Sunk Costs, Paralysis By Analysis, And Why I Finally Cut My Hair Short
I cut my hair. A lot of my hair. Most of my hair, in fact. Yes indeed, today I am writing about hair. I will cover other thrilling topics such as the sunk cost fallacy and paralysis by analysis. But mostly, this is a post about my hair. With more pictures of my hair than is reasonable.
Mr. Frugalwoods told me I should tell you this at the outset because he felt that people should be forewarned they were about to read about hair. I countered that in the past, I’ve written missives on a screen door, bananas, and popcorn. Hair does not feel like a departure from these high-brow topics. I hope you agree.
Me + My Long Hair = A Dying Love
I loved my long hair two times a year: 1) When I had a photo taken (see photo at right, taken by Mr. FW for my book jacket); and 2) When I went out to dinner (with my husband, without our kids) and had enough time to wash, blow dry, and curl it beforehand. You can guess how often that happened. So… maybe more like once a year.
The rest of the time, I dragged around an entire fur coat’s worth of useless hair. It was always in a bun. And by always, I mean every hour of every day.
Morning time? Hair’s in a bun. Evening time? Hair’s in a bun. Bedtime? Still in a bun. Clean hair? Right into a bun. Dirty hair? Definitely in a bun. There was no variety in where my hair was at any given time. I’m a fan of the bun and my hair looks good in a good bun. But it takes time to make a good bun and time is what I do not have. So let’s clarify: my hair was in a messy bun.
The other demerit is that it took me a long time to wash my long hair. It also took me a long time to brush my long hair. It took me upwards of ten minutes to comb out the tangles after washing it. All the while, my children circled my legs, begging for drinks of water and a pet unicorn to ride through the house. The usual.
I should mention that my hair wasn’t just long, it’s also thick. Rope thick. Super thick. Could-manage-a-real-life-Rapunzel thick. Thick, long hair–sounds glorious, right? And it was glorious if I had the time and energy and motivation to do something with it. Something includes washing.
Thick, long hair is great in theory and great if you have lots of hair-related time and patience and/or a hair styling team at your disposal. Basically if you’re the opposite of me.
My Connection To My Hair
I made peace with the fact that my hair was more burden than blessing about a year ago. Then I spent an entire year waffling about cutting it. I knew I could make my life easier by letting go of my mane, but long hair was part of my identity. I like how I looked those two times per year (photo of the second time at right. Seriously my hair never looked like that, which is why I’ll need to photoshop in updated pictures of my kids as they age… It’s going to get awkward to paste Littlewoods into my arms, but I will find a way).
It’s vain, yes, and it’s frivolous, yes, and it’s trifling. It’s also embarrassing to ponder my hair so much when I consider the global challenges we face and the financial struggles of so many underserved populations and on and on. So then I’d stop thinking about it and continue on with my curtain of tangled hair.
I also fell victim to the sunk cost fallacy. I’d spent years growing my hair long, I was invested in its length, and I liked it long. I concluded I couldn’t just cut it all off–even if shorter hair would make me happier. The sunk cost fallacy is when we do something we don’t want to do because of the time/money/energy we’ve already invested in the process. Knowing the behavioral economics behind my problem helped. Sort of. But it didn’t change the fact that I was emotionally attached to my long hair. To combat this, I embarked on a tour of hair-related research.
How Short Is Too Short?
I needed to figure out how short I should go. Sounds melodramatic, I know, since we’re talking about HAIR here, but it felt monumental to me. I initially considered super duper short and perhaps even a Pixie cut (which is essentially a long buzz cut) and I haven’t ruled that option out for the future. The freedom and ease of no hair is alluring. To be able to shower and go! At any time! I’m tempted to this day.
I sourced recommendations. I grilled my sister-in-law, who has an awesome super short cut. I grilled all other ladies I came across with super short cuts. If you were one of those ladies, I’m sorry I accosted you in a public place and demanded to know things about your hair. It was for research purposes, I assure you.
What I gleaned from this data collection is as follows:
- Short lady hair cuts require frequent trimming to maintain the style. I couldn’t find anyone who trims their own super short hair.
- Short lady hair isn’t necessarily less work than long lady hair.
- Pixie cuts are less work and can be cut at home, but they are really, really, really short.
- Ladies were very kind to me as I accosted them about their hair and answered my questions with thoughtful kindness. Thank you, ladies.
I wasn’t prepared to plunge from waist-long hair to ear-long hair, so I decided to take a middle road. Having ruled out super short lady hair (for the moment), I then went in pursuit of data on bob haircuts. I polled friends. I polled Mr. FW (until he was tired of being polled and asked me to please just do whatever I wanted with my hair). I began researching hair salons. And then, I stopped.
The Spiral of Paralysis by Analysis and the Myth of More Choice
I closed my 7,487 tabs of photos of “bob-length hairstyles for thick hair.” I stopped texting my friends for local salon recommendations. I went outside on a hike through our woods to reflect. I was going down the rabbit hole of research and was about to step onto the carousel of consumerism. Paralysis by analysis happens when we over-analyze or over-research something to the point that we can’t take action. We stymie our progress through our own over-thinking. This is what I was doing. I was throwing resources (time and energy) at my hair because I was insecure, I was unsure, and I wanted perfection. Each of those emotions can fuel spending and spur paralysis by analysis.
