Budget Beauty: 7 Easy Ways to Not Waste Money on Makeup

shopping for makeup

A woman shops for makeup | Kelly Sullivan/Getty Images for NYX Cosmetics

The natural look may be trendy, but the truth is, many women wouldn’t dream of leaving the house without at least a swipe of lipstick or coat of mascara. Forty percent of women would be embarrassed if their friends or co-workers saw them sans makeup, a British survey found, and 70% won’t leave the house without tools like eyeliner and lip gloss for touchups. Beauty doesn’t come cheap, though, as anyone knows who’s balked at the price of the new miracle foundation or winced as they handed over their credit card to the Sephora cashier. Sure, your face may look flawless, but what did it cost?

A whole lot, according to some estimates. The typical woman spends $15,000 in her lifetime on makeup, Mint found, including $3,770 on mascara alone. For many, dropping that kind of cash on beauty products isn’t optional. Not only do some women feel better about themselves with a full face of makeup, but studies have shown that women are seen as “more competent, likable, and attractive” when they use cosmetics, The Atlantic reported. Women may land better jobs if they wear makeup, and female waitresses who put on some mascara and lipstick earn more in tips from male restaurant patrons. Going makeup-free might save a woman some money in the short-term, but it could hurt her financially in other ways.

Even if nixing your morning beauty routine isn’t realistic, you don’t have to resign yourself to spending a small fortune on must-have products. Savvy beauty addicts know how to keep themselves looking fresh without starving their wallet. Here are seven ways to look gorgeous for less.

1. Stock up on samples

women look for birchbox samples

Women select cosmetic samples at a Birchbox event | Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Birchbox

Samples are perfect for travel or if you want to try out a new product, and many stores and makeup brands give them out like candy. At stores like Nordstrom and Sephora, associates are usually happy to hand out samples of products you’d like to try. Order online at Sephora, Ulta, Smashbox, Aveda, and other retailers and you can usually add a few samples to your bag. Even Target has free in-store samples – just ask the Beauty Concierge who’s stalking the makeup aisle, according to Glamour.

2. Collect cheap gift cards

nyx gift cards

Gift cards for NYX Professional Makeup store | Kris Connor/Getty Images for NYX Professional Makeup

Discounted gift cards can help you save money on your monthly makeup splurges. Search sites like Raise for cheap gift cards for Sephora, Bath & Body Works, MAC, and various department stores. You may be able to save 5% or more off the card’s face value, which means you get more for less at the makeup counter. Combine those savings with discount codes or cash back from a site like Ebates and you’ll see even bigger savings.

3. Don’t shun the drugstore

maybelline makeup

Maybelline products | Monica Schipper/Getty Images

High-end beauty products come with equally high prices, but cost doesn’t always equal quality. Don’t be afraid to try out cheaper drugstore brands if you’re trying to save money. In fact, when the Today Show gave two identical twins a makeover, one with drugstore products and the other with designer makeup, 78% of people preferred the cheaper look. The @dupethat Instagram account can help you find “dupes” or cheaper versions of expensive products.

4. Hit the dollar store

dollar tree store

A Dollar Tree store | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Great makeup bargains can be found at the dollar store. “I’ve found e.l.f., Milani, Physicians Formula, and other drugstore brands at my local Dollar Tree,” said a user on this Reddit thread. While there’s no guarantee you’ll find the shades or brands you’re looking for, a quick stop may be worth it if you’re a true bargain hunter. You can also pick up cheap essentials like cotton balls and makeup sponges for just $1.

5. Recycle empty containers

mac cosmetics store

Woman shopping for makeup | Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for MAC Cosmetics

Don’t toss empty compacts and mascara tubes in the trash. Some brands will reward you if your return used up products to their stores. Return six empty MAC products and you’ll get a free lipstick. Bring back five empty pots to Lush stores and you can get a free face mask. Customers who return empty bottles to Kiehl’s can earn a free travel-sized product.

6. DIY

johnson's baby shampoo

Johnson’s Baby Shampoo for sale | MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images

A quick Google search pulls up roughly a zillion ideas for do-it-yourself makeup and beauty products, from recipes for homemade lip balm to cheap eyeliner made with activated charcoal. In other cases, cheaper products can do double-duty – Johnson’s Baby Shampoo is a good substitute for makeup remover and baby powder can replace dry shampoo. If you’re willing to experiment a bit, making your own cosmetics has the potential save you some serious cash.

7. Work for a discount

sephora store

A crowd at a Sephora store | Marc Piasecki/Getty Images for Sephora

Extreme makeup addicts might want to go right to the source. A part-time job at a store like Sephora or Lush not only puts extra money in your pocket, but usually gives you access to a sweet employee discount. Sephora employees on Glassdoor mentioned a discount of 20% to 30%. At Lush, employees reportedly get a 50% discount.

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