Beauty Budgeting: Splurge or Save?
My one-month minimalist beauty experiment is nearly over and I’ve been thinking a lot about how to go about re-stocking my product collection afterwards. In the fashion world, the concept of ‘investing’ in your wardrobe by buying high-quality pieces that last multiple season or even decades, is relatively established. Buy fewer items, focus on quality, save in the long run = the classic less-is-more approach. Unfortunately, the idea doesn’t pan out quite as neatly when it comes to beauty products for two reasons:
- Skin care, hair products and make up have a shelf-life of 6 months to two years max, or even less in the case of mascara or eyeliner. That means you can’t really do any ‘saving in the long-run’, because even if you found THE perfect foundation you will have to buy another one a year later and pay the same price all over again.
- Whereas the correlation between the price and the quality of clothes seems to be relatively linear up to a certain point (and with exceptions, of course), it is debatable whether a 30£ lipstick really performs 5x better than a 6£ version, not to mention shower gels, body lotions and co.
So how can you build a set of high-quality beauty products without leaving all your money on your bathroom shelf?
How I budget my beauty spending
I generally try to examine what characteristics I am looking for first (e.g. oil-free, perfect colour match, long-lasting...) and only then search for products that fit my criteria, regardless of the price. Although it might seem like I would end up spending a fortune, in most cases a drugstore brand will offer me what I need and I actually save money that I would have spent had I used the ‘high price = high quality’ heuristic.
Most of my decision-making happens at home and not in the store: If I need something I do my research online, and then leave the house with a list of final contenders. I am pretty sure I am the worst person to go shopping with, just because I have to analyze everything and can’t just spontaneously buy a lip gloss or an eyeshadow to try out :). Thank god for the internet, I wouldn’t know what to do if I couldn’t compare reviews and ingredients beforehand.
Here’s the general process I use (of course, if I am just buying tooth paste, this all happens in my head in 30 seconds while I am standing in Boots, but if I am looking for something like a new foundation, I will definitely do the third optional step):
- Write down what I need (e.g. powder foundation that also offers hydration, sheer coverage, compact...).
- Look for products that match that criteria, disregarding price.
- Optional: Compare pros and cons of several items I am considering.
- Any big-ticket items need to fulfill these two criteria:
- The product type is one of my everyday essentials, or I know that I will be using it at least every second to third day.
- The higher price comes with a marked increase in quality compared to lower priced versions, e.g. a better colour match, long-lasting formula, etc.
Now, because I am a fan of the less-is-more approach, the majority of the beauty items I own fit the first criterion, except for special occasion stuff, like bright lip colours, eye shadow or anything that I am experimenting with and would rather not pay a ton of money for. The second criterion is really the one that keeps me from overspending, because it reminds me to only pay extra for added value and not for the brand name. Items I almost never spend more than a couple of £s on include basic body and hair care essentials, nail utensils, lip balm, etc.
However, if a high price does come with a noticeable increase in quality and I know that I will be using that product close to every day, I am happy to pay a bit more. Applying foundation (or tinted moisturizer) is the most important step in my make up routine, and I truly haven’t found a drugstore product that can offer me a perfect colour match (they are usually all too dark), so I stick to brands like Bobbi Brown for their colour range. I also haven’t come across another mascara with the staying power of Clinique’s long-wear mascara, so I am ok with paying the extra ≈7£ in exchange for not having to fear panda eyes for the next 4 months. The other products I usually spend more on are skin care (except for exfoliating products), blush and perfume. I think it’s also a good idea to invest in tools, such as brushes, hair straighteners or blow dryers. I’ve had the same hair brush (from Marlies Möller, the German Mason Pearson equivalent) for nearly thirteen years, until I bought a new one this christmas, so I’m set until 2026 :).
How do you go about budgeting your spending on beauty products? Which items do you invest in and which do you save on?