Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Tips for building a polish stash on a budget :)


Having a nail blog that features swatches and nail art involves buying polish, and a fair amount of it.  Let's face it, if I used the same 10 polishes over and over, you'd probably get bored with my offerings pretty darn quickly no matter how creative I was with my designs. Plus, that wouldn't be any fun at all for me--I love playing with polishes!! However, I am not wealthy, and I can't afford to drop hundreds of dollars on polish each month. So how do I manage to have a fairly large stash without going bankrupt?

I've mentioned in passing a couple of times on the blog that I'm a couponer/bargain hunter, and that I use these skills to help build my stash. I thought maybe a few people might be interested in the details of my tricks, so I figured I'd put together a post outlining my strategies for supporting my polish habit needs without breaking the bank (and while staying cruelty-free).

To start, let me define some terms here. In my personal world (I know others feel differently), there are roughly four pricing tiers that I put polish into, and this is how I will refer to them in this post. This breakdown reflects their retail price, not the price I usually pay for them:

'Cheap': Under $3 (normal price)
'Mid-range': Between $3-$10 approximately (most polishes I own fall here)
'Higher-end': Between $11-$15
'Now-you're-just-being-silly' (NYJBS): Over $15 per bottle

I'm going to take you through how I try to find the best bargain I can.  Because I'm in the US, I do my shopping in the US, in California specifically. So some of these tips might not be specifically applicable for other countries or even other states in the US; but the general principles still apply. For example, I've been told by friends in the UK that coupons are not as common as they are here, but I do know that certain stores do have vouchers that they give out from time to time that can help you save a ton of money on polishes. So if you know of something that's the equivalent to one of my tips in your country, please let us know in the comments! And if you have any other tips that I don't know about, please do tell us those, too! :)

Let's get started...I'll move from the 'Cheap' brands on up.

1) Give cheap brands a chance.
This may seem obvious, but don't turn your back on a brand just because they're 'Cheap'.  While some 'Cheap' brands are definitely of the you-get-what-you-pay-for ilk, there are really good cheap brands out there that are better than they should be for the price. One line the exemplifies this is Sinful Colors; so many of their polishes have excellent formula and amazing colors. One of my favorite polishes ever, of all times, is Sinful Colors Ciao Bella. Pure Ice is another brand that has excellent polishes for the money, although they are a bit more hit-and-miss. The same goes for other brands; just because a brand is inexpensive, doesn't mean it's not good. Give it a shot. If it sucks, you aren't out much anyway. :)

However, even the you-get-what-you-pay-for brands have their place in my collection, and you should think twice before rejecting them. Maybe it's just me, but I haven't had great luck with LA Colors, in terms of wearing them as a base polish (many are too sheer for my tastes); but I love them for other uses. I use them like crazy for nail art, and the ones that are super sheer get put aside for glitter/stamping sandwiches. Why should I use a gorgeous $10-a-bottle polish for the base of a glitter sandwich or for nail art when a $1-a-bottle polish will do just as well?

2) Coupons are your friends, especially at the drugstore/superstore.
Coupons are an amazing way to get incredibly cheap polish. However, I'm going to talk about this in a separate post which I'll put up later today; both because there is a lot to say about this topic (and this post will already be long!), and this is the strategy most likely to apply only to the US (I only know the US rules). [UPDATE: This is now posted, and you can find it by clicking here.]

3) Get on the mailing lists for Sally Beauty Red Tag sales.
This is probably my number one trick for mid-range major-brand polishes, particularly China Glaze, Orly, Finger Paints, and Color Club. If you don't know, periodically Sally Beauty cleans house and puts their already-clearance-priced red tag items on sale for an additional 50% off or more. Usually 1-2 months after a collection hits the store, you can find most if not all of that collection in their red tag bins. I routinely get China Glaze polishes for around $1.50, and have gotten all of my Orly glitter polishes for $2-3 dollars (rather than $8-10). Same for their other brands, and not just their polishes--lots of their treatments go on sale this way, too. The big trick for the red-tag sales is this: try to go the first day, which is usually Friday, because they will often only have one or two of certain polishes from a collection. Go on your lunch break if you have to. This greatly increases your chance of getting pick of the litter and ending up with an incredible haul for next to nothing. :) How do you sign up? You can get to the site by clicking here.

4) Zoya loves to have sales through their website, flash and otherwise. Subscribe to one of their feeds immediately.
With the exception of Pixies I own, I don't think I've ever paid more than $4 for a Zoya polish (normally $8-9). Because I know that they regularly have sales, I keep track of the polishes I like, and wait until I can get them on sale. And if you spend over a certain amount, you often get free shipping, and usually sweet bonus freebies. The more you spend, the better the freebie; so rather than buy 4 bottles of polish on 4 separate occasions, I'll wait, save up, and buy 16 at once during the next sale. I have two full-sized bottles of hand and cuticle scrub I got completely free when shopping Zoya sales...That bears repeating, so let me repeat it: I got freebies, and free shipping, when buying merchandise that was already 50% off. Yes, I assure you, that feels good. And even with small orders, I think I've always at least gotten a travel size of their amazing nail polish remover with every order I've placed. So why would I pay $8 for a bottle of Zoya at a retail outlet, when I can buy directly from the Zoya site during sales and get bonuses for it?

