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Free, Discounted Services Stretch Budget

Consumers get hairstyling, dental and small-business bargains at student-run clinics.

BOSTON (TheStreet) -- Cash-strapped Americans let haircuts, massages and even dental care go by the wayside in a tough economy.

But those willing to seek out services at schools, and student-run clinics and salons, will find that such luxuries and necessities can still be affordable -- or even free. It turns out that "back-to-school savings" means much more than an electronics sale at

Target

(TGT) - Get Report

or

Wal-Mart

(WMT) - Get Report

.

Haircuts and beauty

Thanks to the cachet of namesake stylist and business man Vidal Sassoon, a haircut at a swanky

Sassoon

salon costs up to $125, while color services can cost as much as $250. But those willing to brave the student stylists at the company's Sassoon Academy hairstyling schools pay a mere $22 for a haircut and as little as $26 for a dye job.

Salon academy students must complete at least 600 hours of a 1600-hour training program before they can cut hair in the salon clinics, which operate in San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles.

"They practice on doll heads, each other, and their friends and family before they go to the public," says Wayne Woodruff, principal of the Sassoon Academy in Santa Monica, Calif. He adds that many of the clinic stylists are continuing-education students who already have worked as professional stylists for years, but are returning to the academy for a refresher course.

Bargain hunters should be warned that a student styling session, which is always supervised by a professional stylist, will take a while.

"Cutting services usually take about two hours, because it is a rigorous step-by-step procedure," Woodruff says.

Several other national beauty school chains offer student-salon services on the cheap, including

Empire Beauty Schools

and the

Lincoln Group's

(LINC) - Get Report

Euphoria Institute, both of which offer discounted skin services as well.

Massages

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Massage schools often operate clinics to give students the literal hands-on experience required to secure a massage-therapy license. The Cortiva Institute, which runs 10 massage-therapy schools across the U.S., offers 60-minute supervised massages for $35. (Compare that with a specialty massage at

The Spa at Mandarin Oriental

in New York, which costs $315 to $325.)

Small-business services

Many trade schools run programs in which students provide business services, pro bono, just to garner experience.

A key example is the Senior Projects program at

Devry University

(DV)

, which has 90 locations across North America. The program enables local businesses to tap teams of students for help with a range of services, including accounting, marketing, social networking and graphic design. In a recent example, a New Brunswick, N.J., student team called "The Content Management System Tigers" developed an online database for the

New Brunswick Education Foundation

.

"The one requirement consistent with all senior projects is that the project have some 'real world' connectivity," says Melanie Wright, public-relations manager for Devry's Eastern Region. "This way the students get real-world experience working on a project from beginning to end, including a business presentation."

There is no formal application process for small-business owners to get involved with the Senior Projects program, so the best bet is to get in touch with the academic affairs department, Wright says.

Dentistry

Many schools of dentistry and dental hygiene operate clinics, which offer discounted services to those for whom dental care is a budgetary stretch. Some 45 million Americans do not have dental insurance, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control.

The Tufts University School of Dental Medicine in Boston, the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and the College of Dentistry at New York University are among the top dental schools that offer discounted services to the public. NYU alone sees more than 275,000 dental patients annually.

Prospective patients should keep in mind that, as with student hair salons, student dental clinics likely will require more time in the chair than a typical dental office. But with fees that are often half those of area dental offices, that may be time well spent.

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