Welcome back, #FrugalFriendshipClub. While we’ve been alternating between topics like building long-term wealth via real estate ownership and how to hack the travel rewards game so you can travel frequently and cheaply, this week’s post is going to introduce a theme that you’ll see here a little more from now on:
To put it bluntly and crudely: How to be hot without spending a fortune.
Just kidding—we’ll be a little more refined and just say it’s the intersection of frugality and looking your best.
There’s an overwhelming and seemingly inescapable truth beginning to surface in the beauty industry and its meme-inspired offshoots: in order to be beautiful, you must be rich (or, at the very least, spend as though you are).
While I don’t intend this post or any future posts to explicitly endorse vanity, I’m aware that most human beings like to look good. And sometimes, when a brand promises you that for the low, low price of $45 + tip you'll be beautiful, you're probably going to concede.
But if there’s collective acceptance of the expectation that you have to be willing to spend money hand over fist to look good, we’ll end up sacrificing some semblance of financial stability in the long-run (and that, my friends, will cause wrinkles).
Unquestionably, money and leisure-time make it far easier to keep up with a grooming regimen—but there are a LOT of inexpensive alternatives.
So I invited Alexa Campbell, an Alabama friend all-too-familiar with the superficial pressure of a college campus in the South where female beauty expectations are inexplicably sky-high, to walk us through her perfected “at-home blowout” technique.
I’ve got two more related posts in the chamber: oil cleansing and moisturizing for under $20 and at-home microdermabrasion-adjacent treatments for $10 or less. (I promise it's not just letting Sam Cat lick your face, but that works too.)
To be honest, I hardly ever blow-dry my hair because I never felt like I got a great result—but I learned a LOT from this article, even just in editing it.
Alexa, take it away!
No one can deny that the feeling of a fresh salon blow-out is one of the best. Like many of the other 20-something girls I know, I would love the opportunity to indulge myself with a salon blow-out every week.
However, my current grad school budget and schedule don’t allow for this, so after deciding 2019 would be the year of true “self-care” for me, I set out to master the perfect at-home blow-out on a budget and create the same—if not better—experience for myself in my averagely lit apartment bathroom.
Originally, I got frustrated with this process. I was trying to get it done super-fast and using whatever hair products I had under my sink to make it work. After taking the time to watch some videos, read some articles about training my hair and investing in (sometimes saving for) the right products that would last, I got the results I wanted.
After countless hours of YouTube tutorials and working with the products and tools that I had (because budget) and reading lots and lots and lots of Sephora, Ulta and Amazon reviews before biting the bullet and buying a few new things, I finally figured it out.
Before I explain further, I’ll add the obligatory disclaimer that everyone’s hair is extremely different. I personally have dark brown, very thick hair that has slight color damage from going too blonde too quick (balayage is #addicting) and my split ends seem never-ending.
After examining all this, I decided to take 3 inches off my hair just before the new year and my now shorter layers are way healthier and easier to blowout than before. I’ve also decided to take a year-long break from color treatments (not ideal for everyone—yes, I hear you blondes!).
KG note: I took a six-month highlights hiatus in an effort to push my frugality and self-esteem to the fringes, and I think my hair lady wanted to shave me bald for doing so. Four inches of regrowth requires a LOT of extra bleach and she charged me accordingly.
All that to say: I think it’s worth it to give your hair some sort of evaluation before attempting to make yourself salon-pretty at home. Along with using the right shampoo and conditioner for your hair, I recommend alternating between a high-end option and a drugstore one. I switch between Dove and Biolage to make my pricier shampoo last longer—this will set your hair up for success.
Basically, getting your hair healthy will make any blowout, curl or style you do at home look better and last longer—and switching between expensive and affordable products will make both products last, prolonging the results.
Now for the fun stuff…
The key ingredients for any good at home blow-dry are some good clips for sectioning (I love these super inexpensive ones), a heat protectant spray, a round brush and a blow dryer. Round brushes are different for every kind of hair so definitely look at sizes and bristle type for your hair.
My other favorite products are this heat protectant by DryBar called Hot Toddy and this Hot Tools blow dryer. I use the concentrator attachment on my blow dryer because I have found that the concentrated air flow, I get a smoother, more salon-like finish. This blow-dryer is pricier than some, but $49.99 has gotten me through most of college and now after still works like a charm. Good investment piece.
On my wet hair, I use It’s a 10 spray, a holy grail product since I was literally 13. I always stock up when Ulta runs a sale because it’s way too pricey for my liking but I don’t know what I would do without it.
I start blow drying my hair after it is 75-90% air dry. My natural hair dries super wavy and frizzy, so I have to admit the first couple times I tried to blow dry it, I started with sopping wet hair to avoid even dealing with it. I realized that putting the super-hot air from the blow dryer right on freshly washed hair was only damaging it further and probably the reason I was getting sweaty and gross right out of the shower. (Don’t lie, it has definitely happened to you.)
