Haircutting 101: the Coronavirus Edition

Apr 16, 2020 / Day Job & the Practical / financial independence retire early (FIRE) / how to be creative

cyanotype outline photograms of haircutting tools hair clipper, comb, scissor
Essential Tools. Cyanotype on paper with drawing, 2020. 8x4.5 inches (variable)

“Don’t you have to cut more on this side?” My partner squirms in his chair as he looks at the mirror. Since his barbershop is closed because of COVID, I’m cutting his hair for the first time.

“Don’t move! I want to see if it’s even.”

The left side was slightly longer, but not by much.

As I’m deciding whether to trim a bit more or not, I remember a meeting with my mentor years ago during art school.

An image from my photography project wasn’t working, and I couldn’t figure out how to fix it.

“How do you know when a photograph is finished?” I asked.

Without pausing he said, “The photograph is finished when I frame it and put it on the wall.”

At the time, I thought the answer was too logical. Shouldn’t art-making have more pain and drama?

My mentor was right though. Leonardo da Vinci essentially said the same thing:

“Art is never finished, only abandoned.”

Cut Your Own Hair = Cut Your Expenses

I’ve been cutting my hair for the past 1.5 years as part of my continuing cost reduction exercise under the FIRE movement, Financial Independence, Retire Early. FIRE gave me the courage to quit my accounting job and focus on building an art career online.

There are essentially three strategies: maximize revenues, minimize expenses, and invest savings. Think of FIRE in terms of an equation:

Revenues – Expenses = Savings

I’ll write about this equation in future blog posts. Subscribe to blog updates here.

Cutting your hair is part of the second strategy. I was spending close to $80 per cut + