Perfume for Paupers: How to Smell Good on a Budget

Frugal Fragrance, Scents on a Shoestring, Perfume for Paupers: phrase it how you will.  The truth is that these days the cost of living is high and luxuries are the first to go. Choosing my perfume for the day is a few minutes I treasure. I certainly have plenty of choice but only around four bottles on my dressing table cost more than thirty quid (and were mostly gifts).

photo by World of Oddy
photo by World of Oddy

I am often asked how I can afford to sample a new perfume every day and I always answer almost apologetically: I have very few expensive full bottles and sometimes a review is prompted by a few free squirts at my local beauty counter. The rest are inexpensive bottles, samples or purse sprays. If I had had to spend a lot of money to do this it wouldn’t have been possible.

Granted, I have two advantages: a very generous friend without whom this blog would be shorter and harder to write.  I know how lucky I am.  The second advantage is that as a blogger, I often get sent free sample sizes to trial.  However, apart from that, I truly believe that it is possible to smell good without breaking the bank.

 On the High Street

There are several ways in which to enjoy perfume on the cheap.  Firstly, I no longer dismiss cheap perfume the way I used to long ago.  Rummage long enough in the nd.10934High Street fare, and you will find gems that cost well under a tenner, and even a few for under a fiver. In my local Bodycare shop, I have bought  100ml of Cabochard for £8.99 and a bottle of Jovan White Musk for Women for £6.19.  Then there is the bargain Queen of them all: Coty’s L’Aimant– and I am neither the first nor the last to find similarities between L’Aimant and Chanel No 5.  Created in 1927, L’Aimant has a retro feel that reminds my esteemed fellow blogger The Perfumed Dandy, of an Agatha Christie heroine. A small bottle can cost just over a fiver and is widely available.


Be Unfashionable

Back in the 70s, drugstore classics were everywhere and everyone wore them.  They have lost popularity now but are worth revisiting.  Their lack of popularity means they are cheap too, so it’s a win-win situation if you like bargain chypres tweedand aldehydes. I have purchased Panache for just £4.99 on Fragrance Direct- and the longevity is around 12 hours, making this classic aldehyde excellent value.  I have also managed to purloin (I love that word) a bottle of retro favourite Tweed from my local chemist for £4.99.  Recently a little bottle of Chique arrived in the post for just £3.99 and it is full of Citrus and Oakmoss. (see my rave review).


 In Praise of Purse Sprays

Then there are the purse sprays.  I have a bouquet of these on my dressing table, none costing over a fiver.  Marks and Spencer does an excellent range of perfume and purse spray ma nd salmost all of them are available in 10ml and 25ml sizes, starting at £4, making these affordable treats. I also find that very often there is a sales brochure in my Avon catalogue and I have in the past bought a purse spray of Little Red Dress for just £3.99. Avon are doing these more regularly now and you can get them for just £3. I recently picked up a 10ml bottle of Next Just Pink for just £2 in my local Next Clearance store, and it’s become a firm favourite.

Go Niche and Bijoux

 4160 test setIf you have a lot of perfumes and samples, a small amount can last nearly a year if you rotate it with other scents. It is possible to have sample sizes of great niche scents for special occasions that would normally be prohibitive when bought in full size bottles. However, there’s no reason why anyone should be left out, regardless of budget.

Samples of niche scent enable you to smell unique and fabulous without breaking the bank. In the UK I recommend Pell Wall, 4160 TuesdaysThe Perfume Society Discovery Boxes, Les Senteurs or eBay. In the USA, try The Perfumed Court or Surrender to Chance. Which leads me to my next heading…

 Buy Online

photo by World of Oddy
photo by World of Oddy

Determined and lengthy browsing on Amazon has helped me find Coty Chanson D’Eau a citrussy hesperide at only £6.99 for 50ml including a shower gel.  Even I was sceptical at that price, but pleasantly surprised at this lovely green cologne on receipt of it. Another recent Coty find was Coty Aspen for Men at £8.29 a delightful Lavender/Pine combo that smells like Creed Green Irish Tweed . Don’t rule out Old Spice either- it was originally meant for women and smells like a lighter version of Dana Tabu).

