Googling My Way to Glamour
My husband and I have been discussing the abysmal economy for months, but always in a generic "wow, times sure are tough!" sort of way. Then one day Joe uttered the dreadful sentence that strikes fear into the heart of every wife and mom: "I've been working on a family budget."
That was a huge understatement. As the two of us perused his elaborately crafted spreadsheet, it was clear that we could cut back. A lot.
Some changes were no-brainers. We agreed we'd eat out less, switch to a family health insurance plan with a higher deductible and lower premium, and forsake prepackaged foods.
"What about this beauty category?" Joe asked tentatively.
"What about it?" I shot back. Not that I had a right to be defensive: The spreadsheet showed that my vanity was gobbling up a not-insignificant chunk of our financial pie. I like to think I'm at least modestly thrifty—I cut my kids' hair myself, shop at four supermarkets to get the best deals, and still wear a pair of shoes I bought 15 years ago. I'm prepared to make sacrifices. Just, you know, as long as I can look good doing so.
Desperation breeds creativity, I guess, because suddenly I had an idea: What if I could score -- and subsist on -- free beauty samples for a month? It might be a fun way to try new products. Maybe I'd even find a prettier look in the process. Could I make it that long without buying anything? There was only one way to find out.
I decide to begin my quest online. I'm feeling cautiously optimistic, since I don't have many makeup musts: just foundation or powder, eyebrow pencil, and some sort of lip tint.
At first there seem to be zillions of beauty freebies to be had, but I soon discover that most of them have a string attached that's about five miles long. After filling out several odd, borderline-invasive surveys (do I smoke? have Crohn's disease? want a personal astrology reading?), I can have my free razor/deodorant/toothpaste...just as soon as I accept any two of the dozens of "partner offers" listed. And they all have a fee or enrollment requirement attached. Lesson learned: A long survey can sometimes be a sign you're getting scammed.
I then spot an offer claiming that a Purity Mineral Makeup Kit is mine "to try for free." All I have to do is pay for the shipping and handling. I'm psyched, but then I see the fine print: "If you enjoy our Collection...Your credit card will be charged the low price of $69.95 at the end of your 21-day trial period." I don't think these people used the same dictionary as the rest of us when they looked up "free" and "low price."
I decide to call my friend Julie, who runs a blog called momspective.com, knowing that she'll point me in the right direction. As it happens Julie includes a section that lists legitimate freebie sites for beauty products.
"Have you ever gotten, say, a free eyebrow pencil?" is one of the first questions I ask. My bare, scanty brows are already worrying me.
"I don't think so," she says. Uh-oh.
I mention that I may be too lazy for the free-swag thing; it's going to take me forever to type my contact information into every company's form. But she's found a way around that;roboform.com offers a free plug-in you put on your Web browser's toolbar that automatically fills in your info with a mouse click. Soon I'm four to six weeks away from receiving a haul that includes a mini-box of Playtex Sport tampons, a box of Crest Advanced Seal Whitestrips, and a full-size tube of Revlon 3D Extreme Mascara.
I do come across a few sites on my own that deliver on their promises. Eveorganics.netoffers a free sample a month; my first goody, a delicious peppermint lip balm, arrives practically overnight. And at bionic-beauty.com I find a list of legit offers. With a few mouse clicks I'm the soon-to-be recipient of a Dior Diorskin Fluid Foundation sample, some Dove shampoo, and a Mary Kay MK Signature Ultimate Mascara. Not bad for three minutes' work.