Okay, I confess, not every makeup/skin care product I use is super cheap. Sometimes I manage to get something fancy for a good price. Other times I haven't found a cheap option that I like as much as the pricier one. I feel like it occasionally makes financial sense to pay the extra $5-10 when you know something is just right, rather than to experiment with a bunch of cheaper options and end up spending more in the process. Your threshold and mine for what is a reasonable price to pay to avoid gambling on something new will differ. For example, I know there are other gel moisturizers that might substitute for the Paula's Choice one I've listed below. For $17 (on sale), I'll just buy the Paula's Choice version, because I love it. If it cost $20+, I would probably look around for a substitute.
I'm linking to all of these products and giving you their regular price, but honestly, I don't think I have ever bought one of them for full price. If I have tips for finding these for cheaper, I've included them below.
This stain has an awesome gel formula, so it doesn't bleed all over the fucking place like Benefit Benetint. That means I can actually use it to outline my lips and then fill them in. It can be used for cheeks too, but I tend not to use it that way. On my lips it leaves a nice, deep pink stain. Sometimes I wear it under another lip color so that when that inevitably wears off, I'll be left with this. It also feels somehow really soft and luxurious to apply. I know that sounds weird, but I like it.
I got this for free using my Birchbox points, so if you have any of those saved up, this would be a good choice. At the time I'm writing this, it's $14 on Amazon, which is a little better, at least.
This is the toner that I use as part of my regular skin care regimen (renamed since that post). It's alcohol-free and doesn't irritate my face. It calms down redness. Exfoliation is good for getting rid of flakiness and helping to clear pores (blackheads, etc.). Finding another toner that has all the qualities I want for cheap isn't easy! I've tried both the regular and extra-strength versions, and I like them both. I don't think I really have a preference. If your skin isn't used to BHA exfoliants, starting with the regular is probably a good idea.
I've never bought it for full price, because there is usually a sale of some kind going on. Right now, Paula's Choice has 15% off everything, so I got it for $17.
Paula's Choice Skin Balancing Invisible Finish Moisture Gel, $20
It makes my skin feel really nice and silky-soft but not greasy. I don't need much moisture, because I have combination/oily skin. But this leaves a matte finish and moisturizes enough to hide the weird fine lines I have radiating from either side of my nose like fucking whiskers. It's just lovely.
Just like the toner above: I've never bought it for full price, because there is usually a sale of some kind going on. Right now, Paula's Choice has 15% off everything, so I got it for $17.
I blame Natalie Dee for this one. It's one of those jars with the spongey stuff in it. Using it feels slightly obscene, like dipping your finger into a really toxic vagina. But it kind of does work like magic. It removes anything in about 10 seconds and doesn't smell terrible. Ugh, I know, this is $10 and a bottle of regular remover is like $2. But this is just SO MUCH more convenient. Five times more convenient. I'm spoiled now. I've been using my jar for about 4 months now, and it doesn't seem to have dried up at all. I even use this to dip my brush in when I clean up my cuticles, and it's very effective. I don't know of any way to get without paying $10 for it, other than to wait for Sephora to have a sale, which is pretty rare.
I use other eyeshadow primers too sometimes, like the $1 e.l.f. version, but this is the one I use most often. I have the Eden shade, which is a fairly light beige, just because I bought it on a sale on Urban Decay's website, which is a good place to look for this stuff. Urban Decay shows up from time to time on HauteLook, and Ulta has frequent sales too. I like this one because it evens out my eyelids, intensifies the color of my eyeshadow, and makes it last without creasing all day. Not all primers do all of those things (I have plans for a comparison post soon), but this one does.
Zoya and Butter London Nail Polishes, $8-15
These are two of the fancier nail polish brands I own (i.e. bottles that cost more than $3), because I really like some of their colors, and they have really good formulas. I've never paid more than $5 a bottle for them, though. Sometimes you can find Zoya on clearance at an Ulta store. Otherwise, you have to wait for a good deal from their websites. I'll alert you to them! If you've never ordered from Zoya's website, you can use my link to create an account and get a free bottle. You'll have to pay shipping, unless you add two more bottles (at full price) - then shipping is free. So that would be like getting 3 bottles for $5.33 each, if my math is right. I suggest googling swatches of the colors that interest you, because you can't always tell what they're going to be like from the bottle photos.
Benefit High Beam, $26
This is my favorite of the highlighters I've tried, including those that are supposed dupes of it. I find that a lot of the others tend to have some noticeable sparkle in them, and when you put that on the bridge of your nose . . . . well, it looks like you put something sparkly on the bridge of your nose. Whereas this just make it look like the light is hitting it.
Here's the thing, though. It gets thick and goopy after a while, so I can't see the sense in buying the great big full size bottle. I have a mini that's lasted me a year. There's still plenty left, but it's thickened. So try to find a mini bottle. You can get one here for $6 if you don't mind that it doesn't come in a box.
This blush is one of my favorites, because for my skin tone, it looks really, really natural. It's easy to use and blends really smoothly, and it doesn't fade. It isn't that it's super expensive so much as that it's only available in Canada, as far as I can tell. When I lived there, that was great. Now that I don't, it's a little inconvenient. You can buy it online, but then you have to pay $15 for shipping. No. My Canadian readers, you luck bastards, you can get this at Shoppers. I got a back up last time I was there, so I'm all set for another few years.
My long quest for some kind of foundation/BB cream/tinted moisturizer that I could stand ended here. It has the qualities I need. It works for oily/combination skin (doesn't get greasy); it comes in a pale enough shade for me; it doesn't contain mineral sunscreen, which makes me break out; and it doesn't settle into lines and pores and make my skin look worse, which EVERY other product I tried did. So after such a frustrating search, this is worth the price for me. I don't know how to get it for cheaper, except by waiting for Sephora to have a sale.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.