Yves Rocher is a minefield of bargains, but sadly my nearest branch is in France.  Their online service for the UK is excellent however.  I just bought 2 bottles for the price of one: Clea and Yria. They were blind buys, but I looked them up on Fragrantica, liked the reviews and went ahead.  I was not disappointed and now own two bottles for the total price of £15. They usually let you choose three free samples and a free gift too.

One of my favourite sites is, formerly  They have a huge variety of genuine big names, but can sell cheap since they are without the High Street overheads. Prices are very low and there is a vast selection of perfume under £10. Postage is free  when you spend over £15 but it does take about week.  They don’t pay me to say how great they are, but their delivery guy could find my house without sat nav.


 Being a blogger I have the advantage of having been sent some free samples from discoveryclub_headerimgvery generous companies, and I am lucky to have a good friend in my chum Lisa, whose generosity in letting me loose on two big boxes of phials, knows no bounds.

Samples are getting harder to cadge over the counter: believe, me I’ve turned on the charm!  But there are other methods.

The Fragrance Shop Discovery Box (see photo) is a good way to bolster my sample collection.  At only £5 a quarter, I receive a box of mixed samples and vouchers for money off full sized bottles. My absolute favourite Discovery Box comes from The Perfume Society, which provides around ten samples, smelling notes, sniffing strips, and a couple of scented goodies that vary from facial serum, to hand cream or shower gel.

 Look Beneath the Glitz

Don’t rule out tacky looking celeb scents either: Who cares what it says on nd.8925the label?  If you like it, go ahead.  Two of my favourites are Jessica Simpson Fancy Nights (very Vegas!), bought for £8.95 which smells of Papyrus and Patchouli ( and very similar to Prada EDP), and JLo Deseo, which looks like wet jewel and smells eau so fraiche!


Ebay is an excellent source of cheap fragrance trawling, especially after big events such as Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day when people sell their disappointments.  Some buyers are afraid of being sold a dud, but I can honestly say everything I have bought has been authentic and eBay are pretty strict about fake stuff, so it’s a good place to shop around.

Swaps, Decants and Splits

If you get stuck into the talk boards on Basenotes, Fragrantica, Facebook Fragrance Groups or even Mumsnet Style and Beauty threads, you can not only find friendly like minded fellows, but can usually swap decants, full bottles, or even go in on an expensive niche bottle by just buying, say a quarter if a full bottle with some fellow fragheads. Perfume lovers are generous souls and genuinely want to spread the joy.

Photo by World of Oddy: Wishing Pool in Portmeirion
Photo by World of Oddy: Wishing Pool in Portmeirion

How about you?

What’s the best bargain you’ve ever scooped?  Have you found a hidden gem? Do share so we can share your joy, follow in your footsteps or just sit here being all jealous. Perfume is such a treat, I truly wish it for everyone.


19 thoughts on “Perfume for Paupers: How to Smell Good on a Budget”

    1. Hi there Portia! Always a joy to have you visit my blog. Thanks for the tip. I love insider tips, especially when it means saving money. Everyone should be able to smell good, no matter what their budget!

      1. I can’t be nicer than you Portia. I always remember your wise words “Do what you love, it makes you easier to live with” it was like getting permission to follow a dream. Thank you. And yes, it did. xxxx

  1. As always a very good post Sam, super helpful. Also would just like to say only had very good experiences with ebay perfume purchases as well. xx

    1. Hi lynette and thanks for dropping by! I hope this helps you find some hidden gems. Yes I’ve only ever had good experiences with ebay and I found a good seller that sells samples for very few ££.

      best wishes

  2. Dearest Iscent
    Such wise words all… a few things I would add:
    (1) car boot and jumble sales can reap the strangest and choicest rewards
    (2) dusty old ‘chemists’ (that’s pharmacists or drugstores to the rest of the world) who insist on stocking perfume, often never change the prices from the moment the scent hits the shelves
    (3) discontinuation… even the ‘big names’ will drop their prices breathtakingly if a repackage or, sigh, reformulation is in the offing.
    May the fun and games continue!
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

    1. Dear Mr Dandy,

      You are so right as ever. I forgot to add Jumble sales and car boots and even charity shops. I have bagged several Avons and a decent Givenchy for under £3.

      “dusty old chemists” are my favourite sort. Those old fashioned independents are a real treasure chest. There is an independent chemist in Abergavenny that is very French in style. You can get prescriptions there but you can also buy Chanel, Balmain, Occitaine and Roger et Gallet fragrances.

