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Free gift with purchase? No thanks.

A free gift with purchase promotion led me to department store makeup. (My mother would say a free gift with purchase led me down a dark and dangerous path to vanity and debt, and I suppose that yes, one could make that argument.) A few of the girls in my eighth-grade class had been showing up with these super-adorable watermelon-shaped makeup bags in their backpacks and I wanted one. Where did they get them? “Clinique,” they told me. “Free gift with purchase!”

What was a Clinique? I didn’t know. But I quickly found out that it was a fancy makeup line sold at Macy’s (though I daresay it was “Hudson’s” back then) and that not only did they give free gifts with purchase at their counters, but they also did free makeovers. WHAT? HOW HAD I BEEN MISSING THIS?! Sorry, Wet’n’Wild…I’m movin on up!

I convinced my mother to take me to Hudson’s for my free makeover, and then I convinced her to spend far more than the $18.50 on products required to get the watermelon bag stuffed with products. I took my watermelon bag to school every day after that, and told my friends who had yet to dip a toe into the Clinique pool how the free makeover and gift had changed my life. From then on, all through high school, I was a sucker for free gifts with purchase. YES I WANT A FREE SAMPLE, I’LL DO ANYTHING TO GET IT. I don’t even like your brand but I can! I totally can! I mean, HOW CUTE IS THAT MAKEUP BAG YOU GET WITH IT?! I WILL DO WHATEVER IT TAKES TO LIKE YOUR BRAND. I may have even stood in a long line on “opening day” for a new bag. 

And now? I couldn’t care less.

Here’s what changed for me:

I realized it was kind of a rip-off. I mean, it’s not always a rip-off. If you already like the brand, you should absolutely go buy your favorite product when there’s a free gift promo. That, to me, is the best way to do free gifts with purchase. But after years of convincing myself to try something that I was kinda-sorta into just for a cute bag filled with hyped-up mystery contents, only to realize that neither the product I’d purchased nor the free samples were that great, I realized I was wasting my money.

Birchbox. Birchbox has been a pretty huge deal for the beauty market, and it’s absolutely changed my relationship with samples. Now I get to discover new products and brands every single month that are hand-selected by a cool team of women. (And I get to do this for half the cost of the minimum purchase requirement associated with most gifts with purchase.) Everything from Birchbox’s packaging to their social media presence to the samples they choose sets them apart and, frankly, makes the big brands’ sample choices seem old-fashioned and out-of-touch.

No woman needs that many makeup bags. Seriously, those bags were taking over my life. Having a few is great — one for my desk at work, one for my gym bag, one for when I need to stash a few tampons in my bag — but having fifteen? They took over my bathroom and then my linen closet (both of which were already overflowing with hundreds of tiny bottles of face washes I was saving for…um…vacations I was never actually going to take, I guess). Most of the bags remained empty. Every time I moved to a new apartment or dorm room, I felt guilty for abandoning more of the makeup-bag children I had once loved so much. But…seriously, what the hell was I going to do with all of them?

Now that I’ve broken my addiction to free gifts with purchase, my wallet is fuller, my linen closet is emptier, and I really don’t miss them at all.

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Lauren Stewart
By: Lauren Stewart

Lauren Stewart is a freelancer writer from Michigan. She enjoys writing about beauty, health and fitness! She is passionate about learning new ways to take control of her health and wellness and is a makeup and skincare junkie! You can contact her by emailing