College students are no strangers to scrimping, and when you're putting your budget on a diet, so to speak, there are three well recognized approaches one can take: buy a cheaper version, make your expenses last, or simply do without.
Low prices aren't necessarily correlated with low quality: when it comes to beauty, you don't, contrary to popular belief, always get what you pay for. There are products that can be bought for cheap that are comparable to their more costly peers, and why pay more for the same effect?
My skin just likes Nivea Crème a lot. It forms an extremely comfortable barrier when the weather gets harsh. Despite its thick texture, it actually absorbs quite well: the trouble seems to be that it doesn't spread easily, so people often end up using more than they need. I always make sure to warm it up in the hand before applying for this reason.
The Face Shop Arsainte Eco Therapy Toner is an excellent softener. It's gentle, hydrating, and as with the Nivea, I don't mind the scent, though some might.
4-way emery and buffing boards are actually not all that cheap, and they need to be replaced continually, but they're a good replacement for an all-out manicure, when you don't have the time to put into upkeep or can't afford to experiment with color.
I don't wear lipstick on an everyday basis, so it's not something I can afford to invest in, but nor do I want to waste my money on cheap products that won't perform. Revlon matte lipsticks are good for when you want a cheap lipstick fix without sacrificing quality: it's really phenomenal to find this kind of staying power and pigmentation at these prices.
L'Oreal Extra-Intense Liquid Pencil Eyeliner is soft enough to tightline without irritating the eyes, yet does not transfer to the lower lid and seems to be genuinely tear- and sweat-proof. By far the best no-brainer eyeliner I've ever used.
The frequent name changes to L'Oreal's hair care lineup seems to confuse everyone, but the formulae, at least, seem to stay constant. Currently, their Elsève Smooth-Intense line is quite effective at taming my stubborn, wiry hair, unusually so for a drugstore brand, and I have heard similarly favorable reviews for their other lines. It smells a little off—a bit cloying, a bit synthetic—though, so if you want a pampering experience—which many people want, including myself—look elsewhere.
Sometimes, however, it pays to spend a little more money at the outset for a product you will keep coming back to. Not only is it difficult to find a comparable quality at lower prices, but investing in reliable and high-quality products in these categories will curb redundant and unnecessary future purchases, especially of gimmicks and quick fixes that will only disappoint.
As Dain mentioned in her article about Dick Page, one may actually need less makeup after applying a good blush, which should melt into the skin, not stand out against it. More than anything, it's really difficult to look your best without the extra touch that a good blush provides. The beauty of the system is, you may want more, but you only really need one.
Eyeshadows are the collectible toys of the makeup world, and it's very easy to get caught up in the "gotta catch'em all" game, but every woman who commits to wearing eyeshadow should pay the most meticulous attention to building up a small and select range of neutral shadows, preferably in very fine textures with minimal discernible shimmer that meld with the skin so seamlessly that they don't register as makeup to the eye. It's not just a matter of having prettier eyes: as with clothing, where a good core of basics to work around provides a starting point for explorations into statement pieces, it's necessary to be really secure in your staple shades in order to curb unnecessary spending, avoiding redundancy and ill-considered purchases, which is why I consider this kind of expense an investment. I use three shades from the now-discontinued Dior quint in Brun Casual, which provides a good model for what this kind of collection should look like: a skin-friendly highlight that melts into skin rather than jumping out at you against it (soft opalescent peachy gold), a darker shade to contour with (gray lavender-mauve), and a liner shade that can run the whole gamut between tightlining and deep deep smoky eyes (chocolate brown). Another place to look for these kinds of textures and colors would be Laura Mercier: the authors of this blog cannot recommend the eyeshadows highly enough.
I could really use a nice brush or two, which I do not own but have used, and I can attest that they make a world of difference in application. They make for more deft and shapely application of eyeshadow and blush, tightlining with powder eyeshadow for a soft look that is hard to replicate with pencil or gel formulae, and more even and fine distribution of powder, without caking. If you're going to shoot for perfection, I'd say it's pretty hard to get there without these kinds of tools.
Brows are really the linchpin of any look: if you're going to be wearing nothing else, I'd suggest brows, even before blush (but not before concealer). Mine are quite sparse and the hairs are stiff and unruly, so the pomade-like Laura Mercier Brow Definer looks promising.
Products for every concievable beauty want have been developed, but it requires shocking amounts of money to buy everything out there that's targeted at reassuring us that solutions to our problems are all here, packaged in pretty bottles. Plus it's often just more convenient to use things that are lying around in the pantry or medicine cabinet, or the cheap and dirty tricks that often work at a more fundamental level than creams or foundation.
Go out, get some exercise and get the blood pumping. Skin, like any other organ, derives most of its nutrition from its blood supply, so getting more flowing to your skin on a regular basis actually makes more sense than slathering it with "nutrient" creams. It also gives you a beautiful flush that lasts all day and looks prettier than any blush. The same goes for hydration: before you spend your money on fancy "water creams" or hyaluronic acid softeners, drink lots of water and eat lots of fruits and vegetables, which have high water contents—usually over 90%.
Lipids (the kind that are solid at room temperature) often do form an occlusive barrier both in and outsite the body, and sebum overproduction can indeed cause skin problems—though usually not alone but in combination with sluggish skin turnover—but not all lipids are the same: lighter oils such as 100% jojoba are low in the oleic acids that mimic human sebum, making them ideal for skin that is already producing plenty of sebum: the face, for example. Olive oil, which is cheaper and more widely available, is higher in oleic acids and therefore it's more softening, ideal as a deep conditioner for hair and dry patches of skin like elbows and knees. It's greasier, though, so it's really only feasible as a pre-shower treatment. Make sure you clean up after yourself, as olive oil can get really messy, and you don't want slippery floors in the shower
Vinegar, diluted 4-fold with water, has so far been the most effective defrizzing agent I've used on my hair. The scales on hair lie flatter at low (acidic) pHs. The only caveat is that it smells, as might be expected, so rinse out hair thoroughly after use.
Beauty ideals have changed over time, but one constant has always been the appearance of healthy, flawless, youthful skin. For the vast majority, it's impossible to attain that ideal without some degree of coverage, but pancake makeup never helps. Lisa Eldridge has pointed out the effectiveness of replacing pancake makeup with local coverage limited to the greatest spots and flaws, coupled with minimal coverage—only powder if you can manage, or the thinnest layers of foundation—for the rest of the skin. When it comes to base, it's often more about technique than the product itself, which is why the aforementioned investment in brushes plays such a role.
I have thick skin that is slow to clear itself of debris that clogs and dulls the skin, so I exfoliate generously. I use salt on my feet, usually combined with the abovementioned olive oil to give it some slip and cushion the effect of the harsh granules. The combination is very effective at softening and smoothing rough dry heels. For the face, I usually use viscose cloths: cheap, reusable, and a no-brainer to use, though when I want a micropeel, salicylic acid smoothes skin incrementally but noticeably, and wards off mild acne to boot.