High Maintenance on a Budget: How to Save $4,000 a Year on Beauty

Looking good doesn’t need to break the bank. In total, I spend $200 a year on beauty-related expenses. That figure includes a year’s worth of hair dye, daily makeup application, weekly at-home manicures and pedicures, the occasional fake tan and biannual teeth whitening. No one could accuse me of being low maintenance when it comes to beauty or makeup, and honestly I’m okay with that because my annual expenses cost less than one trip to the hair salon.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong about beauty products and I would never advocate cutting them out in order to reach financial freedom or gain control of your finances. (Of course, if you’re happy bare faced and beautiful, then more power to you!) But beauty shouldn’t cost a fortune and if it does, you’re doing it wrong.

1) Coloring My Hair for $3 a Month (AKA: Do That S*** Yourself)

For the past ten years, I’ve been dying my hair. For as long as I can remember I wanted to be blonde and took steps to make it a reality. Luckily, my mom is a beauty pro and dyed my hair herself. As I got older, she taught me her tricks (spoiler: it’s absurdly easy) and I took over the hair dying operation. My natural hair color is dark brown, but you would never know by looking at my blonde drugstore-colored locks. For a measly $3 per month, I have the hair color of my dreams. The same color in a salon would cost upwards of $100. Pure insanity. By opting for Revlon Colorsilk Beautiful Color, I am saving $1,164 dollars per year. That means that over the course of ten years, I’ll be $11,640 dollars richer than my professional hair dying peers. With smart hacks and a do-it-yourself attitude, there’s absolutely no need to spend thousands of dollars on beauty. But there’s also no reason to not look and feel your best.

The secret to doing something yourself is a combination of fearlessness and research. Extensive research (aka: googling) is always a good idea before starting something new. But after you’ve done that, it’s time to be brave, put on your big girl pants and just do it.


2) The Power of Buying Essentials: Flawless Skin for Cheap

The number one reason why makeup can be expensive is because it is cheap. Yep, it sounds bizarre but it’s true. If you’re buying drugstore brand makeup (Which you should be—$30 “name brand” mascara is absurd) then it’s relatively cheap. Wet n’ Wild eye shadow retails for about $2 and a good eyeliner can be had for about $3. The low price tag is intentional because it creates an environment in which it’s easy to grab multiples and not feel guilty. In reality, $7 mascara adds up quickly when you’re buying five of them and even beyond that, no reasonable human needs that many. Resist the mentality that more is best and buy only the essentials. At any given time you should only have one of each essential in your cupboard.

And for me, the essentials are pretty minimal:

  • EcoTools 6 Piece Starter Set ($9.26): I bought this set of makeup brushes almost five years ago and still use them every single day. For brushes, you don’t need fancy, just functional.
  • Neutrogena Skin Clearing Foundation ($9.47): One container of liquid foundation lasts me for about 3 months and for my skin type, Neutrogena is the best—clears blemishes and is oil free. Regardless of brand, foundation should never cost more than $11 every few months. However, it’s important to never go too cheap on foundation because the ultra cheap brands can cause you to break out.
  • Blush and Bronzer ($2.97): Unlike foundation, it’s okay to buy blush and bronzer for extra cheap because it’s not sitting directly on your skin and won’t cause breakouts. I typically opt for Wet n’ Wild or whatever brand is currently on sale.
  • NYC High Definition Liquid Eyeliner ($3.59): Eyeliner that stays on all day can be hard to find, especially for cheap. Luckily, NYC’s eyeliner has staying power and a great price tag. Each eyeliner stick lasts me about two months of every day use.
  • L’Oreal Paris Voluminous Miss Manga Mascara ($5.69): Almost any brand of drugstore mascara will do the trick and create thick, dark lashes. My current favorite is L’Oreal’s Miss Manga because it creates doll-like lashes, but any brand will do. Once again, it lasts for about two months.
  • Wet n’ Wild Eyeshadow Trio, Walking on Eggshells ($2.97): Wet n’ Wild eyeshadow pallets are the best-kept secret of the beauty world. Although the prices are rock bottom, the quality is top-notch. In fact, they are remarkably similar in quality to Urban Decay’s Naked Palette for $30.00.

These are my basics. Sometime I wear a bit more and sometimes I wear a bit less, but this is the bread and butter of my daily makeup usage and by opting for drugstore brand basics and using it until it’s done, I’m saving an average of $2,000 year. After it is all said and done, I spend less than $100 on makeup per year, and there’s no reason to spend more.


