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Well now that the holiday season is official over, Lifestyles of the Organized will return to regular posting once again. I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year!

What have I been up to? Well, my husband and I traveled 1,000 miles by car to celebrate 5 different Christmases with family and friends this year! It was hectic, but worth it. I’ve also been writing articles for eHow, I started selling homemade photo art greeting cards, my dormant Sophrolaeliocattleya orchid finally bloomed after 2 years, and I got a new cell phone. Did you get all that? Here’s one more: last night I bought 63 candy canes to satisfy my candy cane addiction. And that is what I would like to talk about today.

candy-canes

Cashing in on post-holiday deal bonanzas

My husband and I hit up Walgreens last night with the very purpose in mind to score awesome post-holiday deals on Christmas merchandise. Everything was marked at least 75% off and I expect that number to go up even more in the coming days. In fact, a lucky shopper posted to a Slickdeals forum thread yesterday that they landed 97% off wrapping paper (5 cents a roll!) at their local Walgreens.

Here’s what we bought:

  • 4 packages of candy canes (63 total candy canes) – $.25 for each package ($1.00 total)
  • 2 sets of 100-count white Christmas lights – $.99 each ($1.98 total)
  • 1 tree topper lighted star – $1.49

We didn’t end up buying a HUGE amount of stuff (clutter control!), but we definitely cashed in on some excellent deals. The best deal was the tree topper—we’ve been keeping our eyes open for a good topper for 3 Christmases now and we finally have one, at a super price. And although we didn’t need a fake Christmas tree, we were impressed that 6-foot fully lighted trees were selling for $5.00!

So get out there and shop the Christmas merchandise aisles before stores get rid of it all and move on to the next holiday, Valentine’s Day. Keep an eye out for wrapping paper, tags, ribbons, bows, candy, candles, tree skirts, stockings, fake Christmas trees, wreaths, stationary, greeting cards, ornaments, and much more! You’ll have to wait 11 months to use what you buy, but you can’t beat the prices!!

Reader Reflection

Have you scored any amazing post-Christmas deals you’d like to share?

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Last week in Houseplant Hacks I talked about questions you should ask yourself before ever buying a houseplant. If you determined that you’ve got space, time, and a suitable environment in which to raise a plant, then the next logical step is to go out and buy one! It’s easy to drop a lot of cash on houseplants (trust me, I know!), so today I want to outline five ways you can spend your money wisely when picking out your new plant.

1. Get cuttings from a friend

The easiest way to save money on a new houseplant is to get cuttings from a friend. Not only will the cuttings be free, but you will have control over the size of your starter plant, the pot you put it in, and the soil you use. More than half of my houseplant collection is made up of full-grown plants that I started at one time from cuttings I received from other people.

So how do you go about getting cuttings? Simply eye up houseplants at other people’s houses and see if they have a plant you might be interested in. african-violet-leavesNot all plants can be propagated through cuttings, but many common varieties can. For example, last week we talked about the golden pothos and to get cuttings from it you only need to cut off part of a vine (be sure to get a few good nodes, the segments along the vine where leaves are attached). Then remove some of the leaves, place the vines in water for a few weeks, and wait for new roots to grow from the nodes. After good roots form, you can safely pot the vines into soil. With other plants, you can start the cuttings immediately in soil, like with African Violet leaves. Simply snap off a healthy leaf from a parent plant and after a few months in good soil, it will produce babies.

There are other ways to propagate plants besides taking stem or leaf cuttings. Some examples include adventitious roots (i.e. some plants produce plantlets that you can remove and pot elsewhere, like the spider plant) or plant division (i.e. some plants produce multiple crowns within their pot and can be divided, like the snake plant). Whichever way you propagate a houseplant, you will ultimately end up saving a bunch of money. It only takes a little more patience as you wait for it to grow to full size.

2. Buy a smaller-sized plant

The second most useful way to save money when buying houseplants is to purchase a smaller-sized plant to start with. For example, I visited a greenhouse about a year ago to buy a wandering jew plant. They had a few size options and the prices reflected the differences dramatically. It was much more expensive to buy the large attractive size, but only a few dollars to buy the small starter plant. I went with the starter plant and was pleased to discover that wandering jews grow VERY fast. Soon my starter plant was as big as the expensive full-size plant. Don’t pay for the extra size. Just have a little patience while you let your plant grow.

