From Sephora to Walmart: How to Shop on a College Budget

I am high maintenance. And that’s okay. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just a fact. I have an extensive morning and night time routine to get ready for anywhere I go. I’m pretty much the personification of the infamous messy bun; takes an unnecessarily long time only to look like I just woke up looking effortlessly cute, when in reality it takes me about an hour to look like this. Let’s be real. None of us are Beyoncé. None of us woke up like this.

Being born and raised in New York City, my parents’ biggest fear for me going away to college was that I wouldn’t know how to survive in rural Ohio. So when I finally got to Kenyon, even though I didn’t necessarily change my routine much, living away from my parents made me begin to realize just how much money I was spending on makeup and other products. With the nearest Sephora being an hour away, the online orders began to rack up. They seemed to never end and the numbers added up to an unfathomable total that made me cringe. How could beauty products have been this ridiculously expensive and I had never even thought twice about my purchases before? I thought to myself that surely this wasn’t the only option I had.

Granted, I could simply continue to order my products online like I had been for the beginning of the year. But as I was running out of money from buying command hooks and late-night study snacks, I decided to use this time period in a rural area as a chance to learn some very necessary young adult life skills; living on a budget.

When I came to Kenyon I thought my roommates would become my best friends. Little did I know that the only friend I would need was Walmart. In the past year here are my recommendations from what I’ve learned about buying drugstore beauty products:



I wear my signature cat eye pretty much every day, so instead of immediately going for my formally coveted Urban Decay Liquid Eyeliner ($22) or Kat Von D Tattoo Liner ($20), I’ve discovered some alternatives. For starters I would recommend Wet n Wild’s H2O Proof Liquid Eyeliner ($3.93). Another felt tip eyeliner for the beginner, or just the college student in a hurry is Maybelline New York’s Eyestudio Master Precise Ink Pen Eyeliner ($5.94). For the more advanced artist who aims for a bit of higher precision, e.l.f.’s Expert Liquid Liner ($2) would be more up your alley. Drugstore eyeliners tend to be harder to use due to their often watered down formulas, but if you don’t mind spending an extra minute going over your cat eye again then these are perfect for you (this extra minute goes by even quicker when you remember that you’re saving around $20).



For mascara, instead of going for Sephora’s best-selling Benefit’s They’re Real! Mascara ($24), try out Maybelline New York’s Volum’ Express The Colossal Big Shot ($6.94). For a more natural looking eye, Covergirl’s LashBlast Volume Mascara ($6.94) or Maybelline New York Great Lash ($4.44) will do the trick. One swipe of these bad boys and you’re set for the day, or double up on the coats of mascara if you’re going out at night. People routinely ask me if I’m wearing false eyelashes and it’s amazing to say I’m not. Speaking of false eyelashes...


False Eyelashes

Why not? For those times when you want to whip out something a little fancier, perhaps a formal or a birthday celebration is coming up, or both! Whatever the reason may be, I choose KISS false eyelashes every time. They range from $2-$4 or you can get a pack of 5 for $8.88. I recommend the KISS Look So Natural Shy False Eyelashes. Don’t forget to buy a tube of lash glue since most drugstore pairs don’t come with it already (one tube can last you well over a year depending on how often you use falsies).


Urban Decay Naked palette, who? Forget Sephora. e.l.f shines brightly in the affordable makeup world and tends to be many people’s one stop shop for all things beauty. Try out their Matte Eyeshadow Palette for a simple day look or their California Baked Eyeshadow Palette for something a tad edgier (both a whopping $10). You don’t have a brush? e.l.f sells them too! So go ahead and stock up guilt-free.



As a product that can easily get up to $50 at Sephora and still be deemed “reasonably priced,” foundation is definitely the one thing I must always find cheaper because it is a daily product that I can go through like water. I’ve been using Maybelline New York’s Fit Me! Since middle school and I still swear by it today. It is a very natural looking product that I get compliments on all the time. This line has everything from liquid foundation to pressed matte powder, from concealer to blush. Don’t forget to grab some under eye brightener for those late nerd bell nights in Olin. Foundation and general skin products are things that people do not like to cut corners for, which I completely understand because our skin is our canvas and we only get one canvas. If your skin does tend to be more acne prone, Neutrogena dedicates a line to this exact reason.




For your everyday subtle tint and moisture Maybelline’s two-in-one Babylips Moisturizing Lip Balm is one that is here to stay at $2.52. For something more on the lipstick side, I discovered Revlon lipsticks through my mother who has been using them for years. So when I say I got it from my mama, I am being completely serious. My current favorite is Revlon’s ColorBurst Matte Lip Balm ($6.69) and Matte Lipstick ($4.97).


Makeup Remover

And then when it’s all over, meaning the day is over and there’s a good chance you’ve sweat off most of your makeup dancing in the basement of Old K, it’s time to remove what’s left of the makeup, dirt, sweat, and tears. My go-to product for this task is Neutrogena’s Makeup Remover Cleansing Towelettes ($4.47). Unlike other cleansing towelettes where I’m forced to scrub at my face until it is raw and red, this leaves my face feeling refreshed and hydrated, plus it can remove virtually anything, including the most stubborn waterproof mascara. I’ve been using these wipes for as long as I can remember and there is no going back!


Remember: Less is more.

Makeup is something people can go through way faster than they may ever think, quickly draining their wallets dry. But feeling good and looking good shouldn’t automatically mean having to break the bank. Makeup is indeed a luxury but it can be a little more within reach for all of us by being smart and being open to trying less conventional options. What’s especially funny is that I’ve discovered some of the more expensive mascaras tend to not even last as long as the cheaper ones out there. Either they dry up in less time or the softer, less structured wands clump together and become unusable rather fast. Knowing that this is a possibility, why not go for some of the cheaper options that we have at our fingertips. There are definitely some products that I still order from Sephora. My main cheat is that I keep one expensive eyeliner that I only use for special nights out and my favorite lipstick that I’ve been in love with for years and nothing can replace (yet). If you’re like me in this way, just remember that everything is good in moderation. For example, you don’t really need that new $35 YSL lipstick, do you? Yeah, I thought so.


I’ve been a VIB Rouge member at Sephora for the past few years, and dropping down to a lower membership level this year was a celebration for me. Losing my membership was a visual representation of me breaking ties from all of the name brands I thought I could never live without. The reduction of dependency I had on my beloved black and white striped cosmetics store has me wanting to encourage you too to go adventure through the beauty aisles of your local drugstore and find what products work best for you. Happy saving!


Image Credit: Feature, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6