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Caring For Curly Hair on a Budget

Guest post from Randi of Caring for Curly Hair

I learned the art of couponing from a close friend when I was a young bride. This same friend also directed me to We didn’t have much money, and when I discovered that I could get shampoo and conditioner for free or almost free, I was sold on being frugal. This worked great for us until we adopted our second daughter.

Alexis has very coarse, kinky-curly hair. I didn’t know much about African-American hair care, but I knew that her curly hair was going to need different products than my limp, straight hair. Unfortunately, all those products were expensive and didn’t have coupons.

When I first started out, I thought all the organic, expensive products were the only things that would work. I was shelling out over $30 a month on her hair care alone.

This was a far cry from the nearly free products I was getting for the rest of the family! I was conflicted with how much it cost, and I couldn’t help but wonder if there was an affordable way to properly care for her hair.

It took some time for me to understand my daughter’s hair care needs. Through the years I also have found ways make it more affordable. If you, too, are in position where you care caring for curly hair and wonder if you can do it frugally, you can!

Here are some ways to cut down your costs:

Research hair care.

Just because someone is African-American, doesn’t mean they have the same hair as other people who are African-American. Learning about hair will help you know what type of products you really need so you don’t waste your money on products you don’t need or products that won’t work.

Ask for samples.

Whole Foods, for instance, often has samples of products that you can take to try before you buy them full size.

Find products you like and join the mailing list.

Often, online companies like Darcy’s Botanicals or Curls will run sales and have promotional codes for 20% or more off their products. You will have a heads-up on these deals if you are on their mailing lists.

Wait for sales.

If you buy a product sold in stores, wait to buy the product until it is on sale. Products made by Organix, for example, often go on sale at Walgreens or other stores with buy one get one free offers. Stock up when these sales happen so you never have to pay full price.

Make your own hair products.

There are lots of natural ingredients, like coconut oil, that are great in curly hair. Websites like Derby City Naturals and Curly Nikki list recipes for frugal hair products that work and will save you a bundle.

While you might not be able to get the hair products for free, you don’t have to break the bank to properly care for curly hair.

Randi is just your average almost-thirty homemaker who loves the Lord. She is happily married to Robb, and together they have four young children. God has grown their family through the miracle of adoption and the miracle of pregnancy. Randi is also the author of the eBook Caring for Curly Hair: An Adoptive Parents Guide to African-American Hair Care. She has a passion to see other adoptive parents understand their children’s hair and learn to happily care for it.

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  • Lindsey Lollar says:

    My son has red curly hair. The curls are so tight that if we do not comb it out every day-we have to cut chucks of it out. The best and cheapest solution for us: By Infusium 23 when it’s on sale with a coupon. Add 1 tsp to a full squirt bottle of warm water-spray on and then comb out. We don’t even need to put product in his hair anymore. This works SO WELL!

    • Heather says:

      Thanks! I’ve been using Inf 23 lately, but struggling with how hard it is to apply without a mess. I will try a squirt bottle.

    • Laura says:

      I use infusium on my daughters hair also… only use 1 tsp with a spray bottle of water? I have it in a spray bottle but that would make it go SO much farther!

  • Heather says:

    Great article. I’d also recommend “The Curly Girl Handbook” for anyone with wavy, frizzy, or curly hair.
    My hair was stick straight until I hit my 30’s. Now it’s very coarse and wavy, except for a few patches that are still straight. I have struggled a lot with it, but the above-mentioned book has given me some great tips. Little things like not using a regular towel have made a big difference. It also has some recipes for hair products to save $.
    Best thing is to embrace the curl! Get rid of the straightening irons and blow dryers!

    • Lisa says:

      The Curly Girl Handbook is awesome for all curlies! It has transformed my dry, frizzy, kinky curly hair into to hydrated ringlets. Homemade flax seed gel is great as well. 1/4 c flax seeds to 2 c water, boil for about 15 min and strain through cheapo knee highs. Add essential oils if you wish. Store in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.

      • Tara says:

        Love the Lavendar Spray recipe in that book! We use that mixed with conditioner on the curly hair in our family.

