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Beauty on the Cheap

One of the challenges of the super-strict budget we’ve needed to impose (to get ourselves out of the crater of debt we’ve dug) has been that I’ve had to cut out about 98% of our unnecessary expenses.  That includes beauty expenses.

It’s tempting to feel sorry for myself and just let my appearance go by the wayside for a couple of years, but fortunately for my husband, I’m much too vain for that. 🙂

So I’ve needed to create a Frugal Beauty Routine.  Here’s how I do it:

1.  A healthy body.  Since gym memberships are out of the question, as is buying any gym equipment for the house, I’ve adopted a “Fitness on the Cheap” program, very similar to the great one featured here at Tackling Our Debt. 

Working out using your own body weight as resistance is every bit as good as any workout equipment you’ll find.  I start with a good stretch routine that I do daily.  This is not a precursor to my workouts so much as it is a workout in itself.  Stretching enhances every other part of my exercise routine, and gives me the strength and flexibility I need to perform the heavy lifting required to run a hobby farm.

I also try and sneak in pushups, leg lifts and other types of resistance training, as well as cardiovascular fitness activities such as running, walking and hiking.  My only cost?  A good pair of running shoes.

Healthy food choices are also a big part of my beauty on the cheap plan.  Eating good protein sources and healthy fats keep my skin healthy, my organs functioning at optimal levels and also helps to keep healthcare costs to a minimum.  Although I’m far from perfect as far as eating choices go, I try to eat a diet mainly of fresh fruits and veggies, and lean proteins, buying or growing organic whenver possible.  A truly beautiful body starts on the inside, and I’ve found that the right food choices are more important than ever, since my metabolism came to a screeching halt when I turned 40 :-(.

Beverage choices.  My main choice of beverage is fresh, clean water.  Consuming too much coffee, pop, alcohol etc., will fill your body with toxins, and the results will show not only in how you feel, but in how you look.

Clothing.  Here are some tips for looking your best clothing-wise without spending tons of money:

– buy 3 or 4 basic, interchangeable outfits

– shop thrift and consignment stores, along with garage sales

– check the clearance racks.  I just picked up two decent quality basic long sleeve cotton shirts for $5 each on the clearance rack.

– do a clothing swap.  Got a friend or relative that’s the same size you are?  If you like each other’s clothing style, see if there’s a thing or two you each have that you’re sick of wearing and can swap out.

2.  Beautiful skin.  (all links here are affiliate links).  My skin care routine is pretty basic.  My good friend Kris over at Etsy’s BathNBeads has a wonderful cold process soap that works well on my skin.  A $4.95 bar lasts me at least 3 months (I use it on my face only), and if you use the code CMLBL you’ll get free shipping.  On my body, I use regular Lever brand bar soap.  It’s the best cheap bar soap I’ve found when looking for both low price and quality.  Curel Ultra Healing lotion is also good quality for the price and will do for a body/face lotion, but another terrific option for moisturizing your skin is Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil.    Since you need only use a bit, a jar can last up to a year, depending on your skin type.

DIY.  Do it yourself manicures, pedicures and eyebrow maintenance can save LOTS of money.

For DIY eyebrow mainenance, start with a good professional brow wax, and then maintain yourself, checking every other day or so for strays, and pluck them out.  I’ve been doing this for about 2 years now.  But you must have a quality tweezers to get the best results.  I wouldn’t trade my Tweezerman tweezers for anything.  They’re a crucial part of my beauty on the cheap routine.

DIY manicures and pedicures are a breeze with a good manicure/pedicure set and some emery boards.  I leave my nails bare most of the time in order to save on polish and remover and to keep my nails looking clear, but OPI brand is my fave polish.  It lasts forever, and they’ve got great colors.   It is more expensive, but since I don’t use it often, I don’t feel guilty about buying a bottle or two each year.

3.  Beautiful hair.  Expense shampoo and conditioner isn’t in the budget right now, although I wish it was.  I buy the cheap stuff, but I have some ways that I can minimize the damage to my hair, such as shampooing every other day instead of every day, and minimizing blow dryer usage.  These techniques make sure not too much of the natural moisture is stripped out of my hair by less-than-great shampoos and conditioners.

Also, since highlights are out of the question, healthy hair is all the more important, to help my dishwater-y colored hair look the best it can look.  Sitting out in the sun with lemon juice on your hair still works for adding highlights too. 🙂

DIY haircuts.  Yep, I do it myself.  Youtube has lots of instructional videos on cutting your own hair.  This works best with long hair, though.  Another option?  Find a licensed beautician who does it cheap from her home, or barter with her for something you have to offer such as babysitting, etc.  (See your state laws for tax requirements re: bartering).

Lesson learned? You can look and feel beautiful, even on a budget.

Readers: What are your “Beauty on the Cheap” tips?


