Forget the Dow Jones Industrial Average — as a gauge of the economy, try the "leading lipstick index.'' • It's a well-known fact that women buy more lipsticks and other cosmetics during times of recession. If you can't afford a hot new car, how about a hot new look? • But beware: Department store brands will set you back a pretty penny. Cosmetics manufacturers can afford to give away those "free," sample-laden totes because they're charging $30 for a simple tube of mascara. • You can save big, though, at many stores in the Tampa Bay area that offer brand-name cosmetics, perfumes and toiletries at bargain prices. The trick is to make frequent visits because the inventory changes often — an item that's here today might be gone tomorrow.
Where to look:
These carry items from drugstores and other retailers that have gone out of business or have left the area. A few months ago, I discovered the Bargain Basement Outlet Store in St. Petersburg (there's also one in Pasco County) with an impressive array of lipsticks, nail polishes, eye shadows and other cosmetics that still carry their original Rite Aid stickers.
Here you'll find bins of Revlon, L'Oreal, Maybelline and Cover Girl products for just $1.50 compared to three or four times that elsewhere.
Bargain Basement also has a decent selection of brand-name hair color products, cold medicine, toothpaste and the like. On my last visit, I got a two-pack of Oral-B vibrating toothbrushes for $6 and a handful of lip balms for only 25 cents.
Stores are in the Big Lots shopping center at 34th Street and 30th Avenue N in St. Petersburg and at 14117 U.S. 19 in Hudson, next to RV World.
Unlike the regular Bealls, the chain's discount stores carry some perfumes and cosmetics in addition to clothing. On a recent trip, I found Almay Eye Makeup Remover pads for $2.99, about 40 percent less than they cost in a drugstore, and a two-pack of Revlon nail polish for $2.99.
For even bigger savings, apply for a Beall's Outlet One Card. Customers 50 and older get 15 percent off their purchase on Mondays; for those 49 or younger, it's 15 percent off on Fridays. You also earn one point for every dollar spent, with 200 points netting a $5 reward coupon.
As even the well-heeled have discovered, you just can't beat Dollar Tree for gift bags, stationery, party supplies and dozens of other items. And if you're on a really tight budget, Dollar Tree offers a decent selection of lip, eye and nail products, too.
Although the stores occasionally carry discontinued Revlon or Maybelline cosmetics, the main brand here is L.A. Colors. It gets good online reviews, and the lipsticks I've tried have seemed comparable in quality to drugstore brands.
Dollar General, Family Dollar and Big Lots also have bargain cosmetics and toiletries, though the selections vary by store and time. At Big Lots, I recently found Revlon lipsticks for $2 each and a two-pack of Revlon nail polish for $2.
Whenever I'm in T.J. Maxx, a lovely scent leads me straight to the area with luxury toiletries and boxed perfume sets. Prices are generally higher than at other discount chains, but this is a great place to shop for gifts or just indulge yourself a bit.
My favorite splurges: Milled soaps from Italy and Portugal. At $5.99 for three, they smell wonderful, last far longer than ordinary soap and come in beautiful boxes.
Though T.J. doesn't carry lipstick or mascara, it has a wide, if ever-changing, variety of face and body creams by Elizabeth Arden, Shiseido, StriVectin and other top brands, all at considerable savings. On the realization that nothing is going to make me look 40 again, I deserted my regular drugstore brand to try a wonderfully silky French face cream I found at T.J. for half the price (just $5.99).
Aging does have one advantage: On Mondays, T.J. Maxx gives customers 55 and older a 10 percent discount.
Susan Taylor Martin can be contacted at email@example.com.