  • Julie M says:

    My daughter is Ethiopian and the best hair care tip was from an Ethiopian friend. It also happens to be inexpensive 🙂
    Once a week we mash up half an avocado with a little olive oil and apply to her hair. Cover with a plastic cap and leave on for an hour. We do this before bathtime on the weekend then put her in the shower to rinse out. This leaves her hair so soft and much more manageable. The other half of the avocado becomes a guacamole snack 🙂
    For shampoo, we like Carol’s Daughter. I signed up for their emails and liked them on FB to get discount coupon codes. When I get a good code I stock up. Because we wash her less frequently a bottle of shampoo goes a long way for us.

  • I have three adopted children, and two of them are African American. Hair is not a big deal with our son who is now 13 – he likes it kept short and using our regular shampoo and conditioner works fine for him. The only additional product he uses is spray oil sheen, and a can lasts forever.

    It’s been an entirely different matter with our daughter, who is now 10. She has naturally very tight hair and I’ve spent a fortune trying to find the right shampoos, conditioners, leave-in conditioners, scalp oils, wax, etc. to keep her hair healthy and manageable. Having her hair done at a shop would be way outside my budget, so that isn’t really an option. A few things that have helped:
    1. I learned to do twists that would last for a couple of weeks. I’ve tried to master corn rows, and can’t do it. But twists held in place with some wax looked pretty and kept the tangles at bay.
    2. Don’t wash too often. Black hair doesn’t need it, and the more you wash, the more products you’ll use. If the hair is in twists or braids they can always be rinsed as needed, then just apply a little oil.
    3. Watch out for swimming. Chlorine is brutal on my daughter’s hair, and I now insist that she wear a swim cap when she swims. She doesn’t like it, but it’s necessary.
    3. Don’t hesitate to ask for help, but be careful what advice you take. Many black women have offered to help me with my daughter’s hair over the years (because it looked like we needed help!). But for most, the first answer is relaxer. I let an older woman relax D’s hair when she was 5 because the woman assured me that that she’d done it lots of times. Well, she didn’t just relax. She double processed – a perm over relaxer. It looked lovely for about a week, and then it started to turn orange and fall out. No amount of conditioner could undo the damage.

    Now, at age 10, we’ve finally started relaxing again. I have a church friend who is black, and she has long, healthy, shiny hair – all hers. 🙂 I figured that was a testimonial to her knowing how to care for black hair, so when she offered to do D’s hair, I said yes. She’s been caring for it for 4 months now and it looks great. I’m a little sad that we’re using relaxer, because I know the chemicals are harsh. But at 10 my daughter is really starting to care how she looks, and I have to admit that it’s much easier to care for as well. I pay my friend what I can, but it’s MUCH less than a shop would charge.

    • Crystal says:

      I am an African American mother with two daughters, 27 and 10. Both of them have natural hair. My mother, four sisters , two sister-in-laws and most of my friends are all natural also. I am the only one with a relaxer for now ( will be going through the process of going natural soon). We all have shiny healthy hair regardless of the length. For most of my African American friends the answer is not relaxers. Many are going back to natural hair.

      I would be very careful putting chemicals in a childs hair at that age. I requires a bit of work to keep it from damaging. You are right about wearing a cap when swimming.

      Carols Daughter is a very good product for natural hair.

  • Cha says:

    My daughter’s have coarse curly hair and I just use what I use on my dry, wavy hair but in addition to that I also do an olive oil (sometimes mayo) treatment maybe once a week and it does wonders for their hair. It comes out gorgeous and it’s something that you already have on hand!!

  • Brandy says:

    Your daughters (I assume those are your daughters?) are just beautiful. That picture is amazing and just melt my heart. Adoption truely is such a miracle!

  • Jen says:

    I am so glad to see you taking the time to learn to care for your daughter’s hair. I had a black friend who was adopted by a white family growing up and her hair was the biggest mess, I truly felt bad for her because she was a cute girl walking around with a frizzy pouf ball for hair. I don’t think some people realize that African hair requires different products and care than European hair!

