I'm Spilling My 3 Best Beauty Bargain-Hunting Secrets

You can get fancy products on a budget, and you don't even have to scour the questionable depths of eBay!
Publish date:
March 20, 2014
clinique, shopping, bargains, drugstores, department stores, gifts with purchase, TJ Maxx

I will be real with you: I don't shop for beauty products as much as I used to. Because of my multiple jobs writing about beauty, I'm frequently sent product to test out, and because of that, I always have more than enough. Very rarely do I ever "need" anything, so my shopping trips to Sephora happen only a few times a year now, and usually it's just picking up cutesy travel-sized items near the checkout.

That said, I was a fervent beauty shopper and hoarder in high school. I would save bits of my part-time job income to go on mini-sprees at pharmacies and department stores, and I amassed quite the collection of beautifying goods.

I wasn't just splashing cash around though--no. I've always been a bargain hunter. I'm sure I inherited it from my mother, a bonafide cheapskate. As a kid I used to shriek "Cheep! Cheep!" at her in a little bird voice whenever she bragged about getting a deal.

But hey, deals are awesome! I mean, I will probably never beat the time I got a four-figure Roland Mouret dress for $2.50 (shipping included) from The Outnet's now-defunct anniversary sale, but over the years I have definitely found myself continually impressed with my ability to score.

In my world, a deal usually means you're getting a high-quality, luxury product for much less. While a two-for-$10 offer on mass-brand lip gloss at the drugstore is great, I get a bigger thrill scoring "fancy" things at a major discount.

I've figured out many ways to achieve this thrill, and I figured I would share them with you guys in case you felt like deal-hunting, too.

TJX Stores

One of my best secrets is shopping for beauty at the TJX stores: TJ Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods in the US; Winners, Marshalls and HomeSense in Canada and TK Maxx and HomeSense in Europe. If you've shopped at these places before, then you know them as department stores that sell brand names for less than other retail stores, usually from 20% off to up to 80% off of what you would typically pay.

I shop at these places for pretty much everything from housewares to clothes, but I think one of their best-kept secrets is their selection of beauty products at way more affordable prices.

The general gist of where they get their stock is that they buy mass amounts of excess products from warehouses, and in the case of beauty products, you'll frequently see items from limited-edition and holiday collections. For example, this past holiday season I saw boxed sets from the NARS Andy Warhol collection on sale for about 40% off the original retail price, and for even an deeper discount in the clearance section.

Then, on two recent visits to Winners stores, I saw makeup, skin and haircare products from NARS (again), Smashbox, Chanel, Kiehl's, Bumble and bumble, Fresh, Clarins, St. Tropez, Deborah Lippmann, Dolce & Gabbana, Elizabeth Arden, La Prairie, Benefit, Philosophy, Peter Thomas Roth and Stila, along with fragrances from brands like Prada, Bond No. 9, Hermes and Marc Jacobs.


• You're getting the good stuff for at least 20% less than you'd normally pay, and the thrill of the hunt is always fun.

• They also tend to stock super-affordable makeup brushes, cosmetic bags and spa accessories, as well as salon-quality flat irons and hair dryers.


• The selection can be limited. Shade selections are frequently small, and most higher-end products are packaged in hard plastic security cases so you won't be able to peek inside at the goods unless you purchase. I usually end up Googling the shade name on my phone to find swatches online to help me determine if I want to purchase something.

• The products not packaged in the security cases are pretty much always taken out of their containers and "tested" out by other shoppers (gross) so make sure to check beforehand that the insides are untouched.

My favourite thing about shopping at these stores is you'll find good stuff regardless of the location. In Toronto stores (and other major cities) you'll tend to find the more luxe brands, with the downside that it can be a little bit picked over. In smaller towns, I've found the occasional super-fancy product hiding in with everything else, unbeknownst to the locals. The upside is that they get these stores get shipments about three times a week, so you'll pretty much always find new product.

Reward Programs

Here in Canada, one of our most well-known pharmacy chains is Shoppers Drug Mart, and aside from carrying the necessities like toilet paper and prescriptions, pretty much all the stores have an on-site Beauty Boutique that carries luxury brands like Clarins, Dior, Elizabeth Arden and a wide variety of luxury fragrance lines such as Chanel and Givenchy.

Nearly anyone who shops at Shoppers has a Shoppers Optimum card. Whenever I pick up boring stuff like milk and toothpaste, I rack up points--10 for every dollar. On certain products there will be weekly deals like "10x the points," and some weekends, they'll even have deals like "20x the points when you spend $75 on anything in store," for example. This is pretty sweet, and those points add up quickly when you're picking up regular necessities (and fun things like cheapo nail polish and totally necessary candy).

I've racked up so many points over the years that I've been able to get a bottle of Dior Pure Poison and a Chanel Coco Mademoiselle travel spray set without paying an extra cent, and right now, I currently have enough points on my card for $35 off of anything (but I'm gonna keep saving).

If you're in Canada and don't already have an Optimum card, I would recommend signing up. Otherwise, I would look into similar programs in your area.


• You're getting points when spending on things you actually need. Most of the drugstores have a grocery section, along with other household necessities, so it feels nice knowing that my regular purchases of cereal and dish soap are bringing me closer to getting a major discount on pricey foundation or perfume.


• You've got to spend some to get some, but like I said above, you earn points on things you'd buy regardless, so there isn't really any harm in that.

Gifts With Purchase

My introduction to swag as a youngster was through the beloved gift with purchase. Surely we've all experienced the glory of this department store mainstay, usually from brands like Clinique, Estée Lauder and Lancôme.

The GWP is a gift set with mini (and sometimes the occasional full-size) products--usually a brand's bestsellers--included when you make a minimum purchase at a brand's counter. They're available a few times a year and, in my opinion, are a great way to sample a brand's selections without making a huge commitment. I love GWPs because the products contained are the perfect TSA-friendly size for travel and the best way to figure out if you want to purchase more from a brand.

My favourites are usually from Clinique, who frequently offer up gentle moisturisers, eye-makeup remover, neutral makeup shades, and mini tubes of their severely underrated mascaras (seriously, Clinique mascaras are the bomb).

In that vein are beauty bundle bags, which I've bought from Holt Renfrew here in Canada and have seen advertised in other stores like Nordstrom. For $35 at Holt's, I got a bag full of generously sized luxe samples (a mini NARS eyeshadow primer, a mini Deborah Lippmann polish, setting powder and a mini fan brush from Laura Mercier, travel-size bottles of skin and bath products from Sisley and Molton Brown, just to name a few) along with a coupon for $10 off any beauty purchase over $25.


• Gifts with purchase usually have a wide variety of items to try out, and the sizes are pretty much always TSA-approved so I end up creating a stash specifically for when I go on trips.

• Most department stores, like Saks Fifth Avenue for example, will list available deals online so you can plan your purchase out instead of getting swept up in store.


Like the points programs, you've got to spend to get the freebies. Still, I think it's a great way to get an introduction to a line. I mean, you could buy a product anytime, but wouldn't you rather get a GWP with something you've had your eye on for a while?

If I were to make one recommendation for a GWP program, I would say wait for Clinique to have a promotion and then pick up a bottle of their Redness Solutions foundation. It's one of my absolute favourites for those days when my skin is red, angry and/or broken out; even coverage that blends beautifully, and a slight yellow tinge to counteract red hues (I'm actually wearing it in the photo above). Perfect for the oncoming allergy season.

Whew, OK! Those are my secrets. Hopefully you learned something new, or perhaps you have your own secret to share? Either way, go forth and save! (Get those freebies, too!)