I went back and re-read something I’d written a few years ago: The Sneaky Way That Frugality Fixes Paralysis By Analysis. In that post, I stipulate that buying used–and by extension, frugality–is a way to reduce stress and deliver you from the crippling conundrum of too many choices. More choices do not make us happier (per behavioral economics research) and the more we buy, the more choices we have to make. Thus, the less happy we are.
I often forget what I’ve written and I often forget the mini-revelations I’ve had on my journey to simplicity. I have to learn the same lessons over and over again. It’s not enough for me to commit to a lifestyle one time. I have to remind myself on the regular. I realized I’d entered into a wave of justifications about my hair and the money and time I was about to spend on it.
Once I realized this, I knew my answer: I’d have Mr. FW cut my hair short and we’d see how it went. We’d figure it out together. I’ve always heard that you can’t DIY a short haircut. But I was willing to try. Worst that happens? I have weird, short hair for awhile. Hair grows back, people.
My primary motivator for doing this wasn’t to save money, it was to save time. I’d already invested too much time resolving that I needed shorter hair. I did not want to spend another several hours finding a salon, making an appointment, driving there and back…. and then need to repeat the ordeal in a few months. Of course I saved money too, which is why home haircuts are my very favorite double frugal win.
Cut Your Own Hair: Save Money FOREVER
As you might’ve guessed, haircuts are things most of us need more than once in our lives. By having my husband cut my hair for free, I’m not just saving on this one haircut, I’m saving on haircuts every year. For the rest of my life. Mr. FW started cutting my hair in February 2015 and I’d calculate that in these four years, I’ve saved upwards of $1,600 on haircuts (that’d be a conservative four cuts per year at $100 per cut, which is what I used to pay for my haircuts).
And I’m young, people, I’m going to need haircuts for a looooooooooong time. Mr. FW, for his part, has had me buzzing his hair for nigh on seven years, which I calculate has saved upwards of $3,360!!!!!!!! That’s two buzzes per month–which is what we do–at $20 per buzz (which is what his barber in Cambridge charged). Combined, our haircut insourcing has saved us $4,960. That’s not nothing! Minus, of course, the $20 we spent on our Wahl Hair Cutting kit, which is still going strong seven years after purchase (that’s an affiliate link).
Here are the tutorials I wrote on how Mr. FW used to cut my long hair and how I (to this day) cut his hair:
Furthermore, I started cutting Kidwoods’ hair last year, so that’s another chunk of change saved! (Pro tip: cut a toddler’s hair while they’re watching television. DO NOT attempt to do so at any other time. Works best to cut it while it’s wet. I spray her hair with a water bottle, comb it back and trim across the bottom with a pair of sharp scissors.)
I want to be crystal clear: there is nothing wrong with paying to have your hair cut. This is not a treatise on why everyone should DIY their haircuts. Rather, this is an exercise in introspection about the allocation of our resources: our time, our money, our energy, and how we square that with our desire for perfection. It’s also an invitation to do the math and see how much you’d save if you did cut your own hair. Home haircuts are not perfect, but I’ve decided I’m willing to sacrifice perfection in order to gain back time and save money.
How My Husband Cut My Hair Short
Mr. FW was apprehensive when I presented this plan to him. Apprehensive might not be a strong enough word. He’s been an excellent long-hair-trimmer these past four years, but cutting short hair entails a new level of mastery. Plus, I had zero interest in spending six hours on YouTube learning how to cut short hair, so we just went for it.
Here’s what we did and, based on the below, I don’t even need to mention the disclaimer that I am not a hair-cutting expert. That’ll be obvious.
How Mr. FW cut my hair into a short bob:
- I parted my dry hair in its usual spot.
- I put my hair into a low ponytail because I wanted it short, but not too short for a ponytail.
- Mr. FW used our Wahl clippers (the very same I use to buzz his hair) to buzz off my hair (affiliate link).
- We watched as a foot of hair fell to the ground.
- Wow, that’s a lot of hair, we said.
- I washed my hair.
- Mr. FW cleaned up the straggling strands with a pair of scissors while my hair was still wet.
We decided to cut my hair while it was dry on the rationale that we didn’t want to get it too short. We succeeded and I decided I wanted it even shorter, so we repeated the above process TWO more times over the course of a week until it was as short as I wanted. This is another fabulous benefit of at-home haircuts: you can keep changing your mind and cutting off more!
I then realized that, with hair this short, I wasn’t going to pull it into a low ponytail anymore because there’s not enough hair to go into a bun, which was the primary reason for my low ponytails.
- The advantage of parting my hair on the side and pulling it into a low ponytail prior to cutting is that it yielded lovely angles toward my face.
- The problem is that I never wear my hair completely down. What with children and chores, I do not want or need hair flopping into my face. I need hair out of my face. Hair in my face = RAGE.
- The other problem is that there were some weirdly long strands at the back of my head.
Back to the clippers we went, this time without a ponytail.