  • Angela R says:

    My kids are biracial (African American/Caucasian) and I have found that I only need to wash my daughter’s hair once per week. This means that the $5 shampoo and $5 conditioner I buy at the beauty supply store last a REALLY long time, so it’s no big expense at all over the long haul. I also keep my daughter’s hair in simple styles that are easy on her scalp and easy to maintain.

    I also want to share that whether you have children that are biracial, adopted or are just come with a different heard of hair than you do – check out YouTube. It’s been a fabulous resource for me to learn how to maintain my daughter’s hair.

    Finally, remember to work to validate your children – on how beautiful and precious they are. Take the time to learn how to take care of their hair so they grow up feeling confident and proud of their uniqueness. It can be easy to approach it like a problem to solve, so I’d like to caution folks to approach their children instead as having a special gift to treasure. Kids will pick up on your attitudes.

    Thanks for letting me share my two thoughts. 😉

    • I love what you said in your last paragragh! Great advice!

    • Christy says:

      Yes, I have very, very curly thick hair (and I am 100% Caucasion). My mom also has very curly hair. She has hated it her whole life and used to iron it in the 50s and 60s, tried every straightner, straight iron, etc., now gets it chemically straightened. So, she hated her hair and approached mine as a problem. I have hideous pictures of myself with 3 ponytails, one right on top of my head because she, “didn’t know what else to do with it.” I grew up hating my hair and trying everything to make it straight like my mom. It wasn’t until college that I started to embrace the curls and really after college that I just gave up ever trying to wear it straight–I mean 45+ minutes of a straight iron (it is long and the curls look better when long) and then since I am an exercise addict, I excersise and sweat and then it curls around the brow and I have to run a straight iron over again and then I can’t wash it or all that work was for nothing–NOT WORTH IT. Love what God gave you! P. S. My husband loves it and hated any attempts I made at straightening it early in our relationship!

      • Charity says:

        I could repeat your comment near verbatim. Glad to know there’s I eons else like me, oh and m husband loves hair too 😉

      • Charity says:

        I eons? That was supposed to say “someone”. And the m = “my”. That’s what I get for trying to comment while nursing the baby 🙂

  • Patrice says:

    I have a brother and sister who are adopted and are African American. Just a suggestion… if you ever want to do corn rows, braids, or extensions, check out your local beauty college. They usuallly do them for a really great price or even free and since many of the students at the schools in our area are also African American, they also usually know how to do them really well and don’t mind showing you how.

  • Susan says:

    Toss out the shampoo if you are curly or your child is….you can wash it with conditioner only and it will look amazing. Use water soluble products….Suave Botanicals is cheap and good for curly hair. I use their coconut conditioner for my ‘wash’ and my better conditioner for after…I started making my own flaxseed gel and during out move I had to stop as I couldn’t refrigerate it….and I just don’t like the storebought any longer!


  • Renee poschen says:

    Great post. So thankful that you are able to share all this information that you worked so hard to learn!

  • Nikki O says:

    Such a cute picture!!

  • Jeannine says:

    I just wanted to say that your picture is very beautiful.

  • Tammy says:

    I have been co-washing my wavy caucasian hair (using conditioner instead of shampoo) for a month and I will never go back to shampoo! The very inexpensive (under $3 for a huge bottle) of Suave Natural Rosemary and Mint conditioner works great for me, but anything with out silicone, dimethcone (any -cone) should work well. Once a week I add some baking soda to the conditioner to help out with my dry scalp. The websites and books mentioned in the previous comments are all very good recommendations and were where I got most of my information in my search to care for my hair properly! There are lots of co-washing videos on youtube as well. I use a combination of natural (no dyes) aloe vera gel and cococut oil for styling. The mixture really makes my waves pop and the frizz go away. Start with a SMALL amount – dime sized amount- and add just a little at a time until you find the right amount for your hair. Thanks for this article!

  • Karen says:

    I love the picture of your girls; they are so sweet!

