How Much Is Beauty Worth To You?

We all have areas in our lives in which we tend to spend a little more–whether it’s splurging on dinners out (or take-out), new clothes or nights out with friends. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with spending money on the products and experiences that give us pleasure. But when these bulges in our budgets leave us scrambling at the end of the month, or keep us from saving for bigger goals, it’s worth asking whether we can get the same satisfaction without spending so much. 

In the first in our budget bulge series, we challenged a self-professed beauty junkie to track her spending on beauty products and services–then try to cut it in half. Here’s what happened. 

Where’s the Bulge in Your Budget?

Where’s the Bulge in Your Budget?

We all have areas in our lives in which we tend to spend a little more—whether it’s splurging on dinners out (or takeout)new clothes or nights out with friends. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with spending money on the products and experiences that give us pleasure. But when these bulges in our budgets leave us scrambling at the end of the month, or keep us from saving for bigger goals, it’s worth asking whether we can get the same satisfaction without spending so much. 

In the first in our Budget Bulge series, we challenged a self-professed beauty junkie to track her spending on beauty products and services—then try to cut it in half. Here’s what happened. 

Seeing It In Black and White

Seeing It In Black and White

Okay, I admit it: I spend a lot on my beauty regimen. But I didn’t realize quite how much until the editors at DailyWorth asked me to track my spending for a month then try to halve it the next. It was an eye-opening exercise–even for a longtime beauty editor who’s sampled some of the priciest products on the market. (When you’re regularly testing skin-care serums and creams that can run $400 an ounce or more,  spending $100 on a jar of face cream suddenly doesn’t seem so unreasonable.) 

First I made a long list of all the beauty products and treatments I use on a monthly basis and their prices. (Note: The prices I’ll quote are specific to New York City, where I live and where prices are generally much higher than the rest of the country.) 

Oh my, I thought, as I reviewed it. I probably pay more for beauty products and services in a month or two than most women will in a year. No wonder I’m always broke. Staring at those numbers for the first time made me think: The price of looking good was higher than I’d thought. But did it have to be? I’d know the answer after a month.

Skincare Routine

Skincare Routine

Over the years of being a fashion and beauty editor I have gotten to try out some of the best, and not-so-best products, treatments and facials. And all that testing and trying has made my skin very sensitive. So, I find that the less I do the better, but that doesn’t mean I skimp on my skin. On the contrary, I spend on my skin, to take extra care not to make it worse and help it along, if I can. 

My regular products (the full system, because every beauty company in the world swears you should use one system from beginning to end…ahem, marketing ploy?) are from BioNova, an innovator in Nanotechnology skincare. I’ve been using it for years and my skin absolutely loves it, even though it’s quite expensive. Figures. 

To cut costs, I’m game for something new so I give Pure Harmony by MyChelle Dermaceuticals a whirl. Natural, non-toxic skincare with bioactive plant ingredients, sold at Whole Foods. After using the Pure Harmony system (a creamy cleanser, serum, mist and moisturizer) for a week, I could see that my skin was coming around. Pretty good results from products that are a fraction of the cost of my typical routine.  

I also decided to give Sonia Kashuk’s Eye Makeup Remover ($10.19) a try, which works like magic without irritating the skin around your eyes. I traded my Bionova Impact Eye Wrinkle Treatment ($45) for Origin’s GinZing Eye Cream ($30), a nice, lighter version than what I am used to and it seems to have an interesting illuminating effect on the eye area, which is beneficial to my everlasting under-eye circles. 

Cost Breakdown: 
Normal Routine: $315 (approximate over 2-3 months)    
New Routine: $135.19  
Savings: $179.81

Face Mask & Exfoliation

Face Mask & Exfoliation

Once a week I like to slap on the most wonderful face mask, Somme Institute’s Boost Warming Mask. It smells like a pumpkin muffin and heats up as you apply it. In complete contrast I took some DIY advice from a good friend, wedding gown designer Henry Roth. 

