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Be chic on the cheap with ‘Practically Posh’

Keeping a stylish living space, throwing classy parties and dressing like a star — you can do it all while staying on a budget. In her book, "Practically Posh," author Robyn Moreno uses her own experience to provide tips for living the good life without going broke.It’s hard out here for a modern chick. We aspire to keep fashionable flats, entertain with Epicurean flair, travel like rock stars
/ Source: TODAY

Keeping a stylish living space, throwing classy parties and dressing like a star — you can do it all while staying on a budget. In her book, "Practically Posh," author Robyn Moreno uses her own experience to provide tips for living the good life without going broke.

It’s hard out here for a modern chick. We aspire to keep fashionable flats, entertain with Epicurean flair, travel like rock stars, raise awareness like Angelina Jolie, and all the while, look effortlessly chic. Unfortunately, our salaries and schedules haven’t kept up with our burgeoning sense of style and service. So, what’s a girl to do?

Become practically posh. By practical, I certainly don’t mean boring or joyless. Rather, it’s about looking at a situation thoughtfully and resourcefully. And while I do applaud Victoria Beckham’s smarts and style — Bravo, Love! — when I think of posh, I think of its acronym as a sailing term: port out(ward), starboard home, which is where the first-class accommodations were located on English cruise ships.

A practically posh girl is one who steers her own first-class ship. Someone who gets that life is about working with what you have, then working what you have. I have always been a practically posh kind of gal. As an enterprising teen in San Antonio, Texas, I volunteered as an usher at the local playhouse so I could see shows for free, and scored trendy haircuts from a fledgling hair stylist by being his practice model.

My industrious attitude reached new heights when I moved to New York City. It had always been my dream to live and work in the Big Apple, and within months of moving to Manhattan I landed a plum position at a women’s lifestyle magazine. I stocked my closet with great one-of-a kind pieces that my office mates coveted. I couldn’t afford to buy from the cool designers, but I didn’t want to look like everyone else either, so I mostly turned to vintage and secondhand stores, where things are usually well made and well priced. On one inspired occasion, I even enlisted my trusty mom to raid my grandma’s wardrobe — luckily Granny had great taste and a small waist — for Victorian-inspired blouses that were in that season.

My practically posh attitude didn’t end at fashion. When I wanted to entertain friends in the fifth-floor walkup studio I shared with two roommates, what kind of fête could I throw in my tiny pad but a “Divine Dessert and Champagne party.” The slaved-over sweets were really Jewish pastries from the bakery downstairs, and the Champagne certainly wasn’t from France, but trifling details on a memorable evening. Truly, a night à la mode!

You see, being practically posh is much more than just about finding deals, it’s about finding pleasure in your present life. Whether your dream includes fame and riches — or maybe just a smartly decorated apartment and a bank account not in the red — the road to success doesn’t have to be shabby. "Practically Posh" is your bible for living as a bon vivant on a budget.

Recall Scarlett O’Hara in "Gone With the Wind." When she wanted to go to the big society party but couldn’t afford a dress, she didn’t cry, “But I don’t have a thing to wear!”

Instead, she whipped up a gorgeous gown out of her velvet house curtains, Project Runway–style, and proved herself again to be the belle of the ball. With "Practically Posh" in hand, you’ll exude determination, audacity, a bit of wiliness, and above all, possibility.

Packed with brilliantly simple expert advice, I’ll show you how to whip up a luscious meal with leftovers for two days. I’ll also offer easy cheats for staying organized.

(Save space in your closet by placing curtain rings on a hanger, then looping your scarves and belts through.) I’ll show you how to throw an unforgettable fiesta on your unmentionable salary. (Find a local band or trio and try bartering their rate — it helps if you promise booze and hot chicks.) And I’ll reveal to you how you can book your dream vacation now.

So for daring dames who refuse to be slowed down by life’s practicalities, let ingenuity and attitude be your currency and Practically Posh be your guide.

Chapter one: Nesting

For most of my early twenties, my apartment was a poorly outfitted crash pad, decorated with some donations from my mom, a day trip to Ikea, and a few kitsch items found at Goodwill and on the street. But as I started moving into the faster-paced grown-up world — complete with a fulltime job and financial responsibilities — my house increasingly became a haven: a place to seek solace from grouchy bosses and immature boyfriends; a lounge where I could entertain my lady friends. In short: a place to call my own.

So as I evolved (read: got older) and actually started making a little dough (emphasis on little), I started craving a bit more from my casa, mainly in terms of cleanliness, order, and design. It's hard to pretend you're Ms. Organization at work when you start your day spending 15 frustrating minutes trying to find your left stiletto.

And while I didn't really know the difference between Bauhaus-style furniture and pieces bought at Bed, Bath & Beyond, what I did know was that I wanted my home to reflect my personality. So in the practically posh spirit, I gave myself a crash course in home improvement. I read design magazines, scoured flea markets, clicked through and rearranged my furniture — a lot.

Robyn's tip

The easiest way to cozy up your home is to get a pet. Whether a parakeet or a puppy, pets are proven to reduce stress and encourage laughter. If you feel your life is too busy, opt for a low-maintenance pet like a cat or fish. The companionship they provide and the nurturing qualities you develop help make for a happy home.

The Golden Rule of organizing

TRUTH : Be honest with yourself about the space you’re living in. For instance, if you have a tiny apartment, is it really practical to own a monster sleigh bed? You may like the idea of an antique birdcage or a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf, but if you don’t have a huge space your place may end up looking like a storage unit instead of a chic pad.

LOVE: Do you truly love the item? With limited space, a simple crush won’t do. Not only is this a good way to help filter out unnecessary items, but it will also hopefully prevent you from acquiring more of those “seemed like a good idea at the time” pieces. Adopt a recycling rule: For everything you buy and bring into your house, you’ll have to toss something to make space. I guarantee this will make you think twice about that “fixable” on-sale item at Crate & Barrel.

MEANING: Does this awful space-stealing eyesore at least have some sentimental value to you? It can be hard to separate the rubbish from, well, meaningful rubbish, like the scary-as-hell mask Mom brought you back from her trip to Peru. The thing to remember here is that the item should have meaning for you, and not other people.

PURPOSE: Does the item serve a purpose? Look around your room right now. I bet there are five things that are totally useless (besides your fat cat) hanging out in plain sight. The magazine rack that holds everything but magazines? Chuck it! Shadeless lamp you were going to brilliantly redesign? Toss it! Torn menus from the diners you ate at on your cross-country trip wallpapering the kitchen? Get rid of ’em! It might be hard, because these are pieces of your life, but it’s best to save the memories and lose the miscellany. Take a picture or write about it in a journal. Commit it to memory, and then say adiós.

Robyn’s tip

Start small. Often the very idea of cleaning or organizing is so overwhelming, we either do nothing or do everything all at once, only to find ourselves wading through piles of mess an hour before we’re supposed to be somewhere on a Saturday night. Instead, pick a room or an area to clean, like under your sink, and a set a time limit so you don’t get carried away.

Excerpted from “Practically Posh: The Smart Girl's Guide to a Glam Life." Copyright (c) 2008 by Robyn Moreno. Reprinted with permission from HarperCollins.