located in Salt Lake City. There, you'll find more than 2 million rolls of microfiche (stored in the Granite Mountain Records Vault) documenting every birth, death, and immigration record that has been gathered since 1894.
Have you seen the computer database at Ellis Island? The one that lets you find the ship log documenting your Great-Grandpa Sal's trip over here from Sicily? It's called the American Family Emigration History Center (also online at ellisisland.org), and it was created with the help of volunteers from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. So, why, you may ask, are the Mormons so obsessed with genealogy? Do they really have nothing better to do? It turns out that it's one of their church's core tenets. They believe that even the dead need to be baptized in order to get into heaven, so the living are responsible for finding past ancestors and performing the proper rituals for them. Regardless of their religious intentions, these are the people you want to put on the case.
A group called ProGenealogists, which is not affiliated with the Mormons but is also based in Salt Lake City, will ransack the millions of rolls of microfiche in the LDS library and then activate its network of international researchers to track down your long-lost cousin Guido in Sardinia or the fishing village in Hokkaido where your family name was born. Ten hours of research will typically extend one family line about two or three generations, though anything pre-1850 can take twice as long. Speaking of age, don't miss these incredibly rewarding 40 Things You Should Do in Your 40s!
Best Life No-Brainer: The group can even put together a narrative history of your family, telling the story from the day Grandpa Pat fled the potato famine to the day last spring when your own son graduated from kindergarten. Check out their services here.
11How to Buy A Vineyard
It can cost at least $100,000 an acre to buy a Napa estate. If you have the dough to spare, by all means go for it. For the rest of us, there are still bargains to be had in the up-and-coming wine region of Mendoza, Argentina, home of the mighty Malbec. At press time, VineSmart.com (a vineyard and winery real-estate clearing house) had four properties for sale in Mendoza, ranging in size from seven to 50 acres and starting at $80,000. Before you sign on the dotted line, it behooves you to hire a viticulturist to help you assess the soil, to make sure there is a clean, reliable water source, and to determine the health and history of the vines planted on the estate. God forbid cabernet grapes are growing in a chardonnay environment, or the past 10 years have all seen crop failures.
Best Life No-Brainer: If you're not ready to take the full plunge and man the land yourself, buy a share, sit back, and reap the benefits. Domaine Gayda, which owns and manages vineyards in the Languedoc region of France, can hook you up with a plot for less than a fancy new car. For more stories to tell your grandkids, click here for the awe-inspiring 25 Adventures Every Man Should Have Before They Die.
12How to Buy Financial Security
The joke going around the hedge-fund world used to be that there are two good positions these days: cash and fetal. After years of being ignored, the best measure of financial health is back in style: cash flow. You can't build lasting wealth without it. If you're lacking in liquidity, fake it by taking out a home-equity line of credit (HELOC). Don't tap it though; it's just in case of emergency. The time to be approved for a loan is before you lose your job. Then ruthlessly attack the family balance sheet: Scour credit-card bills for wasteful spending (you don't need Internet access on your cell phone), pay off any balances on credit cards and refinance debt to take advantage of today's lower rates.
Best Life No-Brainer: Call your service providers (cable/Internet/landline/newspaper) and ask for lower rates. Threaten to walk. Use the increased cash flow to invest in a money-market mutual fund or take advantage of teaser rates from banks. Says Manhattan financial planner and president of ObjectiveAdvice.com Gary Schatsky: "Take it until they stop teasing. Isn't that what we learned in high school?" Anything more than 2.5 percent on a money-market account and 4 percent on a CD is a good return, but be ready to go elsewhere if the rate falls.
13How to Buy Your Kid's Love
Sure, the latest video game or Kylo Ren mask might bring a gush of enthusiastic thanks from your child, but it quickly fades, and he'll soon be whining again for the next overpriced gadget on his "must have" list. To really win his heart, try giving him something that helps him develop a skill or allows you to spend time together. "Giving a gift that can be shared over a long period of time is a really big emotional investment," says child psychologist Anthony Wolf, PhD, author of the best-selling book Get Out of My Life, But First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall?
Best Life No-Brainer: Get inside your kid's head and figure out what would make him happiest. Fly-fishing lessons? Season tickets for his favorite team? A pottery class? "These are the types of gifts that become a part of the child's life over the long-term," says Wolf, "with your memory always attached."