3. Buy a plant that is not currently in bloom

This tip does not always apply, but occasionally you will find circumstances where greenhouses or flower shops will actually charge more for a plant that is in bloom. If there is a difference in price, then look for the non-blooming plants and just wait for them to bloom in your home. The patience will pay off. Furthermore, often when you purchase blooming plants you have really no idea how long they have been blooming. What a disappointment to bring your new plant home and discover that it is done blooming just a short time later.

4. Buy seeds or bulbs and start the plant at home

This method is a little more difficult, but it can produce some money savings in the end. Flower shops usually make you pay for the time they spend raising a plant and getting it to bloom (see the above two points). Starting plants from scratch is another way to do that work yourself and save money. Some plants can be grown from seeds and you will quickly discover that seeds cost much less than a full grown plant. Also consider bulbs, like amaryllis, that you can start indoors and then perhaps plant outside in the summer if you want. You’ll enjoy not only cheap upfront cost, but an opportunity to watch your plant grow from start to finish (this can also be a great teaching tool!).

5. Consider where you buy the plant

My final point is debatable and I’ll explain why in a moment. One can argue that it costs much less to buy certain houseplants from a major chain store like Walmart than it does to buy the same kind of plant from a specialty greenhouse. For example, I can buy an African Violet from Walmart for $2, while my local flower shop charges $6.50. While the savings are obvious (and I’ve used this method many times to save money), it’s important to note a few potential downsides with this practice.

greenhouse

Just because a store might sell a plant for less than half the price doesn’t mean you are getting the same quality. I’ve heard horror stories of people buying cheap plants from chain stores and then in turn that cheap plant introduces a terrible insect infestation into their home and kills their entire plant collection. Furthermore, as long as we’re talking about African Violets, I can mention that my local flower shop’s violets are much bigger, in better shape, and are actually labeled with their true specialty hybrid variety. Walmart only sells what we call NOIDS, no-named plain violets that lack certain special qualities like spotted leaves or double blooms.

In any case, I’ve bought African Violets (and other plants) from both locations. You just have to decide what it is you want and you have to carefully inspect any plant you buy from any vendor. Saving money is great, but be careful not to sacrifice quality.

Spotlight on the Holiday Cactus

thanksgiving-cactus-flowerWhile we’re on the topic of buying houseplants, I want to spotlight a particular plant today that you will currently find on sale in many stores this time of year: the holiday cactus. These Schlumbergera hybrids come in several varieties and are most often referred to as the Thanksgiving Cactus or the Christmas Cactus. It’s interesting to note that most ‘Christmas Cacti’ for sale are in fact Thanksgiving Cacti. I have both a Christmas Cactus and a Thanksgiving Cactus and I’m happy to report that one is in bud and the other is in full bloom!

The good news is, no matter which variety you have (or which variety you think you have), these plants are very easy to care for and are hugely rewarding when they burst into bloom this time of year. But before you go out and buy one, be sure to read their care requirements below:

  • Light: Bright light in late spring through fall; moderate light in winter to early spring.
  • Temperature: Normal home temperatures are ideal during most of the year, but it is important to allow temperatures to get a little cooler in fall and winter to encourage forming buds.
  • Water: In winter, let it dry slightly between waterings, drying even more in fall to encourage buds; from spring through fall, keep soil lightly moist.
  • Fertilizer: It is fine to feed house plant fertilizer from bloom time to following autumn every other week (I don’t fertilize mine and they continue to bloom).
  • Soil: Ideally it should be well-draining cactus soil (sandy) and slightly acidic, but any good potting soil will do.
  • Repotting: Younger plants should be repotted annually, while older plants can be repotted every 2 or 3 years.
  • Propagation: Take cuttings. Twist stems off at the nodes (2 to 3 ‘pads’ should be fine) and pot into potting soil. Keep in indirect light until new growth appears.
  • Toxicity: Considered non-toxic.
  • Pests: Uncommon.
  • Miscellaneous: Holiday Cacti must be subjected to cool nights (low 50’s) or long nights (12+ hours) for 6-8 weeks to initiate buds. thanksgiving-cactusThis is not as hard as it sounds—just keep plants in a room where you do not leave the lights on all evening and night. During the blooming period, don’t move plants around too much because stress can cause buds and flowers to drop prematurely. Also, it is beneficial to prune after the blooming period ends to encourage branching.

What’s next?

After buying a few houseplants, you’ll need to find suitable locations in your home where they will thrive and where they won’t cause clutter. Next week I’ll discuss methods to organize your space when it comes to your houseplant collection.

Reader Reflection

Have you found any creative ways to save money on houseplants? Do you have a holiday cactus that is in bloom?

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You like Crest, she likes Colgate, he likes Aim, they like Arm & Hammer. You like gel, she likes paste. He likes whitening, you like tarter control. If there’s one thing I’ve noticed people being quite particular about, it’s toothpaste. And with so many choices out there, why shouldn’t we have personal preferences?

It’s come to my attention since getting married and having a spouse with his own personal toothpaste preference that there are financial downsides to being picky. Furthermore, toothpaste companies can be a little misleading in their packaging and pricing and the last thing we want is to be duped. Today I’d like to share with you three money-saving tips when it comes time to replace your empty tube of toothpaste.

toothpaste

1. Check the tube ounce size on the box

My husband recently pointed out to me a sneaky little phenomenon on toothpaste boxes. Not all boxes that are the same size contain the same size of tube inside! For example, you might have two equally-sized boxes side by side on the shelf, but the tube inside one might be 6 oz, while the tube in the other might be 8 oz. It’s certainly marked on each box, but the marking tends to be small and not immediately obvious. Be careful to check this before just grabbing any box off the shelf because the price might not always fairly match the size.

2. Buy toothpaste in packs

As I’ve said with other products, there’s more upfront cost, but usually the price is lower since you are buying more. Plus, buying in bulk like this gives you the chance to plan ahead and stock up. Toothpaste doesn’t exactly go bad, so there is nothing to worry about if you buy several tubes. But don’t forget to check the ounces on the boxes within packs too! Last month I was comparing two separate 3-packs of toothpaste. Both packs were Crest, but they were slightly different flavors and textures. After carefully studying each pack I discovered that even though both packs were the same price and the same package size, one pack contained several more ounces than the other.

3. Switch brands depending on price or sales

I mentioned in the introduction that people can be very particular about toothpaste brands, textures, colors, and features. I used to be one of these people. I bought Colgate Tarter Control Plus Whitening Paste exclusively (it’s what I grew up with). Whenever we visited relatives I scoffed at the green gel toothpaste people would use (for some reason I had an aversion to putting green goo on my teeth). I even disliked changing flavors within the Colgate brand. I got so used to the same taste on my toothbrush that it was kind of a shock to change. But I got over it once I decided that it was far more economical to buy the brand of toothpaste that was either cheaper in general or currently on sale at the store.

Where I shop, different toothpaste brands are on sale in regular cycles. I try to stock up on my favorite toothpaste when it goes on sale, but at some point the supply might run out unplanned. And if you need toothpaste, you need toothpaste! So if you find yourself in need and your favorite brand isn’t on sale, what do you do? Consider switching to whichever brand is on sale at the time because it could be half the price! After a few brushes you’ll probably get used to the new flavor, and if not, then you can always switch back next time.

Reader Reflection

What’s your favorite brand of toothpaste? Do you have any creative tricks of the trade to save money when buying new tubes?

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Ah, washing dishes. The never-ending kitchen nightmare—you finally finish one load and another is already waiting in line. The piles are stacked high, food dries on, and you just don’t have enough time to get caught up! Even a dishwasher doesn’t do it all for you—you still have to rinse, dry, load, and unload. So what’s a person to do? Switch to all paper dishes? Um, no. Let the dog lick the dishes clean each night? Um, most definitely no.

dishes

Unfortunately there really is no escaping from doing the dishes, but there are practices you can adopt to better organize the way you approach this task. I’m going to outline eight things you can start doing right now that will save you time in the kitchen when it comes to washing dishes. And what’s more, hopefully you’ll be able to look upon your piles of plates with a little less disdain the next time you have to wash.