Because Henry is a guy and doesn’t feel the need to purchase expensive facial products he went with the obvious (well, to him maybe): an actual cup of fresh, plain Greek yogurt from Chobani. The cold yogurt felt fantastic on my skin, and I personally love the smell of it, which was a plus although I’m lactose intolerant so licking it off was a no-no. After the thick, even layer started to settle and dry out, Henry instructed me to just pat it and rub it into the skin to exfoliate. (Bonus: I just eliminated my regular weekly exfoliator.) After I rinsed it off with warm water my skin felt renewed. Thanks Henry!

Cost Breakdown: 
Normal Mask: $40 & Exfoliator $52
Fresh Yogurt Mask: $1.79
Savings: $90.21

Color and Cut

Color and Cut

The thought of getting a cheaper haircut gave me the sweats, so I decided this would be non-negotiable. Sometimes you just have to put your foot down. But, while trading my brilliant hairstylist ($200) for a barber or student was never going to happen, I did agree to box-color my hair. Even my husband was intrigued. I figured it couldn’t be that hard, my hair is short and I’m really only covering my grey once every 5 weeks or so. But like anything else, it’s always easier when an expert does if for you (and for no less than $150 a pop). 

I tried out L’Oreal Paris’ Healthy Look Creme Gloss Color ($9.99) and I have to say it is amazing, and I managed to apply the dye without staining my entire bathroom in the process. The best part is that my hair stylist couldn’t tell the difference. It looks that good, and that, my friends, is the ultimate test. 

Routine hair products add up too. Top of the line Oribe Shampoo and Conditioner for Beautiful Color is normally what I treat my tresses to. When you color your hair, it needs a little more love, but I learned that love doesn’t have to break the bank. I was pleasantly surprised when Yes to Cucumber’s Color Protection Shampoo and Conditioner outperformed by all expectations. Really, this is only $7.99 a bottle? 

Moroccan Oil makes the lovely Hydrating Styling Cream I use to give a final smoothing touch to my straight hair before I dash in the morning, but it’s costly too, at $33 a bottle. BUT, and this is a good but, I use very little so this one bottle will probably last me the next two years, and more likely it’ll go funny before I actually run out, so I might just stick with this one. This is one of those cost-per-use situations, which I estimate to be about .05 cents per day. That’s hard to beat. 

Cost Breakdown: 
Normal Routine: $459
New Routine: $258.97
Savings: $200.03

Nailed It. Not.

Nailed It. Not.

Some women are just great at doing their own manicures and pedicures. I am not one of those blessed beings, unfortunately. So every 2-3 weeks I make my way to the professional manicurist who makes my hands and feet look flawless. My pathetic attempt at filing and buffing my nails was nothing short of tragic. And I’m embarrassed to even think about how I applied my nail lacquer. Can I take lessons for this? I ended up just trimming my nails to the shortest possible length and apologizing to them when I was finished making a mockery of the situation. This will not be repeated.

Cost Breakdown:
Normal Routine: $100 + NARS Nail Color $19 = $119
New Routine: $19
Savings: $100 (but not worth it for me, unfortunately)

Facial and Body Hair Maintenance

Facial and Body Hair Maintenance

Eyebrows
A lot has been said about the importance of eyebrows and I have seen the effects that ‘bad’ brows can have on a woman (and some men). So I have a true brow guru pluck them to perfection (he does not believe in waxing). But in the interest of the challenge, I decided I would attempt to neaten and shape my own brows armed with a brand new Tweezerman. I looked long and hard at my brows in my magnifying mirror and made a pretty decent attempt at cleaning up the stray hairs. But shaping your own brow requires a large dose of patience and concentration. One false move and it’s all over. So I may leave it to the pros in the future. 

