The Shampoo Experiment

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Women collect a lot of…dare I say, crap to groom themselves. We use multiple hair products, a variety of makeup, paint our nails, spray on perfume, have a face wash regimen, lotion for our extremities, tweezers, nail files, and the list goes on. I just counted fourteen different types of lipstick in my drawer. Do you know how often I wear lipstick? Like twice a year. Compare that to a man like my husband, who just has…shampoo, and well, that’s a lot of stuff! I’m sure you could add or subtract to this list depending on your style, but you get the idea.

A few months back, a friend suggested a blog post idea where I test out different makeups and see which are more cost-effective: the cheap brands that a girl could run through quickly or the more expensive names that are made with lasting ingredients. I am not a huge makeup wearer–I avoid it when I can, dread it when I do and stick with the basics: mascara, cover up under the eyes, blush and an eyebrow pencil. I don’t know, but that’s basic to me anyway. Very rarely do I apply eyeshadow, eyeliner or powder and I never use foundation. So my need to replenish those things is sometimes only once a year. Mascara and eyebrow pencil are every few months. I guess what I’m trying to say is I am not the best candidate for said experiment, even though it sounded like a really fun thing to explore. Earlier this week when I was lying in bed and not falling asleep, I saw a Reddit thread where a girl asked for financial advice and gave a breakdown of her budget. She said she spends $400 a year on make up. I was surprised by that figure, but don’t really have a concept of what the norm is. If I had to take a stab at it, I’d say I spend around $30 on make up annually, but who knows. I know I haven’t purchased blush or lip gloss since my wedding two years ago. And I know that the only reason I bought under eye cover up last year was because I left it at my father-in-law’s house by mistake. So maybe it’s even less than that. I should also mention I use brands like Lancome and Mac because they give me the results I want and I have found them to last a super long time. In this case, paying more gets you more.

My friend also suggested testing out salon level shampoos and their drug store counterparts with the same concept in mind: which saves you more money in the long run?. Now this is more my speed, as shampoo and conditioner are things I actually use every other day. I have not taken the time to track how often I purchase a new bottle, but my estimate is every two months. I buy big ones from target for $3.99 each. So that’s $8.00 total for both, or $4.00 a month–which is very, very cheap. But you know what? I always hate my hair! It doesn’t have the natural wave I know it can. It often feels weighed down, and I am so sick of the smell of the product. My friend explained to me that the drug store brands list water as their primary ingredient and you therefore use huge handfuls of it in one shower to moisturize your hair. But with the more expensive brands that use special ingredients (that’s my code phrase for “I don’t know what is in them”) you can put a nickel sized dollop on your hand that will cover your whole head. What an exciting opportunity for quality and frugality in one package!

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I got my haircut last week and decided it an opportune occasion to change things up. I excitedly went to my local Lush store… for those who don’t know, they are a salon quality handmade cosmetic company. Being the careful buyer I am– I read all the reviews on their website to try to figure out which shampoo would be best for my hair before going in. The one I settled on was about $26 for a fairly small container compared to the ones I buy at Target. But remember: you are using way less of this product and according to reviewers, it lasts about three months. Longer than what I’m currently using, but certainly more expensive no matter what. It would be about $8 a month for shampoo, which is double what I’m averaging now for both shampoo and conditioner.

Before going into the store, I decided I wasn’t going to make a splurge purchase without even more information because there was still the possibility that I would not like this fairly pricey product! That’s how the frugal roll, am I right? I asked the lady at the counter if I could take home a sample before purchasing rather than committing to it right then and she happily obliged–another perk of shopping at “higher end” places; they are often very accommodating because they can afford to be. She gave me this itsy bitsy little tub and claimed it would be multiple washes. After using it twice, I would say I have about one more wash in there and that’s pretty darn good considering how small the container is. And I love it! My hair is soft and  squeaky clean, feels light and voluminous, styles easily. I plan to purchase the full container next time I am in the neighborhood. Following my husband’s model, I am going to try to go sans conditioner for possibly the first time in my adult life to see if that is really a need anymore and to help with cutting the high cost that buying two would produce. I happen to hate taking showers, so one less step in the process sounds great to me.

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What I’ve discovered is a lower maintenance, higher functioning and longer lasting product can be the more frugal choice if you do your research. In my case, I am paying a little more than I have been previously, but I am also gaining more and saving time in the shower and in frequency of shopping. I am happy with the trade off and excited for the change. This may be the start of my simplifying my cosmetic routines even more and finding ways to go with quality over quantity in the future. What examples of this do you have in your life? Are there higher quality products you use around the house that may cost a little more but save you in the long run?

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Strategizing Amidst The Craziness

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What is your first financial reaction to a hard week? To spend or save? I know for me, I want to spend to ease the difficulty. “Let’s eat out tonight, I’m too tired to plan a meal and cook”. Or, “we can make this easier by paying for that”. A few weeks ago my husband and I were tested by a series of events that made it so unbelievably tempting to escape it all by using money in flippant ways. As mentioned in my previous post, we were on a strict money diet due to over indulgence from a weekend away. September was our month to make it all back by being more frugal than usual.

