The Real Cost of the Budget Haircut

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It’s undeniable that it’s often difficult to make ends meet in these tricky financial times.  When we’re constantly told by the media that things have never been worse and consumers are tightening their belts we automatically follow suit and cut back on non-essential expenses. Gone are the breakfasts out with friends, the take away coffee twice a day and the gel nails or lash extensions – these are things we can certainly live without until the economy improves. Some of us even look at how much we spend at the hair salon every 6 or 8 weeks and seek a cheaper alternative. 

We were recently informed by a client that she was moving onto another salon where she could get a perfectly good shampoo, cut and blow wave for $18 instead of the $73 she was paying us. This is definitely a significant saving on her part but I wonder what the true cost of that budget haircut really is…

How much does it cost to run a salon?

Let’s break down the $18 being charged by this salon – we’ll call them Salon EC (El Cheapo). A cut and blow wave typically takes 45 minutes of the hairstylist’s time which means that Salon EC is bringing in $24 per hour every time they perform this service.  The hourly pay for a hairstylist on the award wage is just under $23 which doesn’t leave much for the salon to put towards all of the other expenses it would have such as superannuation, GST, rent, power, water and products to name a few. Even though we don’t know what Salon EC charges for their other services it’s fair to assume that it’s a suspiciously low figure.   Potential losers:

  • definitely the staff who would have to be underpaid or not paid at all
  • the tax payer because you’re propping up tax cheats
  • the landlord because his rent never arrives
  • legitimate business owners because landlords are wary of being ripped off so impose high rents and difficult rental conditions to cover themselves


Are the staff qualified?

People who work in the hair and beauty industry pay thousands of dollars to learn their skills. Hairdressing and Beauty therapy courses are staffed with experts in their fields so the fees are high.  It’s unlikely that highly trained professionals would be happy to be grossly underpaid or work for free once they graduate so it’s probable that the workers at Salon EC are not actually qualified. Potential losers:

  • you the client – what happens if they completely wax off an eyebrow or give you an uneven haircut?
  • hairdressers and beauty therapists who have spent time and money learning their passion but can’t find a job
  • the industry itself because clients start to devalue what we offer when they can see such a huge price difference

Work conditions

In order for the owners of Salon EC to make money they would have to be working their staff pretty hard. Anyone who has ever worked in this industry knows about the long hours involved. Most salons are open for 12 consecutive hours at least once a week, are open on Saturdays and then there’s the salons in shopping centres that open 7 days a week. A decent salon owner will have rosters that are fair and keep the health and wellbeing of the staff at the forefront of their mind. It’s easy to burn out in this industry and for staff in an environment like Salon EC it’s very possible that they’re working much more than the standard 38 to 40 hours per week with very few breaks. The result is exhausted workers who can’t perform at their best. Potential losers:

  • the staff because they’re being worked to the bone which can almost guarantee a short career in the industry
  • you the client because again, you risk receiving an inferior end result.

Quality products & the environment

Professional hair and beauty products are expensive and most salons choose product companies that are in line with their own business plans and mission statements. The days of salons buying cheap litres of basin stock in unmarked bottles are thankfully mostly gone but any salon charging prices similar to Salon EC are clearly not spending much money on their professional products. The least expensive haircare and skincare products are generally full of cheap ingredients that are damaging to your hair and skin and ultimately the environment. Cultivation of inferior ingredients like palm oil or damage to marine life from these products entering our waterways are issues that immediately spring to mind. Potential losers:

  • the client because cheap products can cause damage to the hair and skin
  • the environment
  • product companies that go to the trouble of producing healthy and sustainable products

The real costs of supporting a legitimate salon

It’s undeniable that there’s a huge difference between paying $18 and $73 for a haircut.  If you break down the cost per week to have a $73 cut and blow wave you might be surprised at how inexpensive it really is. Over the course of a year if you have this service every 6 weeks you would be allocating about $11.50 per week in order to have your hair cut by a qualified professional who is being paid all of their entitlements while working a manageable number of hours per week and getting their lunchbreak every day in a salon that pays its taxes, rent and all other expenses on time. Potential losers:

  • the dodgy salons like Salon EC because they will ultimately go out of business

If you’re thinking about finding a less expensive alternative to your current hair and beauty salon ask yourself these questions:

  1. Am I happy with the results I get from this salon?
  2. Does this salon look like one that does the right thing by their staff and the environment?
  3. Do the team members look happy and not exhausted?
  4. Do I look forward to spending time in this establishment?
  5. Is supporting this small local business worth $11.50 per week?


If the answer to these questions is ‘yes’ then there’s a good chance you’re not a client at Salon El Cheapo and you’re helping to support the legitimate salons that work hard and passionately to keep our fantastic industry alive.



Fiona has diplomas in aromatherapy, beauty therapy and remedial massage and is a reiki practitioner.

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