There was a time when many people thought the best way to set themselves apart was by buying designer clothes, luxury beauty products, or pricey tech gadgets. But now that every other person at the bar is snapping away on a smartphone they pull out of their designer bag, some of that rarity and cachet is lost — and in our minds, that’s a good thing. It means everyone is finally catching on to what real insiders have always known: There are killer buys to be had at every budget — not only on the just-hit-the-Powerball side of the price spectrum.
In fact, we’ll go so far as to say much of what we love comes in at $50 or less. Rad-looking, retro headphones that actually sound good? A beauty-editor-favorite serum that packs major glow? The under-$15
Smirnoff vodka that’s smooth enough to serve on the rocks? They all make the list ahead. And this, friends, is why we can have nice things.
The Clever Way To Get This Hot-Off-The-Runway Trend Remember when some very famous designers sent models down the runway wearing multiple mini-crossbody bags? And you were psyched, until you had a second to wonder, Who can shell out for one four-figure bag, let alone two? Well, Zara to the rescue — again. Its mini-bags are bright and boxy with on-point strap options. Best of all, at 40 bucks each, you can afford to layer up. Zara Crossbody Bags, $39.90 each, available at Zara.
The Matte Lipstick Makeup Artists Swear By If you hopped on the matte lipstick trend only to hop right off, because spending $40 on something that ends up decorating your water glass is kind of hard to swallow, this is for you. Rimmel’s The Only One is an intensely pigmented, no-shine lip paint that goes on smoothly and, most importantly, stays put. Rimmel London The Only One Matte Lipstick, $7.79, available at Walgreens.
Drink responsibly. The Smirnoff Co., Norwalk, CT
The Bottle That Brings The Party Having a good time shouldn’t be a luxury, and neither should the booze you enlist for the festivities. Smirnoff No. 21 is triple distilled for a smooth taste, and for less than $15 a bottle, it hits that all-important sweet spot of quality and affordability. Smirnoff No. 21 Vodka, $14, available at Smirnoff.
The Smartest Way To Upgrade Your Earbuds The big secret behind those $300 headphones everyone on the subway’s wearing? They don’t necessarily sound very good. Try these instead — they’re lightweight and come in all kinds of cute retro colors (even millennial pink). Most importantly, you won’t get better sound for this price. Panasonic Retro Over-The-Ear Stereo Monitor Headphones, $39.01, available at Amazon.
The Better-Than-Sriracha Condiment That Makes Every Meal Amazing Harissa, a spicy, aromatic, and delicious chili paste traditional to Tunisia, is something you could make from scratch — if you’re willing to drop 30 bucks on 10 different ingredients and spend your afternoon getting cozy in the kitchen. Hence why Trader Joe’s ready-made version is a godsend. Put it on eggs, add it to couscous, and use it to marinate meat or fish. Trader Joe’s Traditional Harissa Sauce, $2.69, available at Trader Joe’s.
The Minimalist Tray That Racks Up The Likes Macarons are done and done. Right now, Instagram is all about the flat lay on a white marble background. The big secret? Target is now making a ton of truly chic, heavy-duty gold and marble trays for a third of the price you’d pay at a fancy home store. Buy one, and watch the Likes roll in on that pic of your morning coffee. Threshold Gold and Marble Tray, $34.99, available at Target.
The Prettiest Place To Brainstorm (...Or Write Grocery Lists) Everyone needs a place to scribble her next big idea. Enter Shinola, the brand that’s revitalizing Detroit with its finely crafted, made-in-America watches, turntables, and, yes, paper goods. This linen journal is durably hand bound and made of archival-quality paper from sustainably managed forests. Translation: It’s a pocket-size book fully worthy of your big thoughts. Shinola Small Soft Linen Journal, $16, available at Shinola.
The Serum That Makes Your Skin Glow The serums that top beauty editors’ best-of lists can start at $100, which is enough to make you afraid to actually use the stuff dare you waste a drop. Glossier Super Glow contains skin-brightening vitamin C and ultra-hydrating magnesium — all for less than $30, so you can happily slather it on. Glossier Super Glow, $28, available at Glossier.
The Move For When You Outgrow Fake Jewelry Yes, buying costume jewelry at a fast-fashion store is easy and cheap — until you realize you’re replacing those tarnished metal pieces at least once a year. Mejuri makes stylish, luxury-quality jewelry from real precious metals for way less than we’re used to seeing, and these 14-karat, solid-gold earrings are the perfect way to start your fine jewelry collection. Mejuri Sphere Studs, $50, available at Mejuri.