We have known for months that at the end of the September we would be having two house guests for four days, followed by four house guests for five days the following week. I budgeted for this in my grocery shopping and made sure to include a homemade meal in the first couple’s visit and a hearty enough breakfast item to last the week and avoid spending three meals a day on restaurants. Eating out is the enemy when you’re trying to be good (and I think travelers would agree!). So, we were careful about where and how we chose to do that and I even bowed out of a couple of meal opportunities knowing that it would make the bill lower if I stayed home.

The evening they arrived, my sister (who is also my neighbor) went to the emergency room for stomach pains and it turned out to be a ten centimeter ovarian cyst that required same day surgical removal. Being the older sister, and her only family in town, I naturally wanted to be present for as much of the day as I could–full well knowing that I also had guests to entertain while my husband was at work. My sister has the same healthcare provider as us and one of the many advantages of where we live is that our hospital is within a few blocks of our apartment. I was able to dip in and out of there all day in between naps and surgery to check in on her, hang with her or wait to see her and get updates from the doctors and still keep our guests happy.

Blessing #1: Surgery went well and no emergency funds had to be pulled from in order to support the situation. Her insurance covered everything outside of a very small and reasonable co-pay and we were able to travel between the hospital and home with great ease and no cost.

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The weekend our friends were to arrive we woke up to a huge ant infestation in our kitchen two days in a row. I had a big morning of cooking planned for the following day in preparation for the guests. We called our landlord, who promptly handled it by sending a worker with supplies to try to remedy the situation. The ant traps and sprays didn’t really solve the problem, but it certainly helped and we didn’t have to spend a dime of our own money to make the fixes. It easily could have been a scenario where our landlord didn’t respond for days and made us go out to buy our own products. Instead, he also set up an exterminator for the following week which required us to pack up the entire apartment, pull out every kitchen drawer, take down the curtains, clear out the pantry, etc. We ended up compromising and only doing the kitchen, living room and bathroom which were the main areas where we have seen ants in the past. That meant everything went into the bedrooms and that I had to leave the apartment for at least eight hours. I took a short job that started the next day and spent my crucial time away from home prepping for it in a local coffee shop with my on the mend sister. For the cost of decaf latte I was paid a day of prep to get my house debugged. Also nice to have a boost of second income when trying to recover from a tight spot. Our second round of house guests had a change of plans and didn’t end up staying with us, so that took a little pressure off getting the house back in order right away for their arrival.

Blessing #2: Because we rent, we were able to handle a very ugly situation with little additional cost to us. I bought three very cheap painting drop cloths from Home Depot to cover furniture and our landlord allows us to take expenses like that out of our rent, so that is what I will do for next month.

My parents flew into town last minute to take over providing for my sister. My husband and I had insisted that she stay in our apartment (along with our house guests) for two nights while she recovered because she needed 24/7 care and still had trouble standing up or sitting down and preparing her own meals.We did end up going over our grocery budget by $30 that week because of the need to provide food for these emergency circumstances. As I’ve mentioned before, I have gone far over $30 in a month before and for far less important reasons.

I had my monthly prenatal check up with the doctor in the midst of all this and found out I tested high for pregnancy diabetes. In order to get a more specific reading, I would have to fast for ten hours (which could be done overnight) and then take a three hour blood test that consisted of drawing blood four times. So you know, ask a pregnant woman to not eat all morning while stealing blood from her system and slap a little boredom on it and what do you have? A very irritable pregnant woman at the end of a long week who may or may not have diabetes.

Blessing #3: The tests came back negative and as I listened to patient after patient come into the lab having to cough up a $30 co-pay, I thanked God that my coverage made the tests free.

Then to top it all off, my husband’s grandmother died! It was at this point that we looked at each other and thought, “what else could possibly happen this week?”. This wasn’t exactly expected, but also not a total shock because she was 98, almost 99–so we knew it was eminent. No immediate action was necessary on our part, but it was still another thing on a pile of others. What a crazy time.

I haven’t had a two week period that felt quite the way this one did in a long time. Juggling thing after thing–no time to think, let alone respond to a text–all while trying to maintain your normal weekly routines and provide for others. I love the feeling of being busy, and I believe I am someone who thrives under stressful circumstances. But I was a whole new level of tired. Sleep hasn’t been as good as it used to be with a little baby growing inside me, so there were days where I felt like a zombie. I even ran a stop sign at one point, which was (thankfully) funny to my passengers (we were in a very empty warehouse-y part of town), but that was a sign that I needed to hand the wheel over to someone else–probably in more ways than one!

The thing I am most proud of when I look back on this two week period is how well my husband and I were able to work as a team to iron out anything that came our way. As much as it felt like a crisis at certain points and hilariously inconvenient at others; we trusted that each hit that came our way would be overcome. We rolled with the punches and served each other and our friends and family as best we could–and special kudos to my husband who still had to work full time amidst it all. I think a great lesson which came from this is we can get through a very stressful time without using money as a crutch, while still continuing to save (and believe me, I considered skipping a week or two of saving contributions!) and coping with discipline rather than money. I now know if we can make it through hardship and not falter financially, then there is no good excuse for failing at any other time. These kind of experiences strengthen us emotionally, but they are a great lesson in economic discipline as well.