They say pain is beauty – as any woman who’s worn a gorgeous but poorly padded pair of stilettos already knows. But when it comes to cosmetics, “Wasted money is beauty” would be more accurate.
We can seldom try on beauty products before buying them. So we waste money on products that we toss out because the shade didn’t look as good on our skin as it did in the package, or because the package promised results the product didn’t deliver.
With these common money-wasting hiccups in mind, Consumers Union’s ShopSmart magazine set out to help consumers save money in the beauty aisle. Their July issue features a tip-filled article called Best beauty buys. Their website has only a shorter version of the article, but thanks to a press release, you don’t have to pay for the issue to get all the money-saving tips in the print version…
1. For the best deals on drugstore cosmetics, skip the drugstores.
“The same brands can be found at other retailers for much cheaper,” ShopSmartsays. “Buying your beauty products at Harmon (HarmonDiscount.com) can save you big money.”
Yes and no. While you can find the best deals on certain products at Harmon, that’s not always the case – and assuming it is will cost you. For the best deals on drugstore-brand cosmetics – or any other beauty product – shop around. Compare the prices at both drugstores and non-drugstores like Harmon. And always check the “Health and beauty” section of my deals posts and read Sunday ads.
2. Snag free samples and special deals.
Free samples: ShopSmart suggests Bluemercury.com and Beauty.com, but the only samples I found on their sites are the ones you get when you buy something else. This is why I hate freebies: They’re seldom free. You usually have to buy something else or cough up personal information in exchange for them.
Deals: As the curator of Money Talks News’ deals posts, I’m constantly finding sales, coupons, and promo codes for health and beauty products – along with the occasional truly free freebie (like the free Bare Escentuals moisturizer I mentioned yesterday). Unlike “free” samples, these are all great ways to save on beauty buys.
Another way to spot deals on these products is to read Sunday ads. Check out ShopLocal.com, a free service from newspaper company Gannett. It lacks the coupons found in the Sunday paper, but all the ads are there in a reader-friendly format.
3. Go online for free expert advice and user reviews.
Tutorials: ShopSmart suggests Beautypedia.com for makeup tutorials, but that’s not the beauty of Beautypedia – although the woman behind it, Paula Begoun, does have great makeup application tips and videos on her site, PaulasChoice.com.
I think the best place for video tutorials is YouTube. Videos from the average Jane and cosmetics companies alike can be great resources. I was recently trying to decide if a spray foundation from Dior was worth $50-60. When the user reviews I read gave conflicting information about the best way to apply it, I went right to the source: Dior’s YouTube channel, which had just the video I needed. Sephora’s YouTube channel is another good one.
Reviews: This is the beauty of Beautypedia. Whether it’s a $3 lip balm or a $30 foundation, I no longer buy a beauty product without first looking it up on Beautypedia. In fact, I’m such a big fan of the site that before it was free, I gladly paid the $25/year user fee. Paula is known as “the Cosmetics Cops” for good reason – she looks out for your beauty and your wallet with brutally honest, science-backed reviews.
For user reviews, there are countless sites. ShopSmart didn’t suggest any and I’m not partial to any, although I did recently stumble across Makeup Alley. It seems to have more reviews per product than any other site I’ve seen. The page about the Dior foundation I mentioned had more than 250 reviews.
4. Check return policies.
“Look at stores’ return policies and you will find that shopping at the right stores can save you money,” ShopSmart says. “Both Macy’s and Nordstrom take back opened beauty products online or in stores with a receipt.” Other stores with clear – but not necessarily accepting – return policies include…
- CVS gladly allows returns of opened products to stores, but only if they’re house brand: “You can return the CVS/pharmacy Brand product (opened or unopened) along with your receipt or invoice. We will refund the full purchase price – no questions asked!”
- Dillard’s does not take back opened products: “The merchandise must be in its original, unused condition unless there is a manufacturer’s defect.” If there’s a defect, however, you can return items purchased online to your local store, which saves you having to pay the shipping back.
- Ulta Beauty may or may not allow returns of opened products. Their policy is unclear, which allows them to rule in their own favor: “We may not provide a refund or an exchange if the products have been opened or used unless such products are defective.”
5. Rewards clubs can be rewarding.
Just be sure to read their policies in full before signing up, because some programs have catches. According to ShopSmart, the best of the major programs are…
- MAC’s Back to MAC Program:
- The pros: “For every six MAC product containers you return at a MAC counter or online, you receive a free lipstick of your choice.”
- The catches: You pay the shipping if you return containers online, so make sure there’s a MAC location near you before signing up. Otherwise, this club may not be worth it for you – shipping back six containers will cost you more than one free lipstick will save you. “Also, paper boxes, samples and trial sizes, packaging and applicators are not accepted.”
- Sephora’s Beauty Insider Program:
- The pros: “Get one point for every dollar you spend; redeem at 100 and 500 point intervals. Reach 100 points and you get a deluxe sample; 500 will get you a limited-edition product. If you spend $350 a year you become a Very Important Beauty Insider, which gives you 10 percent savings on your next purchase, event invites, and more. You also get a free birthday gift.”
- The catches: You have to spend $100 before you get anything.
- Drugstore.com Dollars:
- The pros: “This program combines purchases you make on Beauty.com, Drugstore.com and VisionDirect.com. You receive a 5 percent in-store credit for every dollar you spend per quarter.”
- The catches: “You must redeem quarterly rewards on one of the sites within a month of receipt and you can’t earn or use points on prescriptions or gift cards.”
- CVS’s ExtraCare Beauty Club:
- The pros: “Get a onetime beauty shopping pass for 10 percent off when you sign up, $5 ExtraBucks rewards for every $50 spent on qualifying products, and $3 ExtraBucks on your birthday. Products include cosmetics, fragrance, hair products, skin care, and hosiery.”
- The catches: “Only one membership per household is allowed. Also, trial- and travel-sized items and CVS’ Beauty 360 products don’t earn ExtraBucks.”
6. Beware of bad advice.
ShopSmart says, “Make sure that all products you are using are FDA approved.” I say that’s the dumbest piece of advice I’ve ever heard from a Consumers Union publication.
The FDA does not approve beauty products unless they require a prescription (like acne treatment Differin, for example). To learn which parts of beauty product packaging you can trust and which are full of empty promises that could waste your money, be sure to read my upcoming post, “How to Read Beauty Product Labeling.”
For more money-saving beauty tips – like how to make your foundation last longer and how to get every last bit out of color out your lipstick tubes – check out 10 Tips to Save on Makeup. And if you’re interested in ShopSmart magzine, buy it from Amazon – as I recently mentioned, it’s currently on sale there.
Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.