If you’re a woman, chances are you’ve had an existential crisis while cleaning out your bathroom cabinet or toiletry closet.
As you sort through individual makeup and skincare items, you start tallying up how much each one costs. Soon you find yourself well into the triple digits — and vow to never buy beauty products again.
It’s a vicious cycle, made all the more difficult by societal pressure to always look your best. If you work in a highly social or competitive field, taking a day off your beauty routine just isn’t an option. It would be like a man showing up to a traditional office job in shorts and a tank top.
Being a woman can be expensive, but it’s possible to maintain a flawless beauty regimen without breaking the bank.
The key is finding ways to cut corners, find suitable replacements and locate the best deals. Here are my best low-cost beauty tips:
Shop in unexpected places.
If you’re used to buying beauty products at Sephora or your closest drugstore, prepare to have your world turned upside down.
I love buying my skincare goodies at…Costco.
Yep, that’s right. The bulk superstore carries my favorite CeraVe body lotion and face wash — at a better price than anywhere else I’ve seen. You can also find razors, vitamins, and contact solution for great deals. Your biggest problem will be finding the storage space for all your items.
Plus, Costco has a great return policy. If you try a new lip balm and hate it, you can always bring it back with the receipt — no questions asked.
Yes, you have to pay an annual fee to join Costco. But the reality is that the money you save on low-cost beauty and personal products more than makes up for that fee.
I’ve also bought hair, makeup, and skincare products at TJ Maxx and Nordstrom Rack, where you can find high-end shampoo and conditioner for 50% off the retail listing. I buy my 33 oz. Redken and Joico products at Nordstrom Rack where they cost $15 each — instead of buying them at a salon or other retailer for $25 to $35 a bottle.
Try the places I mentioned, but you can also ask friends and look around for your own secret spots. Maybe there’s a bulk beauty supply store in town. Perhaps a friend can get you a special deal. You might be surprised where you can find reputable products for a drastic markdown.
Sample products beforehand.
How often do you hear about a great face scrub or eyeliner and buy it? Only to find out that it gives you a bad reaction or ends up running all over your face?
That’s why I sample products before purchasing. It’s one of the best low-cost beauty tips I can give you. Even though many stores do have a return policy if you’re unhappy with a product, it’s easier (and less wasteful) to sample beauty products before you buy them.
It’s also important to keep in mind that some retailers won’t take something back if it’s been opened. Even if you have a bad reaction, you might not be able to bring it back (unless you got it at Costco). Some stores like Ulta are stingy about returns and can deny your claim, even if you have a good reason.
Before you get too far, though, it’s just better to take a step back and make sure you’re getting what works for you.
Department stores and specialty beauty shops usually let you try products with no problem. This can save you the time and money you’d spend buying something and returning it later. In fact, one thing to try is to give something a try at the Macy’s or Sephora counter, and then see if you can find the same thing elsewhere — for much less.
Find duplicates of your favorite products.
If you’re like me, you have certain things you just love. And that’s great. But what if the thing you love is just so expensive? What if you have a favorite lipstick that you can’t bear to let go — but you also can’t justify the $25 price tag?
Find its doppelganger. That’s right. This is the low-cost beauty tips version of shopping generic. It works when you shop for groceries, and it will work as you figure out which beauty products to use.
There are countless beauty bloggers like Temptalia who do the work of comparing drugstore brands to high-end versions to see where you can save money.
Sometimes the more expensive item really is better quality. More often, though, you can find a suitable counterpart that costs a lot less. And that counterpart probably won’t be noticed by anyone else. It does the job, helps you look amazing, and costs much, much less.
When I was really struggling financially, I visited Temptalia all the time to find drugstore versions of my favorite high-end products. Even now that I earn a decent living, I still use many of those products instead of their expensive alternatives.
True story: if you want more money to travel, or enjoy other things in your life, saving money on beauty and skincare products is one of the best ways to go. Simply by saving 50% a year on beauty, makeup, and skincare items, it’s possible for me to fund at least one weekend getaway (and sometimes two).
Do your research.
I’m meticulous when it comes to shopping for new beauty products. I’ll ask my friends, read reviews online (MakeupAlley is my favorite), and look at photos in Google’s image search. I also like searching through Reddit forums Skincareaddiction and Makeupaddiction.
This probably sounds like a lot of work, but I rarely buy makeup or skincare products that are new to me. If I like something, I’ll keep using it until it stops working or gets discontinued. And that’s why putting in the time to do the research is one of the best low-cost beauty tips. A little time now can go a long way later.
By doing my research thoroughly, I’m more likely to be satisfied whenever I make my next purchase. I try not to get lured in by deceptive online advertising, and I’m not a brand snob. I don’t mind buying a $5 eyeshadow palette from Wet ‘n Wild if the reviews are good — and if it looks great on me.
