Beauty Affordability: Learning to Handle the Guilt of the Price Tag

Published in: Guest Post, Just For Fun, Skin Care

$325 well spent.

Last year I wrote a brief essay on what it feels like when “budget beauty” starts to actually hurt your bank account. In short, I explored why I thought it was no longer fruitful for me to have seven of the same lipsticks in varying shades of red that were all dupes for a higher priced lipstick when for the total of all seven, I probably could have bought the higher priced thing by now.

A lot of my opinions in that essay still ring true. I do believe that investing in yourself is worth the time and waiting if you can’t afford it at this very moment, but as a person who grew up in the far reaches of the Adirondacks with little money, I can’t say that I will ever necessarily feel good about spending money on anything, especially myself, or my beauty products.


When I look at my makeup collection, the highest priced item on it at the moment is my Clinique Even Better Makeup. I purchased it on the recommendation of a Sephora employee, and I do love it as far as liquid makeup goes. I was looking for something that wouldn’t clog my pores, and that would cover up my acne and redness. At $27, it’s not that expensive compared to some items I’ve seen, but it’s more than I had been used to spending.

When my skin began revolting due to adult acne, I started rethinking my skincare routine. I knew that I would have to spend more money on creams, ointments, and moisturizers because my skin demanded quality and care. But this was the only area on which I relented. I still tried to find the best deals, the cheapest brands for the best quality (which, don’t we all, at times?)

Currently, my skincare prices look something like this:

  • Aczone Gel Prescription: Around $45
  • Tretinoin Prescription: Around $5
  • Retin-A Prescription: Around $10
  • Moisturizer: $9
  • Cleanser $7

Total: $76 (Give or take a few dollars.)

Not bad, considering my prescriptions last me almost 6 months, and the giant bottle of Neutrogena Cleanser I bought a few months ago is still going strong. These are prices I can deal with, because I feel that investing in my skincare is almost a part of my health. I’m very cautious when it comes to sun care and putting on SPF. As a super pale girl, I slather on as much as I can, even when it’s cloudy out.

What gets me, however, are the items that I don’t have to spend money on, and the pressures that I’m bombarded with daily when I even think about buying any kind of beauty item. That’s why I was sucked into the dupes for so long. Why buy the quality when you can find a cheaper version? (And that’s not to say some drugstore brands aren’t becoming better quality.) But as someone who grew up with a strict budget and started buying most things for herself very early, learning how to budget for things I needed versus things I wanted was one of the lousiest lessons to learn, because it makes you feel awful.

About two weeks ago, when I had enough of my hair and decided it was time for a trim (my first since summer), I headed to Union Square in NYC to attempt to get a walk-in appointment at one of the better chain salons, Dramatics NYC. They were, unfortunately, booked up. I took to Yelp and tried for the first place that was open later and wasn’t appointment only. I walked in, was quoted a price, and since my boyfriend was paying for a chunk of it as a gift, I was alright with it. But then the person working at the reception desk asked me the question that made my frugal sensibilities tingle.

”Would you like a glass of wine?”

I’d been offered water or coffee at salons before, but never wine.

And let me be clear that when I buy wine, it’s usually Barefoot or Yellowtail. I like a bottle that can last me a week if need be. Being offered that glass of wine made me want to turn tail and flee out the door, because I knew this haircut/color was going to cost more than the paycheck I’d made that week temping.

And it did. $325 later, and I still under-tipped because I didn’t have enough cash on me. I panicked and ran, ashamed that I hadn’t done the proper research on the salon I had chosen. I was horrified that I had not understood just how much money my service would be, and that I had failed to recognize just how snazzy a place I was going into. While I was pleased I had invested in myself, I couldn’t enjoy it. I went into a Duane Reade and almost cried because not only had I put almost $200 on my credit card, but I had spent the rest of the the $200 from my boyfriend on the remaining balance and my paltry tips. How could I have wasted that much money when I had been working so hard to get my credit card balance down? How could I have spent that much of my boyfriend’s money? How did my hair feel and look so amazing?