The way I blow dry my hair is a bit different than how it’s done at most salons. I focus my attention on the front pieces that frame my face first and create my part. If I don’t blow-out these pieces first, I tend to get super frizzy waves that dry close to my scalp and are hard to flatten without a straightener.
I pull the round brush down and hold my blow dryer above the brush moving downward on the hairs over the front of my face while the rest of my hair is clipped back. I noticed that pointing the blow dryer in the direction the hair grows helps with fly-aways or frizziness. Always curl the round brush a few times without the blow-dryer directly on the hair, to let them cool off and hold that bouncy finish on the ends.
Then, I clip up those dried front pieces into a pouf (probably because of my New Jersey roots), and round brush 1-inch sections of my hair beginning with the bottom layer and working my way up. Each time I allow the round brush to go through a piece a couple times as it cools to hold the bottom volume.
At the very end, I put my blow-dryer on the cool setting and just run my fingers through my hair to make sure each piece has cooled off. I’ll add some hair oil or shine cream, probably a sample from a Sephora order or beauty subscription box to finish off the look. Overall, air-drying (yes, air-drying—the first 30 to 45 minutes) and blow-drying takes me about an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes.
The really important stuff...
I know you’re probably thinking, how am I supposed to leave enough time to shower, let my hair air dry AND then blow dry it before I need to be somewhere?! This is all part of the experience, ladiesssss!
Figure out when it works for you! I work out early before class and work most mornings so I leave myself that extra 30-45 minutes post-shower in the morning for my air-dry time—it’s surprisingly relaxing. I catch up on Real Housewives, jade roll my face, make a yummy breakfast and even finish homework sometimes (oops) to let the time pass.
This helps me enjoy the entire process a lot more.
KG Note: I know for some this might mean rearranging a routine, but even if it means waking up about half an hour earlier, you may be able to buy more time by showering first thing in the morning and doing everything else as you air-dry. If you get ready in gyms a lot and are rushed (guilty), try to move your hair-washing/drying to nighttime.
Also keep in mind this is NOT a daily thing. If you do it well, it might be a twice-weekly commitment.
Lately I’ve made it a game for myself to see if I can get my blow-out done faster every time. I have friends that do their blowouts at night because that works with their schedule. Some weeks I spend part of my Sunday afternoon on a blowout. I do think it is worth carving out that extra time because I make that blow-out laaaaasst.
If I blow out my hair on a Monday morning, it’s likely I can go through the week and not do it again until Friday morning. Just wear your hair in a low pony to bed in a scrunchie or something trendier (if you’re just as into these cool new hairties as I am) like Teleties.
I do the same during workouts and place it in a low, messy bun. This has worked wonders for me. My hair stays smooth and straight in a low pony and I rarely have to do a blow-dry refresh the next morning. When I do, I use a $1 water spray bottle to re-wet my hair and do a quick blow-dry on those extra frizzy pieces.
I also sleep on a silk pillowcase and that definitely helps with morning fly-aways and tangles. (And please don’t stop reading because you think I’m boujee and spent that money—I won it in an Instagram giveaway and while I am obsessed, I will buy a set on Amazon in the future because there are plenty of cheaper options out there.)
Since figuring out ways to let my hair last all week through workouts, life and late study nights, dry texturizing spray has become the literal love of my life. I use a bunch of different texturizing sprays on my hair because I’m still in the trial and testing phase.
So far, I love this $28 one from Moroccan Oil but also love this $6 one from Not Your Mother’s. Also, this one by IGK smells UNREAL and lasts for a super long time in the travel-size (only $14 and I’ve been using it over a month and still have product).
Since I’m only washing and doing my hair two or three times a week, my hair products last me a while and (in my opinion) are worth the slightly-higher-than-drugstore price because of how long they last.
If I had to rank the importance of the purchases overall, I’d say spend money on the blow dryer ($49.99) and a combination of tools and products (under $100) that can last you up to three months at a time. It makes so much more sense than a weekly (or even bi-weekly, if your hair needs it) blowout that’ll set you back $40 + tip at the salon.
KG Note: The same goes for knowing how to curl your own hair. When you get to the point where you feel like you’re the one who can do your hair best, you’ll be way less tempted to go shell out that Dry Bar money. It just takes practice.
Be patient and create the experience for yourself. Getting ready and feeling good about the way you look isn’t impossible on a tight budget. Happy drying!
The young woman's money guide for all the things you're too embarrassed to ask your friends. Build the life you thought you were too broke to afford through managing your spending habits, travel hacking, and simple, smart investing.
Full-time Brand marketer at Southwest Airlines, part-time Yoga Sculpt teacher, occasional Waffle House Model and reformed materialist.
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