How did I end up with three cats

Dude, I don't even know. Yes, husband & I rescued and care for three cats. Because today is a National Pet Day (but isn’t that every day tho?) I am dedicating this post to them: Pepper, Whitey & Lucky. I am a huge dog person, so it was natural to rescue & adopt…cats.

I’m still trying to figure out what happened there. One summer we had some strays roaming around, and by the time harsh Chicago winter came, those little furry assholes have infiltrated our house and our lives. Humans have this natural predisposition for attachment and its incredibly easy to get attached to animals. That's exactly what happened to husband & I. Pepper started coming around my deck in Summer of 2014, a year we planned our wedding. He didn't act like a scared feral and enjoyed being pet and played with. I'd sit on my deck (as I usually do the moment it hits 50,60 degrees outside) and he would come, lay around my feet and I'd play with him and hold him.

September 2014

I'd give him some food and while later, his "sister" started to follow, but was far more feral than he was.She'd poke her head on my deck and run away. This went on for months and months, after the wedding festivities in September wrapped up and well into Fall & Winter. Fall of 2014 was fairly wet and rainy season. One night, I let Pepper inside and husband naturally freaked out and told me to kick him out. At first, I did. Then he started showing up more often and I'd let him roam around the house to dry off and warm up. At night, we'd kick him out and this went on until it got REALLY cold. I'm trying to recall the exact moment when we decided we'd keep him in permanently. I just know that in our mind, all of this shit with cats was supposed to be "temporary". It was supposed to be until Spring came and here were are, four years later and I can't imagine my life without them.

Month later, we had him neutered.

Pepper's first time in the house, October of 2014

He quickly made himself at home.

 His "sister" (litter-mate) Whitey remained outside, gnawing at the glass deck door. We had separated them. 

They clearly missed each other. How heartless can one be to separate them??

After a month or so watching her yearn for her brother, we let her roam around the house and hang out with him. January was just around the corner and once again, we made a "TEMPORARY" decision to keep her in until it warmed up. Meanwhile, she got a really bad eye infection. I took her to vet and a month later, we had her spayed. At this point, both of the cats were healthy & fixed and decision was made to keep them.

But our cat woes do not end here. End of December of 2014, another small white kitten showed up. Feral and hungry, I had set up a shelter with heated pad for him on the deck. Around January, the poor thing got REALLY sick and quit eating. Within few days, this little raggedy looking thing (which we called RatBoy for a while) became emaciated and deathly ill.


We had a dying kitten on the deck and decision had to be made: watch  him die slowly and painfully in the cold...or trap him  and take him to vet for either treatment or to be put down. Later than night, Slavisa went to Home Depot and purchased a humane trap. Took us 2 hours to lure him in. Usually, the food will guide them right in, but the poor thing was so sick, he couldn't smell the food, therefore he quit eating. I grabbed a small laser (yes, stereotypes about cats and lasers is VERY TRUE) and with it, I managed to get him going. Once he got trapped, I immediately drove us to emergency vet where he received an antibiotic shot. Vet told us its gonna take few weeks for him to be cured. Again, we didn't have the heart to let a sick, ailing kitten out in the snow while he was trying to get better. 

At the vet's office. We had to cover the trap so he could calm down.

For the third time, a "temporary" decision was made to help a kitten in need. We told ourselves, if Ratboy survives this, we will call him Lucky. Few weeks later, once a dying kitten on my deck, began to thrive but now a tough decision had to be made. I realized that in less than 3 months, we had rescued and took in THREE stray cats into our home without a plan or a serious conversation. I did not have the heart to let Lucky go once he got better. I told my husband "

you will open that deck door and YOU will let him out because I physically and emotionally can't."

I dare you to resist this face

I think we all know how that went and that's because my husband has the biggest heart and he is attached to them as much as I am. No matter how hard he tries to pretend otherwise.

4 years later, we have 3 cats in our house. Our parents still give us a hard time (its frowned upon indoor animals in our culture), I constantly have to vacuum and clean up hair, I spend hundreds a month on their (premium) food, toys, furniture and litter, I have to worry and prepare in advance every time we travel to Kansas City, arrange a long term solution for longer trips, be ready for anything that may come up, watch their weight constantly etc.

I wouldn't even call this "hard" work. Its become second nature to both of us.

