Misc. Monday: On Luxury

“I never want to go to the nicest steakhouse in town,” said the man doing my manicure.

“What? Why?” I was baffled. He had just been talking about his love of steak.

“Because if I taste something too good, every other steak won’t taste as good.”

My manicurist’s logic didn’t entirely resonate with me, but it definitely got me thinking about the nuances of luxury. Join me for a discussion on luxury (whatever that means), and please jump into the conversation!

 When I asked my manicurist to further explain his logic, he said that, for a long time, all he ever knew was Outback steaks, which he thought were fantastic! In his own words, he “didn’t know any better.”

Then, he explained, as he got older, he went to progressively nicer steakhouses on occasion. Those chain restaurant cheaper steaks of yore just no longer did it for him. So, after having a divine $70 steak, he decided he’d never step foot in what is apparently regarded as our city’s finest steakhouse. He didn’t want the $50-$70 range steaks to be ruined for him by tasting some heaven-sent piece of meat for $100+.

As a vegetarian, I can’t directly empathize with his particular dilemma. But his words really got me thinking about the different ways people engage in luxury indulgences.

When I say “luxury” here, I don’t mean it in a strict sense of only certain brands, like Lexus or Louis Vuitton. Here I simply mean anything that is relatively more expensive or otherwise scarcer than a comparable substitute.

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Espresso con panna: a luxury item for me 🙂

For example, I am addicted to love coffee. I drink it every day. But, 99% of the time, I make plain black coffee at home using an industrial size drum-o-coffee from Costco. The cheap stuff, too. So for me when it comes to coffee, a Starbucks mocha is a luxury. $3.50 for a decadent cup of joe is way more than the 35 cents per cup that my coffee at home works out to be (yes I did the math, yes I’m a nerd).

I think for me, I feel the inverse of the way my manicurist feels. I hesitate to indulge too regularly in luxuries not because I don’t want to ruin everyday experiences, but because I don’t want the luxury itself to feel less special. If I drank a Starbucks mocha every single day, I honestly don’t think I would value them as much. (Tangent musing: Maybe this is one of the reasons they say money “changes people.”)

For me at least, indulging in the finest variety of something generally doesn’t reduce my enjoyment of the mediocre variety. Sure, I’ve had a bottle of Dom Perignon, but I honestly still like cheaper California wines as much as I always have. And yeah, I love indulging in a fancy pants expensive mocha now and again at a nice coffee shop, but my love of plain black Costco brand coffee hasn’t wavered.

My thing when it comes to luxury indulgences is more about keeping them infrequent enough to always be special. Unlike my manicurist, I’m not concerned that a decadent hand crafted latte will ruin my appreciation of black coffee brewed at home. What I am concerned about, however, is that too many hand crafted lattes will ruin my appreciation for the fact that those are a luxury item. Which is why I intentionally make it a point to go out for coffee pretty rarely, even if Dear Betrothed and I can afford it every day.

To me at least, a great deal of satisfaction in life boils down to appreciation, and it’s hard to appreciate something special if it is treated as a given. So, no matter how much money we make, I don’t want to indulge too frequently in luxuries like fancy lattes and fine dinners out. Not because they’ll reduce our enjoyment of black coffee and dinners at home, but because I always want luxuries, no matter how small, to feel luxurious.

Tell me, what does everyone else think? No matter what “luxury” means to you personally, how do you feel it engages with your enjoyment of things?

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16 comments

  1. I agree 1000%. I actually do the same thing with coffee. My wife and I have a once a month Starbucks date. We used to have it for free… Because I worked there.

    The reality is that the coffee isn’t that much better to me, it’s my mentally deciding in my mind that it’s special that makes it so. I’m treating myself, so I put myself into a mindset to enjoy it more.

    Steak is no different, nor Don P.

    Rich people over consume it because it’s a status symbol. I would still drink my cheap coffee if I got rich because that would be a silly way to indulge.

