According to one study, the average American red-blooded woman spends about
$313 a month on her appearance. This means she spends upwards of $3756 annually and $225,360 over the course of her life, roughly the same as a college education costs.
I quietly did the math, added up the costs of doing my nails, hair and the price of the occasional bottle of shampoo and tube of lipstick and was mildly relieved to realize that I I usually spend a third or more less than that total. Even so, I am likely guilty of a lot of vanity, however frugally placed. I would never give up my hairdresser — she keeps my locks a lush auburn while Eva (yes, mother to famed, Could you Scooch Your Butt Over a Little Desi) tames my talons twice a month.
Because these are things I am woefully bad at, and because my hair and nails grow at a ferocious rate and require more upkeep than the average woman, I’ve become pretty adept at keeping other beauty costs a bay. Most women would kill to have hair that has been officially clocked at a furious growth rate of an inch, yes, you heard me, an inch a month. That’s twice the average rate for human hair growth and if you don’t believe me, ask my hairdresser, she can attest to the roots. It is frankly astonishing at times.
And more expensive. While most women can get away with color touch ups once every six weeks, I barely make it to three. So, basically, I am spending twice as much as the average woman on hair coloring every year. And we gingers tend to fade quickly so maintaining the reddish brown hues of my youth is likely more expensive than say, your average blond who doesn’t mind dark roots. On top of this, I like my nails well manicured and my nails also grow quickly so while I can sometimes push it to three weeks, I prefer to get my nail fills every two weeks.
All of this adds up and is carefully integrated into my budget. I find that if you don’t account for it, you don’t know where it goes. Case in point, someone I know asked for some financial advice a few years ago and I was happy to help out so I asked to see her monthly budget, just the basics. Rather than get the financial help, she hemmed and hawed, she came up with every excuse in the book and ultimately, the matter was dropped. Someone else close to the situation claimed that she didn’t want me to know how much she really spent on her looks, hair, nails, facials, the works. I like to think I don’t judge but I also quickly realized that the reason she needed financial advice was because she was living beyond her means. I think she also knew that I would have likely pointed out that $300 a month for hair seemed excessive for someone in her age bracket and of limited financial means. She was also getting her nails done weekly, something else I would have seen as excessive. In the end, it was probably best that I didn’t get further into her financials, it would have only served to frustrate both of us. This is one of those situations where the burnt hand definitely teaches best. She will learn with time or forever be trapped in a cycle of financial distress, it is her choice.
Speaking of choices, a chemist of some renown once told me that chemically speaking, the vast majority of make-up, from the most expensive to the cheapest, is all virtually indistinguishable in its chemical composition. I am talking about things like eye shadow and lipstick, this does not include skin serums which can run in the hundreds, if not thousands of dollars and some really are cutting edge and make a huge difference. It is all what you can afford and choose to spend your money on.
Some thoughts on how to save on beauty costs:
- Spend your money on sun screen, it is your biggest weapon against aging and looking good, bar none. Where it all the time, every day and don’t forget your hands and neck, any part of your body exposed to the light.
2. Eye shadows, lipstick, etc., can be bought for a few dollars, even less. They don’t have the longest shelf life and should be tossed after six months to a year anyway. Don’t spend a lot of your beauty dollar here.
3. Turns out, the number one choice of mascara by many makeup artists is Maybelline Great Lash which costs about $5. You can spend $50 but turns out, when celebrity makeup artists are primping all those stars for the red carpet, they usually reach for the iconic pink tube with the acid green twist top. Go figure.
4. Foundation is a matter of personal choice and your choice depends heavily how much coverage you feel you need. I have skin so pale, so white, that finding a shade that works has always been difficult. Even the ones labeled, ‘ivory’ and ‘porcelain’ are actually too dark but I found that Cover Girl cream-based foundation that matches my pallid skin tone and it costs under $10. Great coverage too. Point is, you don’t have to spend a fortune to get great foundation and coverage.
5. Trendy nail polish shades come and go on a whim. Most will dry out before you ever use up so much as half the bottle. That’s money out of your pocket. Follow the example of the world’s longest reigning monarch, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. HRM reportedly has used the same nail polish since 1989 and it costs about $9. Made by Essie, the shade is called Ballet Slippers, just in case you want to follow in her regal footsteps. Find your favorite shade and stick with it, making it part of your signature look.
6. Simplify, simplify, simplify. You don’t need six moisturizers or a stacks of pricy soaps. Find what works and eliminate the rest.
7. There is an alarming beauty trend here in the Bay Area, particularly among younger women. I have seen hoards of twenty and thirty somethings wearing very long, heavy false eyelashes to work, every single day. They are going to work, not walking the red carpet. In person, false eyelashes look heavy, fake and honestly, so not uber cool in that 60s vibe way. I wonder at the expense both in time and money of doing this every single day and if it is driven by an insecurity of being born with eyes that are not large and round or being born with stubby eyelashes. I feel sorry for the women who think they must do this every day in order to feel pretty because honestly, they are not fooling anyone. The lashes are fake and they certainly look fake. Nobody thinks they are real, sorry. Bottom line, don’t be a slave to beauty trends. And there is always a triple coat of mascara (see number 3 of this blog).
