Trim your hair-care costs — try a beauty college

12 03 2009

I’ve always joked that things would have to get really bad before I gave up coloring my hair. At 49, I’m graying, and trust me, it’s not attractive. I may be old enough to be somebody’s grandma, but I’m not ready to look like one.

So every six weeks or so, I go to a salon and have it colored, cut and styled. It’s one of my very few indulgences. Thankfully, it doesn’t end up costing me as much as a modest car payment.

That’s because I have my hair done by students at a beauty college. I’ve been going to Mitchell’s Hair Styling Academy in Cary, N.C., for about four years now. The prices are amazingly low, and on top of that, the salon runs daily and monthly specials. Theoretically, I could color my hair myself to save even more money, but I’ve seen too many women with purple, orange or green tones in their hair from do-it-yourself jobs. So I’m sticking with the beauty school.

This week, the charge to my credit card totaled $31 — $25 for my permanent color and $6 for my haircut. I’ve been going to the school for so long I’m not even current on what regular salons are charging for color. But four years ago, I was walking out $90 poorer and it wasn’t even a fancy place. No free drinks, no ambiance. Nothing special at all.

As for haircuts, the most affordable places, such as Great Clips, are charging $12 these days. Sports Clips charges $16 for a basic cut so $6 is a steal.

I must say, going to a beauty school does take a leap of faith. At Mitchell’s, you can request a particular student, but just when you get to know your student stylist, he or she will graduate and you have to start over with someone new.

My first few times, I was incredibly nervous, fearing I would walk out with my hair two to three shades too dark or my bangs cut halfway up my forehead. I had a friend who had a bad experience when the student stylist incorrectly matched her hair color and she ended up walking out with a shade way too dark for her complexion. She won’t go back, and I can’t say I blame her.

The school tries its best, however, not to let this happen. Three to four instructors roam the room, offering tips, consultations and sometimes grabbing the scissors to do a little touch-up work. Once you have your hair colored at Mitchell’s — and you like it — the student stylist simply has to follow the formula recorded on the card that the school keeps on file. No guess work!

In my experience, the only real negative to the place is that some of the students are a tad too careful, others a little unsure of themselves, which can lead to painfully slow service. You most definitely cannot be in a hurry when you go to a beauty school.

This week, my color, haircut and style took 3 hours and 15 minutes, which included a 45-minute wait for my student sylist. (Since there are no appointments, you may have to wait.) That’s about an hour longer than at the professional salon I used to patronize, but for a minimum savings of $60 (and much likely way more),  I am willing to budget an extra hour of my time.

In total honesty, I have had a couple of bad haircuts at the beauty school. But I’ve also had more than my fair share of bad cuts at professional salons so I simply try my best to request a student I have had previously. This week, when I heard my student was graduating in two weeks, I asked her who she would recommend among the students who still had a few months left to go. Now I don’t have to worry about going potluck next time.

My only regret is that I didn’t find out about Mitchell’s sooner. I think back on all the money I could have saved, especially when my boys were small and I was forever taking them in for trims.

If you happen to live in North Carolina, Mitchell’s Hair Styling Academy has four locations — Cary, Greenville, Goldsboro and Wilson. Click here for the addresses and phone numbers. The academy is accredited and licensed.

If you live elsewhere, I would suggest doing a Google search. When I did a quick search, beauty colleges came up across the country.

Here is a sample of the range of services and the prices at Mitchell’s:

Haircut, $6

Haircut and shampoo, $8

Perm (includes shampoo, cut and style), $35, $50  and $70, depending on length and thickness

Foiling, $45 and up

Pedicure, $16

Basic facial, $17

Microdermabrasion, $50 per session

One more thing: I always tip my student stylists. They are poor college students who aren’t getting paid so I always slip them a few bucks as I leave. And the price is so low, I can afford to be generous.

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4 responses

12 03 2009
MiserMary

I heard Wake Tech is also opening a cosmetology program in August 2009. It is always nice to have options. It is pretty neat that Mitchell’s Academy has daily & monthly specials for even more savings. Excited to see what services Wake Tech will offer.

12 03 2009
freetobefrugal

Good to know, Miser Mary. If it’s anything like the culinary school at Wake Tech, it should be great.

15 03 2009
Birdy

If you’re in the Chapel Hill area, there is an Aveda beauty school on Franklin street. Its pricier ($20 for a haircut, $25 and up for color/highlights), but I know some people love them.

Another option is to find a hairstylist who will work with you. I go to Moshi Moshi on west franklin, and while the cut is pricey ($40 plus tip, but I go to the senior stylist, so you can get out for less), they do free bang trims whenever you want. My stylist knows that I don’t have the money to get my hair cut every 6 weeks, so she cuts my hair to grow out without needing trimming, and the bang trims help me extend the life of the cut without looking like a shaggy dog 🙂 All you have to do is call in the morning or schedule online, and they are pretty flexible about fitting you in for a five minute bang retouch.

15 03 2009
freetobefrugal

Good to know, Birdy. I had no idea there was a beauty school in Chapel Hill. And great tips on getting the most out of a haircut. Thanks for reading!

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