Do I still like dogs better? Definitely. Do I want a dog? Oh for sure. Am I gonna get a dog? Probably. Animals have brought joy to my life, eased off anxiety and gave me a sense of purpose. I feel less depressed. They seem to soak up edge off me. Its hard to explain. I miss them when they're not around.

So that's the story behind my kitties. Nothing unusual or crazy dramatic. Just a bunch of strays and my soft-for-animals heart.

Happy National Pets Day to my furry monsters.

My War with Self-Esteem, Dealing with Acne & Acne Prone Skin

I developed acne when I was 12. Nearly 20 years later, I am still dealing with acne. They've been part of me as my own limbs. There isn't a day I don't dream about alien-like skin from a Glossier ad but such is not my real life and I have learned to accept my imperfect skin, my breakouts....and deal with them like an adult - meaning not letting them cripple my often fragile self-esteem.

If you want to skip my tale of woe, just scroll all the way down to the tips & steps I use to deal with my acne. But do read my disclaimer and skin reference. Its important.

I got my period when I was 12 during a summer vacation in Republika Srpska at my grandmother's house. I knew it was coming, mom was good at preparing us girls and my only freak out stemmed from seeing the blood. Mom gave me some pads, we talked about it, assured me it was natural and that my body is going through changes. Never thought those changes would be an absolute EXPLOSION of acne on my face (minor on the back & chest.) And I'm not talking minor zits but full blown red, pus-filled, painful, BIG pimples that to this date....20 years later, still haunt me on hard days. A boy in my 7th grade grabbed my face one day and straight up told me "God, you're so fucking ugly." Acne scars, soul was rough. I have no photos available from that time. Wish I did so I can gain more perspective. Alas, life goes on and his voice and words have faded from my memory, only to be brought up in examples of moments that helped (or hindered) me as a human.

When I moved to United States at the age 14, the only thing we had on our TV at the time was Jerry Springer (which my dad quickly forbade us to watch after it aired an episode of close family members fucking each other), Star Trek Voyager and Proactiv commercials. Damn those commercials. They made acne clearing look so fabulous. I was so sure that my acne days were over so I convinced mom to get me a Proactiv kit. I used it for a while until my face swelled up so badly, I looked like a busted red balloon. On top of the painful swelling, my face exploded even more in acne. Needless to say, my 14 year old fresh-into-puberty self was launched into a bodily adulthood from an "ugly" canon that would defy my mental state and existence for years to come. High school was hard but an opposite experience from my middle school days. In middle school, I was just ugly. In high school, I was invisible. Since I didn't speak English well, had eyebrows that would shame Groucho Marx, wore lesbian high-school coach style chinos, I was mostly ignored by other kids, so I quit obsessing over the acne. Well not as much as I used to. If no one is looking at your face or direction, why bother?

It wasn't all horrible, please don't feel sorry for me. I'm not detailing my sob story for sympathy or likes. I would hope my reader would come to understand me. Not everyone is meant to be a popular, "pretty" girl and that is OK. I found solace with few outcast girls, wore fairy t-shirts, had crushes on an unobtainable guys, did well with grades, planned for college, read lots of Stephen King, was perpetually sad...but f*ck it. Life went on. Fast forward to today: one major move, husband, 3 cats later....I'm 32, full time working, make up loving, politically heated feminist progressive and I still have acne. I still have enlarged pores, texture, hyper-pigmentation, scars from skin picking etc. Its nowhere near as bad as it used to be. And on some lucky days, my skin is actually clear. This is mostly due to my very skincare strict regimen, mild skin care products, peels and lots and lots and lots and LOOOOOOOOOOOTS of hydration. Half of you would faint if you knew just how much effort I put into my skin. Your makeup will only look as good as the skin underneath. And I love makeup so much, I want to make sure the base underneath it would make it pop!

I wanna share some skin tips and products that help me CONTROL my unbalanced skin. For reference, I have a natural tone, both pink & gold undertones, oily t-zone, dry chin and cheeks, combo sensitive, acne prone skin.

