Breaking Up With Sephora

I’m rather frugal, but not immune to the occasional “Treat Yo’Self” moment. Everyone needs a little pick-me-up sometimes — whether it’s a fancy coffee, a meal in a restaurant, or a lipstick. I’m not alone in the latter — it’s so common that the term “lipstick index” refers to people buying a lipstick or other inexpensive cosmetic, particularly in times of economic downturn.

For me, it was easy to get a little bit of cheer in the form of a new lipstick, or a nicely scented lotion, or a new hair product. Where I live, Sephora is practically everywhere — not to mention just a click away at any time. Plus, as one of the Sephora Sales Associates once told me, you can basically return anything to Sephora at any time, for any reason, so there’s really no risk in trying something. Then there are the free samples! Who doesn’t love freebies? I was going to look — if not actually be — well-rested, put together, and glamorous. And to paraphrase Holly Golightly, nothing bad ever happens to me in a Sephora store.

A lot of financial advice aimed at women — and most of the consumers of cosmetics are women — is bad at best and sexist at worst, like the “latte myth” that has long been debunked, yet still seems to be trotted out regularly. Over time, though, I had somehow developed a blind spot in my own spending habits when it came to my Sephora purchases.

“You seem to spend an awful lot of money at Sephora,” my husband would remark occasionally. “Non-negotiable!” was my response. I think I’m pretty low-maintenance (maybe I’m delusional), and my thinking was that if I bought a nail polish at Sephora it was still cheaper than getting manicures; or if I spent money on hair products, it was still less than expensive salon procedures like blow-outs or hair straightening (I’m also a germophobe and paranoid about cancer, another reason I don’t do things like gel manicures or keratin treatments).

For the uninitiated, Sephora has a rewards program called Beauty Insider. It’s free to join, and you earn a point for each dollar you spend, and you can claim various rewards based on how many points you’ve accumulated. To be a VIB (Very Important Beauty Insider), you spend at least $350 in a calendar year; to be VIB Rouge, you spend at least $1,000 in a calendar year. Each level comes with additional perks and freebies, like gifts on your birthday and free shipping if you order from the website. I was unable to confirm with Sephora exactly how many years I’ve been a VIB or VIB Rouge, but based on my own records, I’ve been VIB Rouge, or close to it, for about 5 years in a row (at least — I wasn’t able to go back further than 5 years in my records). I’ve told myself that I don’t actually spend a lot of money on cosmetics — I just happen to spend it all in one place, because I like the rewards system and the superior customer service. When I looked back through my account and credit card statements and added everything up, I determined that I’ve spent more than $6,000 at Sephora over the past five years. Yikes. I guess lipsticks really are my lattes.

During this period, my household’s expenses have gone up, and will continue to increase (in the form of a property tax hike and anticipated house updates, just to name a few — not to mention trying to save for retirement, college for our child, and maintaining an emergency fund of savings). As a result, I’m trying to decrease my expenses. Cutting out all my Sephora spending seems like a pretty easy thing to do to help lower my spending.

Obviously, I’m not going to give up shampoo or soap — but I’m trying to be more cost conscious on what I spend on cosmetics and personal grooming products. I’m trying to look at the ingredients in my beloved cosmetics and replace them with lower-cost versions.

The Bite Beauty Agave Lip Mask at Sephora is $26 for 0.52 oz. and the first ingredient is lanolin; Bag Balm — horrible as the name may be — is $13 for 8 oz and the first ingredients are petrolatum and lanolin. I was recently tempted to buy “dpHUE Color Boosting GLOSS+ Deep Conditioning Treatment” which retails on for $30, justifiyng it by thinking that I could stretch out my hair salon visits a little longer; thus still saving money! I bought John Frieda Brilliant Brunette Liquid Shine Luminous Color Glaze for all Brunettes on for $7.59. In addition, I purchased Renpure Vanilla Mint Cleansing Conditioner with Pump, 16 Ounce ($9.99) and Natural First Organic Apple Cider Vinegar Finishing Rinse w/ Chamomile & Eucalyptus 8oz ($14.99) — a bargain compared to the dpHUE Apple Cider Vinegar Hair Rinse on at $35. Christophe Robin Cleansing Purifying Scrub with Sea Salt is one of Sephora’s best-selling shampoos at a whopping $52. I looked at the first ingredient on the list: Sodium Chloride, aka salt. I dumped a tablespoon of sea salt that I already had in my cabinet into my shampoo when I washed my hair, after some research on my part seemed to confirm that this would be ok and wouldn’t destroy my hair (for the record: it didn’t).

Another factor in my Sephora breakup is a shift in the way I spend my limited money on myself. The term “self-care” has been tossed around a lot lately, but I’m trying to shift my “self-care” from buying things to investing in myself in a different way. I’m trying to spend on experiences that help me grow as a person rather than on items that I use only temporarily. For example, I’ve recently spent money on acupuncture ( worth it), a yoga class, and several writing courses/subscriptions to writing-related services (these have basically paid for themselves, as I’ve probably gotten paid writing assignments amounting to about three times what I spent on courses and subscriptions).

I’m also at a stage of my life where I know what I like and don’t like (I’m never going to wear eyeliner if I haven’t mastered it by now), and where I don’t go out to as many places (if you’re going out to a club, by all means bust out that winged eyeliner! I’m at home in bed) so I don’t experiment with different looks as much. The other day I found myself with a skin irritation and while trying to isolate what might have caused it, I realized it could have been any one of the numerous new products I’d tried.

I’m not saying that anyone who spends money on cosmetics is shallow; far from it. In my case, I realized that I was probably spending way more than I needed to, or meant to, in this one area. I haven’t spent any money at Sephora in 2017 so far — except for my $10/month Play subscription, where Sephora sends me a bunch of samples each month, because I’m only human.

In the spirit of fully committing to my no-more-spending at Sephora resolution, I just canceled my subscription to Play and unsubscribed to all Sephora emails. As luck would have it, an Ulta — one of Sephora’s competitors in the beauty business — just opened only a few minutes away from where I live, but I swear I will lash myself to the mast and avoid their siren song. My dearest, loveliest Sephora, you’re so pretty and you always smell pleasant, and we’ve had so many great times together, but I have to break up with you. It’s not you, it’s me.

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