14How to Buy A Gym Membership
Rule one: Consider gyms only within a 15-minute drive of where you live or work. Joining one that's farther than that dramatically reduces your chances of staying committed to exercise. Once you've narrowed the field by distance and pinpointed a few gyms that seem to meet your exercise needs, follow these tips to ensure a good fit (and the best possible deal).
Be wary of perks. If you don't plan to use more than half of a club's services, find yourself another club. Perks inflate membership fees. Many gyms charge more money for classes and facilities. Some even require an additional fee to rent a locker.
Try before you buy. Get a trial membership and go back to the gym at the time you'd normally work out. Besides seeing how crowded it is, make sure the equipment doesn't squeak and the weights are stacked properly--two signs that the gym is managed effectively.
Pay bottom dollar. Gym memberships are negotiable, and here's a bargaining chip: A survey from the American Council on Fitness found that 48 percent of fitness professionals believe the number of gym memberships will decrease this year. Gym managers can approve any price to seal the deal as long as they don't go lower than a predetermined rate. Gain the upper hand by researching the membership fees, amenities, and services offered by their competitors, and don't be afraid to walk away from the table. Many clubs would rather waive your activation fee, give you a free month, or offer you extra services than lose your business.
Best Life No-Brainer: Check credentials. A health club is only as good as its instructors. The National Commission for Certifying Agencies accredits more than 190 certifying programs, the most common of which are abbreviated as NASM, ACE, NSCA, CI-CPT, ACSM, NESTA, NETA, NFPT, and NCSF. If you see any of these acronyms on trainers' certificates or after their names, you'll be in good hands.
15How to Buy Her Love
Well, you can't. "But if you give her a unique, shared experience, you'll be creating history together, and that will mean much more than a material gift ever could," says Lori Buckley, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist and certified sex therapist.
Best Life No-Brainer: Start with dinner at a restaurant she has wanted to try, or plan a weekend getaway to a place she has never been. According to researchers from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, new and adventurous experiences activate dopamine-rich areas of the brain and can heighten attraction. "Memories are the glue of a relationship," says Buckley. And the memory of unwrapping a present fades rather quickly.
16How to Buy Lingerie
You need to know two things, says Rebecca Apsan, owner of New York City's La Petite Coquette: the right size and the right style. Take a look at the garments near the front of her drawer, not the back, as she wears those the most. En route to a lingerie boutique (return to "go" if you're parked at a mall), relegate your fantasies to the backseat. Instead, consider the aspects of her body that she's most sensitive about. If she's self-conscious about her backside, steer clear of thongs.
Best Life No-Brainer: Does she wish she had a flat stomach? Look for something that covers her tummy. This is a crucial step, says Apsan, because it's about making her feel sexy and comfortable. "If you go for shock value, you'll probably be disappointed with the results," she says.
17How to Buy A Web Site
First, come up with a domain name that is easy to remember and spell. Next, find out if the name is available. Instantdomainsearch.com is a great site for this, because it shows name availability as you type. Once you've found an available domain name, register it through a registrar company such as GoDaddy.com. Ten dollars will cover one year of registration, and you can have the cost automatically billed to your credit card. (Online coupons can save you up to 50 percent of the domain's cost, so grab one on a site such as promo-code.net.) Don't worry about adding extras like "certified domain" or "hosting"; registrar companies push these add-ons to make extra cash. However, consider registering as a private domain; this ensures that personal information is hidden from anyone who searches for your domain name. Once the site is yours, host it through a server like Doreo.com or Midphase.com. These Web-hosting companies will take care of any technical difficulties for as little as $7 a month. Finally, add content.
Best Life No-Brainer: Installing a free content-management system such as WordPress will make sharing your Easter photos as easy as a few clicks—or use a service like Squarespace or Wix to build yours using their pre-made templates, saving you the hassle of learning code.
18How to Buy Power Tools
Carpenters know that the most important feature of their most indispensable tool is not volts or torque, but ounces. "I don't want a 24-volt drill if I have to lug it around all day," says Rich Friberg, a carpentry instructor at Boston's 124-year-old North Bennet Street School. A 14-volt cordless drill provides a good balance of power, weight, and value for the DIY-er, and any of the contractor-grade brands, such as DeWalt, Bosch, Milwaukee, or Metabo, are reliable, he says. Because most drills come with a one-hour charger and just one spare battery, Friberg recommends buying a third battery pack and using all three in rotation to guarantee that you always have enough power. (Newer lithium-ion batteries weigh less and last longer than nickel cadmium ones, but they can cost a third more.) Think about the requirements of your projects too. If you need a lot of power for a battery-draining task (hanging drywall or building a deck), go with the constant power of a corded drill.