5) Shop around for on-line retailers. 
Sites like Transdesign and Head2ToeBeauty have excellent prices on mid-range polishes. Most of their China Glazes are around $3; Orlys go for around $4. You can find Color Club, Barielle, Misa, Sation, LeChat, and other brands for similar prices. Don't forget to factor in the price of shipping however, because this is where they get you--I find I need to purchase around 10 bottles minimum to make it worth the price of the shipping. So, I wait and save up until I have enough to buy at once to make it worth doing. But believe me, it's waaay cheaper that retail price for these brands.

6) Troll the 'sale' section on sites like Llarowe.
Now that we've talked a bit about major brands, you're probably thinking: "Hey Michelle!What about all of them indies! I want me some indie polishes! Can you help me get them for cheap??!!"

Believe it or not...oh yes, it's very possible. Not easy, but certainly possible. The next few strategies are designed to target indie polishes.

First up, take a look at those sites that carry indie polishes, and see if they have anything equivalent to a sale section. Llarowe's sale page is the first one I hit when I visit their site. I've found beautiful polishes there, some that normally go for $15-$20, on sale for half-price and even less (most are less discounted than this, but there are treasures to be found). It takes me a few minutes a week to take a quick glance through, and while I don't find them every day or even every week, the things I do find are definitely worth the search. My best score was a $17 Glitter Gal duochrome on sale for $5. That's the only thing more awesome than the awesome polish itself. :)

And, one of the great things about Llarowe is that they ship to most of the world. :) So does Harlow & Co., which also has items on sale periodically. :)

7) Speaking of Llarowe: Scratch 'n' Dent. 
Llarowe does this fun thing with Mystery Grab Bags. There are a couple of kinds, but the one I've tried is the Scratch N Dent, so that's the one I can recommend. For $15 dollars you get a mystery bag of polishes that are perfectly fine, but that they can't sell for some reason--maybe a polish broke in the box and got on the other polishes, so the bottle in your mystery bag is perfectly okay, but has a splotch of some other polish on it. In the case of the one I recently got, the polishes couldn't be sold because the manufacturer changed to new labels; as a result, I got three indie polishes, $32 worth of polish, for $15.

I must admit, I've always been a sucker for a mystery grab bag. I love the thrill of wondering what I'm going to get almost as much as actually getting it. Also in my case, there is really only one polish color I don't like, so the risk that I'll get something I truly hate is minimal. Point is, if you're very picky about your polishes, this might not be the best gamble for you. But if you're up for it, it's a fun way to build your collection at a really good price--not easy to do when it comes to indie polishes.

8) Use your Etsy cart wisely.
Pay attention now, 'cause this might be my trickiest trick of all my tricks...Ssshhhh...don't tell anyone...>.>...I put polishes I want but can't afford to get right now into my cart on Etsy, and keep track of them there (don't worry, this doesn't keep other people from buying them or anything, so you're not causing problems). Here's why: when the price of a polish in your stored cart changes, it shows up differently in your list, and tells you that 'the price of this polish has changed'. So, I can quickly scroll down my list of Etsy lemmings and see which of the prices have changed--because this often means that polish has gone on sale.  :)

9) Follow blogs/Facebook sites/Twitter feeds designed to alert you to deals.
There are entire blogs, Facebook pages and groups, etc. set up just to track deals--some focus on drugstores, some on indie polishes, some on anything that comes down the pike. My favorite is Nouveau Cheap, because very little gets by her when it comes to beauty products, particularly drugstore sales.

Your Facebook news feed can work miracles with respect to indie sales especially. When you 'like' a page, you can choose to receive notifications in your news feed from that page (hover over the 'like' button). Usually when you like a page, this turns on automatically--the problem then is having so much stuff in your feed that you miss the important information, like the sales! So clean up your feed if you need to, and lend an eye to that feed.

