Beauty Budgeting: Splurge or Save?

one Beauty Budgeting: Splurge vs 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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:
    1. 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.
    2. 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?


  1. I’m glad you wrote about this because it’s something I’ve been thinking about too! As someone willing to invest in quality clothing I want to do the same in other areas of life but sometimes it’s not worth it. I am willing to spend the money on products for my skin that I use everyday (at the moment I have expensive acne products and go for monthly treatments but it is absolutely 100% worth it to have clear, smooth skin – the ultimate “accessory”). As far as hair care – I’ve found that fairly inexpensive natural shampoos and conditioners work and I’ve found a curl-enhancing mouse that I love for about $3. I don’t buy cheap nail polish (I go for Essie or others that are around $7 because they are good quality….I don’t think Chanel nail polish is worth it either – that’s all about the brand). For makeup, I think you have it right – quality brushes, mascara, and for me, a good eyeliner that goes on smooth. Everything else you can get for a decent price if you just do the research!

    Thanks for posting on this!

    • I wish I lived in the US, here in Europe Essie nail polishes are at least 15 Euros and drugstore nail polishes are about 5 Euros too! But yes I agree, skin is the one thing to splurge on, there’s no point in spending a lot on make up if your skin isn’t healthy! Thanks for commenting!

      • Do you have a DM where you live (I think I read you mention somewhere that you live in Berlin)? They usually have a pretty good selection of nail polishes for 1.50 to 3 Euro.

        I stopped using store bought products for my skin care many years ago and startrd washing my face with honey. It’s cleansing and moisturizing and leaves my skin wonderfully soft. I’ve gotten many, many remarks that I look much younger than my age. Washing with honey has worked much better for my skin than any store bought product I’ve ever tried. When I want to exfoliate, I add some finely ground raw sugar to the honey to create a scrub.

        My make-up regime is pretty minimalist without intention. Concealer, translucent powder to set it, blush (I’m very pale, blush is a must!) and mascara. Sometimes a little bit of lip colour, but nothing too obvious. As a mother of many, time and money are pretty scarce!

  2. It’s true that you can’t really think in “cost per use” when it comes to beauty products, because contrarily to clothes they are consumables. There are however, big quality differences between brands, but it is related to price only to a certain extent, at least for the brands I have used in the past.

    For me, what matters is what the products are made of. If I am going to put these on my skin every day, they’d better be good for health. So the choice I have made is to select a few products that fit my bill, no matter the price, but stick to them only. For example, I have only one eye shadow palette, one lip gloss, one face cream… And that’s where I save money: I buy only one of each type instead of buying several colours or types of products.

    • That’s also what I’m trying to do: Invest in products that I only have one or two of, like foundation and mascara, and save on stuff like nail polish. I’ve also been thinking about getting an eye shadow palette with a few basic colours, which one do you have?

      • I am using the Naked 2 palette from Urban Decay. It’s perfect because it has something like 10 colours, from the darkest to the lightest, all in mineral and earthy tones. I believe Urban Decay has several different make-up palettes, in case you are into more flashy colours.

  3. You’re so methodical! I read the packaging repeatedly before buying and I’m a sucker for packaging – I wanted to buy bath stuff today for post-run soaking and I had to read every bottle until I found one with a label that had the word ‘muscles’ on and looked pretty. Your way seems better!

    • I also find pretty packaging hard to resist sometimes. A couple of years ago I was obsessed with Benefit products, even though many of them didn’t fit my skin tone, but I just thought their packaging is amazing :)

  4. I tend to spend more on foundation and eye shadows because of the wear and colors, I find drugstore eye shadows often too chalky or sparkly and I am older so I don’t want all that. I am uber picky about foundation (obsessively so) and will always invest there…right now my current faves are Bobbi Brown long wear and Chanel vitalumiere aqua. I also find good bath/skincare at a lesser price point so for me that varies.

    • I also find the drugstore ones way too sparkly! I don’t wear them too often though, so I don’t yet want to invest in high-end ones.

  5. I tend to spend more on things that are everyday items like a conditioner that makes my hair really shiny AND gives a lot of body or a moisturizer that doesn’t make my skin turn red or break out because quality can really make a difference with long term, frequent use. Once I find the products that really work, I tend to stick with brand loyalty until the product either changes it’s formula or obtaining it becomes prohibitive through distance, time invested in procuring it, price, etc. I tend to spend less money on the things that I only wear a few times a year such as a bright red lipstick, because I know that I only use it occasionally and that I’m liable to find it for very little money on short notice. There’s always a cheap red lipstick in just about every Apothocary/Drug Store I’ve ever visited. That said, I also trend towards a minimalist approach to makeup and my daily ablutions and try to focus on good hygiene and a natural look as much as possible. That definitely makes it easier. :)

    • I like that you mention the long-term factor. As opposed to make up, skin care and hair care can have a positive impact on your skin/hair not just today, but also in the future, so that’s another reason why I prioritize those domains, even if it’s a little more expensive. That being said, I tend to just stick to Pantene or John Frieda, because I’ve tried high-end hair care brands but I didn’t see a difference :)

  6. I do a lot of research online too before I decide to buy a product, especially when it comes to skin care since I have combination acne prone skin, wich is very hard to manage. I am most likely to splurge on skincare or foundation ( I swear with Chanel’s vita lumière aqua, it’s my favorite ever), and to save on all the other things like lipstick, eye shadow, blush and eye liner. I found that for those products, I usually can find what I need with drugstore brands.

    • I’ve heard so many good things about the Vitalumiere aqua foundation, I might check it out once my Bobbi Brown one runs out. Thanks for commenting!

  7. Very nice post! I also try to only buy high-end, expensive brands if they truly offer me something extra. I’d rather be able to buy the perfect foundation or moisturizer instead of waisting my money on expensive shower gel or lotions that maybe smell nice, but do nothing special.

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