How to shop the department stores without paying department store prices

6 Cosmetic Cost-Cutting Tips from a Make-Up Snob

by Deborah Morris

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I'm a makeup snob. Having worked in cosmetics and fragrances during my formative teenage years, I developed an attraction for the expensive stuff. I tried the drugstore brands, but they all met with the same, brutal fate. Nonetheless, it kills me to indulge my department store habit. My hand shakes uncontrollably when I hand over the credit card for a $72 sale, and am given a bag smaller than the one that was wrapped around my Auntie Annie's pretzel. As a means of survival (and to soothe my husband's indignation), I've developed a strategy to lessen the financial blow without sacrificing quality.

  • There is never a sale in the cosmetics department. The cosmetic companies run the counters in the department stores. The salespeople (a.k.a. beauty advisors) usually get their paychecks from the store, but earn their commission from the cosmetic line they represent. It is that cosmetic company that dictates the price. This is why a Macy's One Day Sale will never, ever include cosmetics. Same restrictions apply when a store goes out of business. The stock will be removed before the merchandise goes into liquidation.
  • Get more for your money with proper timing. I'm on the mailing list for every Lancome counter within a 30-mile radius. That equates to six stores that carry the line. There is always a promotion going on somewhere. A free gift may contain samples of mascara, blush, and eye shadow, plus full size lipsticks (all in the latest colors) and usually these come in a nifty makeup bag. If you stay on top of who has the free gift when, you can purchase one item (there is a minimum you must spend, but I challenge you to find a product that doesn't meet the requirement), and use the freebies to keep you going until you are ready to replace that one item. In all the years I've been doing this, I have never purchased anything other than a compact or a moisturizer, and rarely at the same time. The rest of my makeup is courtesy of the giveaways. The makeup also travels well and provides great stocking stuffers at Christmas.
  • So you're not organized. I admit that I've found myself shaking the last bit of powder out of my compact in order to squeak out just one more use. When desperate, I run to the department store even when there's no promotion and beg for mercy. Ask for any samples they have (believe me, they have plenty). You should be able to get items that would normally be in the free gift, just maybe not all at once. I've walked out with two full-size lipsticks, two vials of cologne and a tube of mascara, just for asking.
  • Cosmetic outlets. Just to set the record straight, the cosmetic lines do not endorse discount outlets. The outlets sell overstocks and discontinued items from the department stores, and there is usually a no return/no exchange policy. At Filene's, for example, the cosmetic company will rotate stock and train the counter team. These things do not happen at an outlet. That said, I have found great deals in cosmetic outlets. The colors and packaging will be from last season, but I've never been disappointed in the quality. And they can throw sales. I've walked in to find 25% off everything in the store, and five buckets of big name lipsticks for $2 each. It's hit or miss, but even when you miss, you hit. They charge 10-15% less than the department stores every day. No free gifts, but you make up (pun intended) for it in the savings.
  • Oh Canada! Though conversion rates vary, it's usually in our favor. A few years ago, when the rate was 52%, I found myself at a duty-free shop at the New York border paying $18 (regularly $32 at the time) for foundation. I bought three. It's still a bargain even with a stronger Canadian dollar because you're not paying tax. Of course, if you live in Miami, this might not be the best strategy.
  • Save every shopping dollar that you can! Receive cash back on your purchases when you use one or more of these 14 favorite cash back shopping sites.

  • Internet. Department store and official company sites will offer your favorite cosmetics for the same price you could pay in your hometown, but with shipping charges applied. However, there may be special promotions going on for Internet shoppers and certain stores may offer free shipping. This is especially important if you live in an area where traveling to a department store is inconvenient. There are also a number of websites offering discount cosmetics. As with the outlets, these sites are not endorsed by the cosmetic companies. When buying anything on the Internet, make sure you are dealing with a reputable dealer on a secure site before typing in your credit card number.

With a little research and organization, you can look great and stretch your dollar when purchasing high-end cosmetics.

Reviewed June 2017

Deborah Morris is a writer and producer whose work has been recognized by Anthology, Skyline, Byline, NonProfit World and the Saratoga Business Journal.

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