Also, if you don't have time to monitor these all the time, at least have a look at your favorites around major holidays. This past Memorial Day I found a 50% off sale that nearly made me weep with joy. A few mintues with google before a three-day weekend can make you a very happy polish hoarder collector. :)

10) Ulta Savvy
I've gone back and forth about including this here because it can be hard to get good deals at Ulta; you do have to really work for it. But, they have a wide range of mid-range and higher-end polishes (and even some NYJBS polishes) that can be hard to find deals for elsewhere. I have 4 Butter Londons, three of which were gifts, and one that I bought for myself--and that one I bought at Ulta. I ended up paying $8 for instead of $14--but I had to wait 6 months to get that deal. Ulta has good sales and good coupons--there's pretty much always a coupon available--and they also have a decent reward points program, if you shop there often enough to make it worthwhile. So, if you wait for a sale and use a coupon (but be careful, Ulta is the Queen of 'sorry, we can't combine that when it involves X brand of polish'), you can get some good deals.  But you do have to learn their system and be patient. This is not my favorite tip for this reason, but it is worth mentioning. They also have a clearance section where you can find some pretty great deals, so don't forget to check that when you go. :)

11) My one and only tip for NYJBS polishes other than an occasional score at Ulta...
Look for dupes. Since you're blog savvy, you probably already know this, so it's probably not much of a tip. But still, on the off-chance you hadn't thought of it--plug the polish you love into Google along with the word 'dupe' and save, save, save. If there is a cheaper version out there, chances are some blogger has found it and is trying to help you save money. :)

12) Franken basic polishes instead of buying something you might only want to use once or twice.
Now don't get all scared on me here. Contrary to what you might think, simple frankening isn't that hard at all. I'm not talking about complex glitters and duochromes here (although if you can do that, great! And can you teach me??). Here's an example of what I mean. I recently wanted to wear a glitter topper with a shade of gray that I thought I owned, but didn't own. So, I pulled out the two grays I did, and in an empty mini polish bottle, put some of the dark gray, then mixed in some of the light gray, until I got the shade I wanted. I know I'm not going to wear that shade of gray often--probably just for this glitter topper--so why go out and pay for a new polish? In another case, I took a polish that was more pink that I had thought it was and added in some purple from another polish until I got a shade I liked much better. So rather than letting that polish languish on my shelf unused and unloved, I turned it into something I can use. :)

Maybe you're thinking "What about those of us who don't happen to have extra bottles of polish lying around??!!111"

Excellent point. First, stop throwing away your bottles when you finish off a bottle of basecoat or whatever. Set it aside for future use. But, here's another cheap way to get bottles you can use...

13) Shop clearance sections, particularly after holidays, even for polishes you don't like.
Wait, polishes you don't like?

Yep. This is good for a few tricks. Last halloween I found a few sets of no-name halloween polish sets that were on clearance for $1.00 for 5 half-sized bottles of polish. These were glitters and neons that I wasn't super excited about, they each only had one polish that I actually wanted, but I grabbed them anyway. Why? Bottles and mixing beads. For $2 I got myself 10 bottles that are perfect for frankening (twenty cents each). As I'm ready to use them, I dump out the polish, give them a rinse with acetone, and voila. (If you know of a source for empty polish bottles cheaper than that, please, please let me know). Oh, and, in the meantime, when one of my nail art groups chose 'neons' as a nail art theme--I was oh-so-glad I had bought those no-names, since I don't have many neons in my collection. Double win.

Another thing to think about when in the clearance section is...you might not wear a polish on its own, but it might be the perfect ingredient for frankening with something else you have. Now, I'm not saying BUY ALL DA POLISHEZ on the off chance you might use them for frankening. But, if you have a shade of coral that's just a bit too light, and you've been wanting to try to franken it into a darker, more reddish shade, and there's a red polish on sale for $0.50...well, you might have just found yourself that magic franken ingredient, rather than using a red you paid more for and actually like in its own right. No way is my a-England Perceval being used in some frankening experiment, I can promise you that--but a cheap metallic red from the clearance section might be just the thing.

Finally, if you have a network of polish-loving friends, you can sometimes find things in the clearance section that you know they want. And the only thing better than finding a great bargain on a polish is being able to surprise your friend with a polish because you found a great bargain on it. It's always nice to be thought of. :)

14) Resell or swap polishes you don't like. 
You'll notice that I haven't listed blog sales here as a way to find bargains on polish. They're a great way to find polishes you can't find elsewhere, but I haven't run into many of them that were offering great deals in terms of savings. When I started my journey into polish obsession, I was surprised to find that nail polish is not like cars--it doesn't depreciate the second you take it out of the store. In fact, it doesn't depreciate much at all, especially if you've only done one swatch/manicure from it and decided you hate the way it looks on you. You can probably sell it for close to what you paid for it, or swap it for something equivalent. In fact, that indie you paid $8 for, that is now discontinued? You can probably even get back all the money you paid for it. Thanks to the internet, the world is a small place these days, and there are plenty of people who would love to get their hands on that orange Barielle that gives you lobster-claw hands; even if it's readily available in your country, it probably isn't somewhere else. Blog sales and polish swaps (there are tons of swap groups on Facebook) are viable ways to 'trade-in' your polish, and you can fairly easily recoup most of your outlay to buy new polishes that you actually do like. So don't let those polishes you don't like sit around gathering dust. Sell it and get something you like better. Or swap it with someone and get something better. You may even make some cool friends in the process, and you can't put a price on that. :)

Wow, that was a lot of information! I hope you found something in there that was helpful. :)

Hugs and much luck with bargain hunting!


