Psst, I make money on some of the links in this post at no cost to you. It keeps the lights on around here.

While I generally try to avoid extravagant pampering, I do have to admit that I’m a fan of getting my nails done. There’s just something soothing about leaving a salon with a fancy set of shellacked hands. Unfortunately, going to the nail salon for a mani-pedi every two weeks is a good way to deplete your bank account. It’s time to learn how to do your nails at home to save money and time.

The average gel manicure can cost about $35; increase that to about $50 if you get a manicure and a pedicure. For the religious nail salon-goer, that’s $100 a month, or $1,200 a year just on nails! Maybe that sounds worth the cost to you. But consider the power of compound interest. If you invest that $100 a month instead, in ten years you will have made $17,300 in dividends, assuming an average 7 percent return.

But this monthly expense can cost you more than your future. It also costs the future of others. The New York Times conducted an investigation on the health conditions of nail salon workers. Prolonged exposure to nail dust, glues, solvents, polishes, and a laundry list of chemicals left workers suffering from reproductive issues, respiratory illnesses, and cancer. Yuck. Although I love getting my nails done, I decided not to be party to an industry that fails to care for the health of its workers.

How to Do Your Nails at Home

While I know that nail polish, chemicals, and LED lights are bad for me, I still do like the occasional home gel manicure. I usually do one to two of them a month, although eventually I would like to stop painting my nails altogether. But, I’m imperfect for the time being, and I enjoy looking at my sparkly nails as I type on my keyboard.

For about six months in 2015 I pined for a home gel manicure set. But the prices ranged from $60-$80, which I was not prepared to spend on something so frivolous, no matter how badly I wanted it. Eventually I decided I wanted the SensatioNail at-home gel manicure set, but the price was at $55.

I set my sights on the SensatioNail machine for two reasons:

  1. It had fantastic online ratings, especially for the price.
  2. It has a punny name, and I liked that.

I just happened to go to Wal-Mart on Black Friday (later in the afternoon, of course) and found a SensatioNail set on sale for $39. As I had been religiously following the price for this kit, I knew this was a good deal–it was a whopping $15 off its previous asking price. I still winced when I parted with 39 of my hard-earned dollars, but I happily brought the manicure set home.

A gel manicure has more steps than I was accustomed to. However, the directions are pretty clear to follow, and the process is easy once you get the hang of it.

The only downside is that these companies insist that you must use their gel cleanser, polish, etc. or your manicure won’t set, the Earth will implode, and chaos will rule the land. That’s not true. “Gel cleanser” is the same thing as nail polish remover, and all of the gel nail polishes I’ve tried from different brands are pretty much the same. Pretty much all of the parts in these kits are interchangeable, with different names. If you’re ever in a pinch and need one component, you can likely opt for the cheapest option, not necessarily the option that will match your kit.

how to do nails at home - it's the same damn stuff, people

It’s the same damn thing, just in a smaller, more expensive bottle.

As an example, today I crossed the streams and used the SensatioNail system with Sally Hansen nail polish.

how to do your nails at home - pick a good gel nail polish

I’m loving the Jade color.

Below is a pic of everything you need for an at-home gel manicure.

my sensationail set

First I prepare my nails by buffing them lightly and adding a gel primer. I don’t know what the gel primer is or what it does, but it burned a hole in the surface of my kitchen table, so remember to be careful with the chemicals. In other news, Mr. Picky Pincher may need to learn how to resurface a table. Oops!

After the gel primer, I apply a bottom gel coat and dry it with the LED light. After each layer of gel and polish, I go over the bottoms and edges of my nails to make sure my cuticles are free and clear.

be sure to go over your cuticles after every coat to avoid clumping

Now I apply the nail polish.

how to do your nails at home - apply the nail polish

Then I dry it under the LED light. Remember, even LED lights are not safe for your skin. If you’re concerned about increasing your skin cancer risk, try applying a sunscreen before using LED lamps. Ideally we wouldn’t be using LED lamps, but this is just one of the many ways we trade off our health for temporary beauty. Sigh.

And wait a second! This nail polish is way too thin!

this nail polish is too thin!

Waaaay too thin.

I ended up applying three coats of nail polish alone to get a remotely opaque look. I’m not sure if this is a Sally Hansen problem or a problem with the color itself, but I wasn’t a fan of applying so many coats.

how to do your nails at home - the finished product

The finished product!

While doing your nails at home may not be on par visually with professional manicures, they cost significantly less. If applied correctly, they can last just as long as a professional manicure–up to two weeks.

The Bottom Line

I know, I know. I preach about avoiding chemicals and here I am posting about applying dozens of chemicals to your skin and fingers. The point is that learning to do your nails at home is a great stepping stone for people who can’t go without a salon fix. On your journey to a more frugal lifestyle, it’s more important to take baby steps than giant leaps–otherwise you’re more likely to fall off the wagon. In an ideal world, we would all be satisfied with our physical appearances and there would be no need for expensive skin creams, hair dyes, or gel manicures. But unfortunately that isn’t the case. I have my weak consumer points just like anyone else, and this is the most frugal way I’ve found to get my fix. It’s just important to consider the health and wealth we forfeit when we make these choices.

So go ahead and do your nails at home. But only continue to do so as you flex your frugal muscles and learn how to be content with yourself as you are. I’m still working on it, and I hope you will too.

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