Disclaimer: I am not claiming that these tips and products work 100% nor that they will work for you. This is what has worked for ME (see skin reference above) and no, there are times where none of my familiar steps help. Acne will do whatever the fuck acne wants to do, and you can do everything perfect, spend $300 on LaMer (don't do that, algae broth is not that difficult to extract no matter how much they advertise it as such.)...sometimes nothing works and you just have to accept it. Since I've dealt with this issue for so long, I've learned and trained myself how to manage it and not feel shitty about myself.

On a GOOD day, my skin looks like this: 

Once in a blue moon, I experience very supple, clear skin...but you can still see hyperpigmentation and scars
  • Tip #1 - acne washes, acne creams, acne scrubs - QUIT using these. These are harsh irritants that will only aggravate your skin, make it angrier and you'll break out more. If it has those little beads in it...throw it away now. Its bad for your skin AND environment.
  • Tip #2 - Work with your acne...not against it. Physically, acne will pop to the surface if your pores are clogged & dirty. Your skin is also producing too much oil. Stripping it from natural oil will cause your pores to...create more oil, therefore more acne. The skin is under stress since you're stripping it.
  • Tip #3 - Use mild washes. If its foaming too much, its probably too harsh. Stick with gel cleansers. Avoid ANYTHING with alcohol and fragrance. Use only alcohol free toners. Thayer's Witch Hazel is basic as fuck, but its a classic. Its an extra cleansing step that won't irritate your acne. And its cheap on Amazon. I'm also a huge fan of Drunk Elephant's face soap bars. They are mild, non-irritating but leave skin very clean feeling.
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  • Tip #4 - if it smells nice...its probably shit. Skin care should smell like NOTHING or kinda herb-ish. Things that smell nice are usually enhanced with unnatural fragrance and it can wreck your sensitive skin
  • Tip #5 - hydrate, hydrate and hydrate some more. Even if your skin is oily. Your skin can be oily and dehydrated at the same time. Water is essential in every aspect. Look for ingredients that are emollient - meaning - they retain water to your face when exposed to natural elements and pollution. Look for hyaluronic acid, lanolin, glycerin, ceramides, sorbitol, sodium hyaluronate, urea, propylene glycol, alpha hydroxy acids, sugars, etc. Just because it has a "chemically" name, it doesnt mean its bad. Quit being anti-science sheep. Water is a chemical compound. Literally everything in nature is a chemical. There are good chemicals and there are bad chemicals. Obviously, look for good ones. I'm a huge fan of BELIF and Laneige brands. Both Korean, non irritating and very moisturizing.
  • Tip #6 - accept the fact that there is no one (1) cause of acne. Acne is caused by various factors (diet, clogged pores, sugar, dirty sheets, skin picking, hormones, genetics, etc.) You can make many life changes and that still wont guarantee clear skin. I personally experience major breakouts during my period or if I have more sugar than usual. Other than that, I do try to make SOME changes in life. I have cut my meat intake by a LOT. I even got SILK pillow case and second set of towels so my I'm not sharing it with my husband. Sometimes none of it matters.
  • Tip #7- Incorporate facial oils into your routine for added moisture. But beware of some. Not all facial oils are created the same. A lot of oils WILL clog your pores and you will break out, such as coconut oil. Everyone is promoting it like its second coming of Christ, but in reality, coconut oil should never touch your face. Its highly comedogenic and you will break out. In terms of oils, I've only used ONE that I love and that never wrecks havoc on my skin and that is Drunk Elephant's Marula Oil. Its so fucking expensive so I try to use it sparingly.
  • Tip#8 - if you are using acne clearing solutions, stick to spot treatments. Grab a cotton swab, coat the tip with salicylic (or sulfuric) acid solution and dab the pimple ONLY. If you spread that shit all over your skin, it will burn, get irritated and you will break out more. Back to tip #2 - work WITH your acne. I'm a fan of Murad's spot treatment product. Use a cotton swab to apply, never fingers.
  • Tip #9 - always wash your face thoroughly before bed. If you see me going to bed with makeup on, I'm either threatened with my life, been abducted by aliens, DEAD drunk or just plain dead. It takes a severe circumstance that will keep me away from my sink before bed time. I don't care how tired I am, I am triple cleansing my face: oil cleanser, face wash, toner. Face wash will simply not do since I use a gentle one. Clean skin is essential for all your other expensive shit to work. I'm not applying $80 marula oil on filthy skin.
  • Tip #10 - clean your brushes and sponges well and often. If you are not doing that, you're just pressing bacteria against your face. Its that simple...and gross.
  • Tip #11 - play with masks. They can be VERY abrasive but for me, they REALLY get into congested pores when face washing simply won't do. I feel like they clear up any smaller pimples that start forming. Im a huge fan of Aztec Indian healing clay powder that I mix with organic apple cider. This shit is STRONG and your veins and skin will pulsate. Its the strangest feeling. But for me, it works.

