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Beauty on a Budget: I Was Told There Would Be No Math

By Amalah

I love your smackdown advice – but often times the products you recommend are too rich for my cheaper than 2 coats of paint blood. I value a short beauty routine & want to spend as little money as possible on it; I also want to look like I’ve been pampered by a professional in a fancy salon for hours. It’s a hard balance to achieve and I often settle for “good enough”.
So, here’s my challenge:
You’re out of town & your entire beauty regime has been stolen, even your shampoo. After crying on Jasons’ shoulder and issuing an APB on the internet you realize its time to do something productive; because first thing tomorrow morning you’re on your way to a very formal outdoor wedding where you will be meeting people who you need to make a good impression on.
You have $100 and one hour in Target to get what you need, what do you buy?

I cannot lie…this challenge terrified me to my very core. $100 for EVERYTHING? Hair, skin, makeup? I’m all for a bargain, but girlfriendomgplease.
As I mentioned in Friday’s column, a truly great beauty routine can take a long time to create, thus spreading the cost out over many months and diluting the sticker shock value. $30 here, $10 there, and after…oh, six months to a year later, you actually CAN go into your bathroom and come out 10 minutes later looking like you’ve been at the salon for hours, because everything you use is top quality and above all, the right product for you, instead of a shelf full of “just sort of good enough” stuff.
(Buying your beauty products over a long stretch of time also prevents everything running out at the same time, by the way.)
So basically, while this challenge is fun and I get your point, I still kind of want to plead with you a little bit: Please don’t feel guilty for pampering yourself once in awhile. Especially when it comes to the care of your skin, which you have to live with for the rest of your life. Some of the products I’m going to list here are totally…just okay. I would use them in the situation you’ve invented, but long-term? No. Sometimes you really do get what you pay for.
/thus ends my petulant disclaimer
//totally going to get on with the column now
///am such a freaking brat
(Wait! Wait! One more disclaimer! Most links are to instead of Target, mostly because Target’s site doesn’t feature half of the products that are actually available at Target, and also Target does not really have the best prices on a lot of this stuff, and if you’re going to only give me $100 I am going to get things on goddamned sale if it kills me.)
bbshampoo.jpgBurt’s Bees Very Volumizing Shampoo & Conditioner – $7.99 each
Alberto VO5 Dazzling Shine – $3.49
Pantene Pro-V Volumizing Hairspray – $4.99
cetaphil.jpgCetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser for Normal to Oily Skin – $6.77
Burt’s Bees Garden Tomato Toner for Oily & Troubled Skin – $9.49
Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock – $8.99
Sonia Kashuk Ultimate Brush Set – $14.99
cgblush.jpgNeutrogena Visibily Even Liquid Makeup – $10.99
Cover Girl Cheekers Blush – $3.39
Boots No7 Stay-Perfect Lip Lacquer – $8.99
Cover Girl Eye Enhancers – $4.49
Since it’s you know, a WEDDING, I’d probably pick up some falsies ($3.49), adhesive ($3.49) and an inexpensive pair of tweezers ($1.00) instead of mascara and eyeliner – $7.98 total, and while higher on the fussy scale, it’s way more bang for your buck in the end.
GRAND TOTAL: $100.54
(I got myself the extra 54 cents by crying at the register. I am extremely resourceful like that.)
(Also, the wedding is in Delaware, the home of tax-free shopping.)
Obviously, I had to leave out some stuff that I would normally use, like an eye cream and primer and body/hand lotions, but I AM ONLY HUMAN HERE. I can only do so much in the face of capitalism. But still, it’s a pretty good list with some pretty good products. Use natural or organic products as much as possible, splurge on haircare and skincare, and cut corners on styling products and makeup. (Although in the makeup category, spend the most on your foundation and lipgloss, just because cheaping out on those will really just annoy you and you will regret it and compulsively try new ones until you’ve easily spent more than the cost of a Sephora-type brand.)
THE END. I have to go lie down now, since all that number-crunching hurt my brain.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • sarah

    June 4, 2007 at 12:30 pm

    Ok. I totally get your distinction between good v. good enough for now products, BUT, I am a recovering Lancome junkie (still love Definicils mascara and Primordial night cream and will forever), and I have made the switch to Neutrogena. It’s a great product line for skin care and makeup. They even have eyeshadow base that solves my creasing problem.

  • TasterSpoon

    June 4, 2007 at 2:41 pm

    Boy does Amy love that Neutrogena dry-touch sunblock. Neutrogena has historically been kind of stingy to me, but I’ll give it another go based on these and Sarah’s recommendations.

