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How to Treat Yourself to a Spa Service for Just $10 to $20!

frugal spa day

Guest post from Kim of Money Under the Cushions

You’re a busy lady… you work hard, you take care of everyone, you are the definition of frugalista.

You deserve a spa day!

No, I’m not talking about the unplanned yogurt facials that happen during “playful” feedings, or the warm foot soak that comes when sitting on the side of the tub when giving your kids a bath. I’m talking about a real outing where you can get your nails done, or have a massage, or get a soothing hair service.

A little alone time doing something decadent sounds awesome, right? But who can afford that?

Sure, maybe you’ll treat yourself to an occasional Starbucks, but spa services? Somehow it’s difficult to reconcile the word “frugal” with “spa.” The two don’t naturally fit together.

But what if they could? What if there was a way to treat yourself to a spa service for the price of a Starbucks Frappucino or two?

How do the following prices sound to you?

  • Shampoo, blow dry/set – $7
  • Facial – $8
  • Manicure – $8
  • Wash, deep condition, cut, style – $15
  • Full body massage – $20
  • Kid’s haircut – $5 (I know it’s not a mommy spa day any more, but it’s a great price if you don’t cut your child’s hair)
  • No tipping required

This is just a sampling of what could be available to you.

If you’ve ever looked at day spa prices (even just as a fantasy like I have), you’ll know that the above prices are a tremendous discount. You could package them together for a real splurge for less than $50, or do them individually. How?

Go to the computer, open up your favorite search engine, and type, “beauty schools in my area” (be sure to substitute your location for “my area”).

When the list appears, look through them to see which ones offer spa and salon services (the websites will typically have a spa/salon/guest services tab.) From there you’ll find a list of options, prices, and information about scheduling an appointment.

How are They Able to Offer Such Great Prices?

The prices are so great because the services are performed by students who must complete a certain number of training hours before graduating with their certification. The students are supervised by instructors who are certified professionals with years of training.

The fees charged usually cover the costs associated with operating the guest facility. Because it is a school, students cannot accept tips, though you can choose to make a donation, typically to the program’s scholarship fund or something similar.

If the thought of having students performing some services makes you uncomfortable, or you want additional information, consider the following:

  1. As with restaurants and hotels, reviews of different beauty schools are available on sites like Tripadvisor or Yelp. Here you’ll find information about the overall spa, as well as individual services, or specific students.
  2. Students at all levels are completing services. Many schools allow you to request a senior level student. Some may impose a fee for this request, while others don’t.
  3. Prices may differ based on the area and cost of living. For instance, I found that beauty school spa services in New York City and Los Angeles were sometimes more expensive than schools in areas where the cost of living is lower.
  4. There are beauty schools like “Empire Beauty” that operate nationally and keep prices consistent state to state.

We often talk about the importance of taking time out for ourselves when we can… and I know from experience that “spa time” probably doesn’t come to mind.

If you enjoy such things, however, this is a wonderfully less expensive way to occasionally treat yourself and rejuvenate. Come to think of it, my mom’s birthday is coming up soon and she enjoys manicures. Manicures for two for less than $20. That works for me!

Have you ever had a spa service from a beauty school?

Kim is a psychologist, former big fish in a little pond, happily married entrepreneur, who is a huge believer that living richly and being frugal is not an oxymoron. Join her soon-to-launch “different kind of” personal finance blog, Money Under the Cushions.

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  • I took advantage of a deal like this a couple years ago when I had a friend going to school to become a esthetician. It cost only 25 dollars and I had a full facial, my eye brows down and even a partial massage.

    The part I like best is that the different processes were all supervised. THis was especially important to me for the eyebrows.

    Even though it was a school setting, the mood was right for a massage and facial. Over all a great experience.

    • Kim says:

      Hi Kim (great name BTW. :)), Thanks for commenting. One of my best friends has been having her hair colored an cut at her local school for more than 15 years! I went with her one time and it was cute that everyone knew her. It was and is a great and less expensive way to indulge in beauty treatments. Best! Kim

  • Laura says:

    I live in Florida, and the beauty school prices in my area are only slightly less than a regular spa charges. For instance, a massage is $40, so not really a fabulous deal, and tips are required, too.

