The ultimate cupboard beauty haul – save £s & look FIERCE

Iona Bain

Over the weekend, all I wanted to do was indulge in a bit of me-time. Last week, I was filming a mini money-saving series for STV up in Stirling and Aberdeen (watch this space!)

Consequently, I was a bit knackered and wanted to go to my Happy Place. That’s putting on a luxury face mask, having a bath and staying in to play piano, watch an amazing film and dip into a few books I’ve got on the go. Those simple pleasures have probably saved me a fortune in going out over the years…

I’ve kept it reasonably well hidden on the blog but my (well-moisturised) Achilles heel is spending money on beauty products. I’m not a foodie, jet-setter or fashion victim, but I have been known to drop some serious cash on a cleanser or concealer.

From a young age, I have gravitated towards the make-up aisle, saved up my pocket money for face washes rather than nights out and took great care over how I looked. To be honest, it used to be an unhealthy obsession with looking just right, fuelled by a need to be in control and come across as appealing to all. Don’t get me wrong, this tendency never got too extreme and I have been relatively free of neuroses about my figure, but the teenage nightmare of acne combined with pale skin and striking features made for a tough gig in my teens.

Today, I am FAR more relaxed and confident than I used to be. I (mostly) love the way I look, accept my flaws and have realised that looking good should be fun and empowering, not a matter of life and death.


Nonetheless, I would still rather spend my money on a beautifying cream or the perfect lipstick than a lavish night out or new shoes. I am not necessarily ashamed of this habit – my attitude is that looking fabulous from the neck up enhances even the cheapest of outfits and literally putting on a good face for the world allows me to handle whatever is thrown at me. I take the view (to quote from my book) that so long as your financial house is in order, go for it. If you are saving a reasonable amount, free of expensive debt, frugal most of the time and REALLY sure that splurge will help you cope, then who I am to say what’s off limits?

But that doesn’t mean I haven’t sometimes questioned my weakness for alluring skin and make-up fare. I know full well that I could probably be a bit more canny in what I buy, how I use it and how I can make it last.

Over the weekend, I wanted to splash out on some items I needed but decided to take a look in my cupboard to see what I already have. I am a massive fan of shopping in the cupboard and have long done it with my clothes when I’m stuck for style inspiration. So I thought I would peruse my beauty stockpile to see what I could use.

And boy was I amazed! I realised that I’m more canny than I thought, saving up a multitude of hotel products, free samples and bargain offers over the years. Now, my shopping list has been cut down to size, and I only need to cross off one or two items. What a difference that will make to my budget this month.

So here is what I found and here is how YOU can build up a bad-ass beauty stockpile too…

SAMPLES from magazines and stores

Best for: shampoo, conditioner, moisturiser, tanning, SPF and body lotion

I found a few samples of shampoo and conditioner as well as body lotion from magazines; I never throw these away! A bonus is that you can take these away on weekend or working trips and they’ll fit easily into your liquid allowance for hand luggage on the plane and will make your bags so much lighter than massive bottles.

But a great tip is to ask for some high-end samples when you’re next buying beauty products. Often, you’ll get some testers thrown in anyway and these can be surprisingly generous, but who knows what you can get by being a bit cheeky?

For instance, I bought a high-end face mask a couple of months ago and also got two or three SPF moisturisers from the same brand chucked into my bag. These lasted weeks and weeks. They were brilliant and I was (almost!) tempted to go back and buy them.

Just ask if there are any new products you can sample – most of the time, staff will be happy to oblige. This strategy works best at high-end beauty chains, outlets and beauty halls in department stores rather than your local pharmacy or the likes of Boots/Superdrug (though it’s always worth a shot!)


Best for: shampoo, conditioner, moisturiser, body lotion, hand lotion, bath salts, shower gel, soap

You don’t want to end up like Ross in that episode of Friends where his bag is overflowing with hotel toiletries (of course). But I can never understand why some people are so snooty about using these little goodies. For starters, you often get given more than you need so you can use one during your stay and take one away. They also come in handy sizes so they are a far more economical option than travel-sized toiletries. These can be a total rip-off, particularly in the airport; I was shocked at how much mini shampoos and cleaners cost when I was going through departure halls this week.

