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When is a deal no longer a deal?

I’ll admit it–I’ve spent my fair share on both high-end and low-end beauty products.  Usually, I’ve found that low-end products work nearly as well as their higher-end counterparts (and especially well given the massive difference in price).  When my face was erupting in cystic acne, I spent quite the pretty penny trying to find some solution for my skin woes.  Here’s a few things that I learned about beauty “deals”:

  1. Cheap does not necessarily mean ineffective.  The $20 concealer from Sephora that I used to hide blemishes wasn’t any better than the $3 concealer I bought a Target.
  2. It takes money to figure out where to save money.  This is unfortunately true.  You have to be willing to spend some money on lower-end products to figure out what works for you.  If you buy at a retailer that has a generous return policy, you may be able to reduce your total out-of-pocket expense.  User reviews are a Godsend in many cases for helping you figure out what may work as a substitute for a higher-end product.
  3. Some high-end products are worth it.  For instance, I use Urban Decay eyeshadow only.  Why?  For one, it works the best our of any eyeshadow I ever tried.  It also lasts FOREVER (still using my palette from more than 5 years ago).  And, I have every color I could ever want so trying a new look is easy and doesn’t require any new purchases. Some application tools are also worth forking out a bit more cash since they will likely perform better and last longer than cheapies.
  4. Used products are never worth it.  Believe me–people use leftover cosmetics and beauty products from complete strangers.  Just browse eBay postings to get an idea of what I mean.  Sick…disgusting…dangerous!  You have no idea what weird eye infection or cold sore outbreak or rosacea issue somebody is dealing with.  Don’t ever buy used products…please!
  5. A good price is not necessarily a good buy.  Similar to #4, if you see a great price, consider the source.  A Chinese knock-off brand or estate sell or even eBay with rare exception usually are not worth the potential health hazard of getting a good “deal.”  Walmart/Target, dollar stores, and clearance aisles should also be approached with caution because of crappy people sampling the goods without purchasing.

What about you?  Ever find a deal that really wasn’t a deal in the long run?

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Five Beauty Hacks To Save Time & Money

1. Double Duty

Use mascara as liner, lipstick as blush, concealer as eye primer, and conditioner as shaving cream.  The options are endless!

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2. Keep Essentials on Hand

Hairspray can keep your brows in line, fix a run in your tights, and even crush ink stains on clothing.

Baking soda can double as toothpaste, a quick facial scrub, and help remove splinters.

Baby oil can help remove eye makeup, calm shaving bumps, and soften skin.

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3. Spend Money on Tools, Not Product

The right tool can save you tons of money by allowing you to use cheaper products.  The Beautyblender sponge makes foundation last longer and apply evenly.  A good eyeshadow brush will ensure ease of application and long-wearing color.  The right exfoliating tool uses less cleanser for a deep clean.

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4. Think Outside the Box

Get creative by using everyday things to enhance your beauty routine, like creating a polka dot pattern on your nails using a bandaid.

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5. Make Your Own Products

Dry shampoo, for instance, is easy and relatively cheap to make on your own using natural ingredients you likely have on hand or can find easily.  Try this recipe for an alternative to store-bought concoctions.

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Tools Needed for DIY Gift-Making Success

With the holidays around the corner, now’s the perfect time to keep an eye out for some tools you’ll need when making DIY gifts this year.  Stocking up now can save you time and money as the gift-giving season looms large.

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1)  Jars, Tins, and Containers

You’ll need something to house nearly every DIY gift you can imagine–whether a fab cosmetic concoction or a trio of delicious desserts.  Glass jars, in particular, are versatile, easy-to-find, and relatively cheap (not to mention eco-friendly).  I’ve found some great deals on jars by browsing at thrift stores, buying in bulk at retailers, keeping jars from foodstuffs consumed during the year, and plain ole asking friends.  Other good items to watch out for are tins (like those altoids come in), screw-on pots, tiny tupperware containers, and anything else that might make your gift all the more appealing and practical.

Total Cost: Free-$2 per container

2) Essential Oils

Since many homemade beauty recipes call for essential oils, it’s good to have a few handy so you can whip something up quickly.  Mint, eucalyptus, and lemon are my three top choices with lavender, sage, tea tree, and bergamot close behind.  The initial investment in essential oils may seem daunting, but a little goes a long way (I still have more-than-half-full bottles of essential oils I purchased a few years ago).

Total Cost: $2.70-$10 per 1oz bottle

3) Decorative Accouterments

No DIY gift is complete without a bit of sparkle.  Bows, ribbon, customized labels, candy canes, and special wrapping paper are just a few of the extras that can transform a homemade gift into a real treasure.  Best of all, these extras tend to be on the cheap side.

