The 14 Biggest Beauty Splurges From Our Money Diaries

When you find a serum that gives you the best skin of your life, we'll be the first ones to tell you: Buy that sucker in bulk. And you would, but the double-edged sword of game-changing beauty products — including the foundation that covers adult acne scars, the primer that makes you believe in primer, and anything with a Sunday Riley label — is you'd drain your savings account trying to finance more than one full-size bottle.
And no one feels the pain of finding space in your budget for those must-have, confidence boosting beauty buys more than someone who is painstakingly logging every penny they spend — a.k.a. every one of the nearly 500 Refinery29 Money Diaries contributors. That's why we rounded up the 14 beauty products — from lip balm to hand soap — that our money diarists, of varied income brackets, claim are totally worth the splurge.
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So, if you've been lusting after that Aesop rollerball perfume that costs way more than you'd typically spend on anything travel-sized, one anonymous Seattle shopper making a $65,400 salary might just push you to treat yourself.
There is a lot of product out there — some would say too much. At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team, but if you buy something we link to on our site, Refinery29 may earn commission.
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"I have this weird aspiration to have all my bath products be from one brand with gorgeous minimal packaging, purely for aesthetic reasons," says one particularly relatable Brooklyn diarist who earns $70,000 as a designer, and drops $146.42 on impressively chic hand soap. "I think the Aesop soaps will be a nice upgrade to my bathroom and kitchen sinks and might positively affect a potential roommate’s impression of the apartment."
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A human resources manager who makes a six-figure salary ($112,500 per year) uses a Sephora skin-care promotion to buy Drunk Elephant's $80 vitamin C serum. "I love their products and have been wanting to try this one," she tells R29.
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In the same Sephora e-haul, she also grabs this silky cream primer by Tatcha, which is a glorious pale pink putty that will rob you of $50. But hey, anonymous money diarist, R29 editors, and 922 Sephora reviewers will tell you: It's worth it.
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Following a nighttime double cleanse, with coconut micellar water and an Origins face cleanser, our HR manager friend puts on the Fresh overnight mask, which runs just shy of $100.
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A Dallas-based diarist and self-proclaimed "skin-care freak," spends $325 on Créme de la Mer. "I start my usual morning routine: Wash my face, skin care, and take care of the dogs and cat while my moisturizer sinks in," the 29-year-old marketing manager explains. "I'm a skin-care freak. Plus, for the amount I spend on my La Mer cream, I want to give it every opportunity to succeed."
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The same diarist uses a Sephora sale as an excuse to pick up the cult-y Natasha Denona sunset eyeshadow palette — which is $129 full price.
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A 31-year-old IT professional from Seattle makes a case for finding a fragrance you love, and taking it for a spin in the rollerball size. "There's an Aesop store on my way home, and I've been thinking about getting their Marrakech Intense rollerball for the past two months. (I stop in once a week to use the tester)," the diarist recounts. "At $95, it's an expensive splurge for me, but today I walk in and decide to just buy the dang thing because I really do love it."
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Arguably the buzziest offering from the Sunday Riley label, this lactic acid serum is so good that one diarist scourers eBay for any partial savings on the $158 price tag. (We'd note that this is not a practice we'd necessarily recommend.)
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For an upcoming wedding, one compliance officer, who makes $135,000 a year, spends almost $50 on conditioner. "I'm up to no good and scouring Rue La La for a limited-time bargain," she admits on day one of her week-long diary entry. "I succumb to its taunting and purchase a pair of earrings for my upcoming wedding ($35.99) and Kérastase conditioner ($46.99). My internal justification for this purchase goes something like: I need conditioner and the jar is HUGE; it will probably last for months!"
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Glossier products generally ride the line between drugstore cheap and designer luxe. But their $30 lip balm trio is definitely a splurge — especially when you compare it to a stick of Burt's Bees. That doesn't stop one diarist, who insists the three-pack is absolutely necessary to stock her desk, car, and handbag with the multi-purpose skin salve.
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The combination of a full-coverage foundation and a bouncy, new Beauty Blender can set you back $50, easy. So, when a 24-year-old Silicon Valley engineer goes foundation shopping, she drops 40 big ones on Too Faced's Born This Way formula — it's the only one that helps cover her adult acne — and adds a Beauty Blender to get her to the free shipping on the $61 total.
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Almost every drugstore brand has their own iteration of a dry shampoo aerosol, which typically rings in at under $10. But, a 28-year-old client services specialist, who makes $35,525 per year, splurges on a slightly pricier $23 spray, noting that it comes with a free mini version at her local Ulta.
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One 24-year-old living off a $52,000 salary signs up for market research groups so she can earn a little cash on the side for her indulgent skin-care routine — which includes this serum by Caudalie along with Kiehl's Hydro-Plumping Re-Texturizing Serum.
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A 25-year-old living in NYC on $75,000 a year spends a portion of her income on natural beauty products — like this luxe organic face oil by RMS. "I wandered into Sephora and came out with an RMS Beauty Oil — something I've been lusting after for so long," she tells R29 in her diary. "I return some makeup I received over the holidays for a store credit, so I only have to pay $57.27 instead of $87."
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Want even more Money Diaries, plus $$$ advice from a kick-ass, all-female team of financial advisors, and tips on how to save more than $500? Pick up our new book: Money Diaries: Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Your Finances... and Everyone Else's. It's out now — order here!
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