Sign up for special offers and events. Yes, your mailbox will clog with sales promotions and questionnaires. Your "personal beauty consultant" will leave breathy, intimate messages about new products on your voicemail. But these personal invasions are a small price to pay for free goods. Let the nice ladies in white coats turn you into a drag queen during makeover events at Nordstrom or Meier & Frank. Green eye shadow washes off with a good rub, and you'll usually get a fistful of freebies for your time.
Collect frequent buyer cards. Patient spending pays off--eventually. Aveda environmental stores offer a $40 credit toward new purchases after you spend $400 on their assertively scented products. It does seem like you need to buy an awful lot of earth-toned lip liner to see any free swag, but the card never expires--that's a lifetime of tourmaline and sap moss.
Surf for swag. Online cosmetics vendors love to hook customers with free stuff, and the attentive shopper can score gobs of giveaway goodies with a few timely purchases. Burt's Bees, maker of all-natural hippie-ish body care, has launched a cosmetic line available on Drugstore.com. You may cringe at the line's blissed-out name (Wings of Love), but the products are affordable, the colors sassy and vibrant. Buy any Wings of Love cosmetic before Nov. 3 and get a free dark-brown eyeliner (that's $8.99 worth of kohl--perfect for that high-fashion Shalom Harlow smoky eyelid). Or avail yourself of Neutrogena's Visibly Firm skin-care products and get a free Neutrogena mascara and lipstick (good until Dec.8). Go to www.drugstore.com and click on "Freebies with Purchase."
Wait for bonus time. Well-known maquillage makers like Clinique and Lancôme offer periodic bonus packages of trial-size cosmetics with a minimum purchase (about $20 to $25). Freebie lipstick and shadow colors err on the bland side (to attract the maximum amount of suckers), but that can be a boon in itself--even the makeup novice can't screw up taupe. Right now, Lancôme offers a full-size lipstick (in Sugared Maple--so seasonal) plus assorted mini eye products with a $22.50 rollout. The smaller quantities deliver a realistic ration of glamour (trust me, you'll be bored with Haute Cocoa by February).
Act undecided. Cosmetic-counter attendants are there to help you, and you can only benefit by being deliberate--particularly if a product is pricey. If you're deciding between two lipstick tints, ask for samples of each to take home with you. The quantity given to you in that wee plastic capsule can keep you in Kiss-Me-Quick Coral for weeks, without paying a dime. Don't worry about being high-maintenance. Guaranteed, the folks who work those counters have heard stranger requests than yours.