  1. thank a wind-million for doing this post :)
    <3 it

  2. Great post!! Can't agree with you more about Zoya deals...but I find my best deal anywhere at my neighborhood Ulta. My Ulta's clearance section is insane. :D

    1. I'm jealous, mine tends to be small, but there is still great stuff in there from time to time! :)

  3. This is such a worthwhile post! Thank you for taking the time to write it. Most of what you've suggested takes a bit of time and effort, but it's fun to hunt for bargains, and then it's SO satisfying to think 'I paid $2.49 for this $7.00 polish' so win-win. And on top of that you get another great color to add to your stash. :) I think you've just enabled a whole bunch of polish addicts. Your work here is done.

    1. I'm so glad it's useful for you! Thank you so much, you made my day. :)

  4. Great tips on shopping on a budget! Really helpful to me :)

  5. Another tip: Overstock/discount stores (Ross, TJ Maxx, etc.) I've seen $3 Orlys, SpaRituals, and even Calvin Kleins at my local TJ Maxx/Marshall's, and $8 four packs of L'Oreals and Revlons (so they come out to $2 a piece) at other like stores. This is also a good way to nab discontinued colors, since these stores are usually the first place those will go.

    Also, don't write off the little no name brands these stores sell, they might be a lot better than you think. I bought a 7 pack of polishes from a brand I'd never heard of before, and they've turned out to be one of my go to brands.

    1. Wow, that's impressive! I've never checked them out, now I definitely have to. Also, if it's helpful I'll compile a list of the reader tips added here for ease of reading, starting with yours!

  6. Awesome post! Unfortunately in Ireland we don't have coupons either and we have a HUGE mark-up on polish (O.P.I is the equivalent of $20 here, China Glaze $11) - I wish we had coupons!! We don't have flash sales or anything but for Ireland or the UK, there's a shop called Dealz or Poundland that sells cheap Sally Hansen, Rimmel, Sinful Colors, etc. It's pretty hit & miss but I've found some great ones. We also have really good budget brands (Essence & Catrice) but I did recently splash out and buy a Deborah Lippmann from a beautybay sale for almost half price which was AMAZING! I buy all my OPI, Barielle & China Glaze from eBay or nailsupplies.us for bulk orders.

    1. Life without coupons is just so...so...so wrong! :( You did remind me of a tip I meant to include in the swap section, though. Buy local, swap global! Where we are, there's a huge mark-up on things like Catrice and Barry M, and we can't get things like W7 and Top Shop. So if you buy what you can get cheap in your country and swap it with someone in the US or wherever, you can get a broader selection, maybe save some money (depending on shipping), and make friends in the process. :)

    2. I have never, for as long as I have lived in UK, seen a single Essence or Catrice bottle. Where does she finds them?

    3. No idea--if she doesn't see this here, I'll pm her and see if I can find out. But it may be an Ireland thing, the first person who brought Essence to my attention was in Ireland, too. :)

  7. What an awesome post, thanks for much for this! This is incredibly helpful! Now how do I get myself on that Mailing List for Sally's Red Tag Deals??!! 'Cause I need to get on that asap

    1. Well, now, that would have been a useful bit of information for me to include, wouldn't it have, lol? Here is a link, and I'll add it to the post above: http://www.sallybeauty.com/just-for-you/Newsletter-SignUp,default,pg.html

  8. Hi Michelle, this is a great post! Thanks for so many advices. I must admit that it's very difficult not "being silly" in Switzerland while building a polish collection, read this: Revlon nail polish 18 USD per bottle!!! China Glaze 20 USD per bottle!! OPI 25 USD per bottle!!!!!!!! Suddenly a Chanel/Dior/YSL nail polish at 25-27USD is totally re-dimensioned and does not seem so expensive...
    Other brands (drugstore) retail somewhere between 3-6 USD Essence, Catrice, NYX. But you can forget "salon" brands for less than 20 bucks.
    What Swiss polish freaks do a lot is buying online! usually from US e-retailers, and even counting the shipping fees is a huge price difference! I should consider doing a post like yours for Swiss pals... You've got a great idea!

    1. Ouch! That is beyond crazy talk!! Are there European brands that you can get for cheaper that you could swap with people here? I mean, with that price difference, someone sending China Glaze from the US in a swap or even just plain buying it for you and sending it to you has to be cheaper!! Have you considered joining a swap/polish group? Holy moly I don't know what I would do...:/


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