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How to Save Money on Hair, Beauty & Nail Salon Services


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While many people think of beauty and grooming services as frivolous expenditures, the truth is that your personal appearance can make a huge difference in your finances. When you look and feel attractive, you have more self-confidence, which is something that employers and colleagues alike will pick up on.

Still, maintaining a beauty or grooming routine can get pricey, particularly if you regularly make use of several different types of beauty services or patronize high-end salons. Fortunately, there are also several ways to save money on beauty services, including patronizing school clinics, taking advantage of coupons, and even performing some services for yourself.

Understanding the “Cost-Per-Wear” Perspective

Many consumer advocates suggest that shoppers consider the cost-per-wear of the clothing that they buy. The formula is simple: Divide the cost of an item by the number of times that you expect to wear it. The resulting sum is your cost for each “wear.” This formula helps shoppers get a clearer picture of the value of the clothing that they buy.

Some fashion experts state that the same thinking should apply to hair services: You wear your hair 24 hours a day, seven days per week, and the condition, style, and color of your hair make a huge difference in your overall appearance. While frugal principles shouldn’t be left outside the hairstylist’s door, you should also keep in mind that an “expensive” haircut can actually be quite inexpensive if you consider the cost-per-wear principle, particularly since good haircuts often keep their shape much longer than haircuts performed by sloppy or inexperienced stylists.

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Maintaining your style can also net free perks. Many moderate-to-high-end salons offer free bang trims and makeup touch-ups to regular clientele. The bang trims alone can save you money and keep your hair looking great between cuts, and the makeup touch-ups are a convenient way to spruce up after work before going out in the evening. Ask your stylist about these services.

Coupons, Sales, and Packages

Probably the easiest way to save on beauty services is to keep an eye out for coupons, special sales, and package deals at local salons and nail shops. Many salons offer a first-time discount to new customers, so don’t be afraid to ask for these specials when making an appointment.

Websites may also offer printable coupons, so search an establishment’s website for coupons or offers. Other places to find coupons include local newspapers and magazines, weekly advertising circulars and, of course, daily deal sites such as Groupon.

Some salons also offer package deals, allowing you to save money on several services. For example, a salon may offer a “day of beauty” or “half day of beauty” that include multiple services, such as haircuts, manicures, facials, and makeup applications at a price that is far less than what you would pay if you booked all of the services separately. These packages can be a great deal if you regularly patronize salons for many different beauty services (such as nail care and facials, as well as haircuts) or if you need a total makeover for a special event, such as a wedding.

Things to Look Out for

You’ll need to check the fine print on any coupon or offer to make sure that you are actually getting a good deal and, more importantly, that you’ll be getting the services that you want. If you can’t find the fine print on an offer or coupon, call and ask the salon for clarification.

1. Specific Salon Personnel
Some discounts only include services offered by particular members of a salon’s staff, some of whom may be relatively new stylists. This doesn’t mean that the service you receive will be bad, but it does mean that you may not be able to use the discount with one of a salon’s more experienced professionals. You should also ask about the experience that a salon’s staff members have in performing a particular service. For example, the stylist assigned to you may technically be licensed to perform manicures or waxing, but he or she may not have a lot of experience doing so.

2. Pricing Variances
Many salons have a tiered pricing system. This means staff members hold job titles based on experience and skill, such as “junior stylist,” “senior stylist,” or “master stylist,” and the cost of a service depends on the staff member’s rank.

If you notice that a salon lists its rates for a service as “starting at” or with a plus symbol (+) after the price, this may mean that, depending on the stylist you work with, your cost may be significantly more than the price quoted on the website or on a coupon. Always confirm the cost of a service when you make your appointment and when you actually arrive. Another thing to ask about is whether the salon charges extra for services if you have long hair.

3. Beware the Up-Sell
Some salon coupons and offers cover limited services and anything extra that you want done will be billed at the salon’s usual rate. One common area of confusion is blow-drying and styling after receiving a haircut. Some salons include both with the price of a haircut or coloring service, while others price these options à la carte. This means that your coupon or new customer discount may only cover the haircut and you’ll be expected to pay extra for a blowout or styling. This may not be a big deal, but if you are planning on going out after your haircut and don’t want to spend any more money, make sure that blow-drying and styling is included in the price of your service.

Another area of confusion is coloring. Most salons charge different prices for single process hair color, highlighting, and other color options. If you book a single process and your stylist tries to push highlights instead, ask what the cost will be (and whether your coupon or discount is still applicable) before agreeing to the switch.

Another common up-sell technique is presenting you with an array of  “suggested” haircare products at the reception desk when you pay your bill. You are under no obligation to purchase these products, so don’t succumb unless you really like them.

4. Unnecessary Services in Packages
Salon and spa package deals sometimes include services that you wouldn’t normally purchase. While a facial or a massage can be nice, if you wouldn’t normally pay for these services, you aren’t getting much of a bargain if they are included in a package.