Total Cost: $0.05-$2.00 per gift


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Three Quick and Easy DIY Holiday Gift Ideas for Anyone

I’m a huge fan of DIY holiday gifts since they’re both budget-friendly and add a nice personal touch.  The following gifts are a cheap and easy way to make the loved ones in your life feel … well, loved!

1) Vanilla Extract

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Homemade Vanilla Extract Recipe from norecipes.com

Cheat: Instead of waiting the requisite time for the vanilla and alcohol to meld, add half a bottle of authentic (i.e. not the artificial crap that’s passed off as vanilla extract) store-bought vanilla to your container, a few vanilla sticks, and top off with vodka or bourbon.  The gift will have plenty of homey appeal but is much faster to create!

2) Hot Chocolate in a Jar

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With this gift, you can go all out and use high-end ingredients, or dump store-bought powdered hot chocolate and toss a few marshmallows on top.  If you really want to play for keeps, consider tying a mini bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream or another complementary liquor to your jar for Adult Hot Chocolate. 🙂

Check this recipe out for a nice twist on an old classic.

3. Gourmet Cookies (or other Yummies)

Okay, so baking cookies for someone isn’t exactly original.  But, if you decide to make high-end, to-die-for, delicious goodies, that’s a whole ‘nother story!  Like this.

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Three (Nearly) Free Holiday Gifts

Stretched a bit thin this holiday season?  Try spreading some cheer by making gifts for your loved ones.

1) Sugar Scrub

Use whatever oil you have on hand (olive, coconut, etc) to make a deliciously exfoliating scrub.  Make a large batch and divide into mason jars for a nice finishing touch.

Recipe Link

2) Lipstick

Use an empty mini altoid tin or a sanitized lip balm tube to house a wonderful lipstick made from crayons(!) and coconut (or other) oil.  Perfect for those on your list with aversions to chemicals and other irritants.

Recipe Link

3. Fancy Shampoo, Conditioner, Lotion, etc

Buy a large bottle of your favorite generic, unscented beauty product, add essential oils and/or other ingredients to spice it up (like moisturizing oils, fragrances, etc) and pour into a cute container (like a mason jar or a dollar store tin) and voila! A perfect, customized gift without all the mixing and matching hassle.  

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The Aftermath of Christmas: What to do with Unwanted Gifts

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We’ve all been there–Aunt Bessie’s fruitcake, Grandpa Fred’s book on medieval toe-nail cutting customs, Mom’s “absolutely beautiful” sweater that’s just “perfect” for you, etc.  Gifts given in the right spirit are a blessing in and of themselves, and it is important to keep the giver’s intentions at heart, but, there is no sense in cluttering up your home with unusable items.  The question is, what to do with unwanted gifts?  Here are a few ideas:

1. Regift: Save an unwanted gift until an opportunity rolls around for you to give it to someone who would appreciate and enjoy it.  I am a hearty believer of regifting (though, to appease any relatives who may read this blog, I haven’t had to in a few years!).  🙂

2. Repurpose:  Many of the gifts you receive can be used in creative ways (perhaps not intended by the items’ progenitors).  Turn an ugly sweater into a Christmas Tree skirt, or a bed for your pet, or a foot warmer.  An unwanted book can be transformed into a hiding place for money, or spray-painted on the outside and used decoratively.  Repurposing gifts honors the spirit in which they were given (and allows you to whip out the item should the giver ever wonder what became of it!).

3. Donate:  If you can’t regift or repurpose an unwanted gift, the third-best option is to donate it.  This benefits both the charity and you (soul and tax-wise).  This is an especially appealing option for food or other perishable gifts you receive.  Local homeless shelters and other organizations will happily accept your donation, and your unwanted gift may become someone else’s welcome one.  (I do not endorse giving crap to homeless shelters and other charities — just items that you personally have no use for.)

4. Exchange: This is an especially good idea if you received unwanted beauty items.  I’m pretty particular about the beauty products I use, and receiving neon pink lipstick would force me to do something aside from wearing it.  Cosmetics and beauty products in general are great for regifting if you can do so within a reasonable amount of time (before they expire), but if you receive something truly outrageous, try to exchange it before resorting to other more drastic measures.

5. Barter:  Got your third mp3 player of the season?  Consider bartering it for something else.  Craigslist and other such sites are great resources for trading what you’ve got for what you want.  This is especially true if you are offering a valuable item in exchange for professional services.

6. Sell:  I admit, this can be a tacky option to consider; but, if you are forced to choose between letting something collect dust or selling it, the latter is definitely better.  Of course, don’t rule out donating something, but if you need cash more than the gift, selling isn’t the worst thing you can do.

