Frugal Beauty, and Choices

One of the themes of 168 Hours is that time is a choice. Sure, you have to eat and sleep and attend to any pressing medical needs, but beyond that, we have a lot of control over how we spend our time. What would happen if you quit your job? What would happen if you didn’t drive the kids to soccer practice? What would happen if you just lay in the grass instead of going to that meeting? I don’t know. These are interesting questions to ponder.

In All the Money in the World, I’ve been exploring a similar (and related) theme, that of money being a choice. Money is not subject to the same universal and hard limits as time. No one has more than 168 hours per week, but some people definitely have more money than others. Nonetheless, even people with what seems like all the money in the world eventually have to make choices, and since money that is not used for one thing can always be used for something else, ultimately, it comes down to priorities.

So what do you prioritize with money?

I’ve been thinking of this while reading posts over at Get Rich Slowly on frugal beauty. Sierra Black started off with a post that pushed the DIY route, such as making your own scrubs out of sugar or salt, or making your own toothpaste. Then April Dykman followed up with a post on saving money and comparison shopping when using store products and professionals.

I have a few thoughts on this. My broad, philosophical one is that financial literature tends to be about getting rich (even if slowly). No one is going to become rich by making her own toothpaste. I probably spend less than $20/year on toothpaste for my family, in part because we get samples from the dentist (if you have multiple people going twice per year that adds up) and also because it just isn’t that expensive and people don’t use that much. You may save something by purchasing baking soda and mixing it with water but we’re not talking huge amounts (and there is the weird factor, as Sienna mentions in the post). Time spent pondering how to make your own toothpaste and shampoo is time not spent “sweating the big stuff” — like getting a lower rate on your mortgage, or scoring your next $5000 raise. Those are the things that matter. Not the toothpaste.

But beyond that, I realize that I’ve pretty much got a black belt in beauty frugality, not because of anything I’ve tried but because spending on this category is just not a priority for me. I’m using whatever shampoo my husband purchased (the opposite of the whole “smell like a man” campaign aimed at getting men to use their own products, rather than their wives’). I use a bar of soap I got from a hotel — no special facial cleanser. I color my own hair, and while over the years I have upgraded from the $4 drugstore coloring kit to the $10 drugstore kit, if I color 6x/year, this comes out to $60, whereas a single salon trip would run $100+. After coloring my own hair for 15 years, I’ve come up with a method to make it look how I want, something I doubt many professional colorists would be able to immediately approximate. I have tried to spend higher dollar figures on hair cuts on occasion — like making an appointment at Bumble + Bumble in NYC once — but I’ve noticed that no matter where I get my hair cut, if I describe what I want, it basically looks the same. And since I curl my hair with an iron when I’m going anywhere, I have a pretty wide margin for error. So why not go places where I can walk in and they don’t make a huge fuss?

Then there is make-up. I’m sure people have great tips for getting discounted cosmetics. My own personal approach is just to not wear much make-up. Concealer. Blush from a drug store. Lip gloss — and that’s about it. Again, I have tried spending more on this category, purchasing nice bottles and tubes of goo from department stores, and inevitably, they just sit there on my bathroom counter.

And so, my beauty spending habits have taught me this lesson: part of achieving fiscal fulfillment is learning to spend where it matters to you, and don’t spend where it doesn’t. If you love to cook, then spending on nice kitchen appliances is probably a good use of your money. If your family is more into microwave cuisine, then you can use your money somewhere else (like going out to dinner). If you love decorating, maybe you can spend less on your house itself, and decorate it lavishly. On the other hand, if the real estate itself really gets you going, you can start shopping at IKEA.

This issue in life is that many of us spend unconsciously — devoting certain percentages of our budgets to certain things because that is the social norm, or that is what you grew up doing. I’m quite curious how I’d react if the little girl I’m expecting this fall grows up and decides that one’s make-up and hair style are incredibly important for getting ahead in this world, and worth spending a mint on. I’d disagree, but who am I to say she’s wrong? If I’d gone into television journalism instead of the print variety, I might feel differently, or if I worked as an executive at a fashion company. As it is, the fact that I spend fairly high amounts on books, magazines, computers (buying a new one every 2.5 years), phones, etc. and not on clothes or cosmetics is a statement of what I think matters, but these are choices. Best to get to know oneself and then make these choices consciously.

  • Media mentions… If you’re reading this post in a salon… pick up a copy of August’s Ladies Home Journal. I’m quoted a few times in an article on how to find an extra hour per day, including on my theory that TiVo doesn’t necessarily save time. Sure, you’re not watching commercials, and can watch shows when you want. But if you TiVo shows you’d not watch otherwise (because they come on during the workday, for instance) you don’t come out ahead. And come on, why are you trying to “save time” while watching TV? Turn the TV off! That saves a ton of time!
(Photo courtesy flickr user Cea.)

One thought on “Frugal Beauty, and Choices

  1. I saw the link to this post from another one and clicked. I am now laughing because tivo. Is that still a thing?? Wow.

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