Curly hair on a budget

In a tough economy, you can't help but think twice about your spending habits. Where is your money really going? And, how do you decide what you can live without (and what you refuse to give up!) when it comes to caring for your curls?

We asked curl-centric stylists to share their secrets on the smartest ways to save on hair care. Here, a guide to the best cost-cutting swaps that will stretch your beauty budget, without sacrificing style.

IF YOU always pick the smaller products because you think you're spending less . . .

TRY buying the largest size, such as a liter of your favorite cleanser, conditioner or gel.

BUDGET BENEFIT: When you do the math, ounce for ounce, it's almost always cheaper! "If you know you like a product and you bought it more than once, there's no risk in going for the larger size," says Jonathan Torch of Toronto’s Curly Hair Institute.

TRADE-OFF: Yes, the bigger bottle may be a bit clunky, and take up more space in your vanity. But so what, it's worth it!

IF YOU make too-frequent salon visits to refresh fading hair color . . .

TRY color-depositing or color-safe cleansers and conditioners.

BUDGET BENEFIT: You'll make fewer (costly) trips to the colorist. "These products will preserve your color and make it last longer," says Morgan Willhite, a top stylist with the new Ouidad Salon in Santa Monica, Calif. "If you don't use them, you'll have to have the service done more often because you'll be stripping your hair color."

TRADE-OFF: There is no trade-off. You have to cleanse and condition anyway; why not choose a product that will protect your curls — and color?

IF YOU make dramatic color changes, like raven black to fiery red to platinum blond . . .

TRY staying within three levels of your natural hue, at least for now.

BUDGET BENEFIT: Again, you won't have to see your colorist as often because the new hair growth won't seem as jarring or noticeable.

TRADE-OFF: You won't have as many color options, but you can still make small changes. You don't have to always be the drama queen!

IF YOU are loyal to your salon, but don't want to spend a fortune . . .

TRY asking your salon's owner if there's an apprentice or junior-level stylist you can see once in a while for services at a more affordable price.

BUDGET BENEFIT: The cost of your service could be cut in half (or even complimentary), and you'll still be at a salon you know and trust, with a senior stylist overseeing the service.

TRADE-OFF: "Remember, every artist brings a different approach, a different hand," says Shari Harbinger, director of education for New York’s Devachan Salon. "Although you might get the same version of what you had, it's not going to be exactly what you've had if you're in [another stylist's] hands. Just be aware that you have to shift your expectations."

IF YOU are a product junkie . . .

TRY staying only with the salon products that you know will work well on your curls.

BUDGET BENEFIT: "In the long run you'll save because you won't be wasting money by trying everything," says Diane DaCosta, curl expert and author of "Textured Tresses."

TRADE-OFF: You won't have the excitement of experimenting with a variety of new products. But you also won't experience the disappointment of spending a bundle on a new item only to learn that it doesn't work!

IF YOU cut corners by swapping your salon product with cheaper drugstore brands . . .

TRY asking for professional advice before you buy any product. "In the end you'll get the right product and use the right amount because you have had a dialogue with a professional, as opposed to maybe grabbing three things that are cheap but end up costing more because they're not working or they're drying out your curly hair," says Kristine Milkovich, owner of Kristovich Loft salon in Seattle, Wash., and a Redken educator.

BUDGET BENEFIT: "All professional products are highly concentrated with advanced ingredients, which will last longer because you're not using as much," Milkovich says.

TRADE-OFF: You'll have to take time to research the products and talk to your stylist. But isn't it better to spend your time than waste your money?

IF YOU rush to your colorist at the first hint of new gray growth . . .

TRY highlights instead of a base color, if you can get away with it.

BUDGET BENEFIT: "Stay within a sun-kissed look, just a level or two from your natural color so it allows you to go longer in between highlights," Willhite says. Curly girls can often extend the time between touch-ups because the support from the curls can camouflage the gray. "The area that is most exposed is the hairline," adds Torch. "Head bands will completely cover the hairline and hair mascara will buy you a bit more time." You can also touch up your roots at the hairline only, rather than all over, often for a fraction of the cost, Torch says.

Try products like HC Color Fantasies, an at-home highlighting system created by Devaconcepts co-founder Denis DaSilva. It has a special patented applicator tool that creates fool-proof highlights.

TRADE-OFF: You have to be a bit more creative with your style, and a bit more relaxed (read: don't panic!) when you spot those sparse gray hairs.

IF YOU usually opt for the trendiest curly cut . . .

TRY a simpler, low-maintenance style. "Don't put too many layers in your hair because you'll have to go back to the salon more often to keep the style consistent," DaCosta says. Meanwhile, at Devachan Salon, Harbinger says stylists will often teach clients how to trim the curls around the frame of their face, if they can't make it into the salon as often. "That's the area they will see grow out the fastest," Harbinger says. "So we'll teach them how to take enough hair away to hold them over until the next full haircut."

BUDGET BENEFIT: You won't need as many haircuts, which saves time and money.

TRADE-OFF: You might miss out on a trend or two. But the hot style of the moment may not suit you anyway. So what are you missing out on? Not much.

IF YOU always opt for permanent color, even though you're less than 30% gray . . .

TRY a demi- or semi-permanent color.

BUDGET BENEFIT: "When you're trying to stretch your dollar, a demi- or semi-permanent color is faster, and we gauge our price list by how much time it takes, so you'll save money," Milkovich says. "A demi- or a semi- will also fall off on tone instead of creating a line of demarcation [when new growth comes in]." In fact, Christine Williamson of Carriage House Salon & Spa in Cambridge, Mass., is promoting Cellophane treatments this season. "It's a less expensive color enhancer that adds vibrancy and shine, it has amino acids, and will condition curly hair, which tends to be dryer," Williamson says. "It will get you through the holidays at a bargain price."

TRADE-OFF: These treatments won't necessarily lift color, so while you can darken or change the tone, you won't have as many options for change.

IF YOU return to your stylist for multiple trims to shed dead ends . . .

TRY deep conditioning treatments every week, or every two weeks, or once a month, depending on the needs of your texture.

BUDGET BENEFIT: Your haircut will last longer because your ends will be in better condition, which means fewer visits to the salon. "Remember, deep treatments are important with heat activation," says Ouidad's Willhite. "Heat opens the cuticle and allows the treatment to penetrate." Make sure to apply the treatment exactly as directed for the greatest moisturizing benefit. "And when you have enough moisture in the hair, it won't frizz as much so you won't feel the need to use as much product," adds Devachan's Harbinger, "and you won't have to cleanse and style as often."

TRADE-OFF: You'll have to take time to plan your treatments and allow for up to an hour of self-pampering a month. Extra pampering? Not exactly a chore.