      And on your last point, discontinuation: ah yes, this may explain why my bottle of Montaigne was less than £10 on Amazon. I also managed to bag a bottle (via a mule) of La Pluie by Miller Harris for a criminally low price as they are changing the packaging.

      Your comments add so much, as always, thank you

      Your friend

  3. Ah yes, it does help to have a few perfumey friends in London or somewhere similar, who wander around the perfume departments at lunchtime and spot ridiculous bargains. I shall not name the gent who is responsible for a £20 bottle of Serge Lutens’ Serge Noir, a £16.50 bottle of Miller Harris and a £20 spray can (yes, really) of Boudicca’s Wode. He knows who he is.

    Similarly, I have a secret source (I took you there, Sam!) of ex-tester bottles at around the £20 mark. There’s a box on the counter in this particular chemist and every week they put new things in there at silly prices. I’ve found a bottle of Paloma Picasso’s Minotaure for a fiver! I have to stay away at the moment because I”m really skint this month.

    I’m also an ebay fan – so many people sell things off that they’ve got tired of or are unwanted presents. But I set my top price and never go back. If I win then great; I try not to get into bidding wars!

    And having perfumey friends is fantastic, too, if you want to find one of those rare birds: the bottle split. That’s where someone puts a notice up on Basenotes or in a Facebook group and offers something usually in 5ml increments, decanted into atomisers. That’s different from a decant or sample seller because a bottle split only goes ahead when all the slots are signed up for.

    And of course never forget friends! I tend to get hold of a sample and try it and if I don’t love it I will happily pass it along. 🙂 We do all tend to post each other little jiffy bags with pongs in. 😀

    1. My dear,

      You ARE that friend! Without you I would never ever have been able to sample so many of the joys I have been able to review. You have given me boxes of samples that have made my eyes pop out and insights and knowledge that would have taken me many years to figure out alone. Judging from all the different handwriting on the teeny bottles in your collection, I can see that you have indeed been on the receiving end of a lot of generosity yourself. Fragrant people are the kindest of people! There is a kind of unspoken “Pay it Forward” principle. I have posted samples myself to people who have been unable to lay hands on something, and many people at Christmas had samples in their gift too. In fact, it’s a lovely moment when someone falls in love with a sample you’ve given them and seeks a full bottle. It’s as satisfying as matchmaking.

      Once again, I cannot thank you enough for helping me in so many endless ways with this blog, and opening my eyes to a wonderful world. You are entirely responsible for my initiation into the world of chypres and Serges. Oh and fig!

      We must head for your secret shop, and soon.

      Big love to you always
      Sammy xxxx

      1. Oh and yes, I have been incredibly fortunate in my ‘smelly friends’ – I have encountered a ridiculously kind and generous group of people, who have shared knowledge and samples with me without reserve.

  4. Some great tips in here – I was a big eBay and Cheapsmells fan when starting out in this hobby, and was never off Makeupalley for swapping coups, but The Fragrance Shop’s deal is a more recent development that could be great for someone starting to explore mainstream scents. T K Maxx used to have some ace bargains – Cuir de Lancome and Bvlgari Black were scores from there! – but is pretty scrappy nowadays. I used not to rate M & S’s perfumes (other than the Lyn Harris ones), but I heard they were revamping their regular range so those purse sprays sound good.

    1. Thanks Vanessa, I am always interested to hear what you have to say. Our mutual friend Lisa has also had some bargains at TK Maxx. Recently they were selling off loads of Annick Goutals for twenty quid!

      With the Fragrance Shop, I find I go nuts when the postman delivers the Discovery Club Box, I’m so happy! Then half an hour later I’m thinking “Nope. Wouldn’t buy any of them.” But I just love having samples!

  5. I love bargains and perfumes are no exception! I use EBay a lot, and I also trade samples and decants and haunt discount stores and thrift shops. My best find so far was a full bottle of Rance Josephine for $10 USD at a thrift store. It’s one of my favorite perfumes and I was thrilled!

    1. Hi Flora,

      Thanks so much for dropping by. I have a peculiar thirst for thrifty scent stories. It’s triumph over adversity. It also reinforces my belief that good scent is possible if you know where to look!

      best wishes

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