The bottom line is that even if you received a gift you will not use, there are options you have.  Just don’t forget to be grateful, even for something bizzare!


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Pre-Shaving Oil for Men or Women ~ Fast and Cheap Homemade Christmas Gift

Christmas is mere hours away, which means that the mad dash toward the end has begun.  Inspired by this video, I decided to give a few of my (hard-to-shop-for) male relatives some pre-shaving oil (like this, but much cheaper!), which helps soften hair prior to shaving, prepares the skin for shaving, protects it during the process, leaves it soft afterward, and prevents razor burn.  My husband swears by pre-shaving oil, but this is a great last-minute, inexpensive, handmade gift for women or men.

A little shaving oil goes a long way–most store-bought pre-shaving oils come in 2oz jars, so you don’t need much to create a nice gift.

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The Ingredients

1. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

2. Castor Oil

3. Jojoba Oil

4. Essential Oil (optional, but highly-recommended)

5. Measuring cup

6. Garnish (optional)

7. Storage Bottle/Container.  I found the bottles shown above at Michaels Craft Store for about $1, but in a pinch, you can use any jar/bottle you can find.  I almost used a tiny bottle of worchestire sauce (which I planned to empty into a larger container for our use) that had been cleaned and aired-out.

8. Tag with directions for use and ingredients (optional)

The Recipe

1.  If you don’t know how many ounces your storage container holds, fill it with water and pour into a measuring cup to find out (then dry it out).

2.  Pour roughly equal amounts of olive, jojoba, and castor oil into the jar.  I fudged a little on this and added less jojoba oil because I was running out, so this recipe is by no means strict.  To make it a bit cheaper, you can use more olive oil than other the oils. Hint: If you are making multiple bottles of this, figure out the total number of ounces of oil you will need, combine (equalish parts of) them all into a larger container, and pour from there.

3. Add your essential oil, cap the storage container, and shake.  While essential oils are usually optional, olive oil has a lingering odor that may not be pleasing to slather on your face or other body parts, so I highly suggest using a bit of it.  I chose cinnamon, and added about 10-15 drops per ounce.

4.  Add any garnish (like dried mint, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, etc), cap, and present!

The Result

I tested this bad boy out (because I had to know if it worked or not) and was extremely pleased to find that it made shaving much easier.  I slathered it on under conditioner (with which I shave) on one leg, and shaved normally on the other leg.  I had no razor burn on the oiled leg (which I cannot say was true for the other one), my skin was soft afterward, and very lightly scented with cinnamon.  I had such a great experience with it that I’m going to make myself a little Christmas present of it as well!


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Homemade, All-Natural, Ultra-Moisturizing Lipstick: A Cheap, Quick, Last-Minute Christmas Gift

One of my family members can’t use store-bought lipstick for health reasons.  In an effort to find a suitable alternative, I came across a recipe that produces awesome lipstick in less than five minutes and for about $1 a pop here.  I tweaked the recipe to make it a bit softer and more moisturizing and these are the results.

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The Ingredients

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1. 1 to 1 1/2 Crayons, Red or Pink Shade (I know, weird!  But crayons are non-toxic wax that provide great pigmentation).  You can mix and match different sizes and colors to get a customized shade.

2. 1 heaping 1/2 tablespoon of Shea Butter

3. 1/2 teaspoon or so of Coconut Oil

4. 1 teaspoon Castor or Jojoba Oil

5. 10-15 drops of the Essential Oil of Your Choice (optional but highly recommended)

6. Tin/container for storing lipstick (mini Altoids tins work fantastically!), washed and ready to be filled

7. Something tiny to stir with (I used a disposable chopstick)

8. A small metal or heat-resistant bowl (I used a disposable tin-foil pan for ease)

9. A pan to in which to simmer water

The Recipe

1. Begin warming a pan about half an inch of water full.  Do not let it boil at all during this process.

2. Place everything except the essential oil into your small metal container.  Spread the ingredients out so they melt at about the same rate.

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3. Once the water is simmering, put the container in the middle of the pan.  (The tinfoil container floats on top, slowing down the melting process and rendering a very smooth mixture.)  Make sure you constantly stir everything so that it is fully-blended (the crayons take the longest to melt).  I held the container with tongs and used my chopstick to stir and stir.

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4. Once everything has melted, add your essential oils and blend carefully.  The ingredients should be one color and consistency.

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5. Pour the mixture quickly into the waiting tin or container.  It will firm up very fast.  (Don’t worry, if something goes awry, you can always reheat and re-pour).

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6.  Let cool for a few minutes, and wait to enjoy the final product!  (Hint: I use the remnant lipstick in the bottom of the melting container to test it out ~ I would suggest this too.)

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Herbal Bath Tea ~ Beautiful, Frugal Homemade Christmas Gift in about Five Minutes

I’ve been testing out recipes like mad to find great homemade gifts for friends and family that won’t break the bank or spend hours to create.  I was delighted to tweak the bath tea recipe I found here (and to try it out!).  This bath treatment requires ingredients that are very easy to find, inexpensive, and highly customizable, and, it takes about 5 minutes or so to compile everything.

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The Recipe

Basic Ingredients:

1. Epsom Salt

2. Dry Herbs (in the form of tea, spices, etc).

3. Organza bag, washcloth, or other sheer material

Additional Options

4. Olive, Coconut, or Castor Oil

5. Your Choice of Essential Oil

6. Vanilla Extract

7. Food Coloring

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Directions:

1. Pour epsom salt into a mixing bowl (the amount you use depends on how much final product you want to create and what other ingredients you include).  If you want to color it, mix in your food coloring.  I used about 2 cups of epsom salt.

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2. Add tea/herbs and blend well with salt.  I used a 1/3 of a cup of loose tea and about 3 tablespoons of rosemary.

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3. Slowly add oil, blending well.  I used coconut oil because of its fantastic softening properties (and divine scent).  I added about 2 tablespoons of coconut oil and blended it extremely well (you have to mash and pound the oil with your spatula/spoon).

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4. Add essential oils and blend well.  A little goes a long way!  If you have any other scents you would like to add (like vanilla extract), now’s the time.  I used about 15 drops of spearmint.

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5. Blend everything well–its consistency should look something like this:

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6. Spoon into air-tight container (to keep it fresh longer).  Include an organza bag (or other item in which to stash the concoction) and attach a note with ingredients and directions for use.

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My Experience

I had my first herbal tea bath right before writing this post.  My legs were sore from running around like crazy yesterday, and I wanted something soothing to help ease the aches.  I drew my bath (tying the organza bag around the faucet so the ingredients would begin to disperse immediately), then sank into deliciously-scented water.

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The coconut oil made the bath water moisturizing but not greasy, the tea added a little color and a wonderful scent, and the peppermint essential oil was invigorating.  I used the organza bag as a loofah on my arms and legs once all the salt had dissolved.  Finally, I finished up bathing, rinsed out my organza bag, and let it air dry in anticipation of my next heavenly bath.

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Last-Minute, Homemade Christmas Gifts

This is a complication post of all the last-minute, frugal, DIY gifts we’ve suggested over the past few weeks.

For Women:

1. Facial Scrubs: These facial scrubs range from pennies (baking soda + water) to about $2.  It’s probably a better idea to give each of these items separately along with a recipe card instead of premixing the ingredients (can we all say days-old milk mixed with mashed  banana?)

2. Lip Balm: This gift requires some specific ingredients that you may not have on hand, but if you do (or can get them easily at a local store), you’ll end up with with an amazing, giftable (or keepable!) lip balm for about $1.15 per tin.

3. Tasty Lip Stain: The trickiest thing about this gift is finding a suitable container for it.  For  about $0.50 a pop (or less!), you can give your friend sweet, colorful lips for an incredible price.

4. Olive Oil Facial Cleanser: This fantastic recipe doubles as a makeup remover and cleanser in one.  A small batch (1-month supply) will cost you about $1-$2.

5. Hair Treatment:  Luxurious locks don’t happen overnight, unless you use this hair treatment.  It requires only one ingredient, Olive Oil, but adding essential oils or other natural oils (like coconut or argan) will improve this treatment’s scent and efficacy.  Cost?  $1-$3 (depending on size and other ingredients added)

6. Bath Fizzies: These delectable-looking bath treatments will provide your friend a luxuriant, stress-relieving treat.   Hint: substitue lemon Kool Aid for citric acid to save time and money!  These babies will cost you about $3-$5 a batch.

7. Bath Salts: Epsom salt is the main ingredient in this recipe, and it is exceedingly cheap.  You can make a sizable batch of this recipe for $2-$3.

8. Natural Body Moisturizer:  This recipe does call for an ingredient that may not be readily available, but if you can find beeswax, you’ll be able to make a heavenly moisturizer for about $2.

9. Lotion Bar: If, like the previous post, you can get your hands on some beeswax, creating lotion bars will provide a very unique and useful gift for about $2-$3.

10. Translucent Face Powder: Help your friend’s skin remain oil-free this year by making a batch of sheer powder.  This will cost about $1-$2.

11. Facial Scrub/Mask: This simple, yet effective, recipe will give your friend glowing skin.  As the author notes, you can add in various ingredients to give your skin’s friend the extra punch it needs to be its best.  If you have a do-it-herself type of friend, you may consider giving her the ingredients separately (in inexpensive but decorative jars/bottles/containers) along with a hand-written recipe card so that she can enjoy making the mask herself.

12. Hand Care Set:  ‘Tis the season for dry, cracked hands.  Your friend will appreciate this brown sugar hand softener recipe paired with a moisturizing hand cream.  You can power the hand cream up by adding an essential oil for a delicate scent and jojoba oil for additional moisture.  Inexpensive jars with hand-printed labels round out a wonderful pair!

13. Scented Body Dusting Powder:  A unique (and cheap!) gift is scented body powder.  Use cornstarch and baking soda (in place of other, more expensive ingredients in this recipe) and herbal tea (which you have ground finely) to save even more.  If your friend enjoys sparkle, cosmetic glitter is a great finishing touch.

14. Lightly-Scented Body Spray: To continue our idea of sweet-smelling Christmas concoctions, consider making this super-easy recipe to keep your friend pleasantly fragranced throughout the new year.  If you know her favorite scent, you can use the same essential oil in the previous two posts as well.

15. Kool-Aid Lip Balm:  Give your friend the perfect pucker with this simple and cheap homemade lip balm recipe.  You can house this balm in a small jar or tube, but another cute alternative is to find funky contact lens holders and give two servings of different-colored balms.

16. Sugar Scrub: Give the gift of soft skin without breaking the bank.  This recipe is cheap, easy-to-make, and has endless possibilities for customization.  Find a cute jar to put the scrub in, add an essential oil or two, put a ribbon on top, and the recipient will enjoy glowing skin.

17. Coconut Milk Shampoo: Home-brewed shampoo has been all the rage recently, and if your friend enjoys high-end shampoos, try your hand at making one for her.  HIt a thrift shop or antique store to find a vintage glass bottle to house your concoction.

18. Heat Therapy Pillow: There’s something soothing about having a warm, sweet-smelling pillow draped around your neck and shoulders.  Give you friend the gift of relaxation this holiday season by creating a heat therapy pillow.  If you’re not big into sewing (like me), buy a small tube pillow, take out the stuffing, and fill it with your herbal mixture.

19. Herbal Tea Bath: Let your friend soak her worries away in a luxuriant herbal tea bath.  Simply find an organza bag, and fill it with the ingredients mentioned in this post (to make finding herbs cheap and easy, head town the tea aisle in your local grocery store and pick out your friend’s favorite tea).  To spice things up a bit more (no pun intended!), give your bud a trio of different teas to enjoy in her bath.

20. Super Smoothie Recipe Cards: When you’re healthy on the inside, it shows on the outside.  Write out a few of your favorite super-healthy smoothie recipes on nice notecards to share with your bestie.  Try them out yourself before passing them off so you’ll know if a recipe works (or not).  Spinach is quickly becoming my new best friend!

For Men:

1. Cologne: Who doesn’t like to smell nice?  This recipe provides a simple way to craft a custom scent for your man that won’t break the bank.

2. Urban Survival Tin:  By stuffing an altoids tin with travel-size personal care necessities (like aspirin, breath freshener, mini/samples colone, individually-wrapped tush wipes, a pocket knife, tissues, etc), you can give peace of mind this holiday season (see a sample picture here).  The whole post is worth reading if you need non-personal care gift ideas.

3. Shaving Essentials: Homemade shaving soap and after shave treatments are fantastic, customizable gifts.  If you want to help him save time and money, complete his kit with a safety razorbladesbrush, and shaving guide (which will cut his shaving bill by a hefty chunk–we’ve saved over $200 this year after my husband made the switch!).

4. Bay Rum Aftershave: I know, I know, I just mentioned aftershave.  But, this particular recipe has been lauded for both its efficacy and manly scent.  There’s really no aftershave (homemade or store-bought) that can compare quality-wise with this bad boy!

5. Muscle Salve:  Help sooth his aches and pains with a deliciously-scented and effective homemade salve.  If giving this concoction to your man, throw in a hand-written coupon for a massage and he will be on cloud nine.

6. Toner: Skincare is not just for women.  Help him achieve healthy skin by using this toner recipe.

7. Tooth Whitening Kit: I suggest putting each ingredient in a resealable container as well as including a cool toothbrush and mixing bowl to add the perfect touch to this economical idea.

8. Body Wash (err Manly Liquid Soap!): Give him a scentual, cleansing experience every time he steps into the shower with this masculine body wash recipe.