    • Kim says:

      Hi Laura. Thanks for your comment! Wow. That’s too bad! I wonder if they get a lot of foot traffic when there doesn’t seem to be much of an incentive. Do you know why there’s not much difference?

  • Christine says:

    Check out vocational high schools too not just post secondary schools. if you We have several voc high schools in my area who offer less than wholesale pricing on cosmetology, daycare, nursery (plants), hvac, construction, automobile services. Another has a full restaurant completely run by students with dirt cheap gourmet lunches and a bakery M-F. Kids learn and community benefits it’s a win-win.

    • Jennifer says:

      Use caution with vocational schools! I was in the Early Childhood Class for 1 year. There was a preschool/daycare there. I would absolutely NEVER send my child to one. Most of the students could care less about your kids and many were caught doing drugs in the bathroom. There was only 2 adult teachers and for the most part they were burnt out and didn’t care either. For most it is an “easy” way to get a diploma. I know this is not the case for all students or schools, but please use caution with using any of the programs. Also be aware that the cosmetology classes usually hand them scissors fairly quick! Be sure there is appropriate teacher oversight.

    • Kim says:

      Hi Christine! Thanks for commenting. The vocational school in my area offered culinary classes and it quickly got a reputation for turning out great cakes. People started getting their wedding cakes made there. Unfortunately, the quality started going down. I can only assume that the class graduated or something. Probably ebbs and flows like that. I haven’t checked out the vocational offerings in a long time. I may have to see what’s happening there now. Thanks for the reminder!

  • Jennifer says:

    I have been using the local cosmetology school since I moved to this area 15 years ago.
    The posted prices are better than what I pay, but not by much. My school allows students to accept tips and I gladly tip my girl each time. The hours they keep at school prevents them from working an outside job or limited hours so it certainly helps them out.
    The worst part isbuildi get a relationship with a student and then they leave 12-15 months later!!

    • Kim says:

      Thanks for commenting, Jennifer! I agree with the relationship building part. It can take a while for you and a stylist (especially) to find a groove, for that person to learn what you like and dislike, how your hair reacts, the best styles for you etc. I’ve been known to travel one state over just to keep my stylist that I had for close to two decades. Luckily the place is near where my parents live so it’s also always an opportunity to visit them.

  • Danielle says:

    I am pretty excited about this post. I am transitioning to WAHM next year and leaving my full time career, and I have been concerned with what in the world to do about getting my hair cut and if I will ever afford a pedicure again. This is a great option for me since I have long hair and do not color or treat it. Great idea! Thanks!

    • Kim says:

      Hi Danielle! Yay! I’m so glad that you found this post useful. Keeping my fingers crossed that you have a great school near you! 🙂

  • Vicki says:

    I have been using beauty colleges for years now. I love interacting with those learning. (I do find a favorite and stick with them till graduation).
    I get such special attention, awesome products in my hair.
    I would say the only drawback is that it does take more time to have a service done. This is a small price for me as I have more time than money!!

    • Kim says:

      Hi Vicki. Great point about it taking longer for some services. I always factor in more time. I agree that it’s a small price to pay and it’s worth the trade off. Thanks for commenting!

  • Jenny Whitney says:

    I have tried out a beauty school…and would be open to it again. I think, though, that the potential downsides should be mentioned.

    1) The services may take a lot longer (a haircut at the “high end” beauty school in the major metro area that I was in took 1.5-2 hours). Depending on the skill of the student, the supervisor needs to check in a certain number of times during the process (and ask questions, etc.).

    2) It’s quite possible you’ll get a great cut (I did several times), but when my favorite student graduated and a new set of students came in, it did take a while (and a few not-so-great-haircuts) to find a new person that “got” my hair.

    All that said, I was a loyal customer because the haircuts were a big step above the discount places at about the same price (which was what we could do on our budget at the time). Plus, the students were being trained in some really cool new styles and had a lot of great energy.

    • Thanks so much for mentioning these wise words of caution/advice.

    • Corrie says:

      I agree about it taking longer than normal. I actually like that though 🙂 more time at the spa.. I have had the best haircuts there and they take their time. My mom hasn’t liked any of her haircuts, but I know others who love it as well.