Because that’s the cost of things. Being aware that I will spend an exorbitant amount, especially in New York, for amazing hair, and investing in yourself is not always a bad thing. This was my lesson. Amazing quality and care for yourself don’t come cheap (kind of like that old saying about tattoos), and this moment of calm after my storm of panic may have only lasted a few minutes, but it let me appreciate the kindness I had done for myself. I had taken a full day for myself, spent time with me, genuinely enjoyed my own company while I got myself pampered. These moments are few and far between, and although I’m still embarrassed about my money miscalculations, I’m learning to appreciate these self care moments and not throw them under the bus because of the price tag.

Marcella Yakalis

Marcella Yakalis is a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn, New York, with two cats, one snake, and one very patient boyfriend. She writes about family, relationships, and oppressive retail culture. She can also be found on Twitter and Instagram.


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  1. Susan says:

    Hard lesson to learn, but on the upside, your hair does look AMAZING! At least you have that to enjoy, and in the meantime can do some research on a less pricey salon.

  2. Tracy says:

    I’m a firm believer that expensive doesn’t equal quality. I pay $30 twice a week to have my hair done and it’s never been looked better. However I also don’t wash my hair every single day or even every other day. As for beauty I first and foremost believe in skincare. Take care of your skin instead of covering it up. I’m going to be 40 this year and I can pass for 25 because of my skin. No wrinkles or sun spots. I use coconut oil and drugstore cleansers and moisturizers that do not contain fragrance, alcohol or anything else that can harm my skin. Do I like to spend money on nice things? Absolutely. Do I feel like I have to? Not at all. I definitely agree with you about treating yourself because we all need that but minus feeling guilty. No one should ever feel guilty for doing something for themselves no matter the cost.
    Tracy recently posted … EPIC Collective Haul! Beauty, Fashion and much much more

  3. Erin says:

    It’s tough! I’m currently debating it myself. I’d like to be blonde again. I grew up blonde. I started dyeing my hair at 16 because my BF told me I’d look great as a brunette. I went very dark, a black cherry shade, which I kept until my early 20’s then going for for a mid tone chocolate with some auburn, all the way to full on auburn. My natural color is a cool dark blonde. You know the type that looks almost brown but isn’t? Well, my hair is down to my ass and I haven’t dyed my hair in 2 whole years. I was thinking, why not go get a kind of sombre with babylights using my natural color as a base. I’m starting to get greys in earnest and blonde hair will just blend into it more than my auburn shade. Plus roots are in. I know it’s going to cost a decent amount to do it right and a lot to maintain so I’m considering putting it off even longer and just going back to my auburn which looks great on me and oddly enough costs next to nothing because it comes from a box at the drugstore. Then I think, so many people are blonde, I stand out more with the auburn and its so much cheaper. Don’t even get me started on trying to think of a hair style either, I can’t commit!
    Erin recently posted … North by Northwest 2013 Reisling

    • Amy says:

      Right before seeing this post, I booked a $300 appointment for my hair. But I only do it once or twice a year! The cut is so good that I grows out perfectly and looks, I kid you not, like a new cut every month as it grows. I got three compliments on my hair last month… And had it cut last July. I’ve never experienced this level of artistry, and it took me years to find it. It actually turns out to be economical compared to spending $40 a month or $150 every 3-4 months for something less perfect. I get the color painted on, which looks natural and lasts a lot longer. If I can’t afford color, I skip it. I so get the overpayment feeling – yuck!! Especially when it takes you by surprise.

      • Amy says:

        Not sure why this showed up as a reply to Erin’s post. User error, obvs. But while I’m here, Erin, I’ll say I think your hair would look awesome with some dark blonde mixed in!

  4. Catherine says:

    While I was reading this at my desk I just kept nodding and muttering “I know, right?!” to myself under my breath – which I’m sure is confusing my co-workers, but I get it. It’s so rough, and that miscalculation anxiety is the worst!
    Thank you for sharing, and your hair really does look fantastic.

