How I Save $96 on a Haircut and Coloring

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Older woman getting a haircut
Tyler Olson /

Growing up, I heard horror stories about people who dyed their hair at home.

My mom and other women — all of whom went to a beauty parlor every week — would tsk-tsk over the unnatural colors that resulted. Some women destroyed their hair that way, they said. One woman’s hair even fell out!

The salons I visited as an adult didn’t exactly disabuse me of that notion. In fact, a stylist I used for years would talk about dire DIY dye projects that she’d had to fix. So, I kept going there, even though a cut and color was costing me $140 with tip every six or seven weeks.

After the pandemic shut the salons, the top of my head developed a highway stripe: a band of silvery gray bordered by the darker tresses. Should I let that stripe widen, or risk a home color?

A little research indicated that the risk was minimal. According to Consumer Reports, “boxed hair color has come a long way … since the days when it had the reputation for unnatural — and sometimes hair-damaging — results.”

So, I let someone color my hair with boxed dye, and guess what? It didn’t fall out! In fact, it felt quite soft and supple due to the high-intensity conditioner that came with the dye — Revlon ColorSilk, which is only about $3 at stores like Target and Walmart. (Recently I paid even less, thanks to a $1 cash-back offer through the Ibotta app.)

Those who want higher-end dyes can get the best deals at beauty supply stores like Sally Beauty. The savings can be even better if you order through a cash-back site such as Rakuten.

Boxed dye that didn’t leave me bald-headed. Who knew? So, what else was the beauty industry lying to me about?

A much cheaper coif

Haircuts. They were lying about haircuts.

My stylish teenaged niece, who changes hairstyles regularly, never goes to salons; instead, she visits a local beauty school. My adult daughter, whose hair always looks fabulous, has lately relied on a Phoenix-area beauty college for her coiffures.

Beauty schools, also called cosmetology schools, and barber schools can teach only so much via books and lectures. After students practice on wigs, they need to work with living, breathing clients. Since the students are so new at this, beauty/barber school haircuts are priced to sell. Where I live, that’s $11.

Once local pandemic ordinances lifted in July 2020, I headed for the same beauty school my niece frequents. And I’ve never looked back. The beauty-school students are careful with their work, calling the instructor over to check their progress once or twice during the appointment.

Understand: I’m not saying that a beauty- or barber-school student will always provide a perfect result. But neither do salons. (Read the Yelp reviews sometime. You might be surprised to see that not everyone loves your stylist.)

One thing a salon can usually deliver, though, is speed. A cut at my former salon took 20 to 25 minutes. My beauty-school haircuts have taken up to twice that much time. Even if they’ve been at this for a while, the students are still learning.

That’s what makes some people so wary of barber or beauty schools. Have some beginner experimenting on MY hair? Not likely!

After a few visits, here’s my take: Get a professional-looking haircut while saving big bucks? VERY likely!

But what if the student messes up?

There’s a reason they call it a beauty/barber school, not a beauty or barber shop. But I’ve had a year’s worth of haircuts without a single issue.

My great-niece had one tapered haircut that wasn’t quite symmetrical on both sides; the stylist, the supervisor, my niece and even her mom didn’t notice, because the hair was still wet. The style got evened out the next day, and apologies were made.

Ideal? No. She should have had her hair done right the first time.

Affordable? Oh, heck, yes, especially since her mom is a single parent of two teens.

On the subject of affordability: Remember those $140 salon visits I mentioned earlier? Here’s how it shakes down now:

  • $11 beauty-school haircut plus a $10 tip (because a 20% tip on an $11 haircut is just wrong somehow)
  • $3 for the Revlon ColorSilk
  • $20 for my teenage niece to apply the dye (something she’s good at because she changes her hair color regularly, too)
  • Total: $44

I like saving $96 at a time. I like it a lot.

Anyone who’s at all anxious about their hair might not be the best fit for a beauty or barber school. Those who are a little more relaxed about their tresses — and interested in saving some serious bucks — should at least consider this route. Ask around, or do a search for “beauty (or barber) school in [your region].” (And, yeah, read the Yelp reviews.)

Remember: That stylist who currently does such a great (and pricey) job on your hair was a beauty/barber student once, too.

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