Buy Nail Polish on a Budget

While nail polish has proven so far to be almost recession-proof and actually continues to rise in popularity, it remains a sad fact that it can be an expensive hobby. No matter how much nail polish you own, there's always that longing for "just one more", and after a while, it all adds up. Many people who paint their nails have been falsely lead to believe that a higher price means a better product or that brand names matter in nail polish the same way they (supposedly) matter in clothes and accessories. However, if you're patient, methodical, and know where to look, you can amass a huge nail polish stash for very little money... your only problem then will be figuring out how to store it all!


  1. Splurge a bit on essentials. While it is true, to an extent, that more expensive polishes look better and have better staying power, there are always exceptions, and any polish can be made to look good and last awhile with a good top coat and base coat combo. Do some research to decide what products you'd like to buy. With top coats, you can choose between glossy or matte finishes and you'll probably want to consider drying time as a factor, and there are base coats designed to strengthen, fortify, or help grow your nails that would be worth the investment. Online reviews and forums can be a valuable resource in making this decision, and you could also ask around at local cosmetics stores. Even if the price tag on your final choice has you cringing a bit, don't worry about it... the money you save on the actual nail polish will more than make up for it.
  2. Get yourself in the right mindset. If you're going to be a smart nail polish shopper, there are some deadly mind traps that you'll have to teach yourself to avoid.
    • Brand Loyalty: Even if you start off with a certain brand of polish and find that you like most of the colors you own from that particular brand, don't box yourself in. No nail polish brand has every color known to man, and every brand, no matter how expensive, will have a few colors that just aren't as good as they look in the bottle. Especially if you've already become loyal to a more expensive brand, open your eyes and look around. Do you want to spend ten dollars to get a color in "your" brand, or get a color that's almost identical for two dollars?
    • Brand Names: If you're carrying a Coach purse, everyone who knows anything about purses can tell that it's Coach and that it's real, and it makes you look rich and trendy. The same goes for clothes and other accessories. However, despite what you may be led to believe, it does not matter with nail polish. Most people aren't going to be looking at your nails closely enough to realize that you're wearing a 99 cent duplicate ("dupe" in nail polish lingo) of a twenty dollar designer polish. If the look you're going for is "big chunks of colorful glitter", get something with big chunks of colorful glitter in it. You know what look you want, and you shouldn't let saving up for labels and brand names get in the way of your goal.

    • Impulse Buys: As with anything else you may run across while shopping, there's always the potential that you could go into a store looking for one color of nail polish, leave with twenty, and never use ten of those. Even if you see something that looks cool and different, before buying, you should think to make sure you don't already have a similar polish and that you will actually use this one if you buy it. If you're not sure, don't worry. It'll be there for you to come back for later.
    • Nail Polish Blogs: The internet is full of blogs devoted to nothing but pictures ("swatches" in nail polish lingo) of different colors of nail polish. It's easy to get to reading these and end up with a list of polishes you want that's as long as your arm. However, as you begin to search for them, you are likely to discover that they are expensive, discontinued (and selling for three figures on eBay), or from companies that don't look entirely trustworthy. No matter how pretty a polish is, just remember that if you feel uncomfortable giving the seller your credit card info or if it costs more than you feel comfortable spending, it's not worth it. Look for a dupe, or just resign yourself to not paying $130 for a bottle of the much sought-after Clarins 230 on eBay.
    • Fads: As with anything else in fashion, there are fads and trends in nail polish that come and go. Some recent ones include shatter polish and magnetic nail polish. No matter how cool something looks, think twice before you run out and buy it in every color. Try buying just one and see if you like it first, and even then, don't get too many, because you probably won't finish a bottle before another fad pops up.
  3. Decide what kind of polish fanatic you are. Some people are into wearing the current trends, no matter how bizarre they may be. Some like to create designs and pictures on their nails (and thus use nail polish more like paint). Some people just like to paint solid colors, while others like glitter, duochromes, flakies, or layering different polishes. Once you know what you like to wear, it's easier to narrow down what you'll actually use and what would just be an impulse buy.
  4. Keep an open mind. Even if your friends claim that a certain brand of polish is no good, try a couple before you agree with them. Cheaper brands tend to be a bit hit-and-miss in terms of formula and quality (this is where reading reviews can come in handy before buying), but almost all brands have a few hidden gems that you will really appreciate if you manage to find them. If you assume a certain brand is "no good", you could be missing out on a great deal.
  5. Look for duplicates. A simple Google search can save you a lot of time shopping around. For instance, Deborah Lippmann's Happy Birthday polish is very popular, but there are many duplicates out there (one of the cheapest is Wet n' Wild's Party of Five Glitters, which can be found for as little as a dollar, if you know where to look). With basic colors, just try to go for the cheaper brands as a general rule... for the most part, red is red, no matter if it costs two dollars or thirty.
  6. Look for deals. Especially with drugstore brands, if you take the time to thumb through the ads you get in the mail, you can often find polishes that are already cheap on sale for half off, buy one get one free, et cetera. This is when you make a quick list of colors you've been looking for and run to the store to stock up.