1. Clean as you cook

If you only adopt one of the eight practices I’m going to talk about today, then pick THIS ONE. I can’t stress enough how much time you will save if you clean as you cook. Let me explain. As you are preparing a meal, there will undoubtedly be moments when you are waiting for something to finish simmering or sautéing, or perhaps you might even find yourself with a large chunk of time as your casserole or lasagna is baking in the oven. Use this time to your advantage!

Any moment you aren’t doing something to prepare the meal, head on over to the sink and wash some dishes. Maybe you’ll only have time to wash one item, but if you do it during every spare moment, you’ll have everything washed by the time you’re finished cooking. Then all that remains for after-dinner washing will be the dishes you actually used to eat with. Resist the urge to just wait and thus create a large messy pile of dishes to do at the very end of the meal. Chip away at it little by little and not only will you save time, but you won’t have to tackle a huge project at the end of the night when all you want to do is sit on the couch and relax.

2. Serve food in the dish you cooked it in

I can think of two reasons why you would want to use separate serving dishes when it actually comes time to eat the meal. First, you might be having a special dinner party where nice serving dishes are a must. Second, you may be hosting a large family reunion meal where passing food around the table in serving bowls is more efficient. Fine, use the extra dishes in these situations.

But for normal daily meals, is it really necessary to scoop the food out of the dish you cooked it in to put it in a second dish that you will use to serve it in? Don’t bother doubling your work by using separate dishes to serve food when it really doesn’t matter. It’s much simpler to just keep the beans in the sauce pan or the pasta in the pot. Put a hot pad on the table or keep all the food on the stove and use a buffet style of serving. Either way, you’ll be saving yourself time by not having to wash unnecessary dishes.

3. Organize your dishes & space

After the meal, prepare for washing by quickly organizing all the dishes and clearing the space you need to get the job done. Stack plates, separate utensils from everything else, etc. to better streamline your washing process. The easier it is to grab, the faster you’ll be able to wash it.

4. Soak dishes

In certain cases (see the next point) soaking can be a real time saver. If you just emptied a glass baking dish of crusty breaded chicken and are now going to attempt to wash it, consider whether soaking it now and leaving it for later might actually save you time. You aren’t procrastinating, you’re just using your time more efficiently. Why? It might take you 10 minutes now to scrape all that crusty stuck-on food off the dish, but if you soak it for a few hours in nice hot, soapy water first, it might only take you one minute to finish the job later.

5. Don’t soak dishes

While there is a time to soak dishes (see above), there’s also a time NOT to soak dishes. Soaking can be a real temptation—why wash now what you can wash later, right? When soaking isn’t necessary to remove stuck-on food, then just wash those dishes right away! You don’t want to have to come back to your kitchen later in the day forgetting how you procrastinated earlier and be disappointed that you have a bunch of dishes to wash.

6. Wash as a team

When my family does dishes while we’re having a reunion at my parent’s lake home, we always wash as a team to make it go faster. Why stick one person on the job when using two or three will get the task done in half the time? We have one person wash, one person dry, and one person put the dishes away. At home, this is a great task for kids.

7. Load the dishwasher efficiently

If you have a dishwasher, then there’s something to be said about loading it efficiently. dishwasherDon’t overload (because then some dishes will not get properly clean), but be careful not to waste space. Running a load uses water, energy, and time so it’s important to make the most of it all.

8. Air dry dishes

To save not only time but also money, consider just letting your dishes air dry. Whether you use a dishwasher or you hand-wash dishes, allowing them to dry on their own can save you time because you will avoid meticulously drying each dish separately with a towel. For dishwasher users, simply turn off your unit’s official energy-using ‘drying’ cycle and just open the door—after the dishes have had time to air dry, you can put them away without spending any unnecessary time (or money).

Reader Reflection

Have you found any creative time-saving solutions when it comes to washing dishes? Please share!

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It’s now November and there’s no denying that Christmas is just around the corner! Perhaps you decided to get going on your Christmas list-making & shopping early this year to get a head start and avoid the rush. Or maybe you’re putting off thinking about what you could possibly buy your dear grandmother or your Uncle Bob because you know how stressful and expensive it can be to go Christmas shopping! No matter where you are in your Christmas planning, I’d like to offer a simple solution for you to consider this year: homemade gifts!

christmas-tree-lights

But aren’t homemade gifts just a lot of work?