      At ours you can’t request specific students, you get what you get.

      I do enjoy going to our local beauty school and reccomend it to everyone. They even offer groupons for a full day of beauty for $25!! It is 5-6 hours of facial/massage, mani pedi, deep conditioning and a haircut.

      • Kim says:

        Corrie. OOH! I haven’t come across a Groupon for that in my area. I’ll have to pay attention! That’s like a discount, discount. Find that and luck up on a percentage or dollar amount off of the Groupon price and you’ve just scored a discount, discount, discount – the triple threat! 🙂 Thanks for commenting!

    • Kim says:

      Hi Jenny! You do make excellent points and I agree with all of them. For me, I never give much of a thought about trying any of the services except for getting a haircut, exactly for the reasons you stated. When possible and getting something else done I try to observe the students cutting someone else’s hair. Then I go home and try to find reviews. 🙂

  • annonymous says:

    I often got my hair cut at a beauty school (regency) where my grandparents lived and they did a great job. I was so thrilled when I found out they had a branch in the state where I was getting married and I went to them to do my makeup and hair for the wedding. When I was booking the updo I mentioned that it was for my wedding and the scheduler put me with someone that had been there a while and was really good. I went in with sample pictures and it came out fantastic! I had a great updo and makeup for my wedding without having to do it myself or spend an arm and a leg. I think it cost a total of $35 for my hair and makeup, which is a really good price. The girl was so sweet and even gave me the lipstick she used so I could refresh it later if needed.

    • Kim says:

      That is such an awesome story! Thank you for sharing. I love how they made sure your special day was even more special. How cool that you were gifted the lipstick. 🙂

  • Jennifer says:

    I’m so glad you mentioned cosmetology schools! As a cosmetology school graduate myself, I can say how much I loved having the younger crowd come in, especially kids. It is a longer process, every step needs to be checked by an instructor, but you can also be assured that you will get the royal treatment that way 😉 And yes, the students rotate in and out as they graduate, but the people who answer the phones are generally really good at pairing up students with what the client is looking for. For instance, you could ask for someone really good with kids or great with razor cuts or whatever. I love hearing how you all support your local schools!

    • Kim says:

      Thanks for commenting Jennifer! You just made me remember how popular one beauty school was during prom time. That prom energy was in the air. I’m seeing pastel colored dresses and glitter polish manicures in my mind’s eye. There were a lot of mother-daughter outings around that time. Really sweet.

  • Becky says:

    When I was in college, there was a beauty school right across the street from the music department building where I spent most of my time. I was never brave enough to get a haircut there, but I did use it on the occasions when I needed an updo, like for InterVarsity semiformals or my required solo recitals. They did a great job, and it was very nice for a college girl’s budget!

    • Kim says:

      Thanks for commenting, Becky! Yeah- it took me a while of going with my friend who had her hair cut and cut regularly for me to try it.

  • Joan F says:

    My sister enrolled in a beauty school that had open hours like this. It can be a great experience, but like someone mentioned above it can take a long time if the student hasn’t had an opportunity to build their confidence or if you would like something a little complicated. I think that, if you went frequently enough, you’d probably find a few students who consistently did a great job.

    It’s also a good idea to (if you have the time) look into the actual schools in your area. When my sister was considering schools she discovered that some have a higher credibility than others in the professional field.

    • Kim says:

      Hi Joan. Thanks for commenting! I think you make a great point for those going for a service or exploring the possibility of enrolling in a beauty school program. Accreditation and credibility – very important.

  • Olivia says:

    I have used school salon services. Once I found someone I liked they usually graduated soon after so I would ask that student ,’who would you trust to cut your hair?’ Then I would have a referred student for next time.

  • Pam says:

    I got my haircut on a regular basis at a school when we lived in SoCal. It was great. It did take a much longer time to get it finished. I went to a Paul Mitchell school and they had 2 tiers of students – ones who needed repeated supervision and ones who just needed to check in before and after the service.

    My friend always got her hair colored there because it was so much cheaper. The students would need to check in with the teachers throughout the process so you knew if anything went horribly wrong, there was a professional there to fix it.

