lookin’ good on the cheap

As a self-proclaimed tomboy, I don’t typically spend ridiculous amounts on makeup or other beauty products. Unfortunately, when I do decide to purchase some new beauty product, I usually fail. I have very sensitive skin, so if I buy cheap, I end up wasting my money because the makeup/product breaks me out and I can’t use it. If I buy the brands that are good to my skin, I usually have to pay a premium. Since I am always trying to keep an eye on where my money goes, this means that I am in a dilemma. Do I spend the money to look good, or do I go natural? Most of the time, my compromise is that I will do my eye makeup (where I seem to have less sensitivity issues and don’t have to spend big bucks on makeup) and let my face go bare. I only splurge for the well-known names when it is a necessity, and I’ll do drugstore brands for everything else. However, I have three heavy-hitters in my beauty arsenal that are inexpensive, multi-purpose, and effective. None of these are make-up products, either, so they will work for both sexes!

1. Petroleum Jelly

Petroleum Jelly is the bees’ knees. A tub of it will last you forever. Literally. I bought my first container of PJ 12 years ago, and there is still half of the tub left! You can get different sizes, but I know that you can typically get a 12 or 13oz. tub of the store brand petroleum jelly for around $5 where I live. For a dollar or two more, you can get Vaseline. I have used both and personally can tell no difference, so I use the store brand, but if you are loyal to Vaseline, it’s still not a bad investment because of how functional it is! Here are a few of the ways I have used PJ in the past:

– Lip balm. I do this every night before I go to bed in place of using regular Chapstick. Works like a charm. I also will sometimes make a homemade scrub with sugar and honey, or use a wet washcloth to exfoliate my lips, and then apply PJ – super soft lips!

 – As an intensive moisturizer. I have used PJ on my heels before bed, and then slept in socks to help soften the skin. In the past, I have done the same thing with my hands/arms due to severely dry skin. It always helped relieve some of the pain of dry skin.

 – As a makeup remover. My mother taught me this trick when I was a teen, and I have stuck with it ever since. Just rub it onto your eye, then wipe off with a cotton ball. Not only does it get off all the makeup (even waterproof), but it helps deeply moisturize the delicate area around your eye. My mother is in her late 40’s and has very few crows’ feet, because she has been doing this her whole life.

 – As a quick replacement for WD-40. If I have a loud doorhinge or a squeaky faucet, a little bit of PJ will do the work of WD-40 for a much more economical price.

2. Witch Hazel

I first came across witch hazel when I was a teenager with acne and severely sensitive skin. I couldn’t find an astringent that was serious enough to rid of the oils and dirt on my face, but gentle enough for my sensitive skin. One day, someone recommended witch hazel. I tried it out and have been using it ever since! It works like a typical astringent, but it is not as harsh on your face. In my area, I can get the store brand for around $2 for a 16oz bottle. Name brands are pricier, around $4-5 for a 16oz. bottle, but in most cases you are just paying for the name brand. Compare ingridients before you invest. There are several different recipes you can find on the internet for DIY facial toners that include witch hazel if you would like to have other ingridients or just something a little more fragrant. You don’t have to only use witch hazel for a facial toner, though – it has many other uses!

– It is often used as a natural treatment for psoriasis and eczema because of its’ gentleness, as well as in medicines for ingrown toenails and hemorrhoids for its’ soothing qualities.

– It can be used like rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide for the treatment of minor cuts, bruises, burns, and insect bites. I actually prefer it now because it does not hurt as much on a fresh wound as the other two!

– It is also recommended to be used for treating wounds and swelling caused by childbirth in women.

3. A good moisturizer

Moisturizers are typically my biggest beauty expense, outside of facial makeup (which lasts me a very long time, so I feel somewhat okay with splurging in that category). I have to get the most boring face lotion on the planet: oil-free, non-comedogenic, fragrance-free, etc. My preferred lotion is Cetaphil Daily Facial Moisturizer for All Skin Types, either in SPF 15 or 50 (depending on availability, the time of year, and how much money I have. The higher SPF is of course more expensive). In my local markets, this usually retails about $13 for the SPF 15, and $15 for the SPF 50. However, it is not too heavy in the summer and not too light in the winter, and it has never given me any sensitive-skin issues. I love it. You also have to consider body moisturizers. Once again, I have to look for non-irritating formulas. I usually look for a little heavier moisturizer for my body (especially my hands) because it does not have the same amount of oil glands as your face does. My favorite is Jergens Ultra Healing Lotion, which you can find in a 21 oz. bottle for $7-8 dollars. Oftentimes, there are coupons for this brand in the Sunday coupons; but I usually see several coupons for other brands if you do not care for this one. Moisturizers have several benefits, so finding one that meets your needs can minimize the need for other facial treatments.

