4 Ways to Get a Good Haircut for Free or Cheap

A man gets pampered at the barber shop including a haircut and beard trim.
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You don’t have to spend a fortune to look good.

And unless you like the ’80s rocker look or are still embracing the man bun, you can only go so long without a haircut.

Depending on where you live, a basic women’s haircut averages $69 with men’s cuts coming in lower at $43 — and don’t forget the tip! That’s a lot of money if your paycheck is already stretched between rent, groceries, gas and other necessities.

While a haircut may seem frivolous, never underestimate the power of looking — and feeling — your best, especially if you’re on the job market, attending networking events or trying to score that big promotion at work.

No one has to know how much you saved on that fabulous new bob or that edgy undercut. Here are four ways to get stellar, stylish, cheap haircuts — without dropping serious cash at the salon.

4 Ways to Get a Haircut for Free or Cheap

  • Visit your local hair school.
  • Get your hair trimmed during happy hour.
  • Become a volunteer hair model.
  • Visit an in-and-out salon franchise.

1. Visit Your Local Hair School

It may sound sketchy to get your hair trimmed by a student. But as long as you’re willing to be patient, you can walk out with a professional-grade haircut and extra money in your pocket.

Search online for a beauty institute or hair school near you. Most offer haircuts for a fraction of the price you’d pay at a traditional salon. If you’re worried about quality, never hesitate to read reviews from past customers.

Here are some examples of the low prices you can find at beauty schools around the U.S.:

  • Paul Mitchell’s school in Denver charges just $13 for a haircut and style.
  • At the Aveda Institute in Chapel Hill, NC, you’ll pay just $18 to have your hair cut and styled.
  • A haircut at the Empire Beauty School in Boston, which includes shampoo, conditioner and a blow out, is just $12 — and $6 for kids under 12.

Here’s how the process works. You call the beauty school and request an appointment, just as you would at a traditional salon. Some institutes will allow you to select a stylist based on his or her experience level — typically from tiers such as beginner, intermediate or advanced.

When you arrive, you’ll meet with your stylist-in-training and go over the services you want.

Next, your hairdresser will flag down a supervisor to talk specifics. They’ll go over which instruments the stylist plans to use or what color combinations would look best.

Because they want to earn high marks in class, most students are meticulous, checking and double-checking every move they make. This may result in your haircut taking a little longer than it would at a traditional salon, but your patience is worth it.

The supervisor will stop by your chair at various points throughout the process. At the end, they’ll inspect your hair, re-measuring the length and checking the stylist’s work. They may trim up a few loose ends or share pointers with the stylist for nailing a certain technique they’ve discussed in class.

When you’re all done, you’ll have a salon-quality haircut for under $20. If you were impressed with your student, don’t forget to tip.

And remember to look at what other affordable services — like blowouts, braiding, color, perms or styling for special occasions — the beauty institute offers.

If you can’t bear to give up your monthly manicure, consider getting your nails done at a cosmetology school to save a little cash.

A man gets his hair cut while sipping on a drink.
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2. Get Your Hair Trimmed During Happy Hour

Mmmm, happy hour — drink specials and yummy appetizers that don’t break the bank.

Some salons adopt the happy hour philosophy by offering special deals when you visit on certain days of the week or during their slow periods. If you’re not into the idea of getting your hair styled by a professional-in-training, consider visiting a traditional salon when you can get the most bang for your buck.

Shampoo Avenue B in New York City offers 10% off all services on Monday through Friday between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.. Annastasia Salon in Oregon set up a new talent happy hour with $30 discounts.

At the Chop Shop Hair Studio in Knoxville, Tennessee, you can get 10% off your haircut during happy hour – 3 to 7 p.m. Wednesday and Friday. (If you can play a song all the way through, you can get 20% off anytime.) And in true happy hour spirit, the salon will also throw in a glass of wine or beer for free.

A little digging online can help you find other salon-specific ways to get cheap haircuts. Some salons offer first-time customer deals or discounts if you show your student or military ID. Many new hair studios that are trying to drum up business offer deep discounts with the help of sites such as Groupon and LivingSocial.

3. Become a Volunteer Hair Model

When a professional stylist interviews for a job at a salon, they’re often required to prove their skills with a live hair-cutting demonstration.

If you’re willing to lend them your hair, you can get a free or discounted trim.

The website Salon Apprentice posts dozens of requests for volunteer hair models in cities around the country. Sometimes a stylist needs a volunteer model for other reasons, such as to practice a trendy new haircut, so the posts often call for models who are willing to have their hair cut in a specific style.

For example, Sine Qua Non Salon in Chicago recently offered free haircuts for an advanced class at the salon. The cheapest cut and style  at Sine Qua Non goes for $55, so that’s quite a savings!

A woman gets her hair done at a salon.
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4. Visit an In-and-Out Salon Franchise

Finally, don’t forget about affordable haircut chains like Great Clips.

If you typically spend the average of $69 a women’s haircut, that comes to $414 a year for six haircuts. At Great Clips, you would only pay around $20 for a haircut (styling costs more) for a total of $120 for those same cuts — a $294 savings.

If you’re worried that the cheaper price means a below-average cut, you should always feel free to call ahead and ask for a more experienced stylist.

Many storefront chains offer services à la carte, meaning that if you don’t want to get your hair washed, you don’t have to.

Bottom line: Don’t feel trapped by sky-high salon prices — there are so many ways to find cheap haircuts.

Robert Bruce is a senior writer for The Penny Hoarder. Sarah Kuta, a freelance writer based in Colorado, also contributed.