There’s no reason to spend $50 on something when the $5 version works just as well. By doing plenty of legwork, I’m more likely to find a frugal option that suits my needs. And, of course, once you find that low-cost beauty version that works for you, you can keep buying it at a discount. The upfront investment of time yields dividends for years to come.
If you’re reading this article, you’re already on the right path.
Use it up.
I’m the type of person who will buy five different products for the same problem. If I have a pimple, I won’t hesitate to buy a new acne cream — even if I already have three in my medicine cabinet. This is an area where my frugality is severely lacking.
And that problem means that I spend more money — and waste more product — than I need to.
Instead of buying a new product whenever you feel like it, try to use up what you already have. Most skincare and beauty products have an expiration date, so many can go bad if they’re just sitting in your drawer. Also, if you use a product consistently for a significant period of time, you’ll have a better idea if it actually works for you.
Before rushing out to buy something new, use what you already have. Whether it’s overnight face cream, a serum, or a tube of lipstick, make sure that you are completely using up what you already have.
I’m trying to get better about this, and you should too.
Treat your body right.
This sounds like a given, but simply having a healthy lifestyle will negate the need for many products. That’s right: one of the best low-cost beauty tips is to just take care of yourself by engaging in healthy habits.
When I sleep well, I can skip using concealer. Think about it: good sleep leads to fewer dark circles. Being well-rested can also boost your mood — which in terms means fewer frowns and the lines that come with them.
When I drink enough water, my face is more dewy. Remaining hydrated can help you maintain smooth skin and help in other areas. Drinking enough water can reduce your need for some skin care products. If you get enough sleep and drink a lot of water, you might not need serums. Or maybe you won’t need to use as much moisturizer or toner.
On top of that, some researchers claim that a poor diet can cause outbreaks and other skin problems. When you eat healthily, your body gets the nutrients it needs to look its best. Foods with antioxidants can help as well. Reduce the amount of processed foods you eat and limit the sweets. Replace the junk food with healthier choices. You don’t have to never eat junk food again, but be realistic about how much you consume — and cut back on it.
If you binge drink regularly or smoke cigarettes, consider cutting back —both for your health and for your appearance. You might be surprised at how many years hard drinking and smoking can add to your life (and your looks).
Finally, adding exercise to your life can help you reduce the need for beauty products. Exercising gives you a healthy glow overall. It also promotes circulation, which helps get nutrients cycling through your body. Maintaining flexibility and health can help you feel less stress, and that means a better look overall.
It takes time to change these habits, but by slowing changing your lifestyle can reduce the amount of time and money you spend on your beauty regimen.
Wait for sales and coupons.
I get a lot of my makeup at Sephora nowadays, which is one of the most expensive places to buy skincare products. One trip to Sephora can be totally brutal on your pocketbook.
To save money, I try to wait until April and November when the store has their semi-annual sale. I know that I’ll be able to save money during these time periods and my expensive care products will suddenly be less expensive.
Ulta also has sales around the holidays for their high-end products. Understanding these cycles can help you plan your purchases throughout the year. It’s not something that just works for best beauty tips, either. It can work when you’re buying food, clothes, and other items. When you know what to expect, you can plan ahead and save money in the long run.
On top of seasonal sales, you can find weekly coupons for drugstore brands. These types of deals can help you out on a regular basis. First of all, you’re already spending less by choosing these stores. Then, you save even more because of coupons and sales.
Stores like Target often have sales in the makeup and beauty departments, so look at the weekly ad before you shop.
If I’m shopping online, I use the browser extension Ebates to get cash-back on my purchases. You can also use an extension from a site like Swagbucks to turn your purchases into gift cards for stores you prefer.
Another strategy to save money on beauty supplies is to buy a discounted gift card from CardPool or Gift Card Granny to save even more. These types of sites allow you to buy gift cards at less than face value and then spend them at your favorite store. Consider: get a Sephora gift card at a discount and then use it during a sale. Use it online and you could see even bigger savings as you stack strategies and discounts.
Skip the subscription boxes.
I’ll never forget when I got my first beauty subscription box. My friend Danielle had been raving about how they had introduced her to seriously life-changing products, so I decided to give it a go.
I signed up for Ipsy, which costs $10 a month and promises at least five products along with a custom-designed pouch. I filled out the Ipsy questionnaire, which asked what kind of products I wanted and what my biggest skincare and makeup concerns were. My first package arrived a few weeks later in a hot pink envelope.
I eagerly tore into it — and was instantly disappointed.
Inside, I found gold eyeliner, scented lip balm, hair oil, blush, and a purple eyeshadow. I sampled all those products, but in the end, I only really liked the blush. Had I accidentally said on my questionnaire that I wanted to try bold colors like purple eyeshadow and gold eyeliner? Didn’t I tell Ipsy I was looking for a “natural” look?
