Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Savings Challenge, Week 7: Saving on shaving

I seem to be going through a long dry spell with the Bankrate 52-Week Savings Challenge. Three weeks ago, it was making your own dog food, and we don't have a dog; two weeks ago, it was the financial fast, an idea I'd already considered and deemed unproductive; and last week, it was the spending journal, which I already do routinely and thus couldn't try out for the first time. And now this week, Bankrate reporting Mark Hamrick leads off with "This will be a rare tip aimed at men, so apologies to the ladies," before presenting his recipe for homemade shaving oil.

Now, simply having a challenge that's "aimed at men" wouldn't necessarily make it useless for me, since I happen to be married to one; I could simply make up a batch of the homemade shaving oil for him. The real problem is that, until I saw this challenge today, I'd never even heard of shaving oil, and neither had Brian. Apparently it's something you put on before your shaving cream to get a closer shave with less irritation. But these benefits come with a hefty price tag: according to the article, shaving oil can cost $10 or more per ounce, and that's in addition to whatever you already spend on shaving cream.

Now, if you are already in the habit of buying shaving oil, then making your own could indeed save you a tidy sum of money. Hamrick's recipe uses about $11 worth of basic ingredients (grape seed oil as a base, castor oil as a thickener, and eucalyptus oil for fragrance) to produce around $150 worth of shaving oil. Hamrick estimates that by using it, he's saving at least $200 per year. But the thing is, this implies that he used to be spending upwards of $200 per year on shaving oil. Brian, by contrast, doesn't currently spend one red cent on shaving oil, and neither does any other man I know. So it's hard to see how this tip can really be a money-saver for most men. It might still be worthwhile as a cheap luxury, but adding a luxury item—even a cheap one—to your existing budget is never going to save you money.

So, rather than spending $11 on ingredients to make up a batch of a product we don't currently use, I'm instead going to discuss a few tips of my own that Brian and I actually do use to cut (ha ha) the cost of shaving:
  • Clean the blade. I use a cartridge-type razor for shaving my legs, and over time, it gets clogged up with hair, making it much less effective. So I always rinse it carefully after each use, and that helps me go longer on a single blade.
  • Reduce rust. I simply dry the blade carefully with a towel to keep it from rusting, but other folks use more extreme remedies, like coating the blade in Vaseline (though I'm not sure how you do that without cutting yourself) or storing it in a cup of oil. Which, come to think of it, would also keep it nicely lubricated, thus serving essentially the same function as a shaving oil.
  • Strop the blade. Stropping a blade, as Wikipedia explains, is not exactly the same thing as sharpening it; it doesn't remove chipped or dulled edges, but instead realigns the edge without removing any material. However, it does serve much the same purpose as sharpening: to give you a closer shave with the same old blade. Various sources around the Web recommend stropping your blade with a leather belt, a leather-soled shoe, and even a pair of blue jeans, but by far the easiest method I've seen is to strop the blade against the inside of your own forearm. After all, you always have it handy when you're getting ready to shave, so why climb out of the shower to go get a belt or a piece of denim?
  • Skip the shaving cream. I shave in the shower, so i just use my regular body wash. I have to wash with it anyway, so I may as well shave it off my legs instead of just rinsing it off, right? I once tried some shaving cream instead (a visiting friend left a can behind) to see if it gave me an appreciably closer shave, and it didn't, so I see no reason to squeeze one more container into the shower bin.
  • Grow a beard. This is Brian's preferred method, though it has less to do with saving money and more to do with (1) how it looks and (2) not having to bother with shaving every day. Unfortunately, he isn't one of those fortunate guys whose beard grows in precisely down to the chin and leaves the neck perfectly clean, so he still ends up having to shave his neck—but most of the time, he just cuts the hair down to short stubble, using his beard trimmer with the guard off. Only when he needs to look extra snazzy does he get out a proper razor—which is to say, borrow mine—and shave completely smooth.
So how much do we actually save on shaving this way? Well, the only thing I actually pay for is my razor cartridges, which cost about a dollar apiece, and the pack I'm using now has lasted me for—well, I'm not exactly sure, because I can't remember when I bought it. At least a year, anyway.

As for Brian, he just uses an electric beard trimmer. As I mentioned last week, the rechargeable, cordless models he used to buy always seemed to die after a year or two, their batteries gradually weakening until they could no longer hold enough charge to last through a trim (and there doesn't seem to be any way to replace the battery once this happens). So this time, we decided to invest in a corded model. We couldn't find any reviews for beard trimmers at ConsumerSearch, my usual go-to site, but this report at the Sweethome (a sister site to the technical site the Wirecutter) recommended the Wahl Peanut, which it says is "tough enough to survive a few years at a time in a high-volume shop" and should provide "many years of service" for individual users at home. So we're hoping this $39 investment (which was actually $23.25 out of pocket, because we cashed in some credit card rewards) will be good for five to ten years at least.

So, assuming Brian's trimmer lasts at least five years, and my 8-packs of razor cartridges are lasting me at least one year, that means the annual cost of shaving is, at most, $12.65 for the two of us. Which, coincidentally, is about what we'd have to spend on the ingredients to try out a batch of that "money-saving" homemade shaving oil. So even if those ingredients are good for a whole year's supply of the stuff, adding it to our shaving routine would roughly double its annual cost. Thanks, but no thanks.

[EDIT, 4/26/15: Since writing this article, I decided to try swiping my razor, after I've rinsed and dried it, through the coconut oil I keep in the shower for my skin. I was only thinking that it might help a bit with preventing rust, but I've noticed since I started doing it that I seem to get an appreciably closer shave than I used to, as well. So perhaps there is something to this shaving oil idea, after all. But apparently, you don't need to buy $13 worth of ingredients to get the benefits.]
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