Makeup Breakup: How I Saved More Than $40 on My Everyday Face

When I tell people I was a goth kid in high school — you know, the one with the baggy, chain-covered pants and rainbow dye job, scowling at the cheerleaders from under the stairs — they’re, well, honestly, not that surprised. I am a writer, after all, and kind of a weirdo.

But a decade later, I’m happy to say I’ve dropped most of the melodrama. Present-day Jamie is (usually) positive, fairly athletic, and a whole lot friendlier. She even owns one or two pink articles of clothing. Hot pink, no less!

One thing I did keep from my high school days is my taste in makeup: namely, a preference for dark eyeliner. And though today I aim more for “refined” than “raccoon,” the products I use to create the look are the exact same ones you’d find in my beat-up, Sharpie-colored Jansport in 10th grade.

Back then, I didn’t really mind paying $20 or more for a single stick of eyeliner, since my parents were still footing room and board.

Present-day Jamie, however, is a little more skeptical. And she also has bills to pay.

Drug Store Makeup is Totally Fine, Actually

I don’t use very much makeup, but the items I do rely on are spendy. As I reviewed my monthly budget and savings goals, I realized I was paying over $60 for just three products — which seemed pretty darn foolish.

So as I pulled the wand out of my latest tube of desiccated mascara, I took a long, hard look in the mirror… and decided to buy the replacement at Walmart.

Although I’ve always been devoted to my chosen eyeliner brands, a great mascara has long eluded me. I could never find one that lengthened, volumized, and defined my lashes without annoying clumps, — and at almost $30 a pop, it wasn’t a cheap experiment. I had a couple go-tos, but none of them really wowed me, despite their premium price tag.

So to prepare for my upcoming shopping trip, I did some brief online research looking for the best mascara available at Walmart. Lo and behold, the internet did indeed have an opinion — and even a specific recommendation for one that reduced clumping.

It was less than $7. And although I was skeptical, I was happier with the terms of this gamble.

So after 10 years of poking around Sephora’s mascara endcap, can you imagine my surprise when this stuff — which cost less than half of even the least expensive premium option — actually worked better?

How I Saved $43.62 on Makeup

High on this revelation, I decided to do the same for the other staples in my (admittedly very limited) makeup repertoire: pencil and liquid eyeliner.

I ran a few more quick searches and chose products that claimed to be waterproof and easy to apply.

And ya’ll, I am so done spending more than $10 on any given cosmetics product. Sorry, Sephora.

Here’s what I replaced my face with — and how much it saved me.

Pencil Eyeliner — Savings: $12.03

L’Oreal Paris’ Extra-Intense pencil eyeliner does the job at about half the price. Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

Before: Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencil, $21 at Sephora

After: L’Oreal Paris Extra-Intense Pencil Eyeliner, $7.97 at Walmart

The Urban Decay pencil has long been the foundation of my daily look. If I’m too lazy to put anything else on, I’ll just throw it on my water line and smudge some around my eyelid.

And although the pricey pencil does have pretty good sticking power, it would always run at least a little, especially at my eyes’ inner corners — which left me constantly checking the mirror to wipe away excess throughout the day.

L’Oreal’s pencil offered pretty much the same thing for less than half the cost, easily darkening both my water lines and lids with color just as rich and dense as the “good” stuff. Although it did slide around a little, the pencil comes with its own little smudger, which was a welcome addition since smudging is an operation I usually leave to my finger.

(Psst: This isn’t the first time we’ve tried out drug store brand makeup here at TPH. If you’re looking for more alternative options, check out this list of the office’s cheap eyeliner favorites.)

Liquid Eyeliner — Savings: $14.53

Almay has a bit of a clunky applicator, but it’s just $6.74 for the pleasure. Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

Before: MAC Liquidlast Liner, $21 at MAC

After: Almay Liquid Eyeliner $6.74 at Walmart

Although the paltry 0.084 ounces you get for your $21 is actually pretty average for premium makeup, my Liquidlast, despite its name, never lasted me as long as I wanted — and not because I ran out.

The problem is, I only use this product when I want a big, showy, intense look, which isn’t all that often. (Anymore. RIP, high school Jamie.) So even though that teensy portion would have lasted me several months, the product itself grew clumpy and unusable before I could use it all.

Which is why, in this case, it makes so much sense for me to switch to a drugstore brand. Almay’s color fidelity isn’t quite as intense, and in my opinion, the applicator is a little clunky — but I’ve been using MAC’s uber-fine tip brush forever. I may just need practice.

And at less than a third of the price for something I really only use once in a while, I’m OK with making a few sacrifices.

Mascara — Savings: $17.06 (and my sanity)

CoverGirl’s Clump Crusher waterproof mascara is an inexpensive treasure. Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

Before: Benefit “They’re Real!” Lengthening and Volumizing Mascara, $24 at Sephora

After: CoverGirl Clump Crusher Waterproof Mascara, $6.24 at Walmart

Although I returned to the Benefit product time and again, my quest for perfect lashes has cost me more than I’d like to imagine. I’ve tried out mascaras ranging from $24 to just under $30. I even patronized a Facebook friend’s Younique business.

Always clumps. Always me hunched over the magnifying mirror, attempting to separate my eyelashes with one of those infuriating little combs. (Which are an additional expense in their own right, not to mention nigh impossible to clean.)

I’d pretty much resigned myself to hating mascara forever. So when I opened up and applied this baby, I almost did an actual happy dance right there in the bathroom. I could not believe how much better this product was than any of the premium brands I’d tried, and all for just a little more than a latte.

Should You Switch to Cheap Makeup?

Bottom line: Price does not guarantee quality. Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

Here’s the thing. Even if you’re shopping super-premium brands, you’ll find all kinds of bellyaching in the comments on Sephora. When it comes to cosmetics, everyone’s different — and a lot of it is about figuring out what works for you.

My Walmart replacements have taught me that premium pricing doesn’t guarantee you better product. And even in cases where the lower-cost brands are a bit iffier, the difference in quality does not line up with the difference in price.

Of course, I’m writing from the perspective of someone who doesn’t wear makeup every day, and who doesn’t wear much when she does. For some people, makeup is a hobby, even a passion; for them, it’s well worth spending their hard-earned dollars on.

If you’re devoted to premium brands, there are lots of other ways to minimize your makeup budget. For example, using the right strategies can save you big-time at Sephora, and the same holds true for Ulta.

So in the end, as in all things, your mileage may vary. As for me, I’m through spending over $60 just to draw some black lines on my face. I guess it’s one more nail in my high school self’s coffin…  just in time for my 10th reunion.

Jamie Cattanach (@jamiecattanach) is an ex-goth kid based in St. Augustine, Florida. She’s written for Yahoo, SELF, Ms. Magazine, the Establishment, Roads & Kingdoms and other outlets.