  5. Colleen says:

    What a thoughtful post. Thank you!

  6. Chere says:

    I’m in the legal profession and unfortunately, women do often get treated very differently when perceived as frumpy. It’s incredibly superficial, but some investment into the way you look helps you along. I’m short and I’ve invested in some comfy 4inch heels just to give the perception of some height to be taken a bit more seriously (I had a bad experience and vowed never to walk into a meeting without heels on). Your hair looks absolutely fantastic btw – as does your skin!

  7. Erika says:

    I enjoyed reading about your experience. I am experiencing right at this moment “adult acne” and I was in Sephora last week. I made the decision to invest in myself by buying a Soy based product that they suggested for me. I also had the ladies there match my skin tone and they suggested the Clinique Foundation as well. I kept telling myself that I am an investment worth spending on. I bought the foundation. I also bought myself “grown up” fragrance. My new fragrance is Burberry Rhythm. I bought this from TJMaxx though! I think you can find quality items like that at stores like TJMaxx or Nordstrom rack (even there online stores). My suggestion for a hair place is Aveda. There prices are not usually more than $100.00 unless you are getting color. They offer other services as well. My hair has been really great since using their products.

  8. Eek, $325! That’s definitely a lot of money! But yeah, I guess the wine offer at the beginning was a bit of a giveaway, hehe. I personally don’t think I could spend that much on my hair. That said, I do think that some things in beauty are worth the investment and that sometimes it’s okay to splurge on yourself.
    Kiss & Make-up recently posted … Review | Victoria’s Secret Love Spell Fragrance Mist

  9. Emily says:

    This was so honest! I loved it. This has definitely happened to me before, like literally the exact same hair situation. I think this has happened to every girl. I always struggle with “instead of buying all the little cheap products, by now I could have just bought that expensive product i wanted and it would have equaled all those little cheap ones.” I am actually trying to get better at that this year! I’m finding that when I invest in myself by buying the more expensive coat or the more expensive skin care routine, I am much happier. AND I find that it satisfies me to where I don’t want to buy more things! An expensive piece lasts me a few months until I want to shop again. Whereas little inexpensive things finds me back at the mall every single weekend. 🙁

    Really good post! Thank you!

    • Sabrina says:

      It happened to me too!
      I am just starting to invest in myself, being raised by a widow mother and starting to work really early on.
      But we are worth it, as L’oreal would say.
      And of course, there are a lot of good brands out there that are not so expensive.
      Anyway, I just loved this post!

  10. Chris25 says:

    This is such an insightful post. As much as I love a good deal, I do think it’s important to pamper yourself when you can. Or, better said, it’s important not to punish yourself or feel guilty for spending cash on something that you know is worth the price. Self care is absolutely a worthy, but often underrated, endeavor.
    Chris25 recently posted … OPI Russian Navy

  11. I can relate to your initial reaction and panic, but I do believe in investing in yourself and treating yourself, even if the price seems ridiculous to someone else. It is more about choosing the treats and thoroughly enjoying them without the feeling of guilt every once in a while. But it seems to be the hardest thing to actually allow yourself that.
    LindaLibraLoca recently posted … Lancôme Grandiôse Mascara – Language of the fan

  12. Lilly says:

    Eeeeek $325 for hair would give me stomachache! But it’s one of the things you live and learn from.
    I do like to buy good quality skincare. I just hate paying for the packaging, celebrity endorsement etc. I want more of the active ingredients and whatever works, not the fluff, you know? Garden of wisdom is a good place for vitamin c serum ( a skinceutical dupe)!

  13. JenJ says:

    This was right on time. My thoughts on makeup, beauty, etc. are definitely changing. Thanks for sharing!
    JenJ recently posted … Nail Polish Declutter!

  14. Fran says:

    This kind of thing is so tough!

