6 practical ways to splurge

Treat yourself without breaking the bank

You spend a good deal of time and energy thinking of better ways to boost your savings, but what about those times when you want to indulge?

You don't need to take a three-week vacation at a five-star destination to feel happier and rejuvenated (although those trips are nice, too).

"With the pressures many of us face in these challenging economic times, it's even more important to carve out some resources for splurge purchases — however small," says Jonathan Zemmol, owner of The Yellow Door, a jewelry and gift store in Brooklyn.

To help you figure out some smart splurges — ones that can help you improve both your home and professional lives — we've rounded up a few ideas that could prove to be savvy long-term investments.

Create a memorable experience

The best splurges aren't necessarily sparkly or tactile, but rather experiential. Unlike expensive trinkets that can fall out of fashion or favor, an experience changes as you do.

Debi Pfitzenmaier, a San Antonio-based writer who blogs at SA Busy Kids, dedicated a year to a family “no-spending spree” after realizing her kids tended to “grab it, use it, forget about it.”

She focused on family experiences and time together.

Her favorite memories come from inexpensive trips to places like "The Slab," a popular swimming hole on the Llano River in east-central Texas.

She finds inspiration for what to do by asking her kids and from search engines like Google, which can lead you to new experiences with a simple search for "things to do in ..."

Buy an inexpensive tech toy

Remember the days when the humble computer was mostly a glorified word processor or address book? With the popularity of tablets, Internet-accessible everything and really smart phones, we spend a lot of time consuming media. And that means the tinny sound coming through standard speakers dims the overall experience of your favorite binge TV-watching.

Enter a new generation of Bluetooth-enabled speakers that not only provide louder sound, but a sophisticated listening experience. One of the best looking and best sounding Bluetooth-enabled speakers I’ve tested is the Sound Cylinder ($199, DefinitiveTech.com) which can easily clip onto your tablet or be used as an add-on to your laptop. The Sound Cylinder has three speaker elements inside to play midrange and high frequencies along with a woofer to play bass. I found that it gave me movie theater quality sound for my Chromebook.

Do-it-yourself beauty treatments

The past few years have brought a wave of at-home permanent hair removal systems offering permanent results at what in the long run works out to be a fraction of salon costs. One of the more frustrating elements of these systems (and most salon laser treatments) is the fact that they’re limited to those with lighter skin tones and complexions.  So women and men with darker skin tones were told to avoid those systems to prevent skin damage.

Enter a new generation of at-home hair removal in the form of the mē smooth from Syneron Beauty ($395, Sephora.com). This new technology is the only FDA-approved method of at-home hair removal and builds on the previous industry standard of professional hair removal technology known as Intense Pulsed Light.

The mē smooth has been tested to be safe for the full range of skin tones and is effective on all body hair reduction (below the neck).

Time to get crafty

Crafters know something most of us don't: Creating something on your own can be a hobby, a relaxation technique and a way to cross people off your gift-giving list.

“Making your own gifts … can be a gift you give yourself, as cheesy as that sounds," says Jennifer Worick, author of Simple Gifts: 50 Little Luxuries to Craft, Sew, Cook & Knit (Voyageur Press, $19.99).

While knitting or needlework isn’t a cheap hobby, Brenda Stimpson, designer and owner of the website Needlepoint-For-Fun.com, advises looking at it “purely on a cost-per-hour-of-entertainment basis.”

After an initial investment in a sewing machine, you can create basic curtains or tablecloths and save on the cost of tailoring or fixing hems. A framed and finished needlepoint can decorate your home or become a future gift or even heirloom.

Blend on a budget

There's been lots of fuss surrounding high-performance blenders, but could any kitchen appliance be worth both the price tag and the hype? In a word -- yes. Also, yum.

High-performance blenders feature powerful motors that produce incredibly high blade speeds. To give you an idea of the power behind these machines, the blade speeds combined with your basic ingredients can create enough friction to produce hot soup in mere minutes.

The Oster Versa High Performance Blender ($249.99, Walmart) is half as expensive as some other top-of-the-line high performance blenders, with nearly identical capabilities.

Tired of shelling out upwards of $10 for your morning green smoothie? Toss some spinach, kale, fruit and ice into the Versa and in seconds you’ll have a similar if not superior treat. You can also make sorbet in seconds using basic ingredients like milk, sugar and frozen fruit.

Two cons: this type of blender is incredibly noisy (think tiny jet engine), and the unit isn’t dishwasher safe. Despite that, cleanup is a breeze – squirt dishwashing liquid into the unit, fill halfway with water and pulse once or twice and then rinse.

Learn something new

Pick up a language, learn to draw, take salsa dancing lessons.

Learning can improve your cognitive abilities, add a new dimension to your life and encourage you to look, listen and learn more about the world around you.

You don’t have to dive in headfirst either. LiveMocha and Rosetta Stone both offer online language courses.

LiveMocha.com offers free basic lessons in more than three dozen languages and the ability to chat online with native speakers. To complete the courses, you'll need to earn "tokens" by helping others with their acquired language or pay a $9.95 monthly fee ( $99.95 for a 1-year subscription).

Rosetta Stone (www.rosettastone.com) uses either CD-ROMs or online access to instruct users in more than two dozen languages. It's pricey (discs are currently $399 or $299 for one year of online access), but it offers a more extensive language plan tailored to personal, business or even home schooling.

If learning a new language isn't for you, sign up for deal alerts from sites like Groupon and LivingSocial, which both frequently offer heavily discounted classes on everything from pottery to pole dancing. Ahem.

Recent offerings included a two-hour cake decorating class for $65 and three 90-minute fencing lessons for $35.

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Share the little treats you allow yourself for a job well done – or just because. A trip to the spa to reward your financial savvy (using a coupon, of course)? That snappy discount work bag for a promotion? A night out at a local theater to stimulate your brain? Share your practical or frugal splurge in the comment box below, then enter to win a $50 gift card from home décor store West Elm.

Note: You can earn extra entries, too. Just follow the directions in the raffle.

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