I have demanding hair. It’s thick and curly and tends toward frizziness if I don’t beat it into submission. Like many women, I’ve fought a lifelong love/hate battle with my hair. At times I’ve wanted it straighter, shorter, longer, thinner, thicker or (rarely) curlier. As I’ve aged, however, I’ve mellowed toward my hair and realized that it is what it is and I’ve learned how to make the best of it. Looking back now, I realize that while I was fighting my hair, it was teaching me some subtle (and not so subtle) lessons about personal finance. How can hair teach you anything, you ask? Here’s what my hair taught me about finance:
The most expensive things aren’t always the best
Over the years I’ve tried every hair product imaginable, from the pricey salon versions to the cheapest thing on the shelf at Wal-Mart. Of course the salon owners always tell me that their (outrageously priced) product is the best, but in practice that’s not usually true. I’ve found many products in the drug store that work even better than the salon preparations. And these cost less than half of what the salon products cost. Trying to find the best hair care product for me has taught me that the most expensive product doesn’t always live up to the hype. This has made me more willing to try less expensive versions of other products, as well.
In hair care and in all of your purchasing decisions, you have to be willing to try lots of brands to find the ones that work best for your needs. You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised to find that many of the less expensive brands work just as well as the pricier brands, saving you lots of money. If not, you can always go back to the pricey stuff but at least you can say you tried rather than blindly buying into the hype.
Using more of something doesn’t always get the best results
When I was fighting my hair, the temptation was always to use more of a product. If a little reduces frizziness, a lot should work better, right? A lot of hairspray ought to give more hold than a little, right? Wrong. Over the years I’ve learned that using more of a product usually results in hair that is a crunchy mess. Every product has an optimal amount that yields great results. If you use less than that amount, you might not get good results. Use more and you end up with a mess. There is a point where more is simply more, not better. You have to experiment to find that point and, when you find it, be willing to stop.
This is true in personal finance, as well. We’re often tempted to think that buying more of something is better. A bigger house or car is better than a smaller one, right? More electronics are better than fewer, right? More food is better than less, right? Not necessarily. You might find that you’re better off with smaller or fewer things instead of always buying more and bigger. That bigger house may consume more of your time and money in upkeep than your smaller house. The bigger car consumes more gas. More food makes you fat. There is a point where you have and use the optimal amount of something and adding more is simply more, not better. After you reach that point, buying more is wasting money because you aren’t gaining usefulness or happiness. You have to find that point in your own finances and then be willing to walk away from more in order to keep your financial situation at it’s optimal level.
There are things I can do without (and prefer to do without)
At various times over the years I have thought that I couldn’t live without a cut every four weeks, color every three weeks, or a blow out once a week. Looking back now, I laugh at all of that foolishness and I cry at the money I wasted. Once I gave up the fight and accepted my hair as is, I discovered that I was perfectly content to live with a cut only every eight weeks, that my curly hair was fine and didn’t need a blow out, and that the color was only postponing the inevitable aging process. I am much happier now that I’ve discovered that I can live without all of that. I don’t waste so much time going to and from the salon and I save a ton of money.
It’s no different with other aspects of my financial life. There have been many things that I thought I “couldn’t live without,” such as cable, cell phones, expensive coffee, high speed Internet access, annual vacations, etc. But come to find out, if I let those things go, I survive and even thrive. I find I’m less distracted, and have more free time and money. Try going without something that you think you can’t live without and see how it goes. You might be surprised to find that you actually do better without certain things in your life and that you reap the savings.
Sometimes the basics are all you need
After trying every hair brush, appliance, and accessory, I’ve learned that all I need is a comb, a little something to tame the frizz, and something to tie it back on a windy day. I don’t even need a hairdryer except when it’s cold outside and going out with wet hair will give me pneumonia. I don’t know how much money I spent over the years on the newest hair gadgets hoping they would solve my problems, only to realize that a comb was all I ever really needed.
This is true in many other areas of my finances, as well. I’ve looked at many things I use and determined that the basics are all I need. Did I need all those calling features on my phone? No. Did I need all those extras on my cell phone plan? Nope. Did I need all those options on my car? No. Did I need that swanky stove with all the features? Of course not. I’ve spent a lot of money over the years on extras, hoping they would give me peace of mind, a better life, more organization, or a simpler life. After wasting a lot of money I’ve learned that the basics serve me well and the frills are largely a waste of money that don’t live up to their promises. Try looking at your own spending to see if there are areas where you can pare back to the basics. You might be surprised to find you do just as well with the basics and you save a lot of money.
