I'd Rather Be A Brunette: 10 Tips To Save On Hair Care

In high school, I watched a friend drop over $100 on a trip to her favorite salon. I'd always known that her hair looked better than mine, but I couldn't believe that it was simply a matter of money. I didn't want it to be, either. Even in high school, I had other financial priorities than my do. There are frugal options for taking care of your locks, though. It's taken me a while to find them, but I use these tricks regularly.

  1. Skip the repeat: 'Lather. Rinse. Repeat.' is one of the greatest marketing phrases of the 20th century. But it's misleading. To get your hair clean, one lather-and-rinse cycle is plenty.
  2. Eat a healthy diet: You can eat your way to better hair. If you eat a balanced diet — plenty of fruits and vegetables, as well as protein — your body will have the nutrients necessary to grow healthy hair. A balanced diet won't solve every hair problem, but it can head quite a few off at the pass.For instance, if you have an iron deficiency, your hair can thin out.
  3. Go natural: Hair dye is expensive, and it can make keeping your hair healthy much harder. Consider going back to your natural hair color for a while and save some serious dough. The same goes for perms. I've also been known to dye my hair myself. It isn't hard, but I recommend having a second pair of hands around.
  4. Shop around for products: The same tips for shopping frugally for groceries work on hair care products. I buy on sale, clip coupons and pick up bulk bottles. I do have a preferred brand that I tend to stock up on, but it's not the most expensive brand on the shelf. According to a few hair styling friends, the expensive hair products aren't really any better than cheaper options. Wholesale distributors will also often provide great deals, as do online vendors.
  5. Barter: If you really do prefer the job a professional will do on your hair, you don't have to give up those regular visits. But it's worth finding a stylist willing to accept a payment other than cash. During high school, I traded babysitting for haircuts on a regular basis. I didn't have to pay for a haircut and I could generally do my homework at the same time. Barbers and stylists need services as well as cash; you can see what you can trade.
  6. Go organic: Sure, organic brands can be more expensive than their chemically-enhanced counterparts. But many organic shampoos and conditioners do not contain sulfates. While sulfates do remove oil and other junk from your hair, they also strip it and create frizz and other problems. If you can switch to sulfate-free products, you can stop using other products — like anti-frizz mouse. There's a period of adjustment and your hair might be slightly oily in comparison, but after a few weeks, your hair should be healthier.
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Guest's picture

I just picked up Whole Foods Market's Mint shampoo. It's relatively inexpensive, smells great, and is free of a lot of the crap in my other shampoos.

Guest's picture

Find a good beauty school. I have had really good luck using a local cosmetology school for cuts and color. The cost to get my hair professionally colors is $20, the same cost as 2 boxes of store color. I didn't realize how bad box color was on my hair until I switched to having it done. They said it was something about the chemicals in box color being different and harsh. The students are always supervised and if your worried about skill, ask for a senior student.
Cuts are $9 there. So far my track record with cuts I have been really happy with is better there than with regular salons. I had one cut at the school I wasn't totally happy with but it wasn't bad either.

Guest's picture

If you can only splurge on either good shampoo or good conditioner, go with the good conditioner. Expensive shampoo is a total scam.

Guest's picture

I used to work for Aveda and actually if you can only splurge on one item it is shampoo. Shampoo's by design strip hair of natural oils, however it is the chemicals and as Thursday mentioned the sulfates that do the damage to hair by stripping its natural moisture. Most conditioners are created equal though since none are designed for stripping the hair. I always advised customers to buy the expensive shampoo and just get the most moisturizing conditioner they could find at the drugstore. I have bleached my hair for over 15 years and have had great luck with Queen Helene's Cholesterol Creme it is amazing for dry straw like hair and works beautifully if you sleep in it and rinse in the morning. My friends at the high end salon on Oak Street in Chicago swear by it too! Cost $3 at Walgreen's.

Guest's picture

I do splurge on a good $50 cut. For my hair it does seem to make all the difference. Because of the style I have I only have my hair cut twice a year. I color on my own and have found a color that works for me that my hairdresser says she can't improve upon. (I stock up on hair color when it is on sale and I have a coupon.)

My one tip is to wash your hair and put on conditioner when you first get into the shower. Then don't rinse the conditioner out until the very end. If you are shaving your legs etc. this gives the conditioner extra time to sink in.
I use the cheapest national brand of shampoo and conditioner I can find (Usually Suave or VO5) and that works well for me.

Guest's picture

Or if you're a man, shave your hair entirely...you'll never think of shampoo again!

For women hhmmm...do a britney spears?*laughs*

Guest's picture

I'm a brunette with straight hair that has a tendency to curl under on its own. The best advice I ever heard was to get a hair cut that looks good even if you wash your hair and let it air dry. I haven't used produce beyond a little gel or torture instruments on my hair since. I'm 57 years old and my hair is healthy and shiny even though I go to cheap places for hair cuts, and buy the most inexpensive shampoo and conditioner on the shelf. You can pay for a big bucks product name if it makes you happy, but the essential ingredients are all the same. Bleaching, perms, extensions, and all the rest of it damage your hair for no good reason than an ego trip. Learn to love the hair you were born with, and keep it simple. You'll save money and your hair will be in better shape for it. By the way, hair is dead so putting vitamins in shampoo and conditioner does zero for it.

Guest's picture

I have long straight hair that tangles and frizzes easily. I have ALWAYS used conditioner. About 6 months ago I switched to using a vinegar rinse instead. I was skeptical at first but it's fantastic! No tangles, my hair is shiny and smooth. Plus, it costs just pennies per application and there's no harsh chemicals in it.

Guest's picture

I have long straight hair that tangles and frizzes easily. I have ALWAYS used conditioner. About 6 months ago I switched to using a vinegar rinse instead. I was skeptical at first but it's fantastic! No tangles, my hair is shiny and smooth. Plus, it costs just pennies per application and there's no harsh chemicals in it.

Guest's picture

Go to the library and check out the book, "Don't Go Shopping for Hair Products Without Me" by Paula Begoun. She gives great info on hair products, including specific brand ratings. She reiterates that you DON'T need expensive products, and that many store brands work quite well. A lot of time you're paying extra for fragrance and packaging.

If you can, don't ever blow dry your hair. I haven't for 25 years and my hair is pretty dang healthy.

Guest's picture

The best family hair-care investment we made was the purchase of an inexpensive electric hair clipper. It was the price of two haircuts and has saved us far more trips to the barber than that. My husband is unfussy about his hair, wanting it only to be out of his way, so we use it for him — but this might not be preferred by some men. My son doesn't get a choice. But during the summer, a buzz cut is more comfortable anyway. My other son will be introduced to the clippers as soon as his baby hair is thick enough to need attention.

It's not a useful tool for me and wouldn't be as great if we had girls instead of boys, but for our situation it's perfect.

Guest's picture

I recently switched to Liggett bar shampoo ($3.70). It will not strip the natural oils from your hair so most people do not need a conditioner. Good for permed or colored hair, and hair with natural curl.

This old-fashioned bar of shampoo is made from an Old New England recipe, out of a time past, before there were synthetic oils and modern liquid shampoos. The natural oils in this product are compatible with your own natural oils. This shampoo does not strip them from your hair as many modern liquids do.

Blow-dried or natural, your hair ends up with body and manageability, while left soft, healthy, and smelling clean. After using this shampoo, you may find you no longer need a conditioner.


Guest's picture
Aunt Jenny

A hair stylist told me a number of years back that one way to keep hair looking healthier is to not wash it every day. I have color treated hair and the color stays "fresh" much longer if I don't wash it daily. In addition, it will help reduce the water bill if you are washing your hair less often.