- I again parted my dry hair and Mr. FW used the clippers to even out the back, making it shorter than the front, which preserved the nice angles toward my face.
I usually wear the top half of my hair pulled back into a clip so that it’s out of my face. I can also pull it into a high ponytail for extra face-free action (the bottom half won’t go up into the ‘tail, but I can either clip it up with little clips or just let it hang).
I love it. I absolutely love it. And I’m not just saying that because my hair stylist is reading this. It feels SO GOOD to be rid of the mop I was lugging around. My head is lighter. I’ve been told I look “20 years old,” “younger,” “sassy,” and also “hip.” Thank you, friends, I will take all of it. I am aware that I don’t actually look 20, nor do I want to, but I like the sentiment. I turned 35 last month and I’m proud of my age. I’m happy with my wrinkles–I mean, not “happy” exactly–but I accept them. I want to age with grace. I don’t want to try and look 20, but I also don’t want to look prematurely aged. Although having two kids, let me tell you, is the precise recipe to yield premature aging. P.S. I don’t edit photos of myself, tempting as that is… Hence all the eye wrinkles in the below pic.
I feel like my long hair represented me clinging to my past. To a time when I was younger and had fewer children (as in, zero) and a desire to style my hair. Even if I had the time these days, I have no interest in spending long minutes in front of the mirror. I want to wash, dress, and go. I want to use my time for something more important than fixing my hair. Shorter hair lets me do that.
Advantages of my short hair:
- It takes MUCH less time to wash.
- I’ve stopped blow drying it because it’s short enough to air dry (my long hair took DAYS to air dry. I’m not kidding. This meant my head was freezing in the wintertime unless I blow dried my hair).
- Since I don’t have to blow dry anymore, it takes MUCH less time to style.
- I can make my hair look decent in about three minutes.
- It’s easier to wear my winter hat because I don’t need to pull my hair back into a bun, which didn’t fit under the hat and always gave me a headache. Oh the travails of winter sports and hair….
- It doesn’t hurt when my kids pull on my hair or tangle it around their fingers. It’s so short that somehow, it’s much less painful. Advantageous since one of Littlewood’s primary hobbies is riding around in the backpack pulling on my hair. So fun, apparently.
Disadvantages of my short hair:
- I can’t put it into a bun. Sometimes, I miss my bun. But mostly, I am happy to see it go.
Trying Out The Curly Girl Method
As you might’ve noticed, in addition to being thick, my hair is naturally wavy. Since I no longer need to blow dry it in order to prevent my head from freezing into a sheet of ice, I can let it air dry wavy/curly. Based on this new hair information, my friends informed me of the Curly Girl method, which I’m still largely confused about but am muddling through with the help of other curly ladies (thank you to A, especially). It essentially involves not washing your hair with shampoo, not blow drying it, and doing other curl-friendly activities. I love the idea of encouraging my hair’s natural proclivity to curl as that makes styling all the easier…. as in, I don’t have to do much of anything after getting out of the shower. That’s my kind of hair. If you’re a Curly Girl devotee, share your tips with me!
My Lifelong Journey Of Simplicity and Frugality
You’ll notice I said “lifelong journey OF simplicity and frugality” not”lifelong journey TO simplicity and frugality.” This distinction is important because I don’t think I’ll ever arrive at simplicity and frugality. In the past, I myself declared my own self to be at peak frugality, only to later discover new ways to save. Only to later backslide and spend more money.
I think I’m done declaring “mission accomplished.” More like “mission ongoing and mission fruitful.” Put that on a banner. Enshrining simplicity and frugality into my life are ongoing efforts. It’s not like I woke up one day five years ago, put on my thrift store dress, walked outside, broke into song, and declared myself frugal and simple.
It’s a journey. It’s a lifelong effort to be conscious of the decisions I make. And I will grant you–right here and now–that many folks will consider this much rumination on hair to be wasted time. But it’s not for me.
We each have to identify our priorities and one of my priorities is looking moderately decent with very little expense or effort. I want to feel good about how I look and I want to achieve that in a short amount of time. Without a hairdryer or curling iron or fancy styling products.
I let my hair go for the past two years and, through that experience, learned that I’m not OK with letting my appearance deteriorate. Not entirely, anyway. I don’t need a full face of makeup or an expensive haircut or a manicure–all of which I used to have–but I do need some things. I needed something better on top of my head than a messy bun of neglected hair that I could barely brush for all the snarls and tangles. This doesn’t make my decision right or wrong, it makes it honest. It makes it true to who I am. I don’t want to be obsessed with my appearance, but I don’t want to wholesale ignore it either.
I want to be 100% simple and frugal, which in this instance would mean getting a Pixie cut, but I can’t quite do it. Yet. Or maybe not ever. I have to–daily, hourly–find what works for me. I have to acknowledge the things I need. Those things will sound downright ridiculous to some people. And for other people, they’ll hit a nerve of recognition. Last month I discussed how buying a Roomba brought me peace. Now you know that having my husband chop off most of my hair also brought me peace. And it was free. Unlike the Roomba, which was $259.98, by the way, and worth every last penny.
How do you handle your hair? Do you cut it yourself? Go to a stylist? Buzz it all off?
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