Not feeling very creative? Or are you recalling a messy glue incident with your child’s last school craft project? Don’t worry, even though homemade gifts take some effort, there are several reasons why going homemade for certain gifts this year will only benefit you:

  • Homemade gifts are usually cheaper. Let’s get the obvious out the way here: homemade gifts have the potential to be so much cheaper than gifts you have to buy. While there is of course some cost involved in making gifts (materials, time, etc.), it is significantly lower and will result in your holiday budget retaining a little extra cash.
  • Homemade gifts are often more meaningful. Do you think your mom really wants yet another knick knack to put in her cabinet? Maybe, but consider how much more she would love a meaningful gift from the heart…something that shows her how you feel about her and how grateful you are for her years of service to you as your mother. That’s not to say that a store-bought gift cannot achieve the same goal, but it’s true more often than not that homemade gifts offer you a better chance to show the recipient how much you care.
  • Homemade gifts are less stressful. Avoid the crowded department stores and create your gifts from the quiet (or sometimes quiet) of your own home. Stop aimlessly wandering through shop after shop to find the ‘perfect’ gift that doesn’t exist and instead make them something you know they’ll love. Christmas is stressful enough already so you should do what you can to reduce any unnecessary stress.
  • Homemade gifts are fun! Even if you don’t consider yourself to be particularly creative, most people usually find some enjoyment in making something. And if you are the creative type, then homemade gifts will be perfect for you—not only will you enjoy the three benefits outlined directly above, but you’ll have a lot of fun in the process!

I’ll Be Homemade for Christmas

Every Thursday until Christmas, this fun series will provide useful homemade gift ideas within the following six categories: photos (11/13), arts & crafts (11/20), plants (11/27), food (12/4), words (12/11), and services (12/18). Each week I’ll spotlight a gift idea I’ve successfully used in the past. Then I’ll list a couple other alternative ideas within the category to give you more concepts to work with. Finally I’ll wrap it up with further related homemade gift ideas from around the web. Hopefully each week you’ll be able to find something that suits your style!

Reader Reflection

If you have any creative gift ideas that fit into the above six categories and you’d like me to mention them my future posts, drop a link here in a comment or send me a message from my contact page.

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Yesterday I told the tale of how (and why) I started cutting my husband’s hair at home. After much money saved, I admit that this practice is not necessarily for everyone. For example, I don’t cut my own hair. And perhaps someone in your family has a very complex style that they will only let a professional handle. But just because you don’t cut hair at home doesn’t mean you can’t also share in the money savings. Today I want to offer four more easy tips to help you cut cost when it comes to cutting your hair.

1. Have a friend do it

Maybe your household hasn’t produced any brave barbers to date, but that doesn’t mean you can’t seek out a friend who does have the skills. And if you insist on some kind of payment as thanks, you could offer to do them a favor of equal value, such as cooking them a meal or walking their dog.

2. Find a cheaper hair cutting service

Perhaps you go to your favorite barber out of loyalty, but sometimes a fancy hair boutique might be charging two or three times as much as a discount hair salon like Cost Cutters or Fantastic Sams. While a different person might be cutting your hair every time you go in, the money you save will more than make up for it.

3. Look for coupons before you go

Every time I get my hair cut, I have my husband find me a coupon on the internet. For example, he signed up a long time ago on Cost Cutters’ own website and they send out coupons by email regularly.  A quick google search for other hair salon chain coupons also yields several results.

4. Get your hair cut less frequently

For certain styles this doesn’t really work, but if your hair style will allow it, then sometimes a way to save money is to wait longer between cuts. You don’t want to wait too long (this can lead to unhealthy split ends and breakage), but you might not need to go as often as you currently go. I tend to get my hair cut about every four to six months. My hair grows a lot during this time, but then it’s kind of fun to get it all cut off again!

Reader Reflection

Have you found any creative ways to save money on haircuts? Please share!

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Several months ago my husband came to me with a proposition. Let me provide you with some necessary background information before I go into the details. First of all, my husband is the ultimate deal-finder. He loves to save money and discover great prices. Secondly, my husband works from home and really finds it inconvenient to have to drive all the way into town just to get a haircut (we live out in the boonies). You can see where this is going…his proposition was to have me cut his hair at home and he had found a great deal on a home-hair-cutting kit.