And nice hotels in particular do FANTASTIC toiletries that are just as good as anything you can get down the high street, so stock up when you next go away (or ask your housemates/partner to keep them for you). I have the national collection of hotel toiletries in my cupboard and by my reckoning, I won’t need to buy any more shampoo or conditioner until the Autumn (at least!). I have very seldom bought body lotion in my life due to my hotel collection, and there were some surprise discoveries in my latest cupboard shopping trip, such as the nice tub of posh bath salts that got used later that evening – bliss.


Best for: deodorant, make-up, SPF, hairspray, shampoo, conditioner, moisturiser, eye cream, face masks

My mum will often get items when they’re on offer if she’s out shopping, even if they’re not needed at that point in time. She’ll then pass them onto me in dribs and drabs (she’s not really into beauty products herself, so I can be the direct beneficiary of her frugal and generous inclinations). This means I won’t have to rush out for these items in an emergency and spend more than I’d ideally like. Good places to find such items are Lidl and Aldi – their make-up and beauty products often use exactly the same ingredients as high street or even luxury brands. It’s just that discount supermarkets don’t spend huge amounts on fancy packaging, celebrity endorsements and pseudo-scientific quackery. The best beauty items from Aldi and Lidl tend to be eye-shadows, under-eye concealer, highlighters, serums, SPF, eye creams/gels and moisturising masks – I have used all of these from budget supermarkets and have never had any complaints (and even got a few compliments along the way).

However, good offers can also be found in Superdrug, and I have a beauty card which helps me make savings. Just be wary of buy 2, get 1 free offers or money off if you spend over a certain amount – only take advantage if you were buying the items anyway.


I am a major fan of Lisa Eldridge, the celebrity make-up artist. Her video tutorials on skincare and make-up have helped me solve many persistent problems with my beauty routine and enabled me to look my very best in recent times.

Before, I used to make lots of mistakes when buying make-up, like failing to test foundations properly before buying (which meant either looking like an Oompa Loompa or Elizabeth 1st), leaving thick layers of product “sitting” on the skin and applying products all over rather than just where they are needed. In hindsight, these habits costed me in terms of wasted products that just didn’t get used properly, so I think learning artful and expert techniques in this area has actually saved me money. This is perhaps one of the few reasons that I’m sorry the internet wasn’t around when I was a teenager!


I particularly like how practical but gentle her solutions are – she reminds me a lot of my mum in how she dispenses common-sense advice. I have researched a lot of the ingredients she suggested and found many of them in dirt-cheap items available from the pharmacy or supermarket. Her post on Kitchen Cupboard Beauty is dynamite, so check it out, but I also found some credible and cheap DIY options in my latest cupboard forage that could work well for you;

  • Calamine lotion. This can be bought from the pharmacy and is an excellent mattifying and gently drying face mask. Keep the lid on so it doesn’t dry out. A tip from Lisa which I have tweaked is to use a lotion like this in the morning to wash your face if you tend to be greasy (particularly in the summer). A little bit mixed with water will do – just wash off and pat dry. CL’s main ingredient is bentonite which can be found in many expensive face masks on the market.
  • Witch Hazel. Many people are unsure about the benefits of toner, and certainly it’s not worth spending very much money on it even if you *have* to have it. Toner works best for those who have oily skin and breakouts, so a really good option for those who get blemishes is Witch Hazel. It can be quite astringent so don’t pile it on. Use a couple of times a week after cleansing with a cotton pad. This ingredient is used a huge amount in spot treatments, and has alcohol as a natural by-product, but you can buy it without alcohol if you have particularly sensitive skin. Mix with Rose Water if you want to make it more gentle – this is also a good option itself if you have more combination or dry skin and it smells divine. You could also use Tea Tree oil for the same purpose and both of these also be used to clean your make-up brushes and applicators thoroughly (which you should be doing on a regular basis to avoid bacteria building up and finding its way into your pores).
  • Aloe Vera gel. I have noticed lots of people are getting sun-damaged skin in this hot weather and I have always found Aloe Vera gel to be the most cooling and moisturising remedy for this problem. On a side note, I have only just started becoming quite evangelical about using SPF sun cream but it’s not just a preventative measure against skin cancer and aging. A good SPF cream will protect your skin from pollutants and many common skin complaints (like redness and scars) actually improve with increased SPF usage. Like all natural remedies, it is a good idea to do a patch test for Aloe Vera on your skin to make sure it doesn’t cause an allergic reaction, especially if you have sensitive skin. Aloe Vera can be used as a gel mask on any affected areas and you should notice your skin looks and feels much calmer afterwards.
  • Coconut oil. The uses for this are myriad, but I have found it works best as a cuticle oil, eye make-up remover, facial massage oil and body scrub when mixed with sugar or sea-salt. This last variation has been my DIY body scrub in the shower for a while and really works. Lisa recommends using a facial oil once or twice a week to really massage your skin, which keeps it tight and well-hydrated. I have started doing this lately and have noticed results. You can easily do this whilst you’re watching TV in the evening. You’ll save a fortune on expensive facials…
  • Jojoba oil. I swear by this as an all-natural way to remove eye make-up. Over the years I have tried numerous make-up removers on my eyes and every single one (without exception) has made my eyes sore, dry, red, puffy and stingy. Jojoba oil is gentle but thorough and gives your eyes some much-needed moisture too.


