This is the first of a four-part “Beauty Saving” series. In the coming weeks, we’ll discuss how to save on skin-care products, salon services, teeth whitening and other pricey beauty regimens.

It’s not uncommon for women to look under the sink and see that huge tin of cosmetics you wish you hadn’t bought. But wearing makeup — and experimenting with the endless supply of new products — doesn’t need to drain your wallet.

“Because I’m such a queen of the bonus [sale], I haven’t bought an eye shadow in years,” said Jody Rohlena, senior editor of ShopSmart magazine.“If you’re strategic about when you buy, you can try new products for free.” Newcomers to makeup may be overwhelmed: What do I buy? How do I test products? When should I splurge on department-store brands? Beauty and shopping experts gave us some practical advice on how to buy makeup on a budget.

Drugstore Savings

Start small


When you start purchasing makeup, many people make the mistake of buying high-end products. But don’t get hooked on luxury before you try cheap!

“People fall in love with something and stick with it, but if you can, try to fall in love with what costs you less,” Rohlena said.

Drugstores don’t mean cheap

Consumer Reports sent secret shoppers to price 38 beauty products and found that at regular price, drugstores tend to be more expensive than some other retailers or shopping online. “We prefer,” Rohlena said. “It was cheapest on 24 of the 38 products, and we’re talking up to half off.”


Don’t avoid the drugstore sales, though. Your local drugstore will always have coupons or sales for Cover Girl, Revlon or one of the other brands. Mix and match manufacturer coupons with buy-one-get-one-free reward promotions, and you’re sure to get a deal.

Yes, you can return it

You wouldn’t keep a dress that was three sizes too large. If a powder is too dark, take it back. “Most drug stores allow you to return cosmetics you’ve already tried,” said Adrienne Whyte, founder of the Best Things in Beauty blog. “They’re counting on most people throwing it in their unloved makeup pile, but you should always return it.”

Ample Samples

Test before buying

No two people share the same skin and features, so samples and research matter.

“One reviewer may have different skin, but you should still start with reviews so you can learn,” Whyte said. “It prevents you from making an impulse buy.” And always ask for samples! Don’t buy an expensive product before you’ve tried it at home. Every beauty counter has samples for discerning shoppers like yourself. Don’t like the store? Rohlena recommends and for free beauty samples, too.

Learn from the best

Makeup is worthless if you don’t know how to use it. Head to Neiman Marcus to try products and learn tricks from visiting makeup artists. Many reputable makeup counters offer free makeovers in the hope you’ll buy a product. “Some will teach you the tricks on one side of your face, and then let you try on the other,” Whyte said. The skills will last longer than the product. Call a store to find out when counters have visiting professionals.

Stock up

Whether buying a cheap or expensive brand, stock up when it’s on sale. “Most cosmetics will last up to three years when stored in a dark, cool place,” Rohlena said. Because many products eventually get discontinued, buy in bulk when they’re on sale.

Save to Splurge

Splurge on essentials

The $20 lip gloss that feels amazing looks a lot like Vaseline to everyone else. Yes, you should spend on what you love, but know the products that matter most. Whyte says a good concealer and foundation will affect your appearance — and your confidence — much more than an expensive eye shadow. Splurge on the basics that affect your skin’s appearance, not the fun extras like lipsticks you’re reapplying all day.

Shop the bonus

If you’re hooked on an expensive product at a department store, buy it when stores are doing their bonus giveaways. Many times, a makeup counter or store will give away a free gift if you spend a certain amount. You might need to buy only one product to get a slew of others, so wait for the promotion. Rohlena recommends visiting to find out when stores have promotions.

Buy online

Rohlena recommends visiting,, to price check before you buy at the store. But remember, if you’re not getting free shipping, you’re not saving. “In most cases, you need to spend $25 for free shipping, so make sure you’re buying what you need, not a bunch of things you don’t want.”

THE BOTTOM LINE: Makeup is an easy way to experiment with your style, but the little palettes and glosses add up. Resist the urge to buy impulsively by asking for samples and shopping online. And newcomers: Start with the cheap products. If you can learn to love the drugstore brands, think of how much you’ll save over a lifetime.