Best Life No-Brainer: Even the best drill is useless with a dull bit. Friberg recommends buying a 30-piece set in a variety of sizes with your new drill, and eventually purchasing a "contractor's pack" of 10 bits for the sizes you use most (brand doesn't matter). Throw away used bits as soon as they dull.
19How to Buy A Watch
Men who want a watch from the inventors of the New York Minute will find it via a New York institution: Tiffany & Co. Accented in rose gold with gold poudré numerals on a blue soleil dial, the Tiffany CT60 Chronograph is as functional as it is beautiful, with a self-winding mechanical movement, 42-hour power reserve and water resistance to 100 meters. Or, if you’re looking for something timeless (that’s stood the test of time), don't be afraid of trolling the catalogs of auction houses such as Phillips de Pury, the online firm Portero.com, and Christie's, which meticulously researches the history of each watch offered.
Best Life No-Brainer: Buy the CT60 right here.
20How to Buy A Knife
If you're concerned with the most important aspect of a chef's knife--a sharp blade that keeps an edge well—don't waste your money on a fancy German or Japanese import. The simple, plastic-handled $45 Fibrox blade by Victorinox is preferred by many a professional chef over much more expensive knives. In fact, Cook's Illustrated--the Consumer Reports of all things kitchen--has repeatedly declared this blade the winner in its head-to-head knife tests.
Best Life No-Brainer: Buy the Fibrox here.
21How to Buy A Grill
Forget British thermal units (BTUs) and stainless-steel panels. Meeting your dream grill comes down to a basic question, says Rick Rodgers, author of Barbecues 101: Do you want convenience or flavor? "Go with gas if you need to start cooking within two minutes," he says, "but I don't think you'll find many chefs who favor gas over charcoal." Fantasize about smoking brisket? You'll need charcoal, not gas. (Though some could argue that a man needs two grills: one for leisurely smoking, and one for when your wife wants a steak now.) Next, don't skimp on size; get a surface that's at least 22 inches in diameter. "Those 18-inch grills are too small for the average cookout," cautions Rodgers. Then take a lesson from the missus and start accessorizing. Rodgers endorses built-in thermometers ("It's nice to know if you're slow-roasting at 600 degrees or 300") as well as grilling tables, ash catchers, hinged lids, and cast-iron grill grates. But don't get too caught up. "Although lots of models are on the market, a grill is really a simple device," admits Rodgers. "I cook on an old, dented Weber that I tote around in my car."
Best Life No-Brainer: If you need a portable grilling surface, check out the ingeniously designed Notebook Grill. It is big enough to cook for six and folds flat, so it's perfect for hauling anywhere. Buy one here.
22How to buy a Tux
Any tailor worth his salt can tell you that a simple equation determines when you should purchase your own tux: If your social calendar includes more than three formal events a year, it's time to stop renting. What that metric won't tell you is that the whole science of buying a tux can be broken down simply to what kind of man you are, a classicist or a sartorialist. If you identify more with the former archetype, opt for slim-fitting, flat-front trousers (always with a ribbon), paired with a one-button peak-lapel or shawl-collar jacket. If you're the latter, "personalize your look by switching up the formal shirt," says designer Michael Bastian. "Have some fun. Try pale pink, pale blue, even pale lavender." If you're obsessed with how you'll look in photographs, however, your best bet is another chic black-tie alternative: the midnight tuxedo with black lapels and dark-navy cloth, as opposed to a standard flat-black tux, which sucks all the light from a snapshot.
Best Life No-Brainer: If you're on a budget and don't have time to shop around for bargains, hit up J.Crew’s Tuxedo Shop. Its formal men's line features jackets and pants for under $1,000.
Reported by Rick Collins, Chris Connelly, Jason Daley, Lindsey Getz, Alison Kotch, Jessica Lothstein, Andrew Park, Will Rizzo, Matt Schneiderman, Les Shu, Michael Slenske, Trevor Thieme, and Joel Weber, with an introduction by David Owen
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