Buying beauty products can be a pricey game of trial and error (those $8 lipstick mistakes add up fast!). Get more for your money—and a few freebies—with this strategic guide to shopping for beauty bargains ad drug stores, online and department stores.
Shop drugstores for low-cost beauty products, deep discounts and no-hassle returns.
Cash in Your Coupons
Drugstores have the best deals, hands down, especially when you stack manufacturer's and store coupons. Use coupons when there's a sale and you can save 67 percent on average. Find coupons in stores' circulars, on their websites and in e-mail newsletters. Many retailers accept printed online coupons, so check coupons.com, redplum.com and smartsource.com. And pay attention to the newspaper: 85 percent of beauty-product coupons are in Sunday inserts.
Return with Ease
At CVS and Rite Aid you can return any product—even if you've used it—for a full refund within 60 days of purchase. Keep the receipt (without it you'll get store credit). Hang on to the packaging; at other drugstores, returns are up to the manager, and the packaging can help your case.
Get High-Quality Goods For Less
Drugstore products are usually cheaper than department store offerings—but they're not necessarily inferior. Many beauty brands are owned by the same parent companies; they share research and development teams and might carry the same active ingredients (see next page).
Look for Deals on Items Wtih a Short Shelf Life
Mascara and liquid eyeliners last three to six months before bacteria builds up. Acne products and antiaging creams stop working in less than a year. Therefore, it's wise to choose effective, affordable versions.
Shop online for luxury goods for less, easy comparisons and a wide selection of hard-to-find items.
Find Obscure Items—Fast
The Internet is your surest bet for quickly finding what you need. Large e-tailers, including drugstore.com, beautybar.com and sephora.com, have a wide range of beauty products in one place (Amazon carries many as well), so you can get everything you need in one speedy transaction.
Use Coupon Codes to Get Discounts
Start at retailmentot.com's beauty section, which posts current sales and coupon codes. One recent find: $10 off a $50 purchase at beautybar.com, plus free shipping and a bonus gift. Looking for a specific product? Type it in at Google's shopping tab to make sure you get the best price, then check retailmenot.com for a coupon code. Also sign up for e-mail newsletters from your favorite e-tailers to get coupons sent to you.
Experiment with New Trends on a Budget
If you love to try the latest beauty crazes, it might be worth investing $10 per month to subscribe to a "sample society'' which earns you a box full of high-end product samples, as well as discounts on full-size versions. GIosybox.com and birchbox.com are two popular societies. Glosybox turns to more than 100 niche beauty brands to source a variety of trial-size products, and Birchbox samples are tested and hand-selected by experts.
Cash in on Freebies
There are tons of resources for beauty fans online. Freebeautyevents.com promotes special events, and paulaschoice.com provides product reviews by experts and decodes industry terms.
Shop department stores for beauty expertise, makeovers and samples and deals on high-end makeup.
Purchase with More Confidence
Because you can't test products at drugstores, certain item—particularly foundation, which needs to match your skin tone—might be worth the splurge in a department store. Employees at the counter are typically experts at matching colors. Or, see what they suggest, request a sample and try to replicate it at a drugstore. Stores such as Sephora also hire specialists who can help with acne, rosacea and other skin problems.
Nab Luxe Trial-Size Produce
Kiehl's and Sephora are known for being generous with trial sizes, but just about any brand will give you some if you request them. If a sample doesn't exist or if the store doesn't have one in stock, it's not uncommon for an employee to open a jar of a product you're interested in and dab some into a small container for you to take home.
Take Advantage of Bonuses
Department stores virtually never have sales on their brands, but they do offer gift-with-purchase promotions and special-collection kits throughout the year. The kits are often priced around $40 and contain close to $100 worth of makeup—steal if the palette is right for you. Befriend a salesperson and ask her to tell you the timing of promotions so you can plan your purchases wisely.
Check Your Mail
If you have a department store credit card, read its statements. That's where the company typically alerts customers to in-store promotions.