  • Karen says:

    I am African-American. Except for the fact that I color my hair to hide the gray, hair care for my daughter and me is not expensive. Pantene has an entire line of hair care products for African-Americans called Relaxed and Natural. It comes in a brown bottle, is not expensive, goes on sale and you can use Pantene coupons with it. I use this on my daughter’s hair. You can buy it at any Pantene retailer in the ethnic hair section. Sally Beauty carries many different brands for A-A hair. It is all reasonably priced. If you don’t have a store in your area, they are also online. Wen is also a great product. You’ve probably seen the infomercial on TV and QVC sells it. It makes a great conditioner and leave-in conditioner. It’s not cheap but lasts a long time.

  • Nicole Sims says:

    When it comes to my hair care and body products, it is the one thing I don’t skim on. I have very curly hair and sensitive skin. I have tried just about everything under the sun for both my hair and body too. I have found a few product lines that work but my favorite things for my hair are Kinky Curly and a mixture of jojoba oil, coconut oil, and a bit of tree tree oil too. People often forget that the skin is your largest organ and you should be careful with what you apply to it since it absorbs easily into the body. 🙂

  • august says:

    I read a question on a help forum from a woman who needed help maintaining her biracial childrens hair. She was new to town and looking for a hair stylist that could handle their hair. There were SO many people accusing her of being racist (despite the fact that she birthed these children) because she wanted to take them to a different hair stylist than a “normal one”. Several other people were being SO disguting calling her children the worst names.

    I have to say that I am so happy to see people understanding that African Americans have different hair than other people. I also love to see that no one is being negative and is truly helping. It is so great! Another thing I love -that you actually realized that your child needed different treatments for her hair. Great job Mom!

    • Wendy says:

      Your comment about African Americans having different hair reminded me of a funny story. When I was in my late teens with my big 80’s hair, my co-workers and I were sitting around talking one day. I mentioned I needed to get my hair permed and an African American boy I worked with said “Why? You’re hair is straight enough.” We had an interesting conversation at that point about how that was the reason I needed a perm. He had to explain to me his sisters got a perm for the opposite reason. LOL

  • Janet says:

    That is just the most precious photo!!

  • Monica says:

    I am white but have struggled with my wild, curly, crazy hair my whole life until I started using the baking soda shampoo. One teaspoon per cup of water and then rinse with apple cider vinegar. I have literally stopped using hair products because my hair is now clean but still has my natural oils to calm frizz. I know my hair type is not as coarse as someone who is black, but as far as kids getting dirty and having to wash their hair, I think this is worth a shot because it cleans the hair without stripping it.

  • Christy says:

    I have very, very curly, frizzy, thick hair. I am white. When I first started couponing, I used all the shampoos and conditioner that I got free and them my hair looked awful and got super dry and I had to get 6 in. chopped off–split ends. It really looks better long because the weight stretches the curls out some. I just buy Aussie Moist conditioner now even if it is not on sale and/or I don’t have a coupon (GASP! I know). I do try to stock up when I can, but I decided this was one area I couldn’t scrimp in. It looks its best when I can air dry it with gel in it. Since I have to be at work at 7 a.m. and get 2 kids to daycare, I wash it the night before, sleep with it in a bun, then put gel in damp hair in a.m. and let dry the rest of the way–not quite as good at letting it all the way air dry, but it will do. I let my hair “tell” me what it wants to do that day. Some days it looks good down, others all up, or all pulled back in a low ponytail, others only front pulled back. It really has a mind of its own. I only get it trimmed every 3 months, so that saves some money.

    • Heather says:

      Careful with sleeping in wet hair – check to make sure your pillow doesn’t get mildewy.

      • Christy says:

        Good point. I have been doing it for at least 5 years now (birth of first child–no longer showering in a.m.–LOL) and still have the same pillows. I think I would have noticed by now if they got Mildew, especially since I am very allergic to mold, among other things. I will inspect them just to be sure, but I just don’t see any other way. The hair dryer fries my hair–that is one thing about curly hair; it tends to be dry and hair dryers and staight irons just make it worse and I already get up at 5 a.m. on weekdays, just can’t get up much earlier to shower! Plus I often work out afternoon/evening and want a shower before bed.

