10 Budget Purchases That Look Expensive

I've written about expensive purchases that looked cheap, but what about the opposite — cheap purchases that look much more expensive than they actually are?

This is what the essence of Wise Bread (and frugality) is all about: making smart purchases that are good for your wallet, image, and reputation. Whether it's a purchase for a special occasion, such as a birthday or anniversary, or simply sprucing up your home or wardrobe, these 10 products will shine — without eating a hole in your savings account.

1. Pearl Jewelry

Unlike diamonds, which are controlled by a cartel, pearls are relatively affordable. The ability to grow real pearls on oyster farms gives the jewelry business a resource for inexpensive, but genuine, cultured pearls. It's no longer a game of hit and miss for divers, who once trawled the oceans in the hopes of finding an oyster with a pearl. You can find beautiful cultured pearl necklaces and earrings for as little as $10. They will have the weight and luster of natural pearl jewelry that costs thousands — and only a real expert can tell the difference.

2. Most Products From Ikea

Let's face it, Ikea is insanely popular for a reason. One look through the Ikea catalog and you'll see an awful lot of great design at a price that even Walmart would find hard to beat. Designers from around the world have put forward stunning products and furniture for a fraction of the price they would usually charge, including Matali Crasset and Scholten & Baijings.

3. Invicta Watches

The name Invicta conjures up images of expensive timepieces and wads of cash, but that's not actually the case. While you can find Invicta watches that cost over $1,400, you can also buy models for around $50 to $100. They're heavy, well-made (usually in the USA), and water resistant to hundreds of feet. You get a fantastic presentation case, too. This Invicta watch at Amazon looks like it could set you back a grand, but it's only $70. Invicta watches make great gifts, and can often be found on discount sites at massively reduced prices.

4. H&M Clothing and Accessories

When you look at what H&M has on offer, you might think it's high fashion. But the great thing about H&M is that you get incredible style for a steal. It's not unusual to walk into H&M with $100 and come out with five or six items of clothing, including shirts, jeans, sweaters, and even jackets. Take a look at the current H&M sale and give yourself a little test. Put the things you really find stylish and attractive in your cart without looking at the prices. Then, guess how much you've spent. The chances are, you'll be way over — probably by three to four times more the actual cost.

5. Leather Goods

There's something about leather — maybe it's the smell, or the fact that so many shoes and jackets are made from faux leather. However, real leather can be as affordable as the fake stuff, and on occasion, even cheaper. What you have to do is shop selectively, and shop when the sales are at their peak. Right now, places like Wilsons Leather are dumping their winter stock, and you can find leather jackets for 75% off. Stroll into work wearing a $500 jacket — no one has to know it only cost you $125.

6. Muji Products

When products get really expensive, you have to search high and low for the brand name. It's one of those "people who know, will know" deals. Now imagine products that have that sense of style and simplicity, but don't come with the ludicrous price tags. That's what it's like to shop at Muji. From clothing, clocks, and furniture, to bags, storage items, and electronics, Muji is sophisticated style on a modest budget. Not everything at Muji is really cheap either, which means it's really hard to know what your Muji item cost. Maybe it was a few bucks, maybe a few hundred.

7. Scratch and Dent Appliances

We live in a society obsessed with getting everything brand spanking new, and absolutely perfect. The very idea that someone would sell you a stainless steel fridge with a scratch or dent in it appalls some people. If you're smart, you'll take advantage of that. Scratch and dent (aka, "dent and ding") appliances are perfectly functional, and have just a few superficial flaws. Perhaps it was on a showroom floor and got a tiny scratch, or a dent in the bottom of the door from a careless delivery. These tiny flaws, however, come with massive savings. If you don't mind a few dings, you can take hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars off the price of a brand new, name brand appliance.

8. Used High-End Cars

If someone asks you what you drive and you reply "A BMW," they don't usually say "Oh yeah, is that one of those high-mileage used ones?" A BMW is a BMW, and a Mercedes is a Mercedes. You would be astonished at the prices some of these cars are going for, right now. A quick look in my area of Colorado brought back results for BMWs with less than 60k miles for under $7,000. And these are not old junkers, they're 2002–2007 models. You can get financing, and for less than $150 a month, you can be driving around a top of the range BMW. A word of warning though… get it thoroughly checked out first, and make sure you know a garage that services BMWs for affordable prices.

9. Custom, Handmade Gifts

With the rise of stores like Etsy and eBay, homemade gifts are becoming much more prominent. Not made by you, but someone skilled and willing to charge a lot less than retail stores. You can find people on Etsy ready to make a personalized hat or scarf for next to nothing. They often do this as a hobby to earn extra cash, and the hourly investment is less than minimum wage on their part. But for some reason, they enjoy selling their wares. Just check out some of these cheap gift ideas on Pinterest.

10. Personalized Photobooks

In the past, getting a custom made, hardbound book of photos, poetry, or stories would have been an expensive proposition. But now, on demand printing means you can have a site assemble a book of photos for as little as $13. Of course, you can put in all the bells and whistles and make something really extravagant, but even then the cost is going to be much less than you think. When you hand over a book, you are also showing people how much effort you have put into the gift. And if you really want to go all out, visit a store like Lulu. Here you can have someone's novel (a friend's or family member's, perhaps?) printed and published, and ready to purchase.

What budget purchases that look really expensive have you made?

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Guest's picture

This is a good list, except the quality of H&M clothes concerns me. Sure, you get a great price, but if they don't last long, then it's not good value. I like the look of their clothes on the hanger, but they all seem to fit me awkwardly. Maybe that's just me though.

Paul Michael's picture

Hey Heather, I have to say I have an H&M sweater that I bought over 6 years ago, and it still looks new. I wear it every fall and winter. I guess it depends on what you buy, and how often you use it. Also, this is a list of things that look expensive but don't cost a lot. I agree, sometimes you have to pay more to get an item that goes beyond just looking good.

Guest's picture

I just bought a brand new stainless steel range from an appliance outlet....original cost was $1800.00, I paid $625 plus tax and delivery.

It only has 2 small scratches! !!!