  • Buy male or gender-neutral products to make savings. Razors with female packaging cost more for no reason other than old-fashioned sexist pricing and the assumption that women can be conned into spending more because beauty products somehow matter more to them.
  • When perusing the likes of Boots, Superdrug or Lloyds Pharmacy, trade down to value items when you can. For example, I have found that many hair products are rarely better when bought from fancy hairdressing companies. Many end up being a waste of money because they are bought to create specific looks for a special occasion and then get pushed to the back of your cupboard, never to be used again. There is also something to be said for using far less product in general and letting your hair do what it naturally wants to do. Over-styled hair is incredibly passé. Think of that cool, laid-back Parisian look – effortlessly chic. At most, you probably only need 3 or 4 essentials for everyday and “special”. And try value options for hairspray, gel, mousse, serum or setting lotion. However, my exception would be dry shampoo – the cheap options are awful, and I find even Batiste is too much like talcum powder.
  • Simpler items like shaving foam, hand soap, tissues, cotton buds, cotton pads, sanitary towels, make-up pencil sharpeners and make-up applicators can be bought on offer or at knock-down prices from places like B&M, Wilco, Savers and pound shops. And I’m afraid I part with those who say it’s essential to have expensive make-up sponges and brushes. The legendary make-up artist Mary Greenwell (whose clients have included Princess Diana and Jessica Chastain) applies most make-up with her fingers.
  • Whilst you’re picking up those items, see if you can swap your more luxury products for cheaper alternatives. For instance, Lisa Eldridge recommends the Neutrogena Visibly Clear Two in One Mask & Cleanser, which contains Bentonite and Kaolin (which are the main ingredients in most top-notch clay masks). I can testify that this is a fantastic buy and I often see it in places like Savers for a great price. She also recommends the Boots Organics Hot Cloth Cleansing Balm which is often on offer for £6.99 – it has been discontinued so I advise stocking up, as it’s still being sold in some stores. It contains many of the same ingredients that you’ll find in the FAR more expensive but regularly acclaimed Eve Lom Cleanser, which I have considered but ruled out on account of sheer cost (£40 for 50ml!) The important thing is to look at key ingredients you need to address certain skin issues. Do your homework and you WILL find at least some of those ingredients in cheaper or all-natural remedies, with the added bonus of fewer “nasties” being put in the mix to aggravate your skin.
  • Most people are shocked and amazed when I reveal to them that I haven’t been to a hairdresser since I was 14. I was scarred for life when I was given a mullet by an over-zealous hairdresser who told me she used to have red hair too – before she dyed it an awful peroxide hue and left it looking like straw (her hair, not mine!). So ever since I have either had it cut by my careful mum to avoid split ends or done it myself. I have done layers and a fringe, sometimes with help from Youtube, and have learned fabulous updos courtesy of Pinterest that always get compliments. I also have an array of styling tools to help me look more polished for evening events. People often say my hair looks lovely and whilst it will never have that salon-styled look, it’s in great condition and it’s more versatile because I haven’t been conned into getting a high-maintenance cut that can only be styled a few ways and will look off unless its revisited at great expense every few weeks. So one of the best money-saving tips I can impart is to give the hairdressers a wide berth – overdone hair is not cool and you can do a perfectly good job yourself. Get a good pair of hairdressing scissors from Sally Beauty Supplies and keep them sharp.

Hope this helps, and if you have any suggestions of your own, please get in touch by leaving a comment or tweeting @ionayoungmoney…


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