– By keeping the skin hydrated, it will maintain that “glow” for longer. Many people think that adding moisturizer to oily skin is counterproductive, and they skip this step. This is a bad idea. Because your skin is not getting the moisture it needs to protect itself, it goes into oil overproduction and causes your face to look like an oil slick. Look out for a moisturizer that is specially formulated for oily skin, so that your skin gets the moisture it needs without going into overdrive.

– Keeping your hands moisturized (but also your legs, feet, and trunk) can help keep the skin hydrated in the winter or in dry climates. If your skin is dry, it can crack. This type of open wound is generally not taken very seriously and is not cared for properly, which can allow bacteria to form and potentially cause an infection. Using a little moisturizer goes a long way.

– Keeping your skin hydrated will keep you looking longer. Dry skin is one of the leading causes for wrinkles, which can lead to prematurely aging. If you pick a moisturizer that is combined with an SPF, you can do double-duty by protecting your skin against the suns’ damaging rays AND dehydration.

– I like to make my own ‘wet’ foundation, because I use a powder foundation on the rare occaisions that I wear it. By mixing the moisturizer with your powder, you get subtle coverage and your skin will appear dewy and even.

These are just a few of my favorite cheap beauty finds. Any other recommendations?


defining success.

Success is a topic that I have been struggling with for a while. You see, during all of my academic years, I was considered “successful”. I never had any true issues in school (except developing a hatred of math) and I always had high grades. I graduated high school at 16, and started college that fall. I finished college in 4.5 years with a 3.8 GPA, a dual major and two minors. I graduated from college with honors and everyone told me I could be whatever I wanted. I share this information with you not to brag, but as some background information.

Once I graduated, I continued working in the coffee shop inside a retail store. I felt like I would be doing it temporarily, until I found my grown-up job, the job that paid well and was in a subject I was passionate about and let me travel the world under the guise of “business”. I put out a million resumes, but I got no answers. Time continued to tick by, and I was still making lattes. Some of my friends and coworkers would ask when was I going to get out of there. Everyone said I had so much more potential than to just be a barista.

I know that the people who made such comments were making them in a concerned, encouraging spirit. I know that they weren’t trying to crush my spirits. But you see, I had no idea how to cope with not being “successful”. I wasn’t following the mold that millions before me had followed. I was not back in school to further increase my debt and my educational level. I was not making the coffee errands for the boss; I was simply making the coffee. The thought that I was no longer successful really took a toll on me. I felt ashamed. I felt like a failure. I felt like my life had no purpose, that I was just going to make lattes 5-6 days a week and hope I could pay rent that month.

I had been putting a little travel money aside and was randomly asked to go to Ireland with an old college pal and two of her friends. There was no way I could say no to that! I had a blast in Ireland, and something about the trip empowered me. I realized that I was successful! Just because I wasn’t following the traditional route of success did not mean that I wasn’t reaching my goals.

My ultimate goal was to travel. A job was just a means to an end. So what if I had a low-paying job? It was also low-commitment. I could take off as much time as I wanted and still have a job waiting for me when I came home. Why should I let others question my success? With this newfound confidence, I felt ready to take on the world.

I did get another job, one that pays much better and is a much better schedule. It’s also for my father’s business, which means that I not only get participate in many different aspects of the business but that I also am helping create a legacy, something that he can leave behind to his children. I’m very satisfied with my job, but I still have my job at the coffee shop. Everyone (and I do mean EVERYONE) wonders why I still maintain that job, when I have such a better job now. The real reason? It’s so I can keep working towards my goals. No, I don’t want to get up at 6am on Saturdays after working a full week, so that I can sling coffee for 8.5 hours. But I do want to continue traveling. The coffee shop gig allows me to save up for the next big adventure.  Success? In my eyes, yes.

I’ve already been able to see so much more than most people my age, and I have a trip planned for Iceland in July. I also have a potential trip to San Francisco in April. I’m steadily working towards my goals. Although I am not able to travel full-time or for long periods, it is becoming an increasingly realistic goal, and one that I am working towards every day.

Don’t let others define your success. Someone who dreams of being a world traveller will have a dramatically different set of challenges and goals than someone who dreams of being a stay-at-home mom. No matter what your dream is, there will always be someone out there who is a naysayer, who will wail about all of your untapped potential because your goal does not fall within their concept of societal norms. Define success for yourself. Do you have a dream? Have you made a list of long-term and short-term goals that will help you achieve your dream? Are you making steps towards completing those goals? If the answer is yes to the above questions, then it seems like you have defined your own success. Do not allow yourself to be discouraged by others, because you are in the process of creating your own happiness.


share your goals

Many people shy away from talking about money. I was raised a good Southern girl, and one of the social norms that was drilled into my head is ‘Never discuss money; it’s not polite.’  I know that I am not the only one who has had this experience. Some feel it is a way to pry, some feel that it is insulting, and still others feel that it is simply in poor taste to discuss. For many years, I followed these guidelines, but once I discovered the world of personal finance blogs, I realized that maybe my attitude was uncalled for. After all, there were hundreds of comments and forums and chat rooms where people discussed money issues, why shouldn’t I join them?

