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19 ways to cut hair care costs

Tired of spending a bundle on your lustrous locks? These tips can help.

By Donna_Freedman Dec 13, 2012 3:16PM
Logo: Man shopping (Noel Hendrickson/Getty Images/Getty Images)Ever wish you could have hair like Barbie's boyfriend? Ken's coiffure is painted on and trouble-free.

We should all be so lucky. How much do you spend each year on shampoo, conditioner, styling products and haircuts?

The following 19 tips are dedicated to a cheaper 'do. You don't have to use all of them, obviously. Just pick the ones that meet your needs.

Personally, I pay more than I ever thought I would for haircuts. That's because my hair has become more of a problem as I get older. When I find a stylist who understands my particular issues -- especially when it comes to coloring -- I stick with her even though I could find a cheaper deal elsewhere.

But that's the whole point of my frugal lifestyle: I save where I can so I can spend where I want. In this case, it's a stylist who won't fry my bangs.

Save on suds

1. Buy cheaper products.
 This article on WebMD cites a Consumer Reports study of 1,700 hair samples washed with various shampoos. Guess what? No differences were noted between the pricey and bargain formulas. "Only trial and error can truly lead you to the right formula," the article concludes.

2. Shop for deals.
If a non-salon brand works for you, hit the dollar store (some of them now accept manufacturer coupons). Or watch for sale/coupon deals at chain drugstores.

3. Buy salon products elsewhere.
If you want the pricier stuff you may be able to find it in a drugstore or department store. A stylist may tell you that salon brands bought off-site are counterfeit or contaminated but that's not the case, according to "10 things your hair stylist doesn't want you to know" on "It's the same stuff you find at your salon. Counterfeit bottles do show up, but not at Wal-Mart or Target or Albertson's," says author Julia Layton. That's because large companies deal with legitimate distributors and do not buy products that, proverbially speaking, fell off a truck.
4. Do
n't specialize. Healthy hair doesn't need fancy ingredients. Unless you have damaged or color-treated hair or a condition such as severe dry scalp, "normal" shampoo will do the job, Layton says.

5. Go easy on the suds.
Start with a dime-sized amount and be patient. One tactic is to keep products in pump bottles; use one pump for short hair and two pumps for long.

Low-maintenance tactics

6. Wash less.
Both dermatologists and stylists agree that people tend to shampoo too often, according to another article on WebMD. Depending on your hair type, washing one to three times a week should do it.

7. Forget shampoo. The "no-'poo" lifestyle has its converts and its detractors. If it works for you, great.

8. Don't switch.
Ever heard that a shampoo or conditioner stops working because your hair gets used to it? Not true. "There's no evidence whatsoever that hair benefits from changing products every six months. Or every six years," Layton says. "If it makes your hair look great, it should always make your hair look great."

9. Choose a low-maintenance cut.
"Something that lets you shampoo and go rather than having to use a lot of styling products," says Nicole Dean of


10. Don't cut as often. Do the math: A haircut every eight or nine weeks costs less per year than a haircut every six weeks.

Get a coupon. Hairstylists offer discounts in their ads in phone books, shopper publications, local coupon mailers and maybe even Valpak's "blue envelope."

12. Or get a Groupon.
Salon deals are common with Groupon, Living Social and other sites. Start by checking the secondary market; see "The cure for a Groupon goof" for details.

13. Hit the beauty school.
You'll get a free or reduced-price cut.

DIY hair care

14. Make your own shampoo.
 "How to make hair-care products" on has recipes for four different types of shampoo.

15. Make conditioners, too.
Kavuli Niyali-Binase buys big bottles of cheap conditioner and adds coconut or olive oil (to make a deep conditioner) or lots of water and a little bit of oil (to make a leave-in product). "Now you have three uses for that one huge bottle," she says on her website, Good Hair Diaries.


16. Make detangler. I used this product on my daughter's curls after shampooing. Wish I'd known about the trick suggested by Nicole of Mix one part conditioner to 10 parts water in a spray bottle and shake well. "Spray on wet hair to remove tangles at a fraction of the cost of similar commercial products," Nicole says.

17. Learn to cut hair.
A friend of mine has an electric hair trimmer and a Flowbee. He cut his kids' hair for years and still does his own. Learn the basics by doing a Bing search for "how to cut hair."


18. Color your own hair. This is a touchy subject -- just ask your stylist! -- but self-coloring is popular. One industry estimate is that of the 50% of consumers who have color-treated hair, 35% dye it themselves. The products sold at the drugstore are very similar to what's in the salon, according to Layton. "If you avoid the cheapest boxes, follow the directions to a tee and try out a few different products (and colors) over time to find just the right one, you can come close -- almost indistinguishably close -- to a salon result," she says. If your hair is damaged or you're planning a dramatic color transformation, however, leave the job to the professionals.

19. Go gray.
Gray hair needs a little coddling, according to "Hair care on the cheap" on The Dollar Stretcher. It's often coarser and dryer, so it needs more conditioning and less stress. With celebs like Jamie Lee Curtis and George Clooney rocking the old-timer hue, you have something to emulate. Me? I'll wait until Barbie's boyfriend goes gray.

More on MSN Money:

Dec 15, 2012 12:07PM
This is an article for women - how about guys? 

We can't go more than 3 weeks without a haircut if in a job that requires meeting people in a suit - like sales, consulting, etc. Barbers charge from $9.00 to $25.00 depending upon where you live, and "hair dressers seem not to shrink from prices way above that. Remember Bill Clinton's $200 haircut ini the runway at LAX? Oh, yeah - the last time I saw a coupon for a man's haircut, tie-dyed shirts were in vogue.

Speaking of that - should a guy dye? Who does it? When do you stop dying and how? Go on a long sabbatical and return with grey locks? What about these "silver shampoos" the barbers push? Is sudden silver-white hair better than gradually turning mouse-grey then whiter as the clock turns?

Is conditioner worth it? Seems to me short hair needs only the occasional wash and rinse, but I have thick hair with random curls and no sign of any bald spot. 

What's better - blow-drying and misting with a can of hairspray? Using a little way to keep hair in place? 

Go**** tough being a guy in these times when masculine roles are rapidly evolving . . .
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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.