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There are certain necessities in life that we pay others to take care of for us -- think teeth cleanings and haircuts. Then there are the luxuries in life, like massages, that we wish we could afford. We at Cheapism found ways to enjoy each of these services for free or at discounted prices. How? By signing up to be a guinea pig and giving students an opportunity to try out the skills they're striving to acquire. Best to be prepared for some surprises.


Men can wander into a local barber school and get a cheap and simple haircut from a student barber without much anxiety about the end product. Women may be more hesitant to put their hair on the line, even at high-end stylist schools. In some cases the students do the cutting, but sometimes the teacher may need a subject to demonstrate a style or technique.

Recently a woman we know received a free haircut from the Bumble and Bumble University's Model Project. She first heard about the school last fall after moving to New York and prepping for a job interview. She needed a haircut and set out to find a salon that would give her a free cut in exchange for donating her hair to charity, a trade she had made in the past; Bumble and Bumble agreed to accommodate the request. Although she was assigned to a professional stylist, with about 10 inches of hair to lose she was nervous. "Basically you're a blank canvas, and your stylist is explaining (in detail) how to perform the specific haircut, while taking questions from the audience," she reports. The strangest part was not having a mirror to watch the process, although her preferences were considered and she was pleased with the outcome.

The more recent cut wasn't exactly what she had in mind, but she still enjoyed the experience (and being referred to as a model). "I think this is a great option for people who are not so uptight about their looks and open to an unexpected change in appearance." The bonus: $75 in free hair products in addition to a free hair cut from a professional stylist.

Dental Work.

Going to the dentist is not what anyone would describe as fun -- even if the service is provided free. And for anyone without dental insurance (that would be most of us), the cost can be a convenient excuse for skipping the whole thing.

Ah, but dental schools are here to save your teeth from your frugal ways. Low-cost dental care is available at prestigious schools such as Tufts, University of California at Los Angeles, and New York University, and at some community colleges. With students wielding the instruments, the process generally takes longer and may be more uncomfortable than it would with a veteran dentist or hygienist. And while there is some risk regarding the quality of the effort, count all the money you're saving.

Several years ago a blog post at related one man's experience at NYU's dentistry school where he went for a cleaning, X-rays, cavity fillings, and a mouth guard. He estimated saving as much as $800 by shunning a "Madison Avenue" dentist, although his total outlay was comparable to a neighborhood practice in Brooklyn. The cleaning ($60) went well, but the drilling in preparation for filling a cavity, not so much; according to the post, a supervisor told the student that such work on an exam would earn a failing grade. Another post on the same site tells of paying $10 for a cleaning by a student at a community college and concludes that for anyone with the time, some tolerance for pain, and little concern for privacy, getting work done at a dental school is a good option.


Signing up for a massage by a student studying to become a registered massage therapist can bring the cost below $30 an hour (remember to tip the student if s/he does a good job). A thread on Reddit (a site for frugal consumers) discusses the pros and cons of giving this cheap service a try. On the plus side, of course, is the cost -- a good 30-50 percent below market. On the other hand, students generally perform a 10-15 minute verbal assessment before the massage begins and a new student is usually assigned each visit. The experience is also less intimate than at a spa as massages are often given in large rooms with screens separating students but not blocking nearby conversations. Instructors occasionally walk in to observe as well, although one commenter pointed out an unexpected benefit of this occurrence: the teacher may join in the massage while observing.

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