How To Save Serious Money At Sephora

by Amanda Richards

As a self-admitted product fiend and someone who has lived abroad in a Sephora-less country for the last five years, I'm just now learning how to save money at Sephora. I visit at least one branch in Manhattan every week or two, and often, it feels like my excitement overshadows my desire to stay frugal. Before you know it, I'm neck deep in Peter Thomas Roth and Kat Von D and my credit card is self-immolating in my pocket, all while Sephora employees with perfect winged eyeliner beckon me softly from the register.

Luckily, I have a friend and beauty expert to talk me down off the ledge (read: back onto the ledge, for the right products). Her name is Erin Thomas, and she's a Cleveland-based makeup artist who knows beauty like the back of her well-manicured hand. She's number one on my call list before and during my trips to Sephora, so I thought she'd be the perfect person to consult about money-saving tips while shopping.

Thomas came through with tons of information (as usual). Her advice combined with my research has given me seven amazing tips for keeping your coins and continuing to look fabulous. Make some room in your medicine cabinets and cosmetics cases, because you're going to need it.

1. Become An Insider

Up until about six months ago, I had no idea that a Sephora rewards program existed. It was only when the women working at my local Sephora presented me with a shiny new VIB card that I started to understand that shopping at Sephora has some serious perks.

"There are three levels to it," Thomas explains. "Beauty Insider, VIB, and VIB Rouge. Your status in the program is determined by how much money you spend there in a calendar year. Under $350 is considered a Beauty Insider, over $350 and you are now a VIB, and once you hit $1000, you get the prestigious VIB Rouge card. VIB Rouge has the best perks of all, including free shipping and unlimited free makeovers, but membership has its perks at all levels."

Even more mind-boggling: There's a point system that gets you even bigger perks at certain times a year. Thomas broke it down for my baffled mind quite simply.

"Your Beauty Insider card is used to keep track of your purchases, which make returns a breeze and gives you the opportunity to earn Beauty Bank points, which can get you deluxe samples of a huge variety of products that change monthly," she explains. "Some shoppers, like myself, love hoarding their Beauty Bank points to use during Sephora's Epic Rewards promotions. If you've saved up 1,000 to 10,000 points over the course of the year, you can get some amazing, oftentimes exclusive, rewards from brands like Too Faced, Kat Von D, and Dior. If 10,000 Beauty Bank points sounds insane to you, keep in mind that Beauty Insiders also get access to extra points promotions throughout the year, during which you can get two to five times the amount of points you'd normally earn from your purchase. Then you can use those points for the deluxe, often exclusive rewards."

Did you get all of that? The bottom line: Joining the program means easier returns, bigger perks, and the opportunity to earn points and enjoy exclusive items at a discount. Sounds like a money saver to me.

2. Don't Be Afraid To Return Or Exchange

Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Sephora has one of the best return and exchange policies in the game: You can return anything, used or unused, to the store for credit — with or without a receipt. All you need is a valid ID or your Beauty Insider card. If you do have a receipt, you can get a full refund — yes, even if the product is used. That way, if you're not impressed with something, you can return it and use the money/credit towards something else.

3. Shop At The Right Branches

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This is something I've observed by visiting several different Sephora branches, and Thomas confirmed my suspicions. "Sephoras inside of JCPenney's always have the best clearance sections," she says. "They're often much smaller than Sephoras inside malls, so they basically just carry the greatest hits. You can be in and out in minutes and snag some great deals while you're at it."

4. Don't Sleep On The House Brand

Sephora Wrinkle-Fighting Super Serum, $36, Sephora

Sephora carries top-of-the-line, brand-name cosmetics, sure, but it also has a swoon-worthy house brand that includes makeup, skincare, brushes, and fragrances at a fraction of the cost. I've been using the Sephora Wrinkle Fighting Super Serum, and I love the results. "Sephora Collection products are often overlooked," Thomas explains. "[But] the Sephora Collection includes fantastic dupes for high end formulas, such as Dior and YSL, at a fraction of the price. I highly recommend their liquid eyeliners, Pro brushes, fiber masks, foundations (dupes galore!), and liquid lipsticks."

5. Stock Up On Samples

In my experience, virtually every transaction at Sephora includes at least three samples. If you're looking to try something in particular, ask a Sephora employee if they have a sample of it. And remember, your Beauty Insider rewards points can also mean extra samples at checkout.

6. Stalk The Sale Items Online

Urban Decay Naked On The Run palette, $32, Sephora

Sephora's online clearance section changes frequently, and the items on sale are often incredible. Make sure to browse the section every time you shop online to potentially save yourself some coin. Right now, Urban Decay's Naked On The Run palette is on sale for a cool $32. Additionally, keep your eyes peeled for some post-Christmas deals: "Always check for value and gift sets after the holidays," Thomas says.

7. Do Your Research Before You Shop

Admittedly, not everyone has an Erin Thomas to consult before they do their shopping, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't spend some time reading beauty reviews and forums. Sometimes, the most highly anticipated products fall flat with consumers, while others are surprise hits. Knowing exactly what you're purchasing beforehand will save you time, and the research might even open your eyes to a product you've never considered before.

So go forth, and become the beauty-hoarding queen you've always envisioned for a fraction of the cost.

Images: Sephora/Instagram; Courtesy Sephora