3) Tanning, Manicures and Teeth Whitening, Oh My!

In the world of beauty related marketing, more is better and less is never enough. From tanning salons to nail salons and everything in between, there are countless ways to spend big bucks on beauty related “necessities,” but there are also ways to get the same treatments for super cheap. The answer is simple: do it yourself. The DIY model of living is no longer reserved for home improvements and gardening. The world of beauty presents countless opportunities for money-saving hacks.

Manicures create a polished look and tie an outfit together, but I do it at home for less than $20 per year. Compared to the $20-$30 per week model that is sold at salons, I’m saving nearly $1000 a year. Similarly, if I ever need a quick glow, I tan at home. After a quick rub down with ________, my skin is bronzed for minimal effort and my bank account is happy. For less than $8 per bottle and twelve uses per bottle, I spend less than $30 per year on tanning. However, a tanning salon would set you back over $50 per spray tan session. In other words, I’m saving at least $1,200 per year.

 For teeth whitening, my solution is pretty straightforward: buy the cheapest Crest Whitening strips for $14.15 on Amazon and use them twice a year. There’s no need to opt for the more expensive whitening strips for $50+ per box. They promise “visible results” in three days but the actual results are the same. By committing to an extra seven days of Whitestrips, 10 days total, you’ll save yourself nearly $100 per year. (Staying away from professional whitening treatments should go without saying.) Although there are other cheaper solutions like baking powder and hydrogen peroxide, I’ve found that nothing beats the power of Crest, and honestly, at $30 per year it’s a steal.




There are a lot of articles written about the “true price of beauty” that laboriously outline the countless ways in which women are getting swindled by marketers and the beauty industry. In some ways, it’s true. Excessive amounts of marketing dollars are spent on convincing women that they need beauty products in order to fit in, find a spouse or look beautiful. Perpetuating the belief that women are somehow inferior without makeup is not only wrong and insulting it is also sexist; men are not sold the same pack of lies.

But it’s not any different than other marketing. In the same way it would be absurd to never use a mattress again simply because Tempurpedic commercials exist, it’s also absurd to ditch makeup because of annoying marketing tactics. Instead, focus on simple beauty hacks that make you feel happy and attractive.


How much do you spend on make-up each year? Any tricks for saving money?

22 thoughts on “High Maintenance on a Budget: How to Save $4,000 a Year on Beauty

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    1. Taylor says:

      It’s crazy how expensive it can get! I’m jealous that you don’t ever plan to color; natural is the best. If I wasn’t so attached to being blonde, I would definitely do that 😉 haha. But please feel free to give me a stern talking to if I ever post about being in a salon!


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    1. Taylor says:

      Thanks for stopping by and thanks for the feedback 🙂 If there’s anything specific you want to expand on, I’d be happy to send you an email or respond via comment!


  3. Lee S says:

    So going to get the wife to read this article. I was sent here by J Money and he’s right this is a great new blog. Looking forward to see what all you talk about in the future.


    1. Taylor says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Lee! Let me know if your wife has any additional tips or wants to talk specifics. I love talking all things money 😉 haha. Thanks for stopping by!


  4. Anne says:

    I completely agree about using drugstore brands instead of the more expensive brands. I get my hair colored at the salon and have been thinking about changing that (it happened gradually, starting with highlights for my wedding over a decade ago and gradually transitioning to covering gray), but it’s difficult to wrap my head around learning, and any learning curve seems scary! But over this last year I stopped wearing makeup every day. It was tough at first, but once I got used to it, which was really getting used to the slight change in how other people appeared to perceive me, it was fine. These days, I replace my mascara because it’s dried out, rather than because I ran out.


    1. Taylor says:

      Hi Anne, thanks for the comment! 🙂 Do you have highlights or just an all over color? I’ve actually done both at home and it’s super easy. (Seriously, you can do it!) For highlights, I highly recommend Clairol Nice and Easy It comes with a cap that you can pull the hair through and it looks professional every time. For all over color, I would go with Revlon ColorSilk You mix the dye and put it on your roots. So simple and it only takes 30 minutes! If you need any additional help or suggestions, let me know! 🙂 & congratulations on no more makeup! I’m sure it’s super liberating to be bare faced and beautiful 🙂 (and that you wallet is happy too! Even the $200 I spend per year adds up, haha)


  5. Shawna says:

    My favorite “trick” for saving money is returning makeup/beauty/hair products that don’t work. I buy drugstore brands so when they don’t work as advertised or as I expected, I’d just toss it or give it to someone else since they were so cheap. Now, I just return it. Places like Target and Ulta have great return policies for these kinds of items. I always know after 1 or 2 uses if I don’t like the product so there’s no point in wasting money on items I’m literally never going to use again!