That's all I got - fairly basic, common sense tips. Acne doesnt have to be or feel like the end of the world. Do the best you can to treat your face with good ingredients, invest in good skin care & make up foundation, clean your sponge often, drink water, eat well and never ever let those red, gross pimply diminish you. Its just red spots.

Yes, I wish life was this simple and I wish I can offer and do more here but i'm just a human too. Acne ridden human doing the best she can.

Everyone's experience is different. We all have different skin type, genetics and what may work for me is not going to necessarily work for you. That's why I didn't post my ENTIRE routine here. You have to invest time...and some money. Experiment and try until you find something that works. There is no magical cure. I may never experience life with clear, perfect, smooth, pore-less skin, but I'm not gonna let that ruin my existence. I'm perfectly aware that everything I see online and in magazines in filtered, facetuned, photoshopped (no shade, I fucking LOVE filters)...but I also know that's not "real" and that acknowledgment lets me move on with my life...acne and all.

I'm just wearing SPF CC cream with some highlighter. It helps when outdoors & when I don't wanna cake on ton of makeup.

My Favorite TV Dramas ("Serious" TV) of All Time

Oh boy. This is gonna be a tough one because I'll attempt to combine every genre of TV that is not comedy (I have a separate post for the funnies) and I can already feel anxiety building up because television is so fucking good. We are in the Golden Age of Television, my friends. Its weened me off the movies almost completely because why waste time. With that said, TV has evolved so much into an insanely raw, boundary pushing, human nature exploring medium and to list only 10 of my favorites, would not be doing any service to anyone. But I also don't want this post to be 17 days long so here are my top 10 (with honorable mentions)

Disclaimer: this is MY personal list. There are better shows, there are worse shows but this is my list and these are the shows I have watched multiple times over the past decade or so.

10. Lost
Lost was an enthralling experience to watch. To this date, I remember the chair I sat in, box of tissues and remote in my hand when the final episode aired. I remember how I felt. Still. Enthralling, but also the most frustrating. Why? Its a show that in my humble opinion, the writers simply didn't know how to end and made up things as it went on, creating one massive, convulsed mess. But why is it still your top 10 Jovana? Because Lost, when it was good, it was REALLY fucking good. It was all a dogs dream. Or was it?

9. Sherlock (BBC)

Contemporary spin on the worlds most famous detective? Nothing unique there. But when you have Benedict Cumberbatch's commanding screen presence as the titular character featuring fast paced, intelligent, witty, unpredictable writing? Sign me up. I'll tell you this tho: if you suffer any ADHD or have short span, not a fan of details....might wanna skip this one. It demands your full, uninterrupted attention & focus. Its TV's definition of fictional superiority and intellectual elitism.

8. Orange is the New Black
Netflix series set in low security prison for women? Sure I guess. An ensemble featuring women of every shape, size, color, sexual orientation, trans, disabled - the look back into their histories, why they committed their crimes, how they function, think, believe, feel, eat, fuck, exist...NO show like it out there. If you want a program that features flawed, raw, REAL women in the system, void of stereotypes and male gaze - watch OITNB. I usually finish an entire season in two sittings because that darn sleep overwhelms me.

7. Dexter
Do not come at me for this one. In my mind, Dexter only exists in Seasons 1-4. Ignore any conversation mentioning that lumberjack shit and focus on the good, which is seasons 1-4. Who is Dexter? Dexter is a serial killer who kills...other serial killers. Its fucking graphic as hell & dark and you get to be in Dexter's mind as he chooses the victims, the methods, recalls his history, the birth of his internal Dark Passenger, battles many foes, including "the good guys." But who is good? Who's bad? Who is evil? The lines are constantly crossed. How did it become bad after the Trinity Killer? Nor worthy of discussion. Also, speaking of the Trinity God and I'll just leave it at that. Rent the first four seasons and be done with it. You'll thank me later.

