Finding free hair cuts

Today I paid $150 to get my hair cut and coloured. It’s one of my few splurges and it’s also one of the things that makes me the most happy.  I can afford it now, but it wasn’t always the case.

Original photo by D Sharon Pruitt (http://www.flickr.com/photos/pinksherbet/sets/72157610551917961/)

Free and almost free haircuts

Its actually pretty easy to find a decent salon quality haircut for free.  Most hair salons and esthetic academies require students to complete a certain number of supervised cuts, colours and styles before graduating.  It can be hard for students to get enough clients to meet their requirements, so many will advertise on Craigslist for “hair models”.  Sometimes, the salons or schools will schedule clients on behalf of their students.  Hair models are needed on an ongoing basis, so I used to do this every few months.

If the thought of being a “hair model” is somewhat terrifying, don’t worry – you won’t actually be doing any modelling. Depending on what you get done, the student may ask if he or she can have a picture of your hair for their portfolio, but for regular cuts and treatments, they usually won’t.

In fact, your experience will be almost the same as if you had gone for a regular salon cut. The only difference is that a master stylist will check over your stylist in the beginning (where They have to explain to the master stylist what they intend to do) and at the end (where the master stylist makes sure they succeeded and makes any necessary adjustments).  It’s a pretty stress-free experience actually. You always have the assurance that there are experienced teachers around to supervise and correct trainees, if needed.


Step 1: Find a stylist

Finding a stylist is pretty easy.  Many trainees will post on Craigslist (www.craiglist.org) – check under the Services – Beauty heading!  Students will usually indicate what kind of style they are looking for or what kind of treatment they are offering.  For example, you might find an ad looking for a “female with shoulder length hair for a bob cut” or “male model for a trim”.  Students are usually on a specific classroom schedule, so the cuts that they are able to offer general coincides with what unit they are currently studying.  Posts on Craigslist are usually free, although you may be asked to pay for the product cost for some services (eg. colouring).

If you want a specific cut or treatment and you’re not willing to wait, you can also phone a hair school directly to book an appointment.  For example, Blanche MacDonald (http://www.blanchemacdonald.com/) in Vancouver takes clients year-round.  All you need to do is call into their reception and they will book you with a student of the correct skill level.  You will have to pay for the service, but the fee is very minimal and there are usually specials, like $5 Tuesdays!


Step 2: Book an appointment

Whether you book your appointment through a school or directly with the student, be prepared to talk about your hair and be specific about what you want done.  Is your hair shoulder length or longer?  If you want colour, are you looking for foils, whole head or roots?  Be as specific as possible – it makes it easier for the students and their supervisors.  If you are emailing a student via Craigslist, it’s generally considered good form to email a head shot so that they can judge whether or not you are appropriate for the cut that they need to do.

Most importantly, when you book your appointment, leave lots of time for your visit!  Remember, these are students in training.  Everything is going to take just a little bit longer.


Step 3: The big day

On the day of your appointment, try to show up 10 minutes early.  Hair students are usually required to get a bit of paperwork from you before they are allowed to start the cut.  I often get asked about the products I use in my hair, for example.  They will also clarify details about the services you are booked for and make sure that everyone is on the same page.  If you’re not great at explaining what you want, consider bringing a photo of the cut you are looking for.

After the paperwork, the head stylist will usually go over the cut in detail with the student.  This is your chance to clarify any last minute details or special requests.  Do you hate chunky layers?  Mention it now!

Finally, you get to the cut (or style or treatment) itself!  My own personal experiences have been good.  I’ve gone to professional hair and make-up schools (like Blanche MacDonald) and also independent salons and studios.  There are minor differences at each location but the overall process is similar.  The students are friendly and often very grateful for the chance to work on a real client rather than a mannequin head.  As a client, be gracious with the inevitable slowness, enjoy the care that they will take while washing and drying your hair, and pretend you don’t notice when their hands shake while reaching for the hair dye.  😉

It’s important to give feedback during your cut, if you have any.  If it seems like they’re doing something drastically different from what you wanted or if you just feel uncertain at all, just ask.  And when they are done, be honest!  If you want your bangs a little shorter, speak up.  If you are unhappy with the layering, say so.  And if you think they did a stellar job, you should tell them!  This is a learning experience for the students, so as a participant, you should give feedback.  Chances are, you’ll look great.


Step 4: Don’t be an ass

Your stylist will then escort you back to the reception area where you can finish checking out.  Even if you received a complimentary cut, I strongly believe that a gratuity is warranted, especially if your stylist did a great job.  I usually leave $5 for a cut.


Although I love my stylist, he costs me upwards of $150 a visit.  That’s more than I spend on groceries a month !  When I’m feeling a bit short on cash, nothing beats a quick salon cut for $5 or $10!

Posted in: Life Hacks, Minimalism and Frugality

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