My first reaction went something like this, “Um, are you crazy? I can’t cut your hair!” But then he laid on the encouragement, thick. He told me he thought I would do a fine job…it couldn’t be that hard, right? Next he offered me another selling point—he did the math on how much money we would save. The home kit he found (Wahl Haircut Kit) happened to be on super clearance that day with a rebate, so it carried the low price of just $9. My husband’s regular haircuts cost $15 each and he had been going about four times a year (that’s $60 a year if you’re counting). He also pointed out the money we could save in gas and the time he would gain since he wouldn’t have to drive into town for a cut anymore. I couldn’t deny the obvious benefits.

He bought the kit. I wasn’t completely on board, but I told him I’d give it a try since his arguments were so good. The kit arrived and sat on the shelf until my husband’s hair was getting so long I had to cut it. Yes, I was putting it off, mostly because I still wasn’t too confident in my abilities. So, we picked a time one afternoon and I cut his hair. And you know what happened? I actually did an decent job. I was hired.

home-hair-cut

You can cut hair at home too

Now that we’ve done it a few times, I can safely say that although I’m not going to open my own barber shop, I’m glad to cut my husband’s hair! Once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty easy and as I stated above, the money savings are too good to pass up. Now since I initially had such a hard time being convinced to even consider such an idea, I thought it would be useful to outline some tips here to encourage you also to give it a try. This won’t be a tutorial on how to cut hair, but rather just some advice I learned along the way that will help you get started and ultimately get you on your way to some real money savings.

  • Set aside some time to learn about the art of cutting hair. I’m not saying you should take a class or read a book. All I did was watch a couple of videos on YouTube. That seemed to be enough information to at least get started.  Furthermore, hair-cutting kits certainly do come with useful instruction manuals.
  • It helps if your customer is patient and forgiving. I couldn’t have asked for a better first customer. My husband had the utmost faith in my abilities and was extremely patient. He encouraged me every step of the way and didn’t even seem too concerned that I could make a mistake that would cause him to not want to go out in public (I didn’t). So, you can’t force your customer to act this way, but you can tell him or her that it would help you do a much better job.
  • Don’t expect your initial cutting job to take ten minutes. I admit that the first time I cut my husband’s hair, it took about an hour—far longer than a cut would have taken at the barber shop. But it’s important to take your time while you are still getting the hang of it. You don’t want to make any rash mistakes because you’re trying to be as good as any professional your first attempt.
  • Cut conservatively the first time. What I mean by this is that you should start by cutting off small amounts first, until you get the hang of it. If you go in full right away, you won’t be leaving yourself much (if any) room for errors. It will take longer this way, but it’s also a safer approach.
  • Be careful!. Hair-cutting scissors and razors are naturally pretty sharp (so they get the job done). That’s why it’s important that you be very careful when handling these potentially dangerous tools for the first time. I cut myself early on because I was trying to go too fast.
  • Take the job outside. We made a rookie mistake our first time around and cut my husband’s hair in the dining room. Hair was EVERYWHERE. We now cut outside and let the wind blow it away. Trust me, this is so much easier!
  • Have fun! This is a great time to get to have some one-on-one time with your customer, whether it’s your spouse or your child. Talk, laugh, and enjoy it, just like at the barber shop.
  • Don’t worry, the next time will be easier. If you can find as good of a deal on a hair-cutting kit as we did, your kit will have already paid for itself after just one cut! And take heart, you will only get better as you practice more.

Home hair-cutting isn’t necessarily for everyone

While I now cut my husband’s hair at home regularly, I still don’t cut my own hair (nor do I ask my husband to do it). If my hair were just simple and all one length, then perhaps I would give it a shot, but I have complicated layers like many women so I still like to go get my haircut professionally. However, choosing to abstain from cutting hair at home doesn’t mean there aren’t other creative ways to save money. Tomorrow we’ll look at four ways you can save a few bucks on haircuts if you can’t (or won’t) cut at home.

Reader Reflection

Do you give haircuts at home? I’d love to hear any interesting stories!

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