Case File: Luxuries
(MONEY Magazine) – THE LAW There's an added cost to buying fancy items--call it the bragging tax. But often the same quality and features can be found for less if you feel like evading that surcharge.
Do you need a pair of tickets to Springsteen? A bottle of wine? A fancy wristwatch? Of course not. But a splurge makes life more fun. Just remember--with luxuries you pay for status and bragging rights as much as for quality. The premium vodka industry, for example, is based entirely upon making you pay more for something that's supposed to be flavorless. Wristwatch advertisements don't talk about accuracy (which any low-cost brand can provide); they talk about how a timepiece is used by Formula One drivers and astronauts. There are plenty of opportunities to get luxury quality at a reasonable price; simply focus on function, not prestige.
ITEM CONCERT TICKETS
DEBBIE MILES, owner of a ticketing agency in Seattle
"I ran a box office for 15 years, and I'll tell you: There's always a ticket. Shows are never really sold out. First, if you love a particular musician, check out the fan club. Plenty of big-name artists--Van Morrison, Madonna, Pearl Jam--presell tickets to their fan club members. But if you don't plan ahead, don't worry. We always held tickets back for the artist or the record label. They rarely used them all, so we'd release them the day of the show or even a day before. If you can, go to the box office--you may be able to avoid the costly handling fees that most online services charge. And if you're nice to the box office people, they'll tell you when tickets might get released or where the best seats are. If you're looking for a ticket day-of, I'd avoid scalpers. A lot of venues won't honor tickets bought from a third party, and if Ticketmaster thinks someone's buying tickets to scalp, it'll cancel them."
TESTIMONY Quartz is for losers. The more expensive a watch is, the more accurate it will be.
REBUTTAL Do you want the most accurate watch going? Go buy a Timex. Or a Casio. Or any quartz watch. Mechanical watches (that is, ones you have to wind) can't hold a candle to that technology when it comes to keeping time, no matter what the price. And since the movement (a.k.a. the actual mechanism) of a watch can be made by one company and sold to another, what's on the face of the watch isn't necessarily an indication of what's inside.
VERDICT Swatch may make inexpensive quartz watches, but the company also owns around 20 other brands that sell timepieces that cost tens of thousands of dollars. The Swatch Windfall (far left) retails for $120; the company's fancy Omega Speedmaster (left) goes for around $3,000. They look almost identical--and the Windfall is more accurate.
TESTIMONY The best way to assure you'll get a great family pet is to buy a purebred dog. If you have allergies, you should get a hypoallergenic breed, like a poodle.
REBUTTAL A pedigreed dog does come with a family history, but so what? Purebreds often inherit health problems and particular temperaments along with their fancy lineage. The Humane Society urges would-be puppy owners to avoid pet stores and online puppy sales. Hypoallergenic dogs, including poodles and poodle mixes, have less dander than most dogs, but you should know that "less" is not the same as "none."
VERDICT A mixed-breed dog--also known as a mutt--can be healthier (read: fewer medical expenses), so visit local shelters. If you're set on a purebred, find a reputable breeder and investigate the breed's health and temperament (akc.org is a good place to start). And since not every pairing of dog and master is successful, work with a breeder or a shelter that will take the dog back if necessary.
ITEM WINE AND SPIRITS
TESTIMONY Keep your liquor cabinet and wine rack fully stocked. And don't stint on price: Look for top-shelf liquor, and keep high-end California and French wines on hand at all times.
REBUTTAL Stick with mid-market brands of liquor instead. What's the point of shelling out for fancy sextuple-distilled vodka if you're using it to make screwdrivers? And unless you're a true oenophile, you don't require a huge collection--a few bottles of versatile reds and whites are all you need on hand to have something to drink with dinner or when friends stop by. Otherwise you'll have to worry about long-term storage issues and the costs associated with them.
VERDICT George Miliotes, beverage director at a chain of wine-centric restaurants in Florida, suggests picking up a bottle of Ketel One or Absolut, a bottle of Dewar's, some Wild Turkey and maybe a decent bottle of rum (Mount Gay) or tequila (Patrón). Anything more and you'll wind up with a liquor cabinet full of bottles of indeterminate age. (Honestly, how many times will you make a drink with Frangelico?) As for wine, steer clear of bottles from France, Napa and Sonoma, which have become overpriced. Right now Miliotes likes Spanish reds in the $8 to $12 range; as for whites, check out Indaba Chardonnay from South Africa, which retails for about $10.
Additional Reporting By Asa Fitch, Michelle Kalkhoff and Ingrid Tharasook contributed to this article.