If you want several services that are not part of a package, ask the salon owner or manager for a discount, explaining that their standard packages don’t work for you, but that you’d like a discount anyway.

Loyalty Programs

Salons, spas and nail shops often sponsor loyalty programs, so be sure to ask about and sign up for them. Perks and rewards vary, but you can often earn a free service or credit toward services and products after you purchase a certain number. Some of these programs may also offer you special deals on your birthday as well.

Beauty Schools

Students in cosmetology, aesthetics, and nail technician schools need to practice their skills on others before they can qualify for their professional license, so schools typically offer beauty services to the public at a very discounted rate. The quality of the services you receive can be uneven, though if you are unhappy with the service you can ask an instructor to correct the problem.

The other difficulty with beauty schools is that you can’t develop a relationship with one stylist; at least, not for very long, as the student-stylists will eventually graduate and not work in the student clinic anymore. Still, if you are on a tight budget, student clinics can help you maintain a well-groomed appearance. Another option is to use student clinics for maintenance services that don’t involve any irreversible changes to your hair, such as blowouts.

For the best service, find a beauty salon that offers specialized training in the types of services that you are interested in. I’ve received substandard services at beauty schools in the past because their students, who were primarily training to be hairdressers, were inexperienced at performing makeup applications or manicures.

Check out a beauty school’s website to see if they have separate programs in aesthetics (i.e., skincare and other non-hair related beauty services) or nail technology (manicures and pedicures). If they do, ask if their nail, skincare, or hair removal services are performed by students who specialize in those areas.

Small Neighborhood Shops

Quality beauty services can be found in both high-end salons as well as small, local businesses. For example, I live in an area where many of the residents are immigrants from countries that rely on threading as a method of hair removal. As a result, many of the salons and barbershops in the area offer eyebrow threading for $5, a fraction of what more exclusive shops in the area charge.

Cosmetics Boutiques and Counters

Some department store counters and freestanding cosmetics boutiques provide various beauty services for free or at reasonable prices. While cosmetics retailers are best known for providing free makeup applications (providing that you purchase a product), some also offer additional services, such as waxing or hand treatments. These services are often reasonably priced and may include freebies, such as a makeup touch-up or free product samples to take home.

Do Your Research

A bad haircut, manicure, or dye job is never a bargain, so before you take a salon or beauty school up on their offer of an inexpensive service, do some research.

  • Salon Safety: Salons, spas and nail shops (particularly those that offer pedicures) can sometimes harbor nasty bacteria, so it is important to be sure that the establishment you visit takes appropriate safety precautions. For example, if you plan to get a pedicure, make sure to ask about the salon/nail shop’s foot spa sanitation procedures. The U.S. Environmental Safety Agency states that salon/spa workers should disinfect foot spas after servicing each customer and that the disinfectant needs at least 10 minutes to work effectively. Observe how the salon/shop operates: If you see that customers are being rotated to pedicure stations one right after another, appropriate precautions are not in place and your health could be at risk. You can also contact your state or local department of health to find out if it has cited a salon/spa for unsanitary practices.
  • Professional Licensing/Good Standing: Verify that a cosmetologist, aesthetician, or nail technologist holds appropriate licensure by contacting the state board of cosmetology in your state. When you make your inquiry, you can also ask if he or she has been disciplined by the board for professional misconduct in the past.
  • Consumer Feedback: A salon or beauty professional can be both appropriately licensed and fastidious about sanitary practices while still offering substandard services. Review sites like Yelp can steer you away from salons that offer poor service and stylists who just aren’t very good at what they do.

DIY Options

To really keep costs down, consider a DIY approach. In most cases, it’s a bad idea to cut your own hair, but many people have a lot of success using home hair coloring products. Hair removal can also be tricky, but you can teach yourself to use at-home waxing kits, which are available in any drugstore.

If you need eyebrow grooming, think about paying for a professional arch once so that you have a guideline to work with, and then performing maintenance on your own. You can also create your own at-home beauty treatments so that you can give yourself a “spa day” at home anytime.

You can also learn how to style your own hair – talk to your hairdresser and ask for tips for at-home styling. You may still want to visit a salon for special occasions, but if you can learn how to style your hair correctly at home, you can save a ton of money on styling services.

Final Word

Frugal living is often a matter of planning and resourcefulness. If you know where find beauty deals, you can take advantage of them, keeping yourself looking good even when you have to count every penny.

What are some of your best tips for taking care of yourself while money is tight?

Lainie Petersen holds master's degrees in Library and Information Science, Theological Studies, and Divinity, and spent five years working in regulatory compliance for a major education publisher. A lifetime Chicagoian, she recently spent almost a year living in the woods of Southern Oregon before deciding to head back home to her family and friends.