Where To Splurge And Save In Your Makeup Bag

make up bag essentials

The high low.

Given the struggles I’ve had with assembling a makeup bag over the years, you’d think I was trying to build a MTV Cribs-worthy mansion with my bare hands. My modus operandi during my teenage years was to pile that shit on with great passion (and in generous quantities), but my beauty bag always felt incomplete or imbalanced—blush, no blush brush to apply with; four mascaras, all clumpy and unusable. That kinda thing. Then, in my late teens and early twenties I gave up on makeup altogether. After that became a total bore, I started experimenting with makeup, but only in my nighttime lewks. After my brief dalliance working in the beauty industry, I decided I’d only like to use expensive makeup, thank you very much, even though there was better, more affordable options available. 

I think I’ve recently hit my stride, though. I look down on my makeup bag now with the kind of pride I imagine my Mum felt every time I came home with a report card that didn’t besmirch me as some kind of hell-raising, back-chatting classroom demon. These days my bag seems to take its inspiration from my favourite podcast, The High Low, in that it acknowledges that the best makeup assemblage is one built with products spanning all different price ranges. It scrimps where it can, although it has retained its refined palette (often literally) where it deems fit.

Expensive doesn’t always equal best, it has concluded. While I’m sure there are greater joys in life, finding really inexpensive products that light up your face like a Christmas tree surely must come close. 

If you’re looking to ~strike a balance~ with your beauty bag, I invite you to take a peek into mine below…


I’ve come to see primer as the pre-drinks of my makeup routine—i.e. a very important rite of passage. After washing my face (with a combination of Dermalogica Microfoliant and Dermalogica Special Cleansing Gel) and slathering on serum and moisturiser (Drunk Elephant Lala Retro Whipped Cream), I like to prep my epidermis with a few spritzes of M.A.C Prep + Prime Fix + before applying my makeup, and then once I’m done, I douse myself one more time to set everything. It’s incredibly hydrating, and at $36, I’m not sure it constitutes a save nor a splurge, so I will offer up some alternatives below:

For a true splurge that gives SPF50, the Giorgio Armani Maestro UV Skin Defense Primer is great, and if you’re looking to pinch pennies, this The Ordinary primer is an AMAZING lightweight primer that won’t leave any residual oil/will prep your skin right up for a flawless makeup lewk.


I’m not sure if this a controversial standpoint, but lately I’ve been thinking a lot about ye’ old concealer, and how much of a difference it really makes (especially when you hit your late twenties, and your face, with special regard to your under-eye area, starts to betray how little sleep you’ve had and how many wines you’ve guzzled the night prior). It took my a long while to get here, but I can now say that I worship at the altar of concealers, and am therefore willing to fork out the cash for a good one. Nothing beats YSL’s Touch Eclat in my opinzzz.


When it comes to foundation, I don’t mess around. In my humble opinion,  skin should be the main feature of every makeup look, and so it’s ~imperative~ that you get it right. I personally prefer to go for a more dewy foundation—since my skin is of the pale and prone-to-desert-like dryness—and I love (like, that obsessive teenager type of love) the Tom Ford Traceless Foundation. Carmen’s fave is Estee Lauder Double Wear Nude Water Fresh, and I can confirm that her skin always looks… okay (jks, it looks annoyingly good all the time), and Georgie’s fave is the Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturiser. Again, annoyingly good skin. If you’re after a more mattifying foundation, the Fenty Beauty Longwear Foundation looks incredible on super hydrated skin.


For years, my favourite FAVOURITE ever product was M.A.C blot powder. It was the ultimate club-hopping compadre, especially in summer when sweaty dance floors led to a near-permanent forehead sheen. If you’re oily/prone to unwanted shine, I still hype it. These days, though, I am perfectly content with a drugstore alternative so I can spend my cash elsewhere (not at the club, it would seem). The Rimmel Stay Matte Powder is my makeup bag friend. It’s not a product I’d stop people on the street to tell about by any means, but it certainly gets the job done.


I saw Carmen Hamilton wearing Estee Lauder Pure Color Envy Paint On Liquid Lipcolor so I wore Estee Lauder Pure Color Envy Paint On Liquid Lipcolor. But seriously, this is definitely worth your $$$. The Lava Flow is the perfect shade of red, it will stay on all night, and it’s perfectly pigmented. I find with cheaper lipsticks, they either aren’t durable or the colour just doesn’t quiiiite get there. 


A good mascara is all in the brush, not the price tag. I’ve used probably a hundred or so mascaras in my life, and while I agree with Georgie’s claim that Bobbi Brown Everything is good, I’ll always hit up my local drugstore when a mascara runs out. My favourite cheapy is the Maybelline Colossal Volum’ Express. People will confuse you for a giraffe erry single time.


My BFF recently brought me back the Glossier Cloud Paint in Puff from Canada, and I finally understand the hype around it. I feel like an actual doll when I wear it—it’s the prettiest shade, and since it was a present and therefore free, an absolute save. If it’s not your birthday, it’s technically still a good cost-effective option, coming in at $18USD. Call in some favours from your international friends if you live over this side of the world, or enlist a third party delivery service to help get it in yo’ life.


My face has found out the hard way what a bad bronzer can do to it (think: tragic), so I’m not opposed to spending a lil’ more to get a sun-kissed result. My absolute ride or die bronzer is the Hourglass Ambient lighting bronzer, which is like a bronzer AND a highlighter. Talk about money well spent, huh.


When it comes to eyeshadow, I like to fork out a little extra for ones with higher quality pigments because they a) look better, and b) last longer. I also am a big fan of palettes, despite my often-crippling indecisiveness, and love the Too Faced Sweet Peach Eyeshadow Collection. It’s definitely worth the extra cashola, ‘cause there are so many cute colours to choose from, pending the vibe you’re going for that day. 


Personally, I don’t understand why people would spend much more than $20 on liquid eyeliner. This Revlon ColorStay eyeliner is the perfect option for an eyeliner that will stay put all day—the wand makes application super easy, especially if you’re trying out a cat-eye lewk and it’s not patchy at all. Two thumbs up from moi.


The whole COH team swears by the Mecca Cosmetica Enlightened From Within Illuminating Balm. It’s super lush, glossy, glow-y and looks super natural. Part of its beauty is its size—you can pack it to reapply on the go!

Now that I’ve essentially laid my soul bare to you, I ask only one favour in return. What are your favourite splurge and save products? Let’s build an MTV Cribs-worthy makeup bag together in the comments below.