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Fearless, fun, free – these are three words that best describe me when it comes to makeup and skincare. Fearless in trying on the most innovative products; having fun while experimenting with makeup; and doing all these for free! Until it almost cost me the love of my family…

Three years ago, I went on a trip to Seoul, and came back a changed woman. No, I did not undergo plastic surgery, but I did opt for the second best thing – skincare and cosmetic retail therapy. South Korea was already known for its numerous beauty stores, but I was taken aback by how generous they were with freebies. With my hubby Weng* and daughter Sam* in tow, I went trawling the stores and in just three days, managed to grab enough samples to fill my carry-on luggage. It was both a culture shock and a thrill!

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When I returned to Singapore, I had the post-holiday blues. The overwhelming rush of getting plied with free stuff had carried over into the joy of trying my treasure trove of lotions and creams, but it still left me unfulfilled.

An idea then struck me – I could look beautiful without paying a cent. I decided to visit Korean skincare stores to see if they provide a similar service as those in Seoul, and all of them passed me small sachets or bottle testers, most without me asking. I was pleased, but I thought I could do better.

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I devised a strategy to visit as many different beauty stores and counters all over Singapore as possible, appearing only once or twice in a year, so that I would not be identified as a free-loading customer. Being polite yet thick-skinned, I would buy the cheapest product available, and coyly ask for complimentary travel kits. I would also actively encourage friends and colleagues to get beauty items, and piggyback off them by bagging less expensive versions of what they bought.

I soon realised that I needed to be more brazen to get more of what I wanted. I adopted bolder tactics such as insisting for additional brand merchandise like miniature perfumes and pouches for a single purchase, while pretending to be a hemming-and-hawing customer netted me trial-size sets. I even gatecrashed beauty store events just to get a door gift even if I wasn’t on the invite list! I was non-discriminating about the brand as long as I walked away with some kind of benefit – I was that cheap!

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Weng and Sam weren’t spared from my penny-pinching ways. I hassled my hubby and daughter to help keep a constant lookout online for promotions, new product launches and store openings so I wouldn’t miss out on the latest giveaways. A section of the family fridge was even allotted to store these goodies, which made Weng and Sam “hangry”, as sometimes, there were more face masks and toners than there were groceries!

What was worse: I would drag Weng and Sam on weekend shopping trips, and pulled embarrassing stunts in public. I would return used products, create a scene saying that they had caused horrible allergic reactions, and demand rudely for refunds and more free products! I made Weng and Sam lie and vouch for me for my “incidents” in these instances. I did not care how I had appeared in other people’s eyes because I thought my strategy allowed me to avoid being recognised.

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A few months ago, Sam came back from her secondary school late in the evening with reddened eyes and looking distraught. I questioned her harshly if she had been bullied in school. Sam went on a tirade, saying that she had been teased by her classmates for having an “ugly beauty bum-mum” and that she too, like me, was a lying, fake cheapskate.

Apparently, the mother of one of Sam’s schoolmates who had worked part-time at different cosmetics counters had seen me on several occasions acting terribly and told on me to others. I was speechless. Sam ran into her room and slammed the door shut, while I sat alone at the dining table, ugly and ashamed.

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It took about two weeks before Sam came around to accept my apology (Weng’s suggestion of a bigger allowance helped) and for me to quit my obsession. I have parceled out my entire beauty stash to friends and colleagues, and I now buy what I need, only when I need them. I believe that real beauty is indeed free – inner beauty that should never come at the cost of losing your pride or that of your loved ones.

*Names changed to protect privacy.

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