  • jodifur

    June 4, 2007 at 2:54 pm

    I’m so glad you did this. We have very similair hair and I was looking at pureology the other day and my salon has it for $30 a bottle. And I was like. I can’t spend $30 a bottle on shampoo. I just can’t.

  • CursingMama

    June 4, 2007 at 3:21 pm

    I can’t believe you actually did it, mostly because I didn’t think it could actually be done. Funny enough several of the products you mention I use and love.
    Thanks for the tips & I’ll think harder about using something more than the cetaphil cleanser and oil of olay moisturizer (with sunscreen built in) on my face.

  • Olivia

    June 4, 2007 at 4:05 pm

    I’m so glad CursingMama sent in this question. I read your last post and didn’t even bother clicking on the items because the history of your recommendations has taught me they would be too expensive. Or, at least, more than I’m willing to spend.
    And, holy moly! Do you use all that stuff every day? I have a decent make-up collection (a mix of Avon, and CG), but as for the rest of my skin care there are only four products: St. Ive’s cleanser, Avon scrub, Avon moisturizer and Neutrogena moisturizer with sunscreen.
    Maybe my skin is an exception, but I don’t have any complaints with using fewer and less expensive products. No excessive blemishes, no dry patches, and my make-up stays on even in humidity, no primer needed.

  • BaltimoreGal

    June 4, 2007 at 6:56 pm

    I also LOVE the Neutrogena dry-touch sunblock. I use it every day! NOT stingy even on my sensitive skin- I use the spf 70! (Thaaat’s right!)

  • Amy Corbett Storch

    Amy Corbett Storch

    June 5, 2007 at 9:58 am

    jodifur: your salon’s price is insanely high. Look online and you’ll find it for about $20.
    Olivia: I use three products everyday — Philosophy wash, moisturizer and eye cream. Oh, and the Neutrogena sunscreen. So we’re even. I do not have naturally good skin and never have, and after trying literally EVERYTHING on the shelves at the drugstore, I got tired of spending money on stuff that just didn’t work.
    My sister, on the other hand, uses freaking HAND SOAP on her face and still has perfect skin. Once you find something that works with your skin, stick with it, regardless of whether it costs $5 or $30.

  • jodifur

    June 5, 2007 at 5:29 pm

    Thanks Amy! I picked up the Burts Bees and used it this mornings and I really liked that. I have the same volume issues you do. I’ll try pureology though. You haven’t steered me wrong yet!

  • jodifur

    June 5, 2007 at 5:41 pm

    Oh, and I was totally not insulting or judging your pureology purchase. B/c I needed shampoo and conditioner, I couldn’t rationalize $60 in haircare purchase. But $40, I may be able to do that.

  • Claire

    June 5, 2007 at 6:08 pm

    If you are interested in turning your review of the Clarins primer into a Price Tag Cage Match, I was at Target today and saw that Boots makes a primer. Only $9.99!

  • katishere

    June 5, 2007 at 7:43 pm

    way off topic, but has anyone used the proactiv stuff? wondering if it’s worth it or not. you know…’cause jessica simpson uses it.

  • krisojen

    June 6, 2007 at 12:00 pm

    Off the topic: I finally used the Curel! And it works! I live in a dry climate and have spent the last year and a half trying to find something that worked. I even resorted to rubbing almond oil on my legs in the morning out of desperation. The Curel works much better, AND I don’t smell like an amaretto sour anymore, which gives me more credibility at work. Legs? Silky soft and happy.

  • Tone

    June 6, 2007 at 4:39 pm

    katishere – check out the categories over there on the right under Brands, there was a big entry about Proactiv featuring the AlphaFoxyMamas.

  • Meredith

    June 7, 2007 at 9:24 am

    I’d also love a review of Clinique’s City Block, which is a sunscreen and primer in one! And, I think it’s only about $17.

  • bethanylcm

    March 13, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    In the subject of cheaper beauty, I was wondering if you had found the Ulta Salons to be worthwhile for their price. They seem to be midrange (somewhere between HairCuttery and Aveda). I need to get a good cut before my sister’s wedding but have a pretty tight budget right now. NB–my hair isn’t curly, just short, straight, and prone to weirdly flipping out and in for no reason.
    I used to get my hair cut at an Aveda place but that was in the midwest where it was only $35 for the cut, scalp massage, and chair massage. That seems impossible in the Silver Spring area.