Budgeting Beauty - An Expert Tells All


The preternaturally lovely Courtney Sauve writes one of my favorite beauty blogs, Champagne Taste on a Beer Budget. I asked her to share some tips and tricks for frugal beauty, and she generously agreed. Here's what she had to say.


If you had only $50 to spend on cosmetics to last you a year, what would be the essentials that you would purchase for yourself? Would you buy as many things as possible, or just a couple decent things?

Foundation: Neutrogena Skin Clearing Oil Free Foundation 
Mascara: Cover Girl LashExact Mascara (although sadly, this would only last 3-4 months)
Concealer: Benefit Boi-ing 
3-in-1: eyes, cheeks, lips: e.l.f All Over Color Stick in Pink Lemonade
Eyeshadow Palette: Sonia Kashuk Perfectly Neutral Eye Palette 
Lip Gloss: e.l.f Super Glossy Lip Shine SPF 15 in "Pink Kiss" and "Iced Latte"

What if you only had $30?

This would be so, so tough!

Foundation: Neutrogena Skin Clearing Oil Free Foundation
3-in-1: eyes, cheeks, lips: e.l.f All Over Color Stick in Pink Lemonade 
Lip Gloss: DiorKiss in Lychee Rose (I would have to splurge on my favorite color of gloss)

Why are so many of the higher end cosmetics so pricey? Is it that they use better ingredients, or is it all marketing?

With higher end, department store brands you are, inevitably, paying extra for names like Chanel, Christian Dior, and Armani. You are also paying more for the customized assistance (and yes, sometimes pushy assistance) from the brand's trained retail counter artists as well as the luxury of being able to try on as many different colors and formulations as you would like before having to dole out the cash for them. And it is true that many products, no matter what the label or price, consist of the same main ingredients. However, I still tend to stick by the phrase "you get what you pay for" when it comes to foundations, concealers, and powders such as eyeshadows, blushes, and bronzers. The color range and coverage for higher-end foundations and concealers is more broad, the powders will typically not contain talc, and the pigment of the eyeshadows is a much better quality. In defense of drugstore brands though, you can find mascara, liners, lipstick, lip gloss, and nail polishes that rival, if not exceed, the department store standard.

Is there one very expensive beauty item that is a must-have? Something that you would advise frugal women (and/or men) to save up for?

I would have to say that if there was just one pricey beauty product that I would save for on a regular basis, it would have to be jar of Creme de la Mer. Two ounces runs up a hefty price tag of $195, but the stuff is so amazing that if I could afford to slather myself head to toe in the moisturizer — I would.

Along the same theme, is there a beauty product that you consider a complete rip-off? Something that you would advise people to avoid?

Eyeshadow primers. If you are using a good quality shadow, then you shouldn't even need one. But, if you do have issues with creasing, just use your foundation on your eyelids.

Whenever I buy cosmetics at a proper cosmetics counter, I'm always pressured to buy nice makeup brushes. Are these brushes important for the average makeup wearer? Can't I just go buy a nice paintbrush for $10 rather than spending $30 on a Chanel concealer applicator brush?

Investing in a set of quality makeup brushes is going to make a big difference in how your makeup looks. As for using a cheap paint brush, that might make do for your next watercolor project, but — since paintbrush bristles are usually synthetic and not made to apply anything other than paint, it's not going to do much good when it comes to your makeup. Start with a blush/bronzer, contoured eyeshadow, and foundation brush, and look for brushes made with natural bristles. Sephora makes some great, moderately priced brushes and brush sets.

What are some really cheap, home-type beauty rituals that are worth indulging in? For instance, will smearing avocado all over your face and hair really do anything worthwhile for your skin and mane?

Using an aspirin mask for spot treating breakouts is a great at-home remedy. All you need is to crush up five or six uncoated aspirin pills and mix with a little bit of a mild cleanser, such as Cetaphil. Apply the paste to the area and leave on for about 10 minutes. Since aspirin is a salicylic acid and acetic acid, it works wonders on breakouts and redness. I also am a fan of using mayonnaise as a hair conditioner. Although, I'm not a fan of having my hair smell like a sandwich, it does keep my hair really shiny for an entire week. Avocado, I haven't personally tried, but they are so rich in vitamins that I can only imagine that they would be beneficial.

Are there any cheap(er) fragrances that you really enjoy?

I am a fiend for the Victoria's Secret Garden Scents! "Love Spell" and "Forever Romance" are two of my favorites. Plus, you can't beat their occasional six for $24 deals.

Many people these days are very concerned about buying products that are not tested on animals, which most of the higher-end beauty lines claim as one of their benefits. Do you know if their claims are true? Is it worth trying to invest in products that claim to be cruelty-free?

I think that the site CaringConsumer is a great resource for people who are concerned about purchasing items from companies that are known to test on animals. It provides us with two lengthy lists; Companies That Don't Test On Animals and Companies That Do Test On Animals. There are so many other more humane alternatives to testing products on animals and I do try my best to be knowledgeable when it comes to doing a little background check on companies that I purchase my beauty products from.

Can you offer any tips on how to score free samples of beauty products, save actually conjuring up enough talent to write an informed blog in the industry? Writing sounds like an awful lot of WORK, and I just want free stuff.

Who doesn't love freebies!? Sites like Dove and Oil of Olay will every now and then offer to send you out free samples simply by entering your info into their websites. Then there are blogs like Great! Gratis! (Note: site no longer available) that are updated quite often and provide you with links to all kinds of freebies. Other than that however, the best way (in my opinion) to be able to score free samples if you are truly passionate about all things beauty, is to start up your own blog. There are so many successful beauty bloggers out there who have no professional experience in the beauty industry, they just are, for lack of better terminology, beauty junkies who love writing about products. It can be a slow start, but if you are patient and have a creative, catchy blog, things might really get going. You can end up having a lot of fun and can also meet tons of other amazing bloggers. Also, the best advice I received was from the writer of a very popular beauty blog. She said that when she would post about a certain product, she would e-mail the post, with a note, to the company, or as close as she could get to the PR people. Some wrote back with a thank you and nothing else, some ignored, but some reached out and offered to send goodies for future review. It doesn't hurt!


Courtney Sauve is a freelance beauty writer, licensed esthetician, and makeup artist. In addition to keeping up her personal beauty blog, Champagne Taste on a Beer Budget, she is currently writing for Detroit's Ambassador Magazine as well as gearing up for her first article being published in Real Detroit Weekly. She also has her own beauty columns for online magazines Fetch and Who Is Isabella? In addition to her writing, Courtney has had the pleasure of interning for former beauty editor Nadine Haobsh of "Jolie in NYC," assisting her in research for the upcoming publication of her first beauty book. She looks forward to focusing on her writing career and perhaps expanding her horizons in the near future.

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Will Chen's picture

I'm going to do it anyway.

Great interview Andrea! I'm surprised that you can get such high quality stuff for only $50.

I also enjoyed checking out Courtney's website. "Leggings are NOT pants." Ha ha, classic!

Lynn Truong's picture

small world. she writes for whoisisabella.com too =)

Andrea Karim's picture

I had read her before I found out about Isabella, but was happy to find her linked there as well.

Guest's picture

Hi I found your blog through the Carnival of Personal Finance.  I wish I could lower my beauty costs to under $50.  Maybe after I get a boyfriend....