How many people have paid an arm and a leg for a salon haircut, only to look in the mirror afterward and burst into tears?
Jim Cox, executive director of the American Association of Cosmetology Schools, says it happens all the time, which is just proof that with rare exception, the price tag for a service does not automatically equate to customer satisfaction. “If you want the perfect haircut, go to our friend [celebrity stylist] Ted Gibson in New York, where haircuts start at $1,200 before the tip,” Cox says.
Beauty school blowouts are just one of a number of professional and trade school programs that offer services to the public at prices drastically lower than their retail counterparts. Many people swear by beauty school haircuts, meat butchered by the local high school agriculture program and an occasional $30 massage by a practicing therapist.
Quality, of course, is the big question
For hair care, Cox emphasizes that professional instructors closely supervise cosmetology students, so you should expect quality services. “But on the other hand, the old cliché is true: You get what you pay for,” Cox says. It is not reasonable, for example, to expect spa-quality facilities or a stylist who offers expert advice. Instead, go in with clear instructions and reasonable expectations. Also, plan on the service taking longer than at a professional salon.
“Students at trade schools need to practice, so consumers can save a lot of money if they are willing to have a student provide the service while being supervised by their instructor,” says Katherine Hutt, Better Business Bureau (BBB) communications and media relations director. “But customers need to reduce their expectations a bit as well.”
It’s a good idea to first check out such programs with the BBB. “The BBB believes schools are obligated to give you fair service, even if no money changes hands, so we do accept complaints about problems with services delivered by students,” such as auto-repair programs in which customers pay for parts but not labor.
There are hundreds of beauty schools around the country, so you likely have easy access to inexpensive cuts, facials, waxing and mani-pedis. Student hairstylist being supervised by her instructorFor instance, at an Empire Beauty School, which has locations in 21 states, a facial costs $20, a manicure costs $8, an adult cut goes for $9, and kids and under can get a snip for $5. Even name-brand salons have their own schools. Aveda Institutes, for example, charges $18 for a cut with a master-level hairstylist who is about to graduate and only $12 for mid-level student stylist.
Find a local program accredited by the American Association of Cosmetology Schools. Many schools promote their salon-service prices on their websites. Cox advises asking at the appointment desk whether students are allowed to accept tips, as each school has its own rules.
Dental and hygienist schools
Even for those with dental insurance, oral health can be a financially painful problem. Dental schools offer lower-cost care of all kinds, from cavities and extractions to root canals and implants. To find a school, contact your local dental board or search the American Dental Association’s directory.
If you are looking for routine cleanings and X-rays, the American Dental Hygienists’ Association lists its schools nationwide. At Portland Community College, for example, cleanings start at $25 for adults and $20 for kids, and simple fillings can be had for $10.
Getting a professional rubdown is a splurge for most of us. But for about $25 an hour, you can enjoy a session with a professional massage therapist in training who must complete a certain number of hours of practice before qualifying for certification.
There are hundreds of schools listed on the website of the American Massage Therapy Association as well as on Natural Healers.
Some technical high schools or trade programs within schools and community colleges train students in catering, butchering and baking and offer these goods to the public at affordable rates. Contact your local schools for more information.
Counseling and psychotherapy
Established therapists helping people cope with stress, depression and anxiety can charge fees starting at $75 and go up to the hundreds of dollars per hour. As an affordable alternative, check your local university for graduate programs in social work, counseling, psychiatry and psychology, which often offer these services for free or at a very reduced cost. Note: Faculty members closely supervise and guide students.Automotive technician students repairing a car
There are high schools, community and trade colleges that offer automotive technology and collision repair courses. These students can take care of services like paint repair and oil changes. For repairs, most programs require the customer bring their own parts and get free or low-cost student labor. Find programs near you through the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation’s search site.
Although this practice is increasingly covered by medical insurance, many who do not have coverage can find affordable treatments at a local acupuncture school. Find one near you through the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.
Everyone’s a foodie these days, but that doesn’t mean everyone has the budget to enjoy courses created by professionally trained chefs.Young chef at culinary school That is, unless you make a reservation at one of the growing number of culinary-school restaurants.
Travel site Fodor’s lists restaurants at culinary schools around the world, while this Huffington Post article highlights top establishments in the United States. The Bocuse, part of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, offers a three-course prix fixe lunch for $24.95 and dinner for $32.95. The Art Institute of Atlanta’s Creations Restaurant boasts a full menu of lunch items, all priced under $10, as well as a three-course dinner for $18 and five-course dinner for $28.
What student services have you utilized to save money? Tell us in the comments section below.