At least when I spend $200 at Costco, I leave the store pushing an overflowing shopping cart – even if it is filled with boring necessities like toilet paper and Diet Coke. However, when I spend $200 at Sephora, I walk out of the store with a tiny, glossy black shopping bag that is so light that I have to pull out the tissue paper that they stuff in the top and make sure that the products I bought actually got put in the bag.

Ahh, the price of beauty.

If you’re not familiar with Sephora, it’s a chain of makeup stores where eyeliner and mascara cost six times more than at CVS.  It is staffed by scary women in black who apply their makeup like their faces are blank canvases and every day is a new opportunity for self expression. Wow, I didn’t know they made electric blue glitter eye shadow.

Usually, I am very happy to buy my makeup at Target. The price of experimentation is low so I figure if that even if the eye shadow that looks so good on Halle Berry ends up making me look like a zombie, I’ve only invested $8.

However, after I’ve got a collection of about eight different shades of lipstick rolling around in the bottom of my purse and even when I try layering the pink-ish one on top of the orange-ish one and top it all off with tinted gloss and the color still looks hideous, it’s time to go to Sephora where the lipstick will cost me $25 but I can try on the colors so I don’t end up looking like I just ate a cherry popsicle.

And Jennifer Lynn has been asking to go to Sephora to get a new tube of the brand of concealer that she bought there a year ago. She believes that product has the ability to transform girls from ugly ducklings to beautiful swans. The stuff is that good.

The items on my Sephora shopping list were: foundation, eyebrow pencil, concealer and lipstick. Those were all things I had bought there before so I imagined myself being able to breeze in, grab the makeup I knew I wanted and be on our way. The problem is that because we only make a trip to Sephora every six months, only two of the four items on my list were still being stocked. Oh no, I was going to have to try to make sense of the dozens of brands, colors, applicators and pricing to find something to cover the black circles under my eyes and bring my lips back from the dead.

I finally got some help from the Sephora employee who looked the least like she was auditioning for the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and with her advice, located some concealer and lipstick that actually made me look rested and refreshed. Feeling like I was on a roll, I mentioned that I could use some new blush, and while I’m at it, I’ve always hated that muddy brown eyes shadow that I keep wearing year after year because it never seems to get used up, so I tossed some lovely, peachy, translucent blush and mocha-colored shadow into my little shopping basket.

Jennifer Lynn found her concealer and some lip balm and we headed to check out. I was watching the total as the cashier rang it up – and it was heading over $300. It’s easy to get well into the hundreds when you’re buying blush that costs $38 and concealer that costs $33.

OMG, I panicked. I can’t spend that much. The gal at the register was extremely nice when I started setting aside items that I had changed my mind about getting. Even though this Sephora is in Marin County, I probably wasn’t the first customer she had rung up who had sticker shock.

I continued whittling down the items I had picked out – I’m sure a Q-tip will work just as well applying my concealer as a $28 brush – until the total was in the realm of what my MasterCard could handle.

You know that saying, “You look like a million bucks.” I may not look that good but it didn’t cost me that much either.