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Getting a Better and Cheaper Shave

This article was written by in Best Of, Featured, Frugality. 28 comments.


One successful retail business model is the concept in which a company sells a main device at a discounted price while the necessary, refillable or replaceable supplies for that device are sold at a premium. One example is the ink-jet or laser printer; the printers are generally priced to be bargains, occasionally included for free with computers, because the manufacturers know the customers will be coming back to the well for ink cartridge after ink cartridge. A consumer who buys a Canon brand printer will basically be locked into buying Canon brand ink.

The same is true for cartridge-based razors. Some time after college, I graduated from the electric razor to the Gillette Mach 3 razor and shaving cream system. I had heard that making this switch would be better for my skin, and like Smithee, I was dealing with razor bumps and ingrown hairs. I have a habit of sticking with things for a long time even if they don’t work, and this was not an exception. The razor-in-a-cartridge system was an improvement over my cheap electric razor, but I still wasn’t quite happy with the results.

Ten years later, I decided to make the adjustment. Other shaving techniques, like the use of a straight or double-edge razor, was foreign to me. I remembered reading an article by someone I knew as The Frugal Law Student, teaching his readers on The Art of Manliness how to shave like their grandpas. Searching out the article and reading advice from more experienced shavers on the Badger & Blade message board, I took the plunge.

In February, I ordered new shaving materials from Amazon.com:

The razor came with one blade, but that would not be enough for me to grow accustomed to a new shaving technique. Armed with advice from the message boards, I purchased a blade sampler pack from Amazon.com ($38.75 for 80 blades) in order to determine which brand of double-edged blade is best for me. I am still progressing through the brands, experimenting with my technique, and discovering what works best with my skin. Each brand is surprisingly different. My favorites so far — those which do not do much damage to my skin while providing the smoothest shaves — include Feather and Astra, while I will likely never let another Bic razor touch my face.

While this seems like a significant financial outlay at the beginning, it’s a much cheaper system than a cartridge system. My start-up cost was $66, and the recurring costs of blades at one blade per week will be about $0.50 a week or $25 a year if I continue shaving three times a week with multiple passes using one blade per week. You might be able to find blades on Amazon for even less, approaching $0.15 a blade. The shave soap might last six months so that’s another $12 a year. The total cost for the first year is $103, and the total cost for every subsequent year is $37.

Compare this with the costs of the cartridge system. The Gillette Mach3 Turbo costs $8 but 16 blade cartridges cost $30, or about $2 a piece. One blade a week (three shaves) adds up to $100 a year, though we can subtract $8 from the first year because the razor includes four blade cartridges. (In other words, they’re giving away the razor.) Shaving foam costs $18 for a pack of six, which might last one year. The total cost for the first year is $118, and the total cost for every subsequent year is also $118.

When I previously shaved with the Gillette Mach3, the earlier version of the Mach3 Turbo, I would do so in the morning and the process would take about three minutes. Shaving with a double-edged blade and safety razor is more of a ritual. At first, it took from twenty minutes to half an hour to shave properly, including hydration, building and applying the lather, shaving with two or three slow passes, and further hydration. To accommodate the new requirements of my time, I shaved at night. I woke up in the morning still smooth, and that was never the case when I shaved at night with a cartridge razor.

As readers have already mentioned in the comments below, it is possible to keep this process under ten or even five minutes. My face has adjusted to the new shaving technique and the process no longer requires as much hydration, speeding the process further.

More important than the cost savings, and worth the extra time and effort, is the fact that my skin is much more comfortable. For the most part, I have no more ingrown hairs, razor bumps on my neck, or other unsightly skin blemishes due to dull blades that require pressure and pull hairs away from the skin.

Although I’m happy with the change I made, whether you follow suit is up to you. It will save money and will eventually be just as quick as shaving with a cartridge razor, but it’s a personal choice. If you are already satisfied with using a cartridge razor, there is no need to change your process, but this has proven to be worthwhile for me.

I’ve already mentioned some of the resources I’ve used to improve my shaving technique, but I also recommend the instructional videos on YouTube created by mantic59 for anyone who is interested in pursuing a similar path. As you watch these videos and read articles on Badger & Blade about finding the right technique, you will find a lot of differing opinions. It’s best to take some suggestions and experiment in order to discover what works best for your skin. There is one thing to be sure about: just about anything other than a cartridge system will be best for your wallet.

I should also note that I use no other chemicals on my face during this process other than the shaving soap. I prepare my face with hot water, keep hydrated with hot water, and rinse only with cool water. I don’t use any fragrant aftershave chemicals, astringents, or balms. There is a tendency for my skin to dry out after the shave if I don’t hydrate with enough cool water.

What materials do you use for shaving, and are you satisfied with the results?

