The frugal shave: Which method is cheapest?

Electric? Disposable? Cartirdge? Some shaving methods are far cheaper than others, but some work better than others, too. 

Shakh Aivazov/AP/File
Soldiers shave during joint Georgian/U.S. military exercises at the Vaziani military base outside Tbilisi, Georgia, in March. According to Hamm, the key to cheap shaves is a sharpener for disposable razors.

As a clean-shaven adult male in his thirties, I’ve shaved my face literally thousands of times – it’s probably approaching the ten thousand shave mark at this point.

I’ve used all kinds of equipment to shave with, too – old-fashioned safety razors with individual blades, fully disposable razors, disposable razors with cartridge-based systems, and fully electric razors, too.

Some of these are far cheaper than others. Some of them work better than others, too.

What’s the best option for a frugal person? Here are my thoughts on each experience.

Skip fully electric razors unless they’re a gift.
 With a fully electric razor, you’re essentially paying a large up-front price for a lot of shaves. A good electric razor often costs $100 as a baseline and most of the highly recommended ones are now creeping toward the $200 mark.

Once you own it, though, the maintenance cost is almost invisible. With the multiple electric razors I’ve used, I’ve been able to shave ten times or so between charges and a single charge eats perhaps a dime of electricity (cost per shave is $0.01). You will need a replacement head roughly every eighteen months, which will set you back $30 to $50 depending on your model (cost per shave is $0.05 to $0.10 – let’s call it $0.07).

So, excluding the cost of the electric razor itself, your cost per shave is somewhere in the $0.08 range. But what about that up front cost?

Let’s say the electric razor lasts for five years. Based on warranties and other articles, that’s a reasonable assumption. This would mean it got you through 1,700 shaves. If you’re investing $150 in the razor, that means you’re paying about $0.08 per shave for the razor itself.

So, if you buy the electric razor, your cost per shave is about $0.16, but if the razor is gifted to you, it’s about $0.08 per shave.

Skip disposable or cartridge-based razors unless you have a sharpener.
 You can get 30 Bic TwinSelect disposable razors for $9.57, which adds up to about $0.32 per razor. I can usually get three shaves out of a low-end disposable, dropping the cost down to $0.11 per shave. If you go with generics here, you can easily get that down to about $0.08 to $0.09 per shave. That cost is comparable to using an electric razor that someone purchased for you.

With a cartridge-based system like Gilette Fusion, I can get about seven shaves per cartridge. The problem is that a sixteen pack of these cartridges at my local warehouse club is about $44 – or $2.75 per cartridge. At seven shaves per cartridge, the cost per shave goes down to about $0.39 per shave. Ouch. Pricy.

The trick here is to use a disposable razor blade sharpener. This has made an enormous difference.

Using one of these after each shave (I do it in the shower) takes about three seconds. It seems to extend the life of a cheap disposable razor to about fifteen shaves, dropping the cost of a generic disposable down to about $0.02 per shave. With a cartridge-based system, I’ve been using the same cartridge I got with my Gilette Fusion for Christmas virtually every day using the razor sharpener. We’ve almost reached the six month mark and it still works fine without nicking or cutting me. I just use it after each shave. It is getting a bit rougher than it used to be so I will have to move on to the second cartridge, but it’s dropped the price per shave for the cartridges down into the $0.02 to $0.03 range.

This, of course, doesn’t include the prorated cost of the sharpener, which cost $20. However, the item is basically indestructible, which means that I’ll continue to prorate it down. If I use it for seven years (which seems very possible), it will have dropped to one cent per shave.

To summarize, if you have a sharpener, a disposable or cartridge-based razor can do a great job for a very low price.

Safety razors are very cheap, but they have a learning curve.
 What about safety razors? The nice thing about a hefty all-metal safety razor is that the replacement blades are really cheap. I can use a safety razor blade twice before it starts cutting my face and blades cost about $0.10 each, which drops the cost per shave down to $0.05.

I have attempted to sharpen them using the razor blade sharpener mentioned above and I’ve found that it will generally add about two more shaves to a single blade, bringing it up to four shaves and a cost per shave of around two and a half cents.

A new safety razor can be expensive, but it’s also something that can often be found used without too much searching. I’ve seen them in secondhand shops and yard sales before, though probably not as frequently as I once did. A good safety razor, like this model, requires an initial investment of around $30.

What about technique?
 With everything but the electric razor, I usually shave in the shower with a bit of soap on my face without any problems at all and I can usually do it while rinsing soap from the rest of me. I can usually tell by feel where I need to touch up, though a small mirror in the shower can help.

Thus, I don’t have the expense of buying shaving gel or cream. Sure, I am perhaps using a tiny amount of soap in the process, but it’s usually left-over lather.

 The cheapest option, if you’re paying for everything yourself, is to get a razor blade sharpener and some cheap disposable razors, shave in the shower with a bit of soap so you can avoid the cost of shaving cream, and sharpen the razor after each use. This keeps the cost down in the $0.02 per daily shave range.

If you have an electric razor you’ve been gifted, use it until the head wears out. In that case, the cost is about $0.01 per shave, which is very cheap. After that, assess whether a new head is worth the cost depending on how many uses you got from the first head.

I’m really not sure what to recommend about the cartridge heads. Like I said, I’ve been using a single cartridge for months with a sharpener and it still seems to be doing a decent job. I might not be as discerning about it as I might otherwise be. My feeling is that if you have cartridges already in the cupboard, get a blade sharpener and use them in conjunction with the blade sharpener, then make your own assessment when the cartridges run out. If you think they provide enough value, continue with them.

With a safety razor, it’s a good solution if you’ve already got the razor and you have a good source for cheap replacement blades. A sharpener will help some with reducing costs, but it’s not the runaway success it is with disposable razors.

Good luck!

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