You may cursed by fate, but you can overcome it
At times I have viewed my hair as a blessing and a curse. When it behaves, it’s a blessing and on bad days it’s a curse. I tend to look at it more now as a blessing, since it is pretty unique and I’ve learned to deal with it. But believe me, there were plenty of years that I thought that someone had played a terrible joke on me and given me the worst hair ever. However, age has taught me that I had nothing to do with this blessing or curse. My hair is simply a matter of which genes took up residence on my scalp. It could have been better, but it also could have been a lot worse. Sitting around and cursing fate didn’t do anything for my hair. I learned that it is up to me to work with what I’ve been given and improve on it the best I can. I had to try a lot of things, take a lot of wrong turns, and go through a lot of stylists before I found what works. Had I given up, I’d still have bangs and frizzy 80′s hair.
It’s no different with our finances. Some of us are blessed to be born into wealthy families that share that wealth with us. Some are born into families that aren’t wealthy, but know how to stretch a buck to make a good life for themselves. And some of us are born into unenviable circumstances that make it difficult to get ahead. No matter where we begin our financial lives, it’s up to us to work with what we have and improve on it to make things better. We have to try many different things, screw up occasionally, educate ourselves, and use our talents to right our financial ships. Sitting around and complaining about the hand fate dealt you won’t make things better. You have to work at it, but you can improve upon what you are given.
Getting every last bit of a product out of a bottle can save big money
I used to toss hair care products in the trash when it became difficult to get the last bit out of the bottle. That went on until one day in college (my broke years) when I had a date lined up and I was on the last of my anti-frizz gel. Disaster loomed large before me. In desperation, I took the pump off the top of the bottle and discovered that there was a lot of product down there. I had enough for my date and enough to last the rest of the week. The simple act of looking in the bottom of the bottle allowed me to hold out until the end of the week when I got paid again and could buy some more gel.
Now I don’t throw anything away until I have used every last drop in the bottle. This routinely enables me to stretch products for an additional week or so, saving big money over the course of a year. Any product is fair game including dish detergent, toothpaste, shampoo/conditioner, lotion, and condiments like ketchup and mustard. You’ll be surprised at how much does not come out simply by squeezing the bottle or pumping the dispenser. Manufacturers do not design their bottles so that you get every bit of a product. And why would they? The more you toss, the sooner you’re back buying more. Dig for that last little bit and save yourself some money.
There are some things that shouldn’t be DIY, but there are other ways to save if you can’t DIY
I’m a big fan of DIY as a way to save money. But I’ve learned (through some rather unfortunate experiences) that my hair is not an area suitable for DIY. However, I have learned that there are other ways to save money on hair care, even if I still have to pay someone else to cut it. I can reduce the number of cuts per year, I can eliminate a lot of the extras that I didn’t need to begin with, and I can simplify my hair care routine. I can also use coupons and hold out for sales to stock up on hair care products.
There are many things in life that you might not be able to do yourself, or even want to do yourself. But there are probably other ways to save on that category if you think about it. You may not be able to repair your own refrigerator, but you can call around and get quotes from several repairmen and you can negotiate that they waive or reduce the initial visit fee if they do the repair. You might not want to do your own yard work, but you can shop around for the best price and you can reduce the number of cuts or treatments per year to save money. Think about the things you can’t (or shouldn’t) do yourself and then look for other ways to save in that area. You’ll probably find many possibilities.
Trendiness is overrated – Go with the classics
I’ve lived through Farrah Fawcett hair, wings, blown back bangs, the Lady Di look, big 80′s hair, frosting, punk, bobs, extensions, hippie hair, and a little of the bouffant. And, I am sad to admit, I’ve tried too many of them. Yet I keep coming back to my classic look of medium length hair well tended and tamed. It never seems to go out of style. By giving up on chasing the trends I’ve saved myself a lot of money and a lot of wear and tear on my hair.
This is true in other areas, as well. When buying clothing, I’ve saved a ton by sticking to classic colors and styles. I might not have the hippest wardrobe out there, but I save money by not buying new clothes every season. When buying cars, I stick to models that have classic styling that I know I won’t get sick of in a month. Same with appliances. I remember Harvest Gold and Avocado Green appliances and I’m pretty sure the blues, reds and oranges of today will soon meet the same fate as their earlier counterparts. I stick with white or stainless steel to ensure they’ll still be in style ten years from now. Chasing trends is expensive if you’re always switching out things in favor of newer styles. Sticking with the classics might not be thrilling, but it sure saves money.
It may seem strange to learn about finance from one’s hair but if you fight with anything for thirty-odd years, you’re bound to learn something. I think the lessons I’ve learned have been valuable and have led me to a better financial place. I’m only sorry that I had to abuse my hair so much in order to learn what it had to teach me.
Image courtesy of mbtrama