The Cost of Looking Good

by Dana George | Nov. 13, 2019

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With some simple tips, you can turn your beauty spending into solid savings -- both you and your bank balance will be in good shape in 10 years time. 

Looking good means something different to each of us. For one person, it's having a beach-ready body, while for another it's gorgeous hair. Someone else might think beauty is all about having perfect skin. One thing we all have in common is that we're inundated with images of how we're "supposed" to look. We can't flip through a magazine, drive by a billboard, or turn on our televisions without being confronted by  airbrushed ideals of the perfect human specimen.

Spoiler alert: There is no perfect human specimen. It's an artificial image, designed to make us feel bad. The genius of making us feel bad about the way we look is that it spurs us to spend money to alter ourselves, to do whatever we need to do in order to fit in.

A woman applying lipstick in the mirror.

Image source: Getty Images

Since the days of the caveman

The desire to fit in is nothing new. Since the early days of mankind, human beings have sought to be part of a group, to be accepted and protected. Our first attempt at fitting in was in the playground. It was then that we noticed the differences between ourselves and other children. For me, it was a girl named Becky whose mother dressed her in the latest fashions (including white boots!) and pulled her hair back with matching hair bows. Becky was confident and popular, and although I couldn't be her, I wanted to be like her. My no-nonsense mother was not about to waste money on non-essentials like hair bows (or white boots), so I knew I would never look like Becky. Still, I could mimic the way she talked and hope she accepted me.

Expanding beauty industry

That deep desire to be accepted sticks with us, which works out well for the beauty industry. Americans spent $16.5 billion on plastic surgery in 2018 alone. Whether we're having our noses reshaped, faces lifted, or liposuction, there appears to be nothing we won't do.

According to a 2017 Groupon survey, women who routinely spent money on their appearance spent an average of $3,756 per year, or $313 per month. The men who routinely invested in their appearance spent $2,928 each year, or $244 per month.

This spending included everything from skin care and makeup to gym memberships, shaving products, hair maintenance, and supplements. 

We buy creams and serums, makeup that promises flawless complexions, and perfumes to make us desirable. We buy so much, in fact, that today's global beauty industry does $532 billion in business annually. The U.S. is responsible for 20% of those sales, or $106.4 billion. Projections for growth vary, but most analysts agree that global sales will exceed $800 billion by 2025.

Men's products represent a rapidly growing sector of the beauty industry, with sales expected to hit $166 billion by 2022, according to Allied Market Research.

Shave your beauty spending

What if you were to save $100 each month by tweaking your beauty habits and invest the money in your future instead? Adding $100 each month to an investment that earns 9% (1% less than the annual average return of the S&P 500 since 1926) would give you $19,208 in 10 years. In 20 years, you would have $64,445. All because you cut back on your beauty spending.

Cutting back is rarely fun, but here are some easy ways you might save enough to allow compound interest to work its magic:

  • Save on a gym membership by shopping around for the best price. Ask about price matching, try to downgrade to a level of membership you will use, and offer to pay up front in return for a discount.
  • Let go of the idea that expensive sunscreen works better than a cheaper alternative. According to a Consumer Reports test, price does not determine a sunscreen's effectiveness.
  • Space out visits to the salon. If you're currently going for a trim or color every six weeks, pushing it out two extra weeks will save you two visits each year.
  • If your salon offers free bang trims between visits, take advantage of this -- and remember to tip. 
  • If your cut is simple, check out a local beauty college where service rates are low.
  • Give up on acrylic or gel nails and give yourself manicures at home. It's better for your nails and saves money. Rather than enjoying pedicures year-round, how about getting them only in warmer months, when you're going to be showing them off?
  • Trade luxury cosmetics for comparable drugstore brands. You may be surprised to learn that both YSL lipstick and L'Oréal Paris Colour Riche are ultimately made by the same company. Pick the cheaper one, you'll be unlikely to tell the difference. L'Oréal is a huge huge beauty conglomerate that owns a diverse range of brands, including YSL Beauté. The same is true of Maybelline and IT Cosmetics, as well as NYX and Urban Decay.
  • Shop for beauty products at discount stores. T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, for example, both carry a wide range of skin-care products and makeup.
  • Cut back on the number of skin-care items you buy. You can use the same moisturizer on your face, neck, and decollete without noticing a difference.

Taking care of ourselves involves far more than spending money to fit someone else's idea of beauty. It includes taking care of our health, physically, emotionally, and financially.

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