I got one more package before I canceled my subscription. Even now when I hear my friends rave about a beauty box, I ignore them. Beauty boxes are fun, but since you can’t return the products you don’t like, they can often be a huge money sink. Plus, if you don’t like and use the products, you still have to go out and find what you do like.
I recommend skipping them and trying products in person at Sephora, where you can sample for free. And, if you like the idea of getting beauty products regularly, check to see if what you like is available through programs like Amazon’s Subscribe & Save. You set it and forget it — and it comes each month, no problem.
Sign up for the rewards program.
I love shopping at Sephora for many reasons, but I especially love their rewards program. If you’re a Sephora Beauty Insider, you earn one point for each dollar you spend. You can redeem points for trial sizes of popular products.
This is a good way to test products and even get solid mileage out of them before paying full price. I usually save my points until I find something I really need, like a cleanser I can take with me on a flight or a 3 oz bottle of hairspray. You even get a free item on your birthday. I’ve gotten Tarte blush, Philosophy body wash, and Fresh soy cleanser.
Ulta also has a rewards program which lets you redeem points for coupons on your purchases. If you spend more than $450 a year, you’ll earn more points every time you shop.
This strategy works best with brand loyalty, though. And it can still cost you. If you really want to keep it to low-cost beauty tips, steer clear of the loyalty to stores and brands and get what’s cheapest that works well for you.
Swap with friends.
If you’re like most women, you probably have some makeup or skincare items you bought, tried once, and didn’t return. They probably sit in the back of your closet where you eventually forget about them entirely.
Try to swap those long-forgotten products with your loved ones and acquaintances. One of my good friends got a concealer sample from Ipsy that was far too light for her complexion, so she gave it to me. It ended up becoming the best concealer I’ve ever used. My mom and I often swap products with each other since we have a similar skin tone.
You can even set up a fun swap party where everyone has to bring gently used items they no longer need. This is a great way to clean out your medicine cabinet and get more product without wasting items or spending a lot of money.
Decide when to splurge.
The makeup and skincare products in my cabinet vary between drugstore and high-end. My goal is to buy the best product I can that also fits my budget. Sometimes, I get lucky and find something at Target that works. Other times, I have to go to Sephora.
I splurge on my foundation, eyeliner, and acne products. I’ve found that my $40 foundation looks better and lasts longer than the Maybelline one I had before. I also know that my $8 Aquaphor ointment works better than anything I could find at the mall — just like my $15 CeraVe cleanser. For lipstick, I try to buy Sephora-level products, although I can usually find decent doppelgangers at drug stores.
Sometimes the most expensive products work no better than their cheaper counterparts — or if they do, the quality is negligible. Saving money is almost always about making sacrifices, so just decide where you want to draw the line.
Keep your routine simple.
I’ve always envied women who could contour, applying foundation and concealer like an artist. I’d love to create the illusion of cheekbones, but I could never master the technique. Or, rather, I never took the time to practice the technique long enough to become good at it.
Instead, my routine is simple. Foundation, concealer, blush, eyeliner, mascara, and — on special occasions — eyeshadow. By keeping my normal routine simple, I negate the need for extra products like a highlighter, bronzer or setting powder. Plus, it takes me less than 10 minutes to put it all together.
My skincare strategy has grown more complex as I’ve added anti-aging serums and lotions to the mix, but I try to keep things as simple as I can while still meeting my needs. Overall, I try to avoid buying a new type of product unless I’m sure I need it — and will actually use it. The fewer products you need, the less you’ll have to buy. And the more money you’ll save.
The same goes for your hair. If you don’t dye your hair, there’s no need to worry about paying for touch-ups or special shampoo. No matter what part of you you’re trying to enhance, the simpler your routine, the more money you save. Along with adopting healthy habits, keeping it simple is among the best low-cost beauty tips.
Compare bottles fairly.
If you’ve ever tried to downsize your grocery bill, you know the need to compare prices per ounce to get the best deal. Smaller bottles are typically more expensive per-unit, so it’s usually cheaper to buy the larger size.
Beauty products are the same. The smaller the bottle, the more it costs. What’s also annoying is that one bottle of foundation might be 1.5 ounces, while another is 1.9 — and unlike your local grocery store, Sephora won’t list the cost per ounce on the label. If you can’t decide between two similar products, do the math before you buy to make the best decision.
Remember that the price-per-unit on most products will scale down as the size scales up, but that’s not always the case. That’s why it’s so important to do the math yourself (use the calculator on your smartphone), so you’re not stuck with a huge tub of lotion that actually costs more than the regular size.
Save hundreds a year with these low-cost beauty tips.
By combining these low-cost beauty tips, you could potentially save hundreds of dollars a year. Plus, you’ll look and feel like a better, more natural you.
What are your favorite beauty products and tips? Let us know by joining the #AdultingHALP Facebook group.