Photo: Dharion

Updated September 12, 2011 and originally published April 28, 2010. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Tom @ Canadian Finance Blog

Love the idea of getting a better shave and saving money at the same time… but you lost me at 20-30 minutes ;)

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,485 (Platinum)

Heh. I think you could save time by combining the process with your shower and/or accepting a less close shave. Or perhaps one pass will be enough.

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avatar mantic59

You can do a good traditional wetshave in 10 minutes after you get the hang of it. Check http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-qSIP6uQ3EI

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avatar Aaron @ Clarifinancial

I’m with Tom. I like the idea of an old-school shave, but 10 minutes with practice? I want to cut my shave time down to under a minute. I usually have a seasonal beard, which helps in the winter, but even during the summer, I can make a regular Mach 3 blade last 2-3 weeks, depending on how often I shave. I want speed-shaving.

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avatar Rob Meeks

My question for you, Aaron, would be why on earth do you need to be able to shave in under a minute? Is your life literally so hectic that you can’t spare 10 minutes a couple of times a week in exchange for cheaper per-year costs and better-conditioned skin? I’m not trying to lay a judgment call on you because I used to be that way too; however, since I switched to using a safety razor I actually enjoy the process now. Just saying that you should at least give it a chance, and if it doesn’t work out you can easily recoup your costs on eBay.

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avatar Aaron @ Clarifinancial

I just prefer simple and quick when my perceived value is low. I’m well groomed, but I can get through my whole routine in less than 15 minutes. I enjoy that economy. I buy new blades so infrequently, it may be a while before I’m even forced to make this decision again.

Evan may have convinced me. How would you properly sanitize a razor and brush you bought on eBay?

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avatar Rob Meeks

Great question. Sanitizing a razor is as easy as giving it a good once-over with Scrubbing Bubbles, or better still giving it a short soak in rubbing alcohol and letting it dry. For a brush, typically just a water and borax or water and vinegar solution soak for a few minutes and a hot rinse will do the trick too. Some people are a bit more paranoid and will go to greater lengths, but from all my research anything else is mostly overkill.

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avatar mantic59

@Aaron I understand what you’re getting at: I used to shave with an electric, zip zip done in 3 minutes. But part of the “allure” of traditional shaving is the zen-like experience you can get from it. There’s something about the ritual of applying warm, fragrant lather to the skin and shaving with some skill and subtlety that’s relaxing and meditative. You don’t mind taking a little longer for your shave. In fact you look forward to your shave.

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avatar Forest

I wrote about this sometime ago too. People are throwing so much money and material away by using these silly plastic razors…. we really need to go back to more permanent solutions for as many things as we can.

Here in Cairo I actually just go and get myself shaved with a cut throat razor at the barbers every few weeks (I wear a beard mostly…. the best way to save on shaving :) )

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avatar Forest

Hey,

Commented here already but just going through Jeff’s awesome Yakezie post (http://deliverawaydebt.com/yakezie/the-mega-money-tip-list-600-money-saving-tips/) and commenting on all featured posts.

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avatar Smithee ♦1,358 (Quarter)

One blade a week, wow! I started experimenting with almost this same setup recently, too, but I’ve been using a new blade every time. I guess I have some more research to do.

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avatar Evan

I made the switch a couple years go, and LOVE it! I was scared to pull the plug but am so glad I did. I have no idea what you are doing for 30 mins Flexo! 10 mins MAX here, but I don’t have particularly sensitive skin.

The cost savings is NUTS.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,485 (Platinum)

Mostly hydrating. I soak the brush for a while while tending to other tasks including opening my pores and loosening my beard with hot water. Ten minutes is a good goal; I hope to get down to that speed eventually, but for now, I need to use more time to fully hydrate before, throughout, and after the shave. And two or three passes can take up time, as well: downward, inward, and sometimes upward.

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avatar APG

I suppose I am lucky that I don’t have the skin irritation issues you have, Flexo. My Gillette blades have always lasted a long time, and I’m hoping they will last longer after seeing this…

http://consumerist.com/2010/03/make-your-disposable-razor-blade-last-for-20-months.html

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,485 (Platinum)

That’s worth a try if you like your cartridge-based blades. 20 months might be a bit of a stretch. Most of those blades start off dull, so they might not get too much duller with a stropping technique.

I have never had a cartridge-based blade that functioned as well, even brand new, as two passes with even the dullest blades in the DE sampler pack.

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avatar chickpea

I made the switch a few years ago. Now I shave with a cutthroat (straight) razor. I too was in search of a cheaper solution and also was surprised to find my shaves improve. Also, and one of the main reasons I now use a straight is that I have grown weary of the “throw away” culture. I have really become philosophically opposed to use once and throw away items. Also, incidentally, double edge (safety) razor blades are fully recyclable as they contain to plastics, foams, strange “lube strips”, etc.

