Most upvoted comment
[OFFICIAL ] Double edge kit suggestions – $50 or less(r/wicked_edge)
Leisureguy’s Under-$50 Kit Recommendation, with Options
Here is my recommendation for a low-cost kit that still contains good-quality products. Optional items are listed following the essentials. Prices are current as of 22 Dec 2012. Although some items are cheaper from independent shaving vendors, I am using Amazon since many want to start with that. This does make the list US-centric, however.
Brush – $7.50 at Walgreens – The Ecotools Bamboo Finishing Kabuki brush is also available from Amazon.com, currently for $17 for two brushes, and from Ulta.com, on-line and in their stores. I suggest getting one locally in the cosmetics section of a drugstore. This cosmetics brush makes a truly excellent shaving brush—one that I use regularly. This brush is much better than the wretched Tweezerman and Escoli brushes. UPDATE: Amazon’s pricing algorithms regularly change the prices of items based on sales volume and the like. The price of the two Ecotools brushes at Amazon were increased, and that changes my recommendation from buying at Amazon to looking around local drugstores. (Walgreens, for example, stocks the brush at $7.50.) — Option: The Vie-Long 11737C “Bombitoo” boar brush is an extremely good brush for $15. While soft, it is an efficient lathermaker with excellent capacity. Wet it well before you shower, and it will be ready to go when you’re done.
Shaving Soap – $4.72 including shipping – Arko shave stick. Arko is an excellent soap, though some don’t like the fragrance (which is undetectable after the shave). If you have a normal beard, rub the stick against the grain all over your wet beard, then brush briskly with wet brush to bring up the lather. Brush holds plenty of lather for later passes. You can also grated the stick and press the gratings into a bowl to use it as a puck, a good choice for those just starting to shave since their beards are generally too soft and sparse to scrape off enough soap.
Razor – $4.00 or so – The razor variously known as Silvertone, Sodial, and RiMei has been shipping from Amazon in a couple of configurations. The better has two alignment studs in the cap flanking the center threaded post. One variant, though, skips the alignment studs and just tries to align the blade by 4 small lugs, placed at the corners. Not good. I suggest getting the razor from DealExtreme.com. These models will do:
For $3.80, the Apache.
For $4.50, the RiMei
For $4.90, the RiMei with a better handle
For $4.50, the Honglong, which looks like the RiMei head on a better handle.
And for $3.40, a TTO (twist-to-open) razor, which I’ve not yet tried.
Any of these razors will be noticeably better than the Lord L6.
UPDATE: As has been pointed out, it’s worth considering the Maggard Razors, which are $16—still keeping the total under $50. The Maggard Razors have a better feel overall and more heft, and perform well. (The next step up, an Edwin Jagger DE8x, would take the total over $50: the DE86bl (faux-ebony handle) runs $30, for example. All the EJs have the same head, the price varies by handle.)
However, at the price shown, quality control is not consistent. My copy of the razor works quite well, but some have found that their razor had some defects—in one case, the guards were bent. (Note this photo of a good one (click photo twice to enlarge fully) and this photo of the defective one — focus on the guard.). Inspect the razor and try it. It’s worth a chance at the price.
If you want an absolutely reliable razor, and one that can serve for a lifetime, you simply have to pay more. The best deal I’ve found is the Edwin Jagger DE86bl, less than $30 on Amazon, but that sort of ruins the “under $50”. Note this comment listing the advantages of the Edwin Jagger over the Wilkinson Classic, another inexpensive “starter” razor.
Blade Sampler Pack – $18.95 Amazon Prime – 32 blade sampler pack – a good selection, mostly with 2 blades/brand. (The 1 blade/brand packs are useless: if you get a bad shave, you have no way of knowing whether the brand is bad or the blade just happened to be a dud—rare, but it does happen.) Read this post on why the blade sampler pack is essential.
Total: $36.51 including shipping if you have Amazon Prime.
Pre-shave soap – $4.04 including shipping: Clearly Natural Vitamin E high-glycerin soap; or for $2, Whole Foods 365 Vitamin E glycerin soap. Wash beard at the sink, using the soap and your hands, rinse partially with a splash, and apply lather (or rub the shave stick on your beard). Try using the soap a week, skipping it a week, then using it another week. This should enable you to determine whether it helps the shave. It makes a noticeable improvement in my shave.
Alum block – $4.94 Amazon Prime: Turkish alum block – If you suffer from skin blemishes (acne, razor bumps, or the like), this is not optional. Following the final rinse, glide the dry block over your wet skin. Set block aside to dry (not on a metal surface), clean up around the sink, and after a minute or two, rinse off the alum, dry, and apply aftershave.
Aftershave – I recommend you buy samples from Saint Charles Shave aftershaves of the aftershaves that seem appealing to you. Her aftershaves are first rate, and she makes both balms and splashes. Another source from which you can purchase samples is The Shave Den Shop.
Better soaps and shaving creams – You may want something better than Arko and you may prefer a shaving cream (which lathers better than soap when using hard water). I highly recommend the artisanal soapmakers listed below, many of which sell samples. Try, for example, the 7-cream sampler from AlsShaving.com, or soaps from Mystic Waters (scroll down at the link) and the Strop Shoppe (especially her Special Edition soaps).
If you have sensitive skin or your skin reacts to fragrances (reactions to sandalwood, menthol+eucalyptus, lime, and others have been reported—if your skin has any sensitivities, test new products by smearing a little on the crease inside your elbow joint and let it sit for 10-20 minutes to see whether your skin reacts), try Mystic Water Sensitive Skin (see this post for a complete list of ingredients) or Strop Shoppe’s Unscented Soap. For a really excellent although inexpensive shaving soap, check out HoneybeeSoaps.net: $4.59 for a puck. Unscented version is available.
• Al’s Shaving
• Barrister & Mann
• Bathhouse Soap
• Em’s Shave Place
• Ginger’s Garden
• The Holy Black
• Honeybee Soaps
• How to Grow a Moustache – interesting large-diameter (5″) format provides a palette for lathering
• Kell’s Original
• Los Angeles Shaving Soap Company
• Mama Bear (also at Amazon)
• Mike’s Natural (lather requires more water than you expect)
• Mystic Water
• Nanny’s Silly Soap Company (in the UK)
• Petal Pusher Fancies
• Prairie Creations
• Queen Charlotte Soaps
• Saint Charles Shave
• The Shave Den
• The Strop Shoppe
Introductory guide to DE shaving – $12.95 print, $7.99 Kindle; available from all the Amazons (.com, .ca, .co.uk, .de, .es, .fr, etc. —even .co.jp) – Since I wrote the guide, I not in a position to recommend it (obvious conflict of interest), but take a look at the reader reviews from those who have actually used the guide; you can decide from those whether it would be helpful to you.
Special caution – Note the four most common mistakes cartridge shavers make when switching to a DE razor.
edit: various changes and refinements and additions, most recently revised razor recommendations.