I went to an MLM party. I know, I know- bad frugal move. But it was with you- my readers- in mind! I thought I would buy a real MLM product, and then compare it with a similar (half the price) Walmart product and share my findings.
Which Company to Chose?
Wow. Did I want candles, or essential oils, or handbags, or lotions, or nutritional supplements or cleaning products? Memberships or recurring monthly purchases were out of the question, so I decided to go to a friend's Lemongrass Spa party. Lemongrass Spa offers natural personal care products like lotions, shampoos, makeup, etc.
The party was fun, of course, because a lot of my friends were there. Plus there were nice snacks. Also, I had chosen to buy a product before I went, so that decision was already made. We all enjoyed ourselves, sniffing and trying all that Lemongrass had to offer.
I decided to buy a jar of sugar scrub because I really liked the pomegranate scent. I'd never used sugar scrubs before, so I thought it would be a great product to compare. Total cost for the 8 oz. jar, with $4.00 shipping, was about $22.00.
Buying the Competition
For the competing product, I had to chose something all-natural otherwise it wouldn't be a fair comparison. So I found the natural beauty section at Walmart and looked for some sugar scrubs. Burt's Bees had an 8 oz. container, and it was even labeled "Cranberry & Pomegranate". That would be perfect, because I could compare the scent as well as ingredients and feel, etc.
As soon as we got home, I opened the Burt's Bees scrub. It smelled so wonderful. At $13.00, it was a steal compared to the Lemongrass stuff. I loved how it made my face feel fresh after a shower, and the oil rehydrated my skin so it didn't flake off after so much hot water.
The Final Comparison
It took several weeks, but finally I got my Lemongrass scrub. It came in a little green bag that I thought was so cute. Somehow, though, a bit of oil had leaked through the seal and got on the inside of the bag. But at least it smelled good.
The moment of truth had come. I opened the jar and took a big whiff. Oh my- it was just as lovely as I had remembered! I splashed some water on my face to try it out. This scrub was a little more oily than Burt's Bees, but it made my face feel all satiny smooth. Like a baby's butt, but it smelled a whole lot better. ;)
"Which one do you like better?" I asked. He sniffed. Then he asked to smell each one again. I was getting a little nervous.
"It's hard to decide," he said, "because they both smell good. But I think I like the second one better." So, Lemongrass had won in the scent department.
But what about functionality?
Still determined to declare Burt's the winner, I compared the consistency and feel of each scrub. Again, Lemongrass was superior. Burt's Bees felt more sticky than smooth. This prompted me to check the ingredients on the back of each jar. I had expected to see almost identical ingredients, but the Burt's jar contained more cheap oils like soybean (first ingredient after sugar), olive and sunflower oils. The Lemongrass jar, on the other hand, listed finer oils like sweet almond oil (second ingredient after sugar), apricot kernel oil, and mango butter.
Does This Mean Bethany Will Start Buying MLM Products?
No. Unless maybe you give me a steep discount!! All kidding aside, I still think MLMs are not a good idea for most people trying to save money. It's important to realize that network marketing products- like subscription boxes, new name brand clothing, and organic food- are very much luxuries. My sister receives a subscription box every month, and she calls it "a present to herself". That is what luxury items are. They are NOT needs.*
Let's be clear- I love my Lemongrass Spa sugar scrub. I think it is wonderful and I will enjoy every last dab of it. It was rather costly, but it was a one-time purchase. If the jar lasts five years, I might buy it again from Lemongrass. If it lasts one year, I will probably just make my own sugar scrub.
It's very important to distinguish between long-term MLM habits and short-term splurges. For nutritional supplements, it is easy to pay $100.00 per month or MORE for daily nutrition bars, shakes, and pills- and that is just for one person. That is $1200.00 per year for ONE ITEM on your budget. It's so important to evaluate purchases like these before signing up. There is a huge, huge difference between $1200.00 for a subscription "daily use" item and $22.00 for a single luxury item.
Does This Mean Bethany Will Start Selling MLM Products?
"But Bethany," someone says, "You can get X product for just $50.00 per month if you become a consultant! Plus the commission you make can offset the cost of X product. That would be frugal!" Never say never, but I don't see network marketing in my future. I still think the "sell to all of your friends" model is a little scammy and weird. I still think network marketing products are overpriced.
One thing I would consider doing, however, is affiliate marketing. It is kind of like network marketing because you get a percentage of the sales. Unlike network marketing, though, you are selling stuff to people who are actually interested. There are no pushy person-to-person "appointments" or constant Facebook parties. Oftentimes affiliate marketing can be as simple as an ad on your blog sidebar, or links to Amazon products. I don't think there is anything scammy about that. If people are going to buy a product anyway, why not make a few pennies from the company (not from your friend!) by recommending that product?
Conflicts of Interest in Network (and Affiliate) Marketing
Several months ago, I looked into taking an online course about herbs. The class cost about $200.00 at full price. I'm frugal, so I started looking around for discounts and realized that they had an affiliate program for bloggers. Affiliates not only received a 50% commission for every class sold through their link, but they'd also receive a 35% discount on any classes they chose to take personally. On top of that, all students were eligible for a discount on herbs purchased from Mountain Rose Herbs. How could I say no to that? As an affiliate, my $200.00 course would only cost $130.00, and if I sold two classes through an affiliate link, my whole class would be paid for. Plus, as a student, I would be saving money on herbs that I *might* have bought anyway.
Here is where the conflict of interest comes in: even though it would be frugal for me, a $200.00 course (without the affiliate discount) would not be frugal for many of my readers; especially those paying off debt or just trying to make ends meet. I think that distinction is not made clear enough in a world where "frugal" bloggers are peddling all sorts of luxury MLM products and other subscription services.
I'm not 100% against affiliate marketing or selling stuff. I sell books on Amazon.
But as a consumer and blog reader, sometimes it can be difficult for me to untangle which products (DoTerra, Young Living, HelloFresh, Grove Collaborative, Dollar Shave Club) featured on my favorite frugal blogs are actually frugal. I've determined that most of them aren't. Not for me, anyway.
So, that was Burt's Bees (Walmart) vs. an MLM company (Lemongrass Spa). The MLM company won, but let's not forget that almost every MLM or subscription service is a luxury purchase; not an need, and certainly not a frugal choice.
*I know there are exceptions to the rule. But I'm talking about MLM products in general.
**For those of you DIY types, I did find the wonderful phthalate-free pomegranate fragrance for sale at several online retailers. I can't guarantee it is what Lemongrass uses, but it's out there for under $10.00 with shipping. :)