8. I have personally never been able to justify spending money on professional facials. I have friends who absolutely disagree with me but facials never seem to improve my skin texture or make my skin appear more youthful. On the other hand, expensive and invasive as they may be, fillers and Botox work, at least for me and my cadre of middle aged pals. You need to decide for yourself of course, but as we age, sometimes we need to make trade offs in what works and what doesn’t. For that glowing complexion, I use a papaya enzyme cream on my face while soaking in the tub several times a week. Takes just a few minutes and while it was not cheap as exfoliating potions go, it sloughs off dead and old skin and makes my skin glow. Plus, in the long run, far cheaper than professional facials.
9. Don’t be slave to a designer brand of anything, much less shampoo. Most Americans wash their hair far too often. I use one brand/bottle and then meander off to find another because there is some basis in fact and chemistry proving the notion that your hair does get used to one formula which then becomes less effective so you should therefore switch it up. To protect colored tresses, my hairdresser recommends buying a really cheap bottle of conditioner and slathering it on your hair before swimming or sunning. I spend a lot of time in the water every summer and I have found that this actually works.
10. Professional pedicures are a luxury that I don’t indulge in very often, maybe twice a year. The rest of the time I do my own. Find something in your beauty routine that you can do yourself and save money by perfecting it. Reportedly, entertainer Marie Osmond always does her own nails because she is on the road so much.
11. Permanent hair removal can be a long term process that is both painful and expensive. I have friends who have had great luck with laser procedures but again, it takes a long time and costs a lot of money. Think twice before making this kind of treatment commitment. I am not sure that a lifetime of razers and adept shaving is not less expensive. Certainly less painful though not permanent. I know a few women who do all their own waxing. They are brave as well as frugal.
12. Steer clear of those trendy make up stores. I personally love them, particularly the one with the sleek black and white décor, but like a visit to the big box store, I can never seem to get out of there for under $200. Never. I tend to avoid them for that very reason. However, if you want a free make-over and have super human self control, then you are free to frequent these sorts of places but buyer beware because unless you are made of steel and have an almost super human ability to resist temptation, you may end up buying everything they put on your face. Free samples, however, are always welcome.
13. I am not sure that messages fall under the beauty category but if you work out as much as I do, they can be essential to your well being. I was able to secure a package deal at my local message salon and pay 25 percent less than someone who comes in off the street. I also have a mild case of lymphedema which requires massages to keep under control. The stress reduction benefits are a bonus. When the salon upped their prices, I called the manager and complained, pointing out I was a long term, loyal customer who would hate to take my business elsewhere. The strategy worked, he let me keep my original deal. You may want to make a call to a local massage school and see if you can’t get a steep discount while letting students pummel your muscles into submission.
14. Many personal hygiene items can be bought in bulk at the big box stores or on line for much less. Compare prices, it is worth the effort.
15. Dollar store items you should always keep on hand: petroleum jelly, aloe vera, cold cream, baby oil, baby lotion, lip gloss and plain old vegetable shortening (nothing works better on rough elbows and heels and my OBGYN actually claims it is nature’s personal lubricant).
16. My natural friends swear by homemade remedies and I agree, as long as you honestly like the results. I have been known to blitz plain oatmeal in the food processor to make a powder for an oatmeal bath to soothe itchy skin and warm up cheap olive oil for an deep conditioning treatment on dried out locks.
17. The trend toward blindingly white teeth can be costly to keep up. I use a home kit, which ran me $48, and it really works though the blue glowy light that activates the bleaching liquid is a bit odd. Dental bleaching treatments run $500 or more and for those of us who are overly fond of red wine and coffee, a home kit may be the way to go. You just have to be disciplined about using it on a regular basis is all.
18. Some more permanent cosmetic procedures may be worth investigating. Tattooing sparse brows can work though when I had the fine red veins around my nose eliminated, it only lasted a few weeks as opposed to the claim that it should have lasted for ‘years’. Apparently, my Irish heritage vehemently disagreed. The cosmetologist then claimed the process just needed to be repeated and made stronger but it was painful and it clearly didn’t work so I decided to invest in a better foundation (see number 4 of this blog) and that coverage works perfectly fine. Sometimes permanent just isn’t.
19. Create three or so easy go-to hairstyles that suit your lifestyle. Up, down, loose bun, whatever you can do quickly and using minimal products. I have a dear friend who goes no where without first blow drying her hair. With three different (expensive) hair dryers and hair straighteners. Using three different (expensive) hair care products. Taking 30 minutes or longer. She has only one look and it is perpetually high maintenance and wait for it, expensive. I can, by contrast, spend less than one minute, brush then pull my hair back in a sleek ponytail and just bounce. I also do a loose low bun (which Meghan Markel totally swiped from me) and loose curls when I have a little more time. They are all easy and I require only a spritz of the cheapest hairspray (Aqua Net). Keep it simple and easy and the cost goes down. I am able to achieve the looks that I choose because I work with my hair type and texture, not against it. My friend of the expensive hair choices has lovely thick and curly, slightly frizzy hair yet she has chased stick straight locks her entire life. This reminds me a little of women who choose to wear lurid blue contacts when they clearly were born with dark colored eyes. My friend would save a lot of money and time if she were to work with her hair type instead of forever trying to force her hair to be something it naturally is not.
20. Don’t chase an ideal look or type of beauty. This is one of the best cost savings pieces of advice I know. There are many forms of beauty and Barbie blond, tan with stick straight hair and blue eyes, is just one of many. Celebrate what is uniquely you, frizzy hair, brown eyes, pale skin, whatever makes you, you.