Sunday, April 6, 2008

Fill Your Bathroom Cabinets for Less

It’s easy to ignore or forget the money spent on bathroom essentials when we throw a tube of toothpaste in our cart at the grocery store or make an emergency run for a bottle of shampoo. Yet the choices we make can be very frugal—or very expensive. Take conditioner. Conditioner can cost $1 (the cheapest drugstore brand) or $36 (for Ted Gibson, Frederic Fekkai, and other salon brands). If a low-end t-shirt cost $10, and a low-end car cost $25,000, that salon conditioner would be the equivalent of a $360 t-shirt or a $900,000 car (the most expensive current Rolls Royce costs $360,000).

I spend about $5 a month on the stuff that goes in my bathroom cupboards. I’ve also picked up a few good ideas from friends that are a little less extreme!


1. The simplest option: buy cheaper or generic brands. I always buy the $1 shampoos and conditioners, like White Rain or V05. If you find that your hair doesn’t react well to these products, large drugstores or supermarkets carry a range of generics that mimic brands like L’Oreal and Herbal Essences.

2. Use less. Try using half your usual amount to see if you notice a difference. Shampoo can be transferred into pump hand soap containers so that the amount you use is easier to control.

2. If you use conditioner, see how your hair reacts to going without it. I’ve found I don’t really need it except in the winter, when my hair gets dry.

3. A professional hairstylist once told me that salon brands are more expensive because they don’t include salt or sodium byproducts, which dry out your hair. They are also very concentrated, so he suggested watering down the shampoo so that it fills two bottles instead of one, which cuts your price in half. The last piece of his advice I’ve never tried—he claimed that because salon shampoos don’t dry your hair out, you can save more money because you only have to wash your hair once a week. Well, once a week hair washing was the standard for generations (until about the 1960s), so he may be right.

4. Go without shampoo altogether by washing your hair with vinegar and baking soda. This idea is popular with the green and Compacting crowd because it uses no artificial chemicals

Toothpaste and Oral Hygiene

1. Don’t pay for things you don’t need. Few teeth whiteners have been proven to work, and some may actually wear away your enamel—research the active ingredients in your toothpaste to figure out if it’s worth the money. If you have fluoride in your drinking water, don’t pay extra for fluoride in your toothpaste.

2. Many toothpastes boast that they include baking soda, but baking soda on its own is quite effective. I use this when I run out of toothpaste and don’t want to go to the store—my mouth afterwards feels very pleasantly sweet. Baking soda is also a safe whitener.

2. Toothpaste itself isn’t necessary—it’s the friction/rubbing motion in brushing your teeth that’s important. A wet brush or even rubbing your teeth with a piece of cloth also removes plaque.

Feminine Products

1. Many women are reluctant to try generics for such a personal product, but I’ve had very good experiences with these. The generic pads from Boots in England were my favorite product ever, beating any brand name I’ve used by a mile for comfort and “stableness.” Keep some of your favorites on hand while experimenting so you don’t have to spend a week wearing something you don’t like.

2. For women who are willing to branch out a little, “green” feminine protection is both better for the environment and cheaper in the long run. The cheapest of all are sea sponges (identical to the natural cosmetic sponges sold in drugstores). Other options include the Keeper (which I have on good authority is not as scary as it looks), cloth pads, and padded panties.

Other Stuff

1. To save on skincare and makeup, check out Don’t Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me. Paula Beguon has devoted many years to testing almost every product out there to find out which ones are effective and which ones aren’t—and many, many ingredients that cosmetic companies promote and charge lots of money for really do nothing at all. The skincare routine she recommends for dry skin has worked very well for me.

2. Dry your razor with a cloth after each use to make it last longer.

3. Conditioner or even soap can be used in place of shaving cream.

4. Women’s shaving stuff is almost always more expensive—buy men’s shaving cream or gel with a neutral scent like aloe and don’t pay extra for pink razors.

5. Many over-the-counter medications aren’t very effective—research the active ingredients in the products you buy to make sure that they’re really doing what you think they’re doing. Cold medicines especially tend to be marketed in a way that makes us think they’re more powerful than they are.

Did I miss anything? If you have ideas for saving money on toiletries that I didn't mention, please share in the comments!


Anonymous said...

You can use the CVS ExtraCareBucks (ECB) to get many of the things you mentioned for next to nothing or free! Do a search on "CVS ECB deals" or "CBS ECB 101" (or read my post about my CVS experience). Best of luck on early retirement!

Kacie said...

I want to echo what Ellen said. If you don't have a CVS near you, perhaps you have a Walgreens or Rite Aid.

You really can get all of your toiletries for free if you work the deals right!

Anonymous said...

I've used the Keeper for 12 years now and it is truly the most amazing thing. I highly recommend it!

Scarlett said...

@ellen & @kacie:

Thanks for the tip...I have several Walgreen's and CVS stores near me. I've read kacie's posts on these deals, but haven't tried it out myself yet!

Anonymous said...

Great tips. I'm so torn on hair care products. My shower currently contains a ridculously expensive salon brand along with super cheap, and I alternate. I do notice the difference.

I haven't bought shaving cream in years. My dentist also has said that toothbaste wasn't necessary, but the minty feeling is worth a couple bucks for me.

Feminine products costs bug me, but I find generic works find for a few. Mrs. Micah, another pf blogger, spoke of a diva cup. The "eww" factor was too much for me, but for some it may work.

SavingDiva said...

I love Paula! She does a great job of recommending products that are inexpensive.

I'm also a big fan of coupons & rebates!

Scarlett said...

@anonymous: I didn't want to spell this out in the post for fear of sharing too much, but I use the sponge, and I like it a lot. Yay for feminine hygiene alternatives!

Scarlett said...

@stackingpennies: Thanks! No toothpaste wasn't my cup of tea, either...something about the toothbrush on its own doesn't taste too great. :)

Scarlett said...

@savingdiva: Paula *really* knows her stuff--I was so impressed by that book.

Sam said...

Yes, yay for feminine hygiene alternatives!

You didn't mention facial stuff: like face masks to remove dead skin. Instead of buying facial mask creams or lotions try using kitchen ingredients. I use a mixture of chickpea flour + milk + lemon juice or just cucumber juice for face care. The mixture I use remove dead skin, can remove some facial hair (if you let it dry) and other stuff you can easily google. Never use soap, especially the cheapo kind on the face.

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