    The one area I struggle with is hair cuts. I have rather low maintenance hair so I can get away with only getting my hair cut a few times year but it’s $55 + tip each time. I’ve tried the supercuts route but it’s honestly wasn’t that much cheaper if you have them shampoo, cut, and blow dry/style. I wish I could get my hair cut more frequently but it’s just too costly.


    1. Taylor says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Shawna! I love that tip. I’ve had that happen a few times with products and it is the WORST, so thanks for sharing your frugal hack. Hair cuts are tricky, I agree. $55+ is such a bummer for something that is just maintenance. (I didn’t even know it was that expensive to be honest! 😮 ) For the past few years, I’ve actually just been trimming my own. Have you ever tried cutting yours before?


      1. Shawna says:

        I’ve trimmed my bangs here and there but have never tried trimming all my hair. I’ll have to look into though, because I’d love to not spend $160 + a year on hair cuts! Any tips you can share?


      2. Taylor says:

        In my opinion, bang trimming is WAY harder than cutting your hair because mess-ups are so noticeable and hard to hide. So it sounds like you’re already well on your way! 🙂 My three big tips are 1) get your hair wet/damp 2) If it’s long enough, put it in a ponytail 3) Start small and check your progress frequently, haha. You’ve got this! If you ever end up trying it, I would love to see the results 🙂 I’m sure it will look great!


  6. Katie says:

    Great blog! I have always colored my hair at home and I know use Colorsilk, which I love. Why spend more when you can get great quality for less?! The best is when I get a coupon for it, too lol


    1. Taylor says:

      Yay for Colorsilk! I seriously love their hair dye SO much. I’ve never seen better quality or color for such a cheap price, and with a coupon it’s probably almost FREE! haha. Any tips on the best places to find the coupons?


  7. Mrs. SimplyFinanciallyFree says:

    Great post! I have been doing my best to reduce some of my beauty product expenses over the past year and my biggest savings has been with my hair. I have very thick and unruly hair that can have a mind of its own. 11 months ago I decided to go no-poo and I have haven’t used traditional shampoos or conditioners since. I now use a baking soda wash and apple cider vinegar rinse twice per week (I will do a blog post soon on this). The savings on these products alone is great but the biggest savings is with my styling products. Previously I couldn’t leave the house without some sort of product in my hair otherwise I looked like Bozo the clown. These curly hair products were on avg $20 per bottle and can certainly add up over time. I can now go without products if I wish and when I do use some I only use a very minimal amount. In general I am trying to go back to more natural products such as coconut oil as a moisturizer and making my own natural face wash and not only are these changes saving me money but I think they are healthier as well.


    1. Taylor says:

      Hi Mrs. SFF 🙂 Congratulations on ditching the store products! That’s such an impressive accomplishment. Do you find that you don’t need the styling products anymore because your hair is healthier from the natural shampoo? I would love to hear more about it! It sounds like the health benefits are huge.


      1. Mrs. SimplyFinanciallyFree says:

        Yes, my hair is naturally healthier and it is great! I think the shampoo routine was stripping the natural moisture in my hair which left it a frizzy mess. It almost seems that products nowadays strip out everything, including the good oils, then we use conditioners and other leave in products to replace what was stripped away. There are many no-poo options but I found the backing soda wash and apple cider vinegar rinse works for me. There are other methods such as using honey, aloe, egg wash, etc.

        Many people experience a less than desirable transition period where the hair is producing too much oil (because it has been stripped away) before things start to level out. If you are thinking of going this route do a little research first so you know what to expect. I will do a blog post in December once I hit a full year of being no-poo but let me know if you have any questions.


      2. Taylor says:

        That’s amazing that your hair is so much healthier! I’m really looking forward to reading your post about it in December. Thanks for paving the way with healthy, frugal beauty alternatives 🙂


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