    A funny thing happened to me on Wednesday. I was standing in a customer service line at Nordstrom’s. Now, Nordstrom is not the kind of store that I normally pay full price for clothing in except when they can solve a fitting problem more expertly and cost-effectively than anyone else. But I love their free shipping/free returns and rewards program, the best I know of in cosmetics (that I don’t buy at Target or the drugstore). Anyway, it’s a pretty high-end shopping venue for me. Since someone ahead of me had a complicated problem, I had a long time to observe the two women ahead of me in line. And it struck me how you can really tell expensive hair when you see it. It’s so obviously more expensive. Now, I get compliments on my hair frequently. I leave it its natural color (since I’m 59, lots of silver hairs in there), grow it long, take good care of it, get good-quality trims, put it in cool braids, ponytails, buns. And I get compliments on it frequently. But it doesn’t look expensive. The women ahead of me in line didn’t have better, or maybe even better-looking, hair than mine, but it was obviously much more expensive hair. The professional coloring and expert blowout on top of the beautifully layered cut gave it a certain je ne sais quoi that I can’t achieve at home, that no one achieves without spending probably close to $1000. And that most women in my age bracket and neighborhood don’t bother with except for special occasions, so the checkout line at my local food co-op doesn’t usually lead to these kinds of musings.

    Thinking about it, I don’t think I want my hair to look that expensive. I wouldn’t feel like myself. I like to look good, but not expensive. I’m the kind of person who won’t buy a bag if an expensive designer’s name or logo is visible on it. But, if I don’t fork out $75 every few months for a really expert trim, it looks kind of raggedy. It takes an expert to cut it so that it looks good whether I wear it up, down, braided, half-up, whatever I feel like. I justify forking over the loot for expensive cleansers and conditioners by rationalizing that most women my age are paying much more for color. In other words, I could spend less on my hair. When I do, it looks a bit raggedy and frizzy. Not terrible, but not especially good, either. It doesn’t make me feel happy when I finish up in the morning and look in the mirror on my way out the door.

    There have been times in my life when serious illness in myself or loved ones meant that I had really limited time, energy, and money to put into my appearance, and times when illness-related weight gain made me not even want to bother. And you know what? It was no fun! Being able to feel good about how you look adds some zest to life, a spring in your step — and there’s nothing wrong with adding a bit of beauty to the world. Now, it would be really inconvenient to go without food, heat, or internet access because of the beauty bill. I’m not advocating throwing all caution to the winds. But it really helps to look the part that we want to play in life — and looking like you think it’s worth taking care of yourself is a good thing.

  15. Irene says:

    I know this wasn’t the point of your post, but in my opinion you should not be upset with yourself for miscalculation, but upset that they didn’t give you an accurate price quote! I have had a similar experience on a smaller scale when I was told my cut would be $50 then charged $70 at the counter, so I didn’t have enough to tip. At first I was embarrassed, but then realized it wasn’t my fault and in fact they had purposely misled me. By asking for a price quote, I was clearly signaling that price was a factor in whether I would have a service done. They under quoted in order to influence my decision, knowing that I would have no choice but to pay when I got the bill after the service. That is manipulative and unethical, and I believe it is far too common in the beauty industry. Nobody should have to walk away from a service feeling guilty and ashamed, and misquoting services has that exact effect on everyone! What should be an awesome pampering experience becomes this dark cloud that can follow you on your credi card bill for months, and follow you emotionally for years, affecting future interactions with service personnel!!

    It’s not your fault.

  16. Junomacguff says:

    Just wanted to say that I loved this article. I have a pretty horrible chronic condition that makes me feel horrible everyday. One of the only things I can still enjoy (besides my amazing hubby and son) is makeup. I collect it, love playing with it, and nothing makes me feel better than putting on a full face of makeup. And I no longer feel guilty about it.