Gradually, I started being more forthcoming about my efforts to save money and reduce my spending habits. It was difficult at first – I am a very social person and  hate turning down an invitation. Much to my surprise, people understood. What’s more, I had several people compliment me on being forthcoming about my finances. My approach was polite but firm: ‘Sorry, I’m saving up for a month abroad and I’m really trying to limit any unplanned expenditures this month.’ Almost everyone understood my situation and could relate to it on some level. Not everyone has spent a month abroad, but many people have had to work towards saving goals – a new car, a down payment on a house, upgrades for their washer and dryer. They were compassionate to my plight and a few even asked for tips on how I was able to travel on such a limited budget. I even had one sweet, regular customer at the coffee shop I worked at give me $30 for my travel fund (“fun money”, he called it). My aim wasn’t to get donations to my fund; rather, I wanted them to respect my decision to watch my spending AND have them still like me!

As time went on, I noticed that being upfront about my financial situation had many benefits, one of which was that I wasn’t as affected by my peers’ rampant consumerism. They could keep their cutting edge technologies and flashy clothes, because I was going to see the world and experience things they could only imagine! There are a few other benefits that I have noticed by being forthcoming about your financial goals:

1. It helped me look for the best deal and reduce my costs.

In the summer of 2011, the apartment building that I was living in was condemned. I came home from work one night and the whole place was taped off with big “CONDEMNED” signs on every surface. I knew the building was old, but I had no idea it was unsafe! Unfortunately, this put me in a tight spot. I had to find somewhere new to live within my budget and FAST. My parents were generous enough to let me stay with them while I found a new place, but I knew I needed to get out soon – my lifestyle was/is so crazy that it wasn’t fair to make them put up with that long term. I spent every waking moment that I wasn’t working driving around, calling the number on every For Rent sign that I saw. Finally, I got in touch with someone who had something in my price range, but she couldn’t meet with me for two days. When I did meet her, she had already rented out the apartment in my price range, but had another one in the same complex that was a little more. She was charging $500 a month with no included utilities for this one bedroom. I thanked her, but told her that it was too far out of my price range. I explained the situation with needing a place fast due to my previous apartment being condemned and I told her that my previous apartment had been $425 a month with all utilities included except electricity (which was usually around $45 a month). She thought for a moment and said, “Well, could you do $450 a month?” That was in my price range, plus the apartment was much nicer than my previous dwelling. We signed the lease and I moved in two days later. By being honest and forthcoming with my landlord, I was not pressured into a place that was truly out of my price range, but I also felt that I had negotiated over something that not many people are able to negotiate. My estimate is that I have saved over $900 just by sharing my story and sticking with my convictions.

2. It helped me avoid temptations.

Since I was somewhat vocal about my financial goals, word spread that I was cutting back. I didn’t bring it up as a way to draw attention to myself or to dig for money, but when it came up in relation to the topic being discussed, I would talk about it. After a few months, most of the people that were close to me knew that I was trying to spend less and save more. This helped me become more accountable for my actions. My logic was, if people knew I was trying to watch my spending and they saw me “cheating”, they had every right to call me out on it. I didn’t want to be called out or considered a phony, so I needed to stick with my convictions. It was also beneficial, because if I had a weak moment, I could discuss it with friends. Since I work in a coffee shop located in a retail store, I see good deals happen all the time. Sometimes the power of the bargain goes to your head and you feel the urge to buy something unnecessary because ‘it was such a good deal’. Being able to acknowledge this and talk it over with a friend/coworker made it easier to resist. Typically, my friends would hear me out and then kindly remind me that although I might like that item now, if I resisted I would be able to be one step closer to my goals. Having that accountability was a powerful motivator when it came to avoiding temptations.

3. I was able to inspire others.

When I reached my goals and was able to travel, I always had people who were interested about my trip when I came home. During chats about my travels, people often times hinted at money (“It must be nice to have parents that contribute to these trips!” or “I bet your trip was nice, but I bet your credit card bill this month isn’t!”). Although sometimes the approach they took was frankly insulting, it gave me an opportunity to tell the curious that I had saved up for it all on my own, and everything was already paid for. Sometimes this fell on deaf ears, but sometimes it seemed to take root. The curious were suddenly much more curious; after all, I was able to accomplish things that they were still working on! If they were interested, I would share some of my tips with them. One of my friends has really padded her emergency fund with a few of the tips that I gave her and has recently thanked me for it. Knowing that I was able to help her a little was truly encouraging to me.

Not everyone will want to discuss money or your financial situation with you. You need to be tactful and not pursue the conversation if your listener does not want to discuss it. Oftentimes you will discover that since money is considered a taboo topic in many social circles, people find it refreshing when they can discuss it openly with someone else. You have the opportunity to save a little money, keep yourself accountable and potentially inspire others when you share your financial goals – it’s a positive situation all around!