  1. Good tips Laurie! We do a number of these things in our family. We like to exercise at home to keep costs down as well as we can do it at any time we want. That is big during the winter when you don’t want to go out. My wife also cuts my hair and she actually just started going to the local beauty school and gets it done for $9 a cut. For some reason she does not trust me to cut her hair. 😉

    • Laurie says:

      Love the beauty school tip, John – thank you! I’ve cut Rick’s hair and the kids’ hair for years too. It really does save a lot of money!

  2. michelle says:

    If you have a beauty college nearby and are willing to take the risk at being a guinea pig, you can get services at a real cut rate discount.

    THe students are monitored by professionals, so it is a good value on a tight budget.
    YOu can get all beauty treatments there, all for fairly cheap.

  3. Taking care of your body and your diet is the most important thing for improving your appearance. I look better now in my 30s than I ever did. Why? Because I dropped a bunch of weight and cleaned my diet up. Kind of the reverse of how most people age.

    As for body weight exercises. They can be phenomenal. But you’ve got to be willing to put the effort in. I take some classes at the gym that do these kinds of workouts and I’m lucky if I can walk when I’m done.

    I would not cut my own hair. That’s a recipe for disaster. Plus I’m still traumatized from when I was a kid and got my hair cut by my parents. Something that should have taken 15 minutes or less took over an hour and involved obligatory yelling.

    I think it’s probably harder for women to look good on the cheap, since everything seems orders of magnitude more complicated for them. Not being a woman, it’s hard for me to comment more than that.

    • Laurie says:

      You’re so right, Myfij! We can get great results with body weight exercises if we’re willing to put in the effort. My brother too once had a traumatizing experience when my dad cut his hair in an effort to save money. We still laugh at his 2nd grade picture. :-). I think it’s great how you took control of your health and your appearance in that way – like getting out of debt, that’s a change that often seems too overwhelming for most people. Thanks for the great input!

  4. Excellent tips Laurie and thanks very much for the mention.

    We bought some Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil for cooking and baking and I had read that it is very good for our skin but haven’t tried it yet. I need to put some in a separate container and give it a try. I miss my brow waxes and I usually get my brows dyed a dark brown otherwise they are so light they look non-existent. I dye my own hair too.

    • Laurie says:

      You’ll have to let me know how the coconut oil works as a moisturizer for you, Sicorra. I find a basic eyebrow pencil works well for brow color if you wisp it on lightly. Maybe that’ll work in place of your brow dyes? Thanks for sharing your tips, Sicorra!

  5. Great post, Laurie. We women love our beauty regiment (and I would argue sort of need it) but there are definitely ways we can cut cost without sacrificing our looks! I absolutely agree if you buy some quality tools you can take of the mani/pedi’s yourself. Being healthy inside and out makes a huge difference. I don’t know if I could cut my own hair. I’d worry that I’d botch it and end up at the salon spending way more for them to fix it! But if you can do it – kudos to you!

    • Laurie says:

      Yeah, you’ve made a good point, Shannon. A botch job on a color or cut can end up costing you if you’re not careful. I’m lucky to have a super basic cut and have learned some techniques for doing it myself that make mistakes not too noticeable. :-).

  6. Pauline says:

    It all really starts with eating well. Not only you look good but your immune system is stronger and you won’t be sick as often. For the hair I mix olive oil and honey (when dry) or lemon and an egg to make it shine.

  7. I am very lucky that I have never been a big beauty routine girl. I feel like part of why I left the South was to escape the expectations of the whole Southern Belle appearance. I have very dry hair, so I try not to shampoo every day. I did get hooked on a very expensive Aveda deep conditioner for a while. I still get my hair cut and colored two or three times a year but have found that the Dove intensive conditioner works almost as well as the expensive one, and for the price I like it much better. Do you think you’ll go out and have your hair done when your debt is gone or will that go by the wayside? I’ll be curious to find out.

    • Laurie says:

      I’ve heard other stories about the expectations of appearance in some of the southern areas – that would be tough to live with. Thanks for the tip on the Dove conditioner: I’ll have to try it. I’m guessing that yes, when we’re done paying off our debt, I’ll go back to highlighting and cutting at the salon. I feel better when I have a few highlights in my normally drab-colored hair. :-). But all in all, I do prefer a more natural look. Aside from mascara and lip gloss, I haven’t worn makeup in years, and my skin is SO much happier!

  8. I never spent a lot on beauty products so I haven’t had to change much. I have been wearing the same Covergirl eye shadow for 15 years~ But, great job on cutting down. All the money you are saving adds up!

    • Laurie says:

      Yeah, it’s contrary to what most of society here in America does, but it is better for your hair. And yeah, you have to love the cheaper part. 🙂

  9. One other tip to keep in mind, if you like to do workout routines from a DVD, is there always seems to be workout DVDs (or VHS *gasp*) at garage sales and on Craigs list for CHEAP. Lots of people buy them then let them collect dust, right?

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