6. Luther
Relatively unknown BBC drama that I have rewatched probably ten times now. What can I say, I'm a sucker for psychologically damaged anti-heroes who use their own personal darkness to solve crimes and problems. John Luther is a troubled, violent man...a cop who a moral duty, failed marriage and an uncomfortable friendship with a very special woman solving cases in each of the limited episodes of this show.

5. Jessica Jones
Luke Cage, Matt Murdoch (Daredevil), Frank Castle (The Punisher)...Jessica Jones. Netflix does Marvel good. You can't go wrong on any of these (except Iron Fist, insert vomit emoji.)I could probably place all of these on my 5th spot, but if I could rewatch one over and over again...its gonna be my favorite angry, potty mouth, alcoholic, "piece of shit", super human Jessica Jones. Yes I know, there are only 2 seasons and it could potentially become shit like Dexter but that first season has such tight and focused plot, Krysten Ritter is brilliant as Jessica, a villain I've never experienced before and loads of trope bashing characterizations - Jessica is my kind of super "hero."

4. The Wire
Believe when people tell you its the best show ever made. If someone makes a big deal and loses their fucking mind that you still haven't seen it....there is a reason for it. The Wire is complex, uncomfortable portrayal of urban America told from different perspectives through slow paced character study that never feels cheap or dramatic for the sake of being a television show. Like Sherlock above, it does require level of intelligence and singular focus because the beauty, as always, is in the details.

3. Breaking Bad
Cancer struck beta male high school chemistry teacher diagnosed with terminal cancer, with a pregnant wife and disabled son at home? What a dying man to do? Well...partner up with a local petty criminal, cook meth and sell it. Use the funds for the family after your pass away....or become the most notorious Drug lord of all time? At this point, I feel jealous of anyone who hasn't seen it yet. You get to experience Breaking Bad anew. Lucky bastards.

2. The Sopranos
Intelligent, brutal, dark, funny, complex..
Rich & layered storytelling and it marks the beginning of Golden Age of Television and none of the shows above would be possible without the legacy The Sopranos have left. It was important when it aired. Its important today and in a hundred fucking years, we will STILL be watching Tony maneuver both of his Families.

1. Game of Thrones
Is Game of Thrones better than The Wire, Breaking Bad and The Sopranos in terms of complex storylines, writing and characters? No its not. (Also, wildly different genres so its unfair to even compare) Is Game of Thrones the most exciting, exhilarating, blood rushing, heart breaking, mind blowing, table flipping, hair pulling TV watching experience ever? Oh you better fucking believe it. Dracarys.

Honorable Mentions:
  • Big Little Lies
  • Doctor Who
  • Stranger Things
  • Westworld
  • The Walking Dead
  • Sons of Anarchy
  • House of Cards
  • True Detective
  • Downton Abbey

My Favorite TV Comedies of ALL Time

If you catch me on Netflix, Hulu or Xfinity streaming, the chances are I am watching ONE of these shows...again and again and again. All stress & anxiety melts off of me so I thought I'd share with you what I think are the best, funniest TV shows in the last 20 years. No, my list will not contain Friends, How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory, Two & Half Men, any reality TV...simply because those shows are not funny and I don't watch garbage. Harsh? Sure. I don't really care because life it too short for garbage.

10.   30 Rock. 
I got into 30 Rock at my sisters persistence. Every time I walked in on her, she had Liz Lemon & Jack playing in the background no matter what she was doing. The first time I watched it, I did not care for it. Years went by, I tried again and this time, something had changed. I actually paid attention to the humor. It’s a show about a live sketch TV show featuring Tracy Jordan, mentally ill famous comedian and Jenna Maroney, narcissist blonde looking for her BIG break, produced by a neurotic Liz Lemon whose boss is a conservative, Reagan worshipping, suit loving Jack Donaghy. Its smart, funny and intelligent, but can you honestly expect anything less from Tina Fey.