    Trips all over the world would be where my money disappeared…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh man, I used to work for Starbucks too! I miss those days of free coffee. It was a rude awakening to have to start paying full price for my favorite treats. 🙂

      You bring up an excellent point about how mental framing influences enjoyment of things. Dear Fiance said the same thing last night over dinner when I gave him a sneak peak into Monday’s blog topic. He is a big steak fan, and he said he imagines that if you served the exact same steak in a fancy steakhouse and also in a place like Outback, diners at the nicer place would rate it higher because they’d mentally set themselves up to love it.

      I also agree that excessively expensive food and drinks would be a very silly way to squander a windfall of riches. To me at least, an $8 bottle of Costco wine is just too close of a substitute for a $50 bottle of wine to justify the added expense. Same with a $5 Costco coffee barrel versus a bag of locally roasted beans for $15 a pound. Haha I think I’d be frugal no matter how rich I ever became.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. As a downwardly mobile family (intentionally), we have had to learn to consume less and buy non-premium stuff. Eleven years ago my wife and I left our high paying jobs in a fancy city environment to become small town people. And yes, it was a huge adjustment to downgrade our lifestyle (especially travel).

    I don’t feel like indulging once in a while on the *best* is necessarily bad, and probably won’t create unstoppable habits, but I definitely think there is a diminishing return as the price goes up. A $70 watch might be twice as nice as a $35 watch, but a $350 watch isn’t 10 times as good. I feel this is true with steak, wine and just about any other product you can buy. It seems foolish for folks with limited means to splurge on the best. Halfway to the best is probably good enough for everyone.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You definitely bring up an excellent point, about diminishing returns. I certainly agree — I think that a $1 cup of coffee from, say, Panera, is hands down better than a cup of Sanka (instant decaf coffee granules dissolved in hot water), but I definitely don’t think a $3 cup of Starbucks is 3x better than a $1 cup of coffee. As you point out, after a while, marginal increases in quality are indiscernible after a certain point.

      Like

  3. I totally get what you’re saying, and am on the same wavelength. It’s hard to appreciate something as a luxury if you partake in it frequently.

    Personally, Jack on the rocks is my standard, and single-malt scotch is my luxury indulgence. I have 3 different types scotches in my liquor cabinet, but only drink them on occasion. Do I think that scotch ruins my Jack experience/enjoyment? Absolutely not. But, as you said, I like having certain times and situations where I can look forward to having a scotch. I’d also include general dining out to that luxury category as well.

    I find it healthy to exercise self/impulse-control…especially when constant and immediate gratification are societal norms.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly! That’s a fantastic way of framing it. When I find myself particularly wanting a Starbucks mocha, or a glass of my favorite Chianti, or a meal out at a restaurant, I try to take notice of the desire, and drag it out and not indulge until it’s both wise financially to do so and I will appreciate the treat.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I am totally with you on the over indulging, or not as the case may be, we have lived on the breadline counting every penny and making sure our kids have all they need clothes wise and hot meals before we did. Having both qualified in our chosen professions and being more affluent I still do the bills every month in a diary like I always have, and cross off each time a DD goes out keeping a running total of money in our account etc. We are penny pinchers and bargain hunters at every opportunity. I hate to waste food so we plan each meal each week and buy what we need and freeze leftovers having if its’ meals once there are enough meals in there. It means when we want the luxuries and indulgences we have them but appreciate them as you say. Luxuries are relative too but a coffee out at a local disabled friendly independent cafe is certainly more a luxury to us 🙂 I get what your manicurist is saying though 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment! I totally understand what you are saying. There was a time when I was right out of university and struggling to make ends meet, and even though now I have a good job, I still retain the habits I had when I was struggling financially — counting every penny and generally only buying store brand groceries. I totally agree with you also about food. Wasting food has got to be one of my biggest pet peeves, even though it’s more than a pet peeve. My rule is, if it’s not so old as to make me sick, then I’ll eat it in lieu of cooking something new. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This is not something I’ve ever really thought about but I agree with you. I suppose I would call what you refer to a luxaries as treats. A treat is by it’s definition something special, something out of the ordinary, not something you do every day – that’s what makes it a treat. As soon as you start doing or getting that thing more frequently it stops being treat so it looses it’s value as a treat. Nice post and thought provoking. Thanks

    Liked by 2 people

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