My current hairstylist and I bartered recently and it saved me big bucks! I make jewelry, so I taught her and her daughter how to make earings and how to use the internet to order supplies. They were thrilled, I was thrilled, it was a win-win situation for everyone.

Guest's picture

Great suggestions from everyone.
No. 1 for me, though, is a great cut.
It took me YEARS to find the person who can make my mousy hair look fabulous. I reward her generously. Still a bargain, considering the complimentary comments I've had!

Guest's picture

1.) Take a multivitamin, especially pre-natal ones - it's the best kind of vitamin a woman can take. It's great for hair and nails!

2.) When dying your hair: rinse the dye out with cool water. The cool water will help keep the dye in while hot water opens the strands, hence less dye "clings" to it. This will have you going back and doing touch-ups frequently.

I definitely agree with beauty schools. They get some practice while you pay less for a haircut or other services.

Andrea Karim's picture

Prenatal vitamins kep my hair stronger, and make my nails grow faster, too.

Guest's picture

i second the shampoo frequency in #13. it's personal for all, but my hair does best shampooing only once or twice a week!

also, a product recommendation: sally hershberger (swank NY stylist) has a great line of products available only at wallgreens, reasonably priced around 10$ per product. (btw, wavy-haired friends, check it out - the stuff is better than products i've spent twice that on).

Guest's picture
Debbie M

The opposite of shaving your head is also frugal: growing your hair out long. Virtually anyone can be trusted to cut my hair straight across the back a couple of times a year. In the past this has been my mother; various roommates, friends, and boyfriends; and now I do it myself.

I do use more shampoo and conditioner than regular people and my hair takes forever to air dry. In return, the laws of gravity help keep my crazy hair from sticking out every which way.

Also, if your grey hair is not growing in evenly, you can try parting your hair in different ways to get different effects. Most of mine is growing out of the middle of the top of my head, which I didn't realize for some time because I part my hair on the side. But if I want dramatic coloring, I can just part my hair in the middle and get two streaks coming down the sides!

Guest's picture

I have a friend who is learning to cut hair, and she cuts my hair for free so she can get some experience. Also, my wife gets her hair cut for free every couple years by donating to Locks for Love.

Guest's picture

Just out of curiosity, what were the last 4 tips?

Guest's picture

I would like to know how to substitute the "vinegar rinse" for conditioner. What parts water, what part vinegar, and does the vinegar need to be the clear kind or the darker kind?

I have extremely fine hair, as I am naturally blonde. It has to be washed every day because any build of of oil makes it totally flat. It tangles easy. I would like to try the vinegar rinse.

I've tried skipping a day on washing my hair and there is no way I can do that with my hair type.

Guest's picture

Edie, this website has some instructions on using a vinegar rinse:


Like you, I have fine hair that looks kinda greasy when I don't wash it every day- so I just skip washing on days where I don't care what people think my hair looks like, such as housecleaning days, long-bike-ride days, etc. It saves me money on shampoo, and my hair feels a little healthier for skipping a wash once in a while.

LOL, yeah, we only got 6/10 tips- where are the other 4?

Guest's picture

I, too, am a BIG fan of the Liggett's bar shampoo. Although I find I still have to use some conditioner on my very fine, awfully tangly hair, I use much less of it.

Also, about 2 or 3 years ago, I trained my hair to only be washed once a week. And although you might think it looks really oily by washing day, most people are genuinely surprised when I tell them my hair-washing schedule. It took probably a year to get to that point, beginning with washing every other day and just stretching it out over time. But now it's great--I can take quick showers most days of the week, so I'm saving tons of water, too! I do end up in a ponytail a lot, but that's mostly just laziness on my part.

Guest's picture

I had waistlength, oily hair for over 15 years. One trick I learned to save time and shampoo was to shampoo just the FRONT of my hair. Take a section of about two inches, and pull the rest back into a ponytail, and shampoo the bangs, and sides. Blowdry the part you've washed, and let the rest out after you've gotten it dry. The back of your hair stays nice and not dry/frizzy, while the front looks freshly shampooed and clean. Although my hair is now shoulder length, I still do this.

Guest's picture

My natural hair color is mousy, grayish blonde. (I'm 25.) I hate it and have been dying my hair different colors for many years. Most recently, I've discovered my favorite dye ever: Henna.

It's cheap, organic, and the color STAYS. My ends are still brilliant red, even though I last dyed my hair in March. (Of course, the roots are another matter entirely, but that's easily fixed.)

A 100-gram box of henna costs about $8 and makes enough mix to dye my shoulder-length hair. Although the more you get, the cheaper it gets.

Guest's picture

I get a highlight color that provides contrast but which is very close to my natural color. When I'm strapped for cash, if the highlights grow out it's not a dramatic thing and I can go up to six months between colors without it being too obvious... of course at this point it's been like 9 months... but oh well!

Also, if you use coupons and match them with sales you can get really cheap but good products. Last week I got Herbal Essences for $1 a bottle shampoo and conditioner each.

Guest's picture

Go organic: YES!

Some years ago I developed a sort of allergy to chemical hair products, it was quite bad, my scalp was irritated and itchy, the dermatologists didn't have a clue and could only tell me to use specific shampoos which did as bad.
It was by chance that I discovered organic products and not only I recovered but my hair is always great, healthy and shiny. It used to get oily but now it stays clean for days and my natural color is amazing.
I only use shampoo and conditioner and have my hair cut by a good professional every 2 months, nothing else.

Plus, I stopped using a hairdryer and it helps.

By the way, I gradually switched to organic brands in all fields and it's really great for the skin. I use aleppo soap, face creams by Weleda and such, and mineral make-up, which is an incredible invention.

Guest's picture

if you're really into going natural look into no-poo (washing your hair with baking soda and then rinsing with vinegar or other methods). the baking soda didn't really work with me (i wasn't comfortable going through the detox period of super greasy hair), but if you're dedicated you can do it and save SO much money. i still use vinegar instead of conditioner. http://community.livejournal.com/no_poo/

Guest's picture

Vinegar is an awesome cleaner. I have stopped using both shampoo and conditioner, favouring vinegar instead. It's cheap, and after the initial adjustment period for one's hair (I personally didn't go through this, though I hear most do), the hair is much healthier, as is the wallet. I use white vinegar; 2 tablespoons put in 6-8 ounces of hot water. Pour it on, let it sit a minute, rinse it off.

This is also healthier for people w/ curly hair, since curly locks are more porous than straight ones. No chemicals to get stuck in the hair = healthier hair for you.

Guest's picture

Here in Hollyweird it's amazing how much women pay to have their hair done - Cuts over $100 are not extraordinary - but that still seems like a lot to me. I stopped going that way when I had what to me was an expensive cut - and frankly, it wasn't worth the money. I don't care if the salon is fancy - just give me a GOOD haircut. Whenever I can get to the W. Side, I go to the Sassoon Academy for a cut at about $20. It takes a long time, but the cuts are terrific and grow out beautifully (a mark of a good cut). I have also observed and learned what makes a good cut - so I can judge the stylist who is cutting my hair. And inbetween, I let my hair grow out.

As for color, I do it myself - with highlights on very dirty hair with regular hydrogen peroxide! Then I mix 1/2 and 1/2 red and blonde shampoo and keep it on under a shower cap in a hot bath for at least 20 minutes. (A stylist did the same and put me under a hood hair dryer once.) The conditioning with 1/2 and 1/2 blonde and red conditioner (Still working on a stash I got at the 99 Cent store a few years ago!) Also use sale items and samples!

For my greying temples, I have found that occasionally touching them up with strong hot COFFEE works for me to blend it in! Easy, cheap and no allergic reaction. I plan to keep on with my home methods, perhaps ratcheting it up a bit as my hair greys.....