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avatar Steve

I am still using an electric razor. It seems to cost about the same (initial cost $100, one new blade head a year $30). The shave is not as good I’m sure, but it takes less time than those 10 minute rituals.

Is the super-close shave why you only have to shave 3 times a week? I shave every workday personally.

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avatar Erica Douglass

To Tom, Aaron, and others who want to shave fast: Try laser hair removal. I know several guys (including my partner, Richard) who have gone through it and they all rave about it. I’ve also gone through laser hair removal treatments. It doesn’t completely get rid of your hair (unless you do more treatments than it’s really worth), but it reduces the time you have to shave and also the frequency. Richard is down to shaving about every 10 days, and I shave just once a week. Previously we were both shaving every other day. Richard also has far fewer cuts (he already uses a system like Flexo describes above.)

Groupon will often do local laser hair removal deals, but call around for the best price, and remember, it’s highly negotiable.

-Erica

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avatar Michael

20-30 minutes! YIKES!

I use a double edged safety razor and it takes 10 minutes.

1) Hot water wash : 2
2) Lather Up : 2
3) Shave : 6
4) Rinse and pat dry : 1

Maybe it’s the hydration that’s taking so long?

I will admit that on day 4 or 5 I have to go slower as the blade isn’t as sharp and it’s more likely to scrape and cut something.

Also, if I do it immediately after a shower, I can skip the face washing.

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avatar RainyDaySaver

My husband has really sensitive skin, but he’s still using disposable Mach 3 razors. I think the cartridges might be a step up, but they’re not cost-efficient — and hubby rushes through the shave, making things worse. I can’t imagine him with a double-edge razor, which is what my father has used his entire life. Except he prefers Wilkinson razor blades, which I have to order from Amazon to keep him from running low on supplies.

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avatar Terry

Since the initial outlay for a quality, cost-optimal shaving system is somewhat beyond my poverty-level income, I have been paying more in the long run for disposables. (I once used an electric but over time became increasingly dissatisfied with the shaving experience.)

Several months ago at a supermarket, I saw some new razors promoted with an in-store coupon. I tried these Old Spice razors and found the quality and the shaving experience far, far superior to what I had been getting out of Bic disposables. I have been using them ever since and am very very happy with them.

Their prices have come down 10-20 percent recently, to the point where they are priced perhaps 10 percent higher than Bic, but they are so much better in experience and effectiveness that I have no desire to ever use a Bic razor again.

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avatar Chadd

Terry and others worried about the upfront cost:

Start combing an older relatives medicine cabinet, or an antique stores (pref. a consignment mall). You can usually find a dusty mid-century Superspeed or Tech for under $10 that would go for double or triple (after shipping). At least here in Seattle, the West Seattle Antique Mall usually has a few hanging out…unless @R0ckRat scooped them all up for his growing collection!

Visit BadgerandBlade.com and visit the PIF forum http://badgerandblade.com/vb/forumdisplay.php?f=93 . We are a bunch of kind souls and you will likely find a free/cheap razor that someone will Pay Forward. If I didn’t have a 3 day old newborn, I’d hook you up, but a bit preoccupied right now ;)

If you can’t get PIF’ed blades, invest in a blade sampler as mentioned above. Amazon or WestCoastShaving.com have less comprehensive, but servicable ones for $15. Don’t start with drugstore blades, or you will run back to crappy disposables in a shave of a lambs tail!

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avatar Kiwishaver

A cheaper more enjoyable shaving experience what else is there to say?

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avatar Financial Samurai

Gotta say, my braun electric razor is good enough. don’t use water, nothing. just shaves away. Good investment!

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avatar Len Penzo

Yikes! Even 10 minutes seems like WAY too much time for me to devote to shaving. I shave in the shower using the five-blade Fusion. The blades last for a long long time and, best of all, the whole process probably takes 90 seconds. I can cut it to 45 seconds if I am willing to accept a few nicks.

(I don’t dare try for getting the job done in 30 seconds – that would require a shift from toilet paper to gauze in order to stop the bleeding.)

All the best,

Len
Len Penzo dot Com

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avatar Shawn

I shave my head and face daily using disposables…anyone using the straight razors similarly?

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avatar BEN GREGO

Some nice shaving tips……but consider this:
* You’ll get a closer shave with a shaving GEL as opposed to the shaving cremes
……..less air bubbles!!
* I keep my disposable razor in an old plastic jar in rubbing alcohol; I’m now up to my 13th week of shaves!! I used to use one a month……some advise to put the blade in baby oil, mineral oil, after each use, but that’s way too messy……all you need is to keep it away from the air!! so alcohol is the best, I think.
As for shaving with a straight razor? Not me!!! :D

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avatar Thomas Craig Consulting

In regards to your example of the printers and ink, I usually just sell the printer on a used site and buy a new printer each time as it is only a slight difference in the price then buying new ink.

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