The $10 Haircut and How It Can Save the World

I pay my son $10 each time I cut his hair.

“Wait…what?”, says you, confused.

This started when he first got his hair cut. At 13 years old, he decided his long blond hair had to go for a trim, tight, short-cut. After I cried a bit (out of his presence) I booked an appointment at a local barber shop, and we went to have his hair cut, and to donate the long locks to wigs-for-kids. 

Erik on one of our hikes in the Adirondacks

The first barber shop was in walking distance. Yet, upon our arrival, they refused to cut his hair. They were a college buzz-cut, flat-top kind of “fade” place, with incredible discomfort with 18″-long hair. Too much responsibility for them!

The second place was a family place that did the job, with everyone in the whole place looking on and applauding my son’s courage. They were great, and we went there 2-3 more times. But they were a 15 minute drive from our house, we had to make appointments weeks in advance, we often waited 15-30 minutes (it is a very popular place), and each haircut, before tip, cost $28.

I suggested to my son that he give me the chance to prove to him that I could cut his hair. “How’s this,” I scoped out with him in the car on the way home from a haircut, “I cut your hair next time, and I pay YOU ten dollars.” I figured that including the tip I would be saving maybe $25 dollars each visit, not to mention the drive time, planning, and waiting.

Dollar signs. He agreed. Excellent.

I’ve been cutting his hair for the last four years, and paying him $10 each time. To date I have avoided spending, conservatively, $500. And maybe an hour of time each time, for a net gain of 20+ hours. And he has earned more than $200.

This is not a post recommending you turn away from spending your money on local services. On the contrary, if you are spending money and time, above all please select local services and products whenever you can! We, in fact, refuse local discount cards from our independent bookstores, coffee houses, and craft-made soap stores because we will buy there anyway, and don’t want to punish them for our consistent patronage. 

This is a post about a different way to think about the challenges we face, and about applying what works for you even when it is a strange approach to those around you.

I got this idea, which I find absolutely brilliant, from John Abrams from his book The Company We Keep. His company, South Mountain, was working to create affordable housing on Martha’s Vineyard. He had a client that wanted a new, large, showpiece house, but had an old classic smaller 100-year old home on the property. It would cost tens of thousands of dollars to demolish this house and cart it away. So John’s company offered to remove the home from the property for free IF the owners donated it to be rebuilt elsewhere and IF they then took the donation tax credit they received and donated that as well to South Mountain Company to pay for that work.

In reading that proposal, what is your gut reaction? 

I suspect it was similar to the reaction of the owners in question. “Why would I donate the tax credit to you after I already donated my house?! That’s ridiculous.” But let the logic kick in; The owner started to assess the math sense. She could either pay for demolition and disposal or for removal and hauling before building a new home OR could choose, in essence, to pay nothing and gain a clean site, ready to go.


So maybe many of our current issues in the face of climate change, transition to resilience, closed-loop manufacturing, and a share-economy, are only insurmountable mostly because we are not looking holistically at the cost/benefit of the opportunity

  • Is there a way we can employ taxes more creatively? 
  • Is there a way to craft agreements to ensure the end goals are achieved and the money is activated to ensure that progress? 
  • Can we monetize more than the mere materials, labor, and energy costs, and start to comprehend the convenience factors, as in my not driving to the barber shop? 
  • How can we understand the value of a maker economy as a community builder, not just labor making or repairing “stuff”? 
  • Can we understand the value of the investments in changing our ingredients and manufacturing processes and weigh them against a true aggregation of the resultant products all the way through use/reuse/waste. For example, maybe every foam cup carries with its production a real cost related to the damage it creates in our rivers and landfills? 
  • Can we take the health benefits, millions of dollars in NY state alone in avoided healthcare, and use that risk and cost avoidance to advance installations to get us to 100% renewable energy? 
  • When is waste avoidance a benefit at several levels? (Spoiler. The answer is “always”). And how do we recognize those layers of benefit in order to create MORE waste avoidance?

Above all, and I welcome you to think about this and provide your insights, are these the questions that can can help us to think differently?

Jodi, asking with HUGE interest in your answers, 2019

Thanks for reading, and be greener!


BTW – My son, in a more recent moment.
1 Like this post (no login required)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

+ 52 = 61

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.