  17. Valmont says:

    I can totally relate! I wish I hadn’t really bought ALL of the wetnwild lipsticks when I could’ve just bought ONE tube of Nars Dolce Vita or Chanel Mademoiselle 05. I’m on a hot pink pink kick right now but I’m making certain now not to buy 1 from every single DS line THEN end up getting MAC Show Orchid/Candy Yum Yum/Girl About Town. I admit I did get a couple others but I am enjoying them too but I made that mistake w MLBB buying 1 of ev brand b4 buying the aforementioned (not affiliated w any company or thing). I enjoy ordering online from Sephora/Ulta/Macy’s/occasionally a couple others but those 3 I know I will get somem good! $27 isn’t exorbitant compared to lotsa stuff I’ve seen …my own most $$$ fdtn right now is $27 but all these palettes are kray kray, Limited Edition, etc I’m not a snob but I’m never going to be as happy w the dupe. I will end up ordering it anyways! So let’s get r dun & just get the real 1 already for myself is how I feel! 1/3 of my MU is the real cheap stuff, I’d say about half of it is dupes for something else so look at all that wastefulness for real. Don’t beat urself up about that salon, the wine should’ve been a sign but it was an honest mistake & at least u didn’t ALSO have ur hair ruined. That would’ve been awful I’ve had my dad pay $60 for a haircut for me my last 1 coincidentally that butchered my hair! I’ve sworn off salons except the occasional pedicure coz it’s a father-daughter activity. I have a clippers, a scissors, & my mom! Don’t ever feel guilty for treating urself, ur so worth it!! If ur not spending the rent, grocery, or pampers money then u can occasionally indulge! I loved your essay.

  18. Michaela says:

    Hi, Marcella, thank you for this honest post. I guess we can all relate to your experience spending more than what we anticipate. I guess you can chalk it up to live and learn. What works for me (most of the time) is how it would make me feel if I were to splurge on something. If it feels overwhelming then I’d wait to act on it, even when it may drive you crazy because you want it right now! I find that when I wait usually something better comes along, or that feverish feeling passes, and then I ask myself, what did I ever see in that product? It’s almost like getting over a crush when you later realize, wow what did I ever see in that guy?!? Lol. But I totally agree with you…skincare is something you definitely can splurge on. I once met a middle-aged and 60-something Korean skincare saleswomen with flawless, smooth, young-looking skin and I ask them what their secret is, they said besides having a good Asian diet, they splurge on skincare and don’t buy that much clothing or expensive handbags. I guess they chose well, but sometimes you just need that cute handbag or cute outfit. It can be a struggle sometimes, but these women clearly knew what they wanted to spend their money on, and I think investing in their skin really paid back nicely!

  19. Cory says:

    What did you have done?!! It’s fabulous!!!! Balayage??

  20. Kim says:

    In NYC I go to Astor place hair dressers (an underground with about 80 hairdressers and barbers. It costs about $30 for wash and cut. I see Josephina. I have curly ethnic hair but my friend has straight hair and she comes in from Long Island to see Josephine. While I am sure a $325 haircut is fabulous, mine looks pretty darn good when she is done. I don’t know about the rest of the folks there though.

  21. Kim says:

    I think you’re completely right about investing in quality. I would much rather buy the item I want, even if it’s quite expensive, and have it for many years then to buy something cheaper that needs to be replaced often. Of course, for most of us, that means saving for that splurge item. 🙂

    If it’s not too personal, can I ask where you’re from? We are super close to the Adirondacks and spend a ton of time there (most recently climbing the 46ers with our kids). It’s pretty neat to hear you’re also from here. 🙂

    • Marcella Yakalis says:

      Hey Kim! Thanks for commenting. I’m originally from a small town on Lake Champlain, called Moriah. I went to SUNY Plattsburgh for undergrad before moving to NYC for graduate school.

      • Kim says:

        Ah, yes, I know Moriah. We’re about an hour and a half north, on the other tip of Lake Champlain (but used to play high school sports against you once per year). One of my boys was in a regional spelling bee at the school a couple of years ago. Such a nice area.

        Same here for PSUC undergrad – also an English major but 20 years before you. 🙂 Small world!

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