Tricks to saving at the salon and spa

Massages and haircuts are essential services -- but the government won't be paying for them anytime soon. Find out how you can find some room in your personal care budget.

By Signe Langford

You work hard and deserve a little pampering now and then, but spa days don't come cheap. The good news: there are ways to indulge without blowing your budge. The bad: you may have to trade the swanky surroundings of a top salon for a humble classroom.

When not to look for savings
“Always go to a really experienced pro for any treatments that involve chemicals" such as relaxing, perms and peels, says senior stylist and Aveda graduate Sarah Wannis of Lucy’s Hair Design in Toronto. She’s seen clumps of hair come out from chemicals sitting too long on the scalp and yes, she’s seen green hair when a dye job went terribly wrong.

The stylist lists several other sensitive areas best left to the more expensive pros: eyelash extensions, permanent makeup, Brazilian waxes, laser hair removal, highlights -- especially on dark hair -- and hair extensions, which she says are "really easy to mess up."

Beyond these get-what-you-pay-for treatments, we combed the country for the best deals on spa and salon treatments. Here's where you can truly get a bargain.

Save cash by visiting on slow days
Most spas offer discounts on slow days, which usually means the middle of the week. If you can get the time off from work or you have a flexible schedule, take advantage of big discounts on everything from chilling poolside all day to relaxing and invigorating body treatments.

Get a bargain by buying a package
Buying in bulk saves at the grocery store and it can save at the spa or salon, too. Consider paying up front for a package of treatments or massages. Sure, it’s a fair bit of money to spend all at once, but the cost of each session is less.

Look for deals online
Check deal websites such as LivingSocial, Dealfind and Groupon, or any that might be specific to your region. There are deals to be had on just about everything, including spa, massage and beauty treatments, but they may be time-sensitive, so check back often.

Ask for Junior
Be brave -- let the junior stylist have a go at your locks. Chances are, a haircut from Monsieur Frederic costs a lot more than what a perfectly fine cut from his protégé does. Always ask, no matter what the treatment, if there is a junior or apprentice in the house and what the price difference is.

Give students a chance
Visit the beauty, massage or hairstyling schools in your city for huge savings, and to feel good about giving students a chance to learn. Aveda, for instance, has institutes across Canada staffed with energetic young students who are eager to do a great job for about a third of the price of a pro Aveda cut. Professors are constantly hovering about, so help is always close at hand, but be prepared to spend more time, as at each step of the way, teacher drops in for an evaluation.

And the savings aren't just for hair care. Some schools of aesthetics, such as Blanch MacDonald in B.C. or George Brown in Ontario, offer a full range of treatments from facials to pedicures to microdermabraision, all at a fraction of the cost you’d pay in a spa.

Skip the salon
If your hairstyle is uncomplicated or perhaps all you need is a trim, consider a chain haircut place. If you’ve got little kiddies who need a shearing, these are the places to go: you’ll cause less of a stir if your little angel has a meltdown in the chair -- they see it all the time -- and they offer lower prices for kids.

Keep it in the neighbourhood
A pedicure in a top salon or spa can run you close to $100, but if you search out and find a little local place you feel comfortable in, they can be just as great and cost $15 to $25. And that’s a little luxury most of us can justify. But buyer beware -- take a close look at their sanitation practices. You don’t want to frequent a mani-pedi salon that cuts corners on cleaning their cutting tools.

The average Canadian household spent $1,200 on personal care in 2009, according to Statistics Canada. We suggest you do some math to see where you fit -- you might be surprised at what you spend. Then look at your top expenditures and see where you can cut some corners and find extra savings to divert elsewhere.

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