Cost Breakdown: 
Normal Routine: $85
New Tweezerman: $22
Savings: $63

Unwanted Body Hair 
Simply because I am so totally lazy and always in a hurry, I prefer to have professional waxing done for all my unwanted body hair (legs, bikini, underarms). And as much as I can say that I do not enjoy the process whatsoever, I am always delighted with the results I get from Completely Bare Salon ($160). When faced with cutting this expense down I realized I had two choices: shaving (aaarrrgghh!) or waxing at home (frightening!). The waxing won out. I just cannot abide the razor so I decided to give Nair a shot, since removing hair is their specialty. 

I tried the new Nair Brazilian Spa Clay Perfect Temp Body Wax Strips ($7.99). You warm the strips in between your hands, place them on your skin and rrrrrrip. Even though I was quite nervous throughout the process, I managed to achieve smooth, hair-free legs. Would I do it again? Probably. Though this is the kind of thing you get better at after you’ve done it a few times. A little skill is helpful. 

Cost Breakdown: 
Normal Routine: $160
New Routine: $7.99
Savings: $152.01

Makeup

Makeup

Makeup is probably the most fun you can have with beauty products, so I saved the best for last. From concealer to lipstick, I gave up all my regulars, like my Laura Mercier Secret Concealer ($22) and Dior DiorShow Mascara ($25) which gives my nearly invisible lashes some real definition, and yes, my beloved YSL Rouge Pur Couture Lipstick ($34) which is creamy and matte all at the same time. Even my Lancome Dual Finish Powder ($38), which I have faithfully worn for nearly 20 years. Even though I was giving my good, trusted friends a rest, I was excited to try out some new products at amazing prices.  

The Body Shop makes an excellent creamy Tea Tree Concealer ($9) that comes in stick form and gives great coverage. Sonia Kashuk’s Bare Minimum Pressed Powder ($9.39) is really weightless and gave my skin a light matte finish. I think L’Oreal Paris is giving Dior a real run for their money in the mascara department. Their Voluminous Million Lashes Excess Mascara ($8.95) really does the job on my dinky lashes. The flexible brush makes it easy to cover lashes from end to end. 

A bright blush is one of my signatures, and it’s one of my favorites. If I didn’t wear it, I might look ill, I’m pretty pale. I have been wearing Stila Custom Color Blush ($20) for a while and the intensity of the colors are amazing, and they last a long time. The Body Shop’s All In One Blusher ($16) is available in some beautiful colors and is also quite long lasting which, for me, is a plus. I also love a strong, defined brow so I like to add some dark pencil to them. Co-founded by Drew Barrymore, Flower’s Raise Some Brows Defining Brow Pencil worked perfectly to fill in and add some drama. Lips are last, but never least. I’m hooked on Lipstick Queen’s Hot Rose Sinner Lipstick ($20). Poppy King’s lips-only line is genius, with gorgeous colors in brilliant formulas. This one’s a keeper. 

Cost Breakdown: 
Normal Routine: $161 (approximate over 2-3 months)    
New Routine: $69.32
Savings: $91.68

Lessons Learned

Lessons Learned

A benefit of the more than $200-billion beauty industry is that there really is something for everyone at every price point. And having the highest price tag doesn’t necessarily mean that product’s the best. I enjoyed experimenting with new products and DIY attempts and redefining what is really necessary to my beauty routine–like my haircut, a proper manicure performed by a skilled nail technician, and, yes, my beloved Lancome face powder–and what’s not. I learned to let go of the rigid standards I’d set by price and brand name and enjoy venturing into new territory more often–whether it’s the beauty counter at the Body Shop or the dairy aisle of my grocery store. But the best part of all was the feeling I got when I adding up my savings at the end of the month: $876.74. That extra money saved is now going into my savings account for more important things other than mascara and body lotion.

I realize how easy it is to get caught up in the promise of all these wonderful skin care products, cosmetics and beauty treatments and while I do firmly believe that the effort is worth it (when you look good, you feel good and it shows), but perhaps taking it down a notch won’t be the end of the world. I just colored my hair at home for the second time and saving that $150 felt great (again) and if you saw me on the street you would never know the difference. I’m really pleased that there are so many options and that in the end your  beauty routine, and you, don’t have to suffer because you’re not spending the big bucks.

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