We’ve all been there. Bangs growing out, split ends, color fading, and an empty wallet. What’s a fabulous broke gal to do?

Get a free haircut! Yes, it’s entirely realistic to get free or deeply discounted haircuts AND beauty treatments. You just have to know where to look.

A few years ago I had a regular stylist at a mid-range salon that I was quite happy with. One day, I called to make an appointment and she was no longer working there. So I booked an appointment with another stylist. Unfortunately, I wasn’t terribly excited about that cut and started on a relentless hunt for a new stylist.

Along the way, I had way too many bad haircuts. I even booked an appointment at an expensive salon thinking that a higher price meant a better cut. To my horror, the stylist gave me a mullet. It was awful! To make matters worse, I was broke after shelling out all that money for a cut that I really couldn’t afford.

As I grumbled to myself about that bad experience, I drove by a beauty school and it dawned on me: Salons and cosmetology schools all around the country offer free or discounted services to clients who are willing to work with their newest employees or students. It sounded scary, but it was worth a try!

I had been so impoverished by expensive yet disappointing salons that I threw up my hands in defeat and walked into the beauty school for my next haircut. And you know what? I loved my haircut! I only paid $12 at my local Paul Mitchell school and got a great cut!

I did some research and found that there were many beauty schools in my area that offered deeply discounted services. I even learned that my regular salon offered FREE haircuts on Sundays with stylists who were going through the salon’s training program. Some of these stylists had been cutting hair for a few years and were just new to the salon, so I could get great cuts and only pay the tip!

The student stylists are supervised by an experienced stylist who will help them each step of the way. If you are not happy with the cut, the teacher fixes it right then or makes an appointment for you to get it fixed for free with an experienced stylist.  I am pleased with my student haircuts 80% of the time. There will always be some cuts that I don’t like, but at least this time I am not paying through the nose. So give it a try!

To Ensure the Best Results:

1. Communication is key. Do you know exactly what you want? Just as you would at any appointment with a new stylist, bring pictures and know how to describe what you are looking for. Also, be sure to speak up if you don’t like something, even if the cut has already been made. Through it all, be kind; the stylist is learning, and mistakes are often part of the learning process. Harsh criticism isn’t needed.

2. Are you willing to be disappointed? Keep things in perspective and remember that you are getting a cut from a student. There is always the chance for error. But if you temper your expectations and work with the stylist, you will usually be pleased with the results.

3. If you have an important event soon, stick with a stylist you know. I would not recommend student stylists if you have an important event coming up. In the few months before my wedding, I bit the bullet and paid for cuts at my regular salon with more experienced stylists because I knew I would be more confident in their ability.

4. Do you have 1-2 hours to get a haircut? Student stylists are supervised and coached by an experienced teacher as they work with you. That extra attention takes extra time. Before any scissors come out, the student asks you questions about your hair, and the teacher stops by to discuss the results of your conversation. During the cut, the teacher watches and makes suggestions, critiques, and compliments. The teacher may even step in and show the stylist how to make a cut. After your hair is dried and styled, the teacher approves the cut and asks if you are pleased. The entire process takes longer than a regular haircut, so plan on it.

5. Tip on the full price of the cut. Be frugal, not a miser. Tip 15-20% on the would-be price of the cut.

You can find salons that offer free or discounted cuts by:

  • Calling your regular salon to ask if they have student cuts or training days for stylists
  • Googling “free haircuts” in your city
  • Contacting local cosmetology schools. Aveda Institutes offers discounted haircuts as well as color, waxing, skin treatments, and massages when you book an appointment with their students. Paul Mitchell Cosmetology Schools also offers discounted haircuts and skin treatments. Look up the school nearest you and click on the “Guest Services” link for prices. These schools usually offer men’s haircuts and beard trimming as well, so everyone can look great for less.

Enjoy your beautiful and frugal new look!

This has been a guest post by Alice from Silver Spring, MD
Find out more about the KCL Contributor Network!

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12 thoughts on “It’s Worth a Try: One Simple Way to Save on Hair & Beauty Treatments!”

  1. Christina says:

    1. Communication is key. Do you know exactly what you want? Just as you would at any appointment with a new stylist, bring pictures and know how to describe what you are looking for. Also, be sure to speak up if you don’t like something, even if the cut has already been made. Through it all, be kind.

    This statement holds true to experienced stylists as well. I am a cosmetologist and I can’t even count how many times people come in saying, just do what you want….. UMMMMM or one time I had a male client come in and he said he wanted a number 2 all over, which is 1/4″. So I showed him what guard it was, because his hair was long and wanted to make sure. So I ran it through his hair without the clippers, that way he would see how much I was cutting off. He said yeah a number 2 that’s good. Then when I was done with the haircut he said I messed up that he wanted a number 2. I told him that’s what I did and even showed him the guard with the number on it, and his hair, but he kept insisting I messed up. I think he was trying to get a free haircut, but it didn’t work because he was being very rude!
    Also, keep in mind that every hair type is different. If you bring in a picture of a hair style that is done on very thick hair and you have thin hair, it will not look the same.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Best haircut I ever got in my life was when I was a hair model. The stylist’s normal charge in her hair salon would have been over $200. Free to me, though.

  3. Candra Long says:

    I almost always get my hair cut at the cosmetology school! I’ve never had a bad cut there, and in fact some of my favorites were a result of the fancy scissorwork of a couple of the girls at the school. The beauty college in my town offers just about anything you can imagine for really low prices- I’ve had my legs waxed, hair colored (and it turned out great!), manicures, pedicures, etc. My sister and I even got nails done there for her wedding. Of course I’ve had a bad experience or two, but the supervisors really do make sure you leave happy or at least are scheduled to have it fixed before you leave. I’d definitely reccomend this route- and yes, tip generously! These girls are paying their way through college and trying to pay bills along the way too!

    • Toni says:

      Good point, Candra. My mom’s students also went through training in manicures, pedicures, waxing, makeup application, and massage. All those services were also available at my mom’s school.

  4. I live in Silver Spring, MD and would love to know where Alice goes! I’m new to the state, so having a friend in the know would be great!

    • Katherine Abbott says:

      I’m in DC and happened to have some misadventures with hair in the DC-area. I then went to one80 Salon on K Street (with Fred) and have not looked for someone else. I started with them before they got more popular (and a bit more expensive, etc) but I love Fred and wouldn’t go to anyone else (I tried someone else in Eastern Market but found split-ends the very day it was cut).

  5. It may be up to the stylist, but if have 10 inches to give, you can donate your hair to locks-of-love and get a free cut. =)

  6. you will want to allow yourself extra time….it is not like the cost cutters/great clips haircuts where you are in and out of there so they can get as many people they can turnover in an hour. i went to one and they were pretty busy, as someone mentioned, so i had approx. a 20 min. wait and i have fairly short hair and it took my stylist an hour to wash (which is a plus for the cost) and cut.

  7. Pam Pam says:

    I attended a Paul Michel school in Maryland and we were always busy no matter what time of day it was. It is deffently worth it if you don’t have the extra cash to spend.

  8. Ha i actually just graduated from Cosmetology school. Its true that cuts are very cheap, you just must pick the right student stylist :P Ask em what they are interested in, cuts, color, styling…. dont be afraid. Tons of students are afraid to cut sometimes. Just ask if they are comfortable with the difficult level of the hair cut.

  9. Toni says:

    My mom was an instructor in a cosmetology school for 20 years. There are good schools and bad schools, talented students and “not so” talented students. If you are going in for a basic cut, any student will probably be fine (the instructors are on the floor with them at all times). If you are venturing into a more demanding cut, it would be VERY helpful to know (or know someone who knows) someone on the inside, who can recommend a specific student.