There are book tie-ins and a syndicated newspaper column, with TV rumored to be next on the expansion agenda. So in the wake of this brash brand imperialism, we figured it couldn't hurt to check in and see how the core product is negotiating its terrible twos.
The February/March issue of the magazine is, if nothing else, a reliable read. Smartly, Budget Living has adhered closely to its original formula: one part how-to tips and two parts style, delivered with the barest hint of snarkiness and a whole lotta price tags. The regular sections remain everything their monikers promise ("The Goods," "Making It") and the features offer ample evidence that "cheap" doesn't necessarily mean "chintzy" (or vice versa, for that matter).
Why is it, then, that the issue feels a little bit off tonally? For every item that works -a genuinely funny editor's note that doubles as a paean to Dolly Parton's low-budget chic, a quick-hit Q&A with the designer of the new nickel - there's another that misses its target.
As sharp as the spread on a Vermont cottage revamped by two former L.A. denizens looks, it's hard to reconcile the joint's $159,000 tab (plus more for furniture and such) with Budget Living's save-first mantra. Similarly blah, is the feature on a seven-island, six-night vacation, which might have been better left to on-the-cheap predecessor Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel.
Then there are two of the small blurbs housed under the "Loose Change" banner. In one, TV style gal Jules Asner shows that she can check in and out of a Manhattan Walgreen's without having blown more than $70 on makeup essentials ($70... that's, like, my weekly moisturizer budget).
In another, Sarah Michelle Gellar is quoted as saying, "I like a good bargain... I think that going designer all the way is too easy." Yet after ingesting both bits, the predominant feeling is: who are they kidding? Color me cynical, but I'm guessing that neither sleeps on sheets with fewer than a five-digit thread count. Celebrating these rare moments of celebrity thrift feels incredibly forced.
A final curious choice can be found on, of all places, the second table-of-contents page. Far be it from me to tell any publisher how to juxtapose art and commerce, but two obtrusive Kmart plugs within a few centimeters of one another seems a bit much.
The issue has its moments, of course. "The Lonely Hearts Club Brunch," which chronicles what the mag calls "a budget bash for the unattached," works as both a lifestyle piece and a party primer. The "Cheap Sheet" feature, which promises annual auto-related savings of precisely $1,441, also unearths a few smart nuggets. Did you know that your auto insurance probably contains a medical-payment component, which is extraneous for anybody with health coverage? Neither did I. Budget Living remains a veritable repository for tips like these.
As such, you probably can't slap a price tag on its value to the average reader (though publisher Budget Living LLC does: $3.99). Whether or not this particular issue ranks among the mag's finest moments, Budget Living remains a dependable monthly buy - a heck of a lot better than the budget-tipping $40 coffee-table tome flogged in its pages. I'm pretty sure the mag's editors can appreciate the irony.