    • Kim says:

      Hi Pam. Thanks for sharing your experience! I’m curious. I have loved Paul Mitchell’s leave in condition but it is so expensive! Could you buy the hair products at a discount?

    • Kim says:

      Hi Pam, I commented a minute ago, but it didn’t show up. I apologize if this is a duplicate. I love Paul Mitchell’s leave in conditioner, but it is so expensive. I’m curious, could you purchase hair products at a discount there? Thanks for commenting!

  • Jen says:

    I have been on both sides of the transaction. I went to massage school and have been to beauty and massage schools as a customer as well. When I was the student, the school made it rather inconvenient for the client. They did not allow appointments; massages were delivered on a first come, first served basis, and requests besides gender were not honored. Some clients waited 2-3 hours for a massage! The sessions always had to be 60 minutes in duration, so if a client wanted a 90 or 120 minute session, they were out of luck. The massages were done in open classrooms that had hospital curtains to draw around the massage table, so sometimes the clients heard others talking or snoring, not the most relaxing of experiences. The prices were great though; only $20, and sometimes they ran 2-for-1 specials or gave clients additional free massages when the clinic was slow so students would have bodies to practice on. Just a note to those who want to try using a student clinic of any kind, you may want to check the clinic’s website or call them and ask about their policies, environment, etc. Some of us are willing to pay a bit more for a posher, faster experience, and some of us have time to wait a bit longer for inexpensive service. (Oh, and one more thing. I know most states make it illegal for students to accept tips, but if you accidentally forget a few bucks on the massage table, the student really appreciates it! It was policy at my school that we walk the client to the door, so if we returned and there was money lying there, we couldn’t chase them down to give it back because they were already gone!)

    I just recently canceled my membership for a monthly massage at a spa. I would receive 90 minutes and spend $100 by the time I paid tip and everything. It was my one splurge and, since I work in physical therapy, massage is pretty much a necessity and not a luxury. I was receiving poor service at the spa even after talking with the manager several times, so I looked up student massage clinics in my area. I found a local Aveda school which allows clients to schedule appointments. They also offer an array of services, so they will be one stop shopping for all my beauty and massage needs. One of the best parts is that I can purchase (4) 90 minute massages for only $150 total. That saves me $750 a year compared to what I was paying at the spa!

    • Kim says:

      Hi Jen! Thank you for sharing the student perspective. Just goes to show that there are so many different formats, environments and so on. I love the idea that you can purchase a package deal and save even more money!

  • Laurie says:

    We have a few local schools here where I live. The one I used to go to before they closed you could get a pedicure for $10. During the summer I would go every 3-4 weeks. Now I need to research the others for cost comparisons. Well worth my money everytime.

    • Kim says:

      Hi Laurie! THanks for commenting. That’s a bummer about your local school closing. I’m hoping there’s another one near by because $10 pedicures in the summer sound awesome! 🙂

  • Emily C says:

    I don’t think “day spa” is accurate, at least for the schools I have attended. They may offer facials, but the ambiance is usually loud, frequently with popular music playing and the students and staff chatting away.

    I’ve had great haircuts and great dye jobs, and some not great ones. If you have the time to be patient it can be great.

    • Kim says:

      Hi Emily. Thanks for commenting! I’m learning that there are so many types of environments. You’re right in that you certainly aren’t getting that $250 “spa experience” (at least what I picture in my head as a spa experience complete with fruited water). 🙂 In my area, massages are given in private rooms and there’s a little aroma therapy and soft music. I wouldn’t feel comfortable getting a massage in an environment like Jen described in her comment above. 🙂

  • Stephanie says:

    I have gone to a local beauty school in my area on and off for 25 years. In all that time I have only had one bad hair cut. I have always had really pleasant people do my hair. I would recommend it. Yes, you do have to carve out more time but all in all, it can work out well.

    • Kim says:

      Hi Stephanie. Thanks for commenting! That’s a testament to the school’s ability to train students that you have gone there for so long. That’s awesome. Why change what works!

  • lyss says:

    Well, I’ve never had any of those “spa” treatments done, but I did get a haircut at a beauty school, which was a less-than stellar experience. I think the supervisor did more of the cutting than the student, but my haircut was one of the worst I’ve ever had!