  7. Take advantage of store-specific discount cards and clubs. If you tend to buy your nail polish at a couple of specific stores, it can help a lot to sign up for their rewards club to get special deals and lower prices. Even if you have to pay a small fee to become a member, it should pay for itself quickly.
  8. Store your nail polish well to make it last as long as possible. You should always make sure the lids are closed tightly and the bottles are stored upright. If you notice your polishes thickening up over time, splurge a little bit on a bottle of nail polish thinner (available at most cosmetics stores and online) instead of just buying a new bottle. If you buy your polishes at the cheapest price you can find them for and care for them well, you'll definitely be proud of yourself when you see the end result.


  • Once you realize you have a bit of a nail polish addiction, it might be helpful to sit down and write a list of colors you don't have that you feel your collection is lacking. Don't be specific as to brands, but rather, write a list that consists more of things like "neon yellow", "light purple", "dark blue", or "red glitter". Keep it with you, and when you see a good deal on a polish that looks like one you don't have yet, go for it. This will help keep you from buying too many similar polishes and also keeps you away from impulse buys.
  • If you're into painting designs, look into using acrylic paints instead of nail polish. Acrylic paints are cheaper, come in larger bottles, are easier to work with (and more forgiving when you mess up), and give you a lot more control over small details and blending colors than nail polish does. If you decide to paint with acrylics, apply a base coat and at least one base color of nail polish, paint on top with acrylics, and seal your design with a good topcoat.
  • Often, if you're patient, fads that start in more expensive nail polish brands will eventually work their way down to (at least) the higher-end drugstore brands. It's more rewarding to get something cool for five dollars after a long wait than it is to grab the first bottle to hit the stores for thirty.
  • Instead of striping/nail art brushes, which are like regular polishes but come in smaller bottles with very thin brushes (meant to create intricate details), either try using acrylic paints, or buy nail polish brushes with long, skinny bristles that can be rinsed off and reused. That way, instead of having to buy colors over again to get the small brushes, you can just use one small brush in all your large bottles and get the same results.
  • Sometimes, you can go to nail salons and ask them to sell you a half-empty bottle of an ordinarily expensive polish for a reduced price. They usually have a backup on hand to keep using, and this can be a great way to get more expensive brands for really good prices. Even if the bottle is half-empty or so, don't worry about it. Few people actually finish full-sized bottles of nail polish, and the money you just saved should make it worth it.


  • Check to make sure the polishes you're buying are "big 3 free" - the "big 3" being toluene, formaldehyde, and DBP (dibutyl phthalate). Some cheaper and lesser-known polishes still use these chemicals, and they're not good for your nails. If in doubt, don't buy from a certain brand, just in case. Most nail polishes will mention either on their packaging or brand website that they are big 3 free if they are.
  • Beware scams if you're ordering nail polish off the internet. If a price seems too good to be true, it probably is, and you're best off only buying from reputable sellers, just to be safe.

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