9.   It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
I think the best way to sum up this FX show that has been on TV for 13 years now is: Dark, dark, DAAAAAAAAARK humor. You have to experience “the gang” for yourself and not be disturbed, 
offended and swayed by their destructive tendencies. Sunny takes all the familiar family sitcom tropes and tells them to fuck off.
8.   Scrubs
Scrubs was my first American TV show. It will always have a special place in my heart. I’m trying to recall anything that resembles its heart, quirky humor, realistic medicine practices and a sense of growing up. There has been nothing like it on TV since.
7.   Jane the Virgin
Over the top telenovela style comedy/drama featuring a young, religious virgin getting artificially inseminated by accident, while layering humor, diverse characters and often complex story lines? Sign me up. Jane the Virgin is a charming show that will tug at your heart.

6.   Happy Endings
It lasted 3 glorious seasons because we all know how intelligent humor bodes with American mainstream (spoiler alert: it does NOT) and to this date, it remains the ONLY show that still brings anger and sadness in me for no longer existing. It’s basically Friends….if Friends was intelligent, not offensive, homophobic or sexist, full of referential humor that requires wit and quick thinking. It also features two Serbian sisters who couldn’t be more different and is set in Chicago….so obviously I have no bias. ;)
5.  The Office
It’s a fucking classic. Must I describe it further?
4.  Archer
Yes it’s a cartoon. I had to battle it out in my head between Archer, Bob’s Burgers and Bojack Horseman for the spot but ultimately, Archer belongs on my list because its crude, rude, funny, endlessly quotable, plotted and paced perfectly with the most distinct group of characters you’ll ever experience, including a German doctor who may or may not be…a clone of Hitler.
3.  Crazy Ex Girlfriend
I can’t remember the last time a comedy-drama stuck with me so much. Majority of the audience has ignored this CW gem…mainly because of its terrible title and the fact that its on CW, but my God…the humanity has been missing out on a musical comedy that addresses many complex themes such as mental illness, female sexuality & parenting. If I can pick ONE show from this list to recommend till the end of time, its Crazy Ex Girlfriend. 
2.  Arrested Development
Arrested Development represents my transition into adulthood. It basically ruined me for any TV-show that’s NOT represented on this list. After I watched, laughed and understood Arrested Development….the thought of shows like “Friends” “Two & Half men” “Big Bang Theory” etc. makes me vomit, and I mean that literally. 
Never fucking again. 
Thank you Bluths for freeing me from mediocrity and life filled with laugh tracks.

1.  Parks & Recreation
Nothing is perfect. Is there such thing even? It exists and it is called Parks & Recreation. Parks & Rec is a PERFECT TV SHOW. Even its weak Season 1 is Oscar material compared to 90% of shit on TV right now. Parks & Rec succeeds where all others fail: its humor is based in OPTIMISM. Its charming as fuck, funny, intelligent. Its characters genuinely like each other and do everything to better each other. World can be a dark, cruel place and spending half hour with Leslie Knope and her gang will feel like sunshine and cold, freshly squeezed lemonade.

Memorable mentions:
  • Bob's Burgers
  • Brooklyn Nine Nine
  • New Girl

Beauty Products you should NOT waste your money on.

If you're gonna read and take anything from this post, let it be this: your hard earned money is better spent & invested in skincare, an eyeshadow palette & a good foundation.

If you follow my Snapchat & Instagram…or just know me on some level in person, you know I am REALLY into makeup. No, I am not going to start a YouTube channel. Its not my jam. I just want to use my blog to talk to you ladies (and gents, guys wear makeup too) about make up n stuff. In this post, I have listed all my favorite products (tried and true) but more importantly, I have focused on the items that are cheaper & in similar quality as high-end (looking at you literally any mascara.) With that said here is my list:

Disclaimer: Keep in mind that I am no longer buying or trying from companies that test on animals. I still have some in my collection but I am no longer buying anything new thats tested on animals. Every brand I recommend to you is cruelty free and/or vegan. L’Oréal, Cover Girl & Maybelline might have good shit, but I refuse to buy and use it and this is MY PERSONAL preference. You do you boo.
  • Do not spend more than $15 on a liquid lipstick. Both NYX Cosmetics and Wet’n’Wild have good ones. But know that these cheaper formulas do take more than one coat to achieve that full opaque look. Colourpop also has incredible lip stuff for fraction of the cost. If you wanna spend more, I personally enjoy formulas from: Kylie Jenner CosmeticsJeffree Star Cosmetics and Bare Minerals (smells like chocolate.) Liquid lipstick is not for everyone. If your lips are on the dryer side, it can make them look worse. People buy this stuff mostly because it stays on ALL day.
  • Do not spend big money on a blush. I was doing my make-up few days ago and I put NARS Orgasm ($30.00) on one cheek, Milani Baked Blush Luminoso ($7.00 at Target) on other, and absolutely LOVED Milani far more. It is a gorgeous peachy blush with little sheen. Could serve you as highlighter AND blush. Luminoso color is GORGEOUS, subtle and you can really build it. Blushes are ONE type of make up where you don't want intense pigment, unless you want a slab of unnatural color on your face. Milani has other baked blush shades too and if they are anything like Luminoso, I might be due for another trip to Target.
  • Do not spend big money on a highlighter. I cannot believe I’m even saying this because my collection is nothing but high end, but over the past month, I've been using ONE and one and only highlighter: Physician’s Formula Butter Highligher in Rose Gold. Its about $11 at Target. It has a near putty texture that just blends onto the skin flawlessly. I am OBSESSED with it.
  • Do not spend big money on a bronzer. Speaking of Physician's Formula brand, they have an incredible Butter bronzer that has achieved a cult level status at this point. It literally smells like vacation, has the right amount of orange & gray in it so you don't look yellow & fake...but also not muddy. Sadly, this is the ONLY cheap bronzer I can personally recommend because 99% of drugstore bronzers have shimmers and I'm a matte bronzer kinda bitch. My blush & highlighter already have enough sheen. Its all about personal preferences. Shimmery bronzers make my face look dirty.
  • Do not spend big money on brushes. (This can go along with the Beauty Blender.) In the past year or so, I have reached for my $2.50 Wet'n'Wild all over brush more than my $50 Marc Jacobs one. Cheaper companies have found a way to make incredible synthetic brushes that feel soft without destroying your wallet. Be mindful of the TJ Maxx and Marshall brands. I have bought a ton from there since they are so damn cheap...and threw away a ton. They are flimsy & itchy. Stick with known brands if you are interested in building a good, long lasting collection. You cannot go wrong with Real Techniques, Morphe & Wet'n'Wild. Also, BH Cosmetics....fucking hell. Amazing quality, super low prices. I have a couple of sets and they are still serving me few years later. BH Cosmetics also has TON of great eyeshadows, blushes, contour kits, lipsticks for very cheap.
  • Do not spend big money on liquid highlighters. They are so damn expensive for what they actually are: impractical. This is not the type of product you use every day. I shelled out $42.00 for custom highlighter drops from Cover FX and used it a handful of times. Should have kept my receipt and returned it because its a useless product and I could get some good skin care for that $. Its a good product, but its shimmery intensity calls for special occasions and its not wearable for every day. In meanwhile, I've been playing with the brand new Physicians Formula Spotlight Illuminating primer and its subtler, more every day kinda product and gives skin a nice glow. If you are super oily, stay away from liquid highlighters. Unless you like that oil slick look on your face. Liquid highlighters are a tricky item which is why no more than $15.00 should be spent on it.

Basically, Physician's Formula has been KILLING the game lately with their excellent, affordable products. I'm still in testing stages of their new Healthy Foundation. So far I am loving it, it looks gorgeous on skin (but doesn't last as long) so I don't wanna recommend it too soon. I need a good solid month or two of testing.

Other cruelty free and/or vegan brands that I heartily recommend: Pacifica & Pixi Beauty. They are more mid-range priced but the quality is top-notch. Pacifica is for that really natural, subtle look.

Obviously take everything on here with a grain of salt. Your $ - your business. I feel like I have enough experience & wear test to help you save money because there are items out there you SHOULD be shelling out your coin for. $30 NARS blush is not worth it. Putting that extra $30 towards good skincare is a WAY better investment.

I hope this list is helpful. I didn't recommend anything I haven't bought, tried and used. And not just for a day or week...we are talking at least a year span. I have wasted enough $ on shit that I barely use or was not up to par and was TOO LAZY to return. Not anymore. I've become more conscious of how much I'm spending and what I'm buying. If a $50 foundation is not a flawless bitch putting my kids through college....shit is going back. Do not be afraid to return stuff and don't waste your money on products I listed above. I promise you, its not worth it.