    The price was great, but I guess sometimes you get what you pay for. I was there for 2 hours and came away disappointed. It’s worth checking out, though, if you need to save money. I’m sure all schools are different. Getting a manicure or a massage might be a better way to try a place out, rather than a haircut or coloring.

    After many disappointing experiences, I’ve since ditched the salon and cut my own hair. I guess I never found a salon nor hair stylist that I liked. I also prefer to paint my own toes, so I guess I’m just weird! lol

    • Kim says:

      Lyss, thanks for commenting! I’m sorry you didn’t have a good experience! 🙁 No, you’re not weird. You just know what you want and like. 🙂

  • Kim says:

    i just want to thank Crystal and the MSM Team for providing me with an opportunity to guest post today. I appreciate it and am grateful for those who are commenting and sharing their ideas and experiences. I truly enjoy the variety of neat and wonderful ideas, tips, and inspiration that MSM offers.

  • what a fantastic idea!! I’ve heard of this for massages, but not everything else…thank you, Kim!!!!

  • Agnes says:

    I’ve been going to beauty school for years now. I pay 10 bucks for color and 5 bucks for a wash. They recently started charging tax. They do take longer, generally. But, I’m fine w/ that because I save a truck load of money. I just plan into my schedule when I’m not rushed to head to another appointment. Also, if they don’t blow out my hair there’s no charge to sit under the dryer 🙂 more savings 🙂

    • Kim says:

      Hi Agnes. Great tip about the dryer vs. the blow out. I always go the dryer route so I never keyed in on whether or not there was a difference in price. Thanks for commenting!

  • A says:

    I used to live near a community college with a dental hygiene program. At that time, I did not have dental insurance, so I had planned to skip out on exams and cleanings, which seemed like a luxury. (You only get one set of teeth, and I would encourage people to reconsider other things first.) Luckily, I was able to go to the school, where I had cleanings and X-rays done for free. It did take longer, as the instructor had to come and review the work at multiple stages. On the plus side, the instructor made sure it was thorough. When the x-rays revealed that I had impacted wisdom teeth, they took additional X-rays and gave them to me, saving me the cost of having the oral surgeon do them. This same community college also had a car repair clinic for oil changes and other small repairs. Consider different resources that may be available in your community. Schools are a great place to start. A culinary school near me has a fancy, four course meal for a fraction of what you would pay at a regular restaurant. It books up weeks in advance, but is a great special occasion destination. Don’t be shy about asking around, whether you are new in an area or have lived there for years. You never know!

    • Kim says:

      A. These are such great tips! I love the “personal development” courses at my local community colleges. “Personal development” here basically means “fun stuff” like pottery and ceramics classes, cooking technique classes, etc. The classes tend to cost MUCH less than those offered at retail locations. Plus depending on the college and the length of the course you have might access to other options such as using the fitness center. I might have to check out what’s happening in the summer. 🙂

    • Kim says:

      A. These are some excellent ideas! I’ve enjoyed the culinary school pre fixe menus myself. They are sometimes on Groupon to boot so it’s two for one.

  • Lynn says:

    Hi Kim,

    Fabulous idea! Thank you. I just moved to a new area so it’s a perfect time to find a beauty school and indulge!

  • Jennie says:

    I think you are supposed to tip the students at beauty schools.

  • Christine says:

    It may no tipping required but I always did when I would go to the beauty school regularly. I’ve been a poor college student — sometimes a few extra bucks are the lunch or gas money you really need. 🙂

    • Kim says:

      Thanks for your comment Christine! At the location near me there was a sign that said “no tipping,” above a “donation jar.” I always placed money in there. I wondered if the donation jar was really a tip jar that was split among all of the students. I hoped so. I once heard a student turn a tip down so I thought the policy was strictly enforced. But as an earlier commenter stated, leaving a few dollars behind is probably the way to go. 🙂

  • Jamie says:

    Good post! Enjoyed all the interesting feedback, too!

  • Ilka says:

    Great Post and great advice Kim! I remember when I was a student I had hair stylists do their exams on my hair. I had some really stylish hair styles at that time; and all for free. And you are so right; we all do deserve a spa day 🙂

    Have a great day, Ilka

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