Frugal shaving: stay sharp and spend less
Not only is shaving a chore, but it can cost a lot of money.
Of course, the best way to save money on shaving is not to shave at all. Beards aren’t just for geography teachers or folk singers anymore – they are fashionable now, right? Well yes, but unless you want to look like you live under a bridge, a beard still needs to be trimmed occasionally, and this will mean buying clippers or razors.
Another option is what used to be called ‘designer stubble’. This is now almost as conventional as the clean shaven look for younger men and means you only have to shave or trim once a week or so. However, it doesn’t suit everyone, and tends to look seedy once the first grey hairs appear. Many occupations still expect a man to be clean shaven. So assuming that we can’t get away from shaving, let’s see how we can save some money.
So good he bought the company
I’m leaving aside electric shavers as I’ve found them to be costly and despite what the Remington ads used to say, I never found them to ‘shave as close as a blade’. So that leaves razors. There are three kinds. The most traditional is the cutthroat razor. A good cutthroat razor will last a lifetime and you’ll never need to buy blades again, but the disadvantage is they can be slow and difficult to use. The idea of putting a lethal weapon to your throat first thing in the morning fills many men with terror; my own experiences suggest they don’t always shave that closely anyway. Most men therefore use safety razors.
The most common type of safety razor uses cartridge blades; for example the Gillette Mach 3. Since the 1980s there has been an ‘arms race’ amongst cartridge blade manufacturers to get men to buy ever more fancy and expensive blades – with 2, 3, 4 or 5 blades, lubrastrips, gel injections, vibrating handles, the list is endless, but the end effect is always the same – to get you to part with more of your hard earned cash.
Double your money
A better frugal alternative is the double edged blade razor. These are the small blades that screw into a handle. They start at around £5.00 for the handle which usually includes a pack of blades. They’re very inexpensive – a pack of 100 online costs about £6.00, and you can make a blade last at least two weeks. Here’s how.
Ever seen old films where a barber rubs a cutthroat razor on a ‘strop’ – a strip of leather like a belt? This hones and sharpens the blade. This works in the same way for safety razors. You don’t need a leather strop though – you can use the palm of your hand or your inner arm. Just rub the razor the opposite way to which the blade cuts. Remember this golden rule unless you want a trip to the emergency room! Do this 15-20 times before each shave and you’ll notice the blade lasts a lot longer. When a friend first told me this tip a few years ago, it was almost like a dark secret; but now it’s all over the internet and there are lots of videos on Youtube showing you how to do it.
There is also a method of sharpening double-edged blades using a drinking glass – again, you can see videos on this on Youtube.
Blade to rest
Make sure also that you dry your razor thoroughly after use and keep it in a dry place. This will prolong the life of the blade. You can wrap it in a cloth or put it in an airtight box. Some men keep the blade immersed in mineral oil (baby oil or olive oil works too) but I find this tends to make an oily mess and gunges up the blades. Another trick is to keep the blade immersed in very soapy water when not in use. Using these methods I’ve kept double edged blades and GII type cartridges cutting well for a month; and Mach 3 blades for about three months. Some Mach 3s last longer (I used one for nearly two years) but for the purposes of this article let’s assume you get three months maximum.
Cut out the costs
Price comparison time: Mach 3 cartridge blades work out at around £1.70 per blade. Without stropping and drying, a blade will last about two weeks. That’s £44.20 a year. With stropping and drying, even if your blade only lasts three months, you’ll still only pay £6.80 per year, saving £37.40 a year. If you change to double edged blades (which cost around 6p a blade if you buy in bulk) and use the stropping/drying method, you can make a blade last about two weeks. That’s 26 blades a year costing you just £1.56. That’s a saving of £42.64 a year.
How do you know when to throw away your blade? Forget what manufacturers tell you about a blade being worn out when the ‘lubrastrip’ or whatever is worn out. To my mind, this is just a gimmick to make you think the blade is worn when it isn’t. The answer is simple – just give it up when it doesn’t give a smooth shave anymore or it starts to feel ‘scrapey’ when you use it.
I'd rather have lather
But before you get too excited – wait, there are more savings to be made! If you watch TV or read magazines, you can’t get away from all the ads for the latest shaving gels, foams, oils and whatnot. Just like they do with blades, manufacturers are always bringing out ‘new, improved’ shaving products, usually with new, higher prices! You don’t need all this.
Shaving foam in a can is a classic example of how the advertising industry have tricked men into thinking they’re getting a superior product when they’re actually getting an inferior one, and paying more for it. The old fashioned brush and shaving soap produces a much better lather and costs much less, and doesn’t really take any longer to use.
Brush up your technique
A decent hog-bristle shaving brush, such as the Wilkinson Sword brush costs around £5.00 and will last you several years. You can get them in any high street chemist. To prolong the life of a brush, store it upside down. Brush holders cost about £5.00 but you can make your own for free with just a loop of string and a hook. A stick of Palmolive shaving soap (which gets rave reviews on shaving forums) costs around 50p and will last around 6 months. You simply wet the end of the stick and rub it into your beard, then work up a lather on your face with the brush. It takes about two minutes.
Stick it to the man
If you’re unsure of how to use these products, there are dozens of Youtube videos available to help. Compare this to a can of Gillette shaving foam. This costs around £2.50 and will last about a month; that’s £30.00 a year. The Palmolive shave stick, on the other hand, will cost you just £1.00 a year. Even if you include the cost of the brush in your calculations, you’re still quids in. If you have a very light beard, you can even get away with just using a layer of ordinary soap or aqueous cream, a generic moisturizer available very cheaply from chemists.
Using these methods could shave off a cool £71.64 from your annual outgoings.
This article is a sample chapter from the ebooklet, ‘The Men’s Guide to Frugal Grooming’ available for Amazon Kindle, price 99c. Download to find out more moneysaving grooming tips.