If you’re an avid Refinery29 reader, chances are you’ve read a Money Diary post that left you feeling a little judgmental. We get it. It could irk you that one woman lets her boyfriend pay her rent (in Manhattan). Or, maybe you’re rolling your eyes at the fact that someone spent more on a Givenchy handbag than you have in your entire savings account — and admitted it.
As much as we have the urge to nitpick a person’s full Sephora receipt from behind our computers, these weekly accounts provide just as many opportunities to glean practical advice on how to save. But when a diarist mentions a love for a damn good $5 concealer and a humble drugstore lip balm, it just doesn’t get as much love (or hate comments).
Ahead, we’ve rounded up 17 dirt cheap beauty products from our favorite Money Diaries. You might be pleasantly surprised to find that an IT professional who brings home more than $65k per year refuses to use any cleanser that’s not Cetaphil.
There is a lot of product out there — some would say too much. At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team, but if you buy something we link to on our site, Refinery29 may earn commission.
One server and barista working in food service in Portland, Oregon, makes $12 per hour and spends a portion of her salary on eyelash glue. “I wear minimal makeup, but refuse to forget about eyelashes or highlighter,” she explains, adding that stashing a $5 lash glue in her bag allows for a quick lash touch-ups during her bathroom break.
Ardell Ardell® Duo Adhesive Lash Adhestive Clear – 0.25oz, $5.29, available at Target
A software consultant from Philadelphia makes $65,000 per year (plus a $7,000 annual bonus) and spends some of it on masks. Her face mask of choice is a $10 black sugar exfoliating mask by Skinfood, which she used twice during the week of charting her spending habits — both times while reading Harry Potter ( Chamber of Secrets, then Prisoner of Azkaban).
Skinfood Wash Off Black Sugar Mask, $10, available at Ulta Beauty
When stopping into Target to pick up the necessities — tampons, pantyliners, and index cards — the aforementioned software consultant also grabs this coconut deep conditioning hair mask for $7.99. And of course, she chats with her mom and grandparents as she shops.
renpure Renpure Coconut Crème Deep Treatment Masque, $7.99, available at Target
A bartender and grad student living in Sydney, Australia, makes $17 per hour (converted to USD) and spends a portion of her income on a mini bottle of Dr. Bronner’s lavender soap from a health food store. She also buys some matcha powder and a Quest bar in the same trip.
Dr. Bronner’s Dr. Bronner’s Lavender Pure-Castile Liquid Soap – 8oz, $6.69, available at Target
A 29-year-old working in higher education in Los Angeles makes $43,500 per year and uses some of it to buy drugstore aloe gel after getting a killer sunburn on the back of her legs. She slathers the aloe over her burns before she makes burritos for her and her S.O. — which is nothing if not relatable.
Banana Boat Banana Boat Soothing Aloe After Sun Gel – 8 Ounces, $3.97, available at Walmart
One client services specialist working in wealth management in Michigan makes $35,525 per year and spends some some of it at Ulta during her lunch break. After grabbing some pricey Drybar shampoos and a $20 primer, she adds these blackhead-siphoning pore strips to her basket, which only adds $5.99 to her bill.
formula 10.0.6 Down To the Pores, $5.99, available at Ulta Beauty
Along with the Formula 10.0.6 pore strips, she picks up these Soap & Glory under-eye patches for $5, which she pops on to unwind on a Monday night.
Soap & Glory Puffy Eye Attack Under-Eye Brightening Hydrogel Patches, $5, available at Ulta Beauty
The last pick from the Ulta lunch run is a tube of the Covergirl Super Sizer mascara, which is $6, but the cost is basically covered by stockpiled rewards points and the remaining dollars from a coupon.
COVERGIRL The Super Sizer Mascara, $6.99, available at Ulta Beauty
One money diarist living in New Orleans on a $37,000 salary tells R29 that she’s a high-low beauty spender. She’ll splurge on an $18 blush, but only wears drugstore lip balm. “My go-to work makeup look is black-brown mascara, Glossier Cloud Paint in the Beam shade, and Burt’s Bees lip balm,” she explains.
Burt’s Bees® Burt’s Bees 100% Natural Moisturizing Lip Balm, $2.97, available at Walmart
Following an account of a fruitful afternoon pit stop at Anthropologie for black tea perfume and linen spray, the diarist explains that her bedtime skin-care routine isn’t too involved or expensive. “I do a minimal nightly skin-care routine: cleanse my face with Yes to Cotton face wipes, moisturize, and apply lip balm,” she explains.
Yes To Yes To Cotton Comforting Facial Wipes, 25 Count, $5.3, available at Walmart
A 22-year-old copywriter from Chicago, who makes $42,000 per year, spends part of her paycheck on a $9.80 serum from The Ordinary. She already uses the brand’s hyaluronic acid and grabs the similarly affordable 2% retinoid in the hopes that it’ll help “cure some old red marks from pimples of years passed.”
The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion, $9.8, available at The Ordinary
In the series, we’re introduced to a young woman from Portland, Oregon, who spends part of her $50,000 income on a mud mask from Ulta. She tells R29 that she’s obsessed with Formula 10.0.6’s Pores Be Pure mud mask, which she slathers on after the gym just before hoping in the shower.
formula 10.0.6 Pores Be Pure Skin-Clarifying Mask, $6.99, available at Ulta Beauty
An IT professional living in Seattle making $65,400 a year cares for her skin by spending on serums, but saving on face wash. She pairs her Cetaphil cleanser with a pricier Paula’s Choice liquid BHA exfoliant.
Cetaphil Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser, $10.67, available at Walmart
When a 25-year-old marketing associate living in Charlotte, North Carolina, on a $68,250 salary needs some sunscreen before she leaves for South America, she hunts for the highest SPF she can find on Amazon — at the lowest possible price point — and adds Neutrogena’s $6 SPF 110 face lotion to her cart.
Neutrogena Neutrogena Age Shield Face Sunscreen – SPF 110, $6.99, available at Target
An 18-year-old transgender student, who works as a sales associate at Lush making $12.50 per hour, spends a portion of his paycheck on his favorite $3 sea salt hair spray from Target. “I bought one two years ago, and I use it for texture — just something nice and easy,” he tells us.
Not Your Mother’s Not Your Mother’s Beach Babe Texturizing Sea Salt Spray, $4.69, available at Target
One woman living in the Big Apple on a $52,000 salary spends a portion of her paycheck at Target. On a typical day, she manages to escape relatively unscathed with a few birthday cards, nail polish, a gray lipstick, shine reducing concealer, and this $3 gold sheet mask — the total ringing in a $45.65.
Miss Spa Restore and Brighten 24k Gold Radiance Sheet Mask , $3.99, available at Target
A Toronto-based advertising intern earning $1,700 per month tells R29 that she’s loyal to a $5 concealer, which she grabs at the drugstore. “I have a headache, so I sneak out of the office to pick up some Advil from Shoppers Drug Mart,” the diarist explains. “I also pick up my favorite concealer, Maybelline Age Rewind, because I’m almost out.”
Maybelline Instant Age Rewind Eraser Dark Circles Concealer, $5.29, available at Target
Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?
Best Clickbank Products