        • august says:

          My mom has hair like yours (it sounds like). Hers is really… crispy. Lol. She was told years ago to never dry her hair and I understand why, but she uses that same Aussie stuff you do. She takes a shower in the mornings and then runs with it. It’s almost always dry within an hour. If I sleep with my, striaght, thin, hair in a bun, it’s a nasty greasy look. You’re so lucky you can do that!

        • Heather says:

          I hear ya. I wouldn’t get up earlier either! I just walk around half the day with wet hair – makes me cold in the winter. Haven’t used a hair dryer in years – even with a diffuser, it becomes a giant poof ball.

        • Andrea says:

          My hair used to be very long and I put it up in buns a lot. Last summer when it was humid, I noticed that my hair had started to smell like mildew. Thankfully, the smell washed out, but I had to change my hair routine.

          • Christy says:

            That makes sense. I live in Charleston, SC. It is 100% humidity here every day all summer long. But since I am a teacher, my routine is different for most of those days. I wash it at some point of the day depending on what we have going on (excercise, beach, water park, pool) and let it air dry on most days. I really dont worry too much during the summer what it looks like because 100% humidity and curly hair do not mix–LOL! If I can let it completely air dry while still in a/c it does better, but I usually can’t wait 2-3 hours before going outside even if it is just to let the dogs out and then instant frizz! I guess when I do the bun overnight method, even in August when I am at work, it doesn’t mildew because I am in a/c. It would make sense if I put it in a bun wet first thing in the morning and was in and out of a/c, it might mildew with the humidity.

    • Monica says:

      I’m telling ya’, the baking soda/apple cider vinegar method is amazing for people with wild hair. The baking soda cleans it and the apple cider makes it super shiny and helps with any scalp issues. I literally use now product on my once psychotic hair. It is hard to get used to the natural oils but my hair has never looked better.

      • Christy says:

        What are the proportions of apple cide vinegar to baking soda? Do you just rinse with this daily and then use nothing else (no conditioner)? I sometimes skip a day of washing if I did not heavily excercise (just a walk or occasionally none at all). Since I exercise a lot (Boot Camp, running, Step classes, weight training, I feel nasty and sweaty and want to wash my hair most nights).

  • Chantelle says:

    I am african american myself, and also used to spend over $30 a month on haircare, that was until I learned about other products that are manufactured for caucasian hair that also work on african american hair. Such as Aussie 3 mn miracle deep conditioner, and herbal essence hello hydration. These are also relatively cheap and I always find coupons for the herbal essence line!

  • Cj D says:

    Olive oil, castor oil, water and shea butter all work well on this kinky curly girls hair and they are all cheaper than most of the products available. Curly Nikki is one of the best sources of info for all things Naturaly Curly. Great post!

  • Christy says:

    I have embraced my curly hair in my adulthood–hated it as a teen. I do like that it is “easy.” I can either air dry it–which takes at least 2 hours or do the bun the night before method and it is still damp when I awake. I do like that I really don’t have to spend a long time on it. My hair is very long–just past my bra strap when curly–to waist if pulled straight. Even the girl who cuts my hair says best to keep it long. When it is shorter, it is actually more work because you have to blow it straight or straight iron it and style it. Which is the opposite of people with straight hair–it is easier for them when shorter. Both of my boys have pin straight hair–they are mini-mes of their father in all physical features except they have my eye color, so I have not had to deal with curly haired children–LOL! Although I teach first grade and when the girls ask me to put their barrettes back in, I have trouble with the ones with pin straight hair because they clips just slide out. I have to say, “I’m sorry honey, I don’t know much about doing girls’ hair and definitely not about straight hair.”

  • Our daughter is biracial and I learned early on that shampoo just doesn’t work. We wash with conditioner and that works great. We also don’t wash very often, and use a spray/leave in (homemade) detangler. We never dry with a hair dryer, and she just loves her pretty curls. 🙂

    • Randi says:

      I shampoo my daughter’s hair once a month. From what I’ve researched, shampoo is mostly to clean the scalp. I focus the shampoo lathering there, and only a little on the actual hair ends.

  • lori says:

    I had the opposite problem: I have thick, curly hair and my daughter has thin, straight hair. I didn’t think I would ever learn how to style her hair properly!

    Love the photo and love the topic. It took me until my kids were born to really embrace my curly hair. When I didn’t have an hour to straighten and style it every day, I had no choice but to learn to love it.

    I really wish I hadn’t fought it so long. God made us all special and different for a reason … wouldn’t the world be boring if we were all the same?

  • Alicia Thomas says:

    I’m biracial and have always hated my hair as a teen. I’m now in my 40’s and love my hair. After reading the posts of great suggestions I can’t wait to try them. I keep my hair short because it is easy for me to wet it, apply gel, bush and go. Can’t wait to try the baking soda and conditioner as a shampoo. And yes, I wash my hair about one or twice a week. my hair isn’t very course, just curly.


  • Abbie says:

    I have two biracial daughters one of them has very coarse curly hair. I use to buy the African American hair products for her but the cost was too much. I am Indian and my mother use to put coconut oil in our hair so I tried that in her hair and it works much better than anything else. The best part is the coconut oil has no chemicals in it.

  • Sara says:

    I have had great luck with the technique on and her book “Curly Like Me” for my biracial daughter’s hair. I use Aussie Moist or treseme smooth and silky conditioners for the technique which are super cheap. Sometimes I can even find it at grocery outlet. I don’t think it will work for a child with two African American parents as their hair texture and curl diameter is often different. Also, buying satin/silk pillow cases at the thrift store has been a lifesaver. I put them on her pillows, the car seat, strollers etc to prevent the frizz patch in the back.

  • Carla says:

    Sweet photo!

  • crystal says:

    THank you so much for this post! i’ve had many questions about my hair and ways to make it healthier and to wear it curly. i straighten it most of the time but like others have said if you work out or get it wet at all then it was a waste. i buy cream of nature and get it at sally’s when it’s on sale and with my beauty card. they often run a bogo sale on it and that makes it cheaper. we also add tea tree oil and it makes it feel like when. i enjoy that added extra of the tea tree. i also don’t shampoo everyday and that stretches the cost out a bit more too. i found the book mentioned on amazon so i’m going to buy it and hopefully get more ideas!

  • J Walton says:

    I think you are all on the right track. As an African-American, who does not use relaxers, the best advice I’ve received was to moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. I achieve this (when I don’t visit the salon) by putting a moisture-rich conditioner in my hair an hour before I wash it. This was a lifesaver when I transitioned from a relaxed curl pattern to my natural curl pattern. The other advice I received was to embrace my curl pattern – it took a while as I was accustomed to a relaxer every 6-8 weeks. But 3.5 years later, I love the versatility of have a tight curl pattern or flat ironing my hair.

    As for products – there are too many to name but as a commenter said above: YouTube can be your friend, especially for inexpensive products. Just keep trying and only wash your child’s hair once a week.

  • Brandi Battle says:

    I have two bi-racial daughters and have spent so much time and money trying to figure this out. But I have found several GREAT, inexpensive products:

    1. Trader Joe’s Nourish Shampoo and Conditioner : $3 each
    2. Sally’s Generic Brand Biosilk and Infusium: appx $6 each
    3. Curly Q products from Target: $9-$11 each
    4. Jane Carter moisturizing spray from Target: appx $12 (mix with the Trader Joe’s conditioner for combing out, lasts a long time)
    5. Aussie leave in conditioner: $3
    5. A great conditioning mix can use what you already have in your cabinets: mix heated olive oil, coconut oil and argan oil in a spray bottle, spray in hair, and leave on for about 30 min. Wash and condition as usual.

    Hope this helps!

  • christine says:

    my adopted son is 1/2 dominican so hair is coarse with red highlights in summer from his irish mom. they both gave him big, big big curls v. tiny. i use biolage conditioning balm, about $25 for the 170z jar. i bought it last august/sept. with exception of summer season he shampoos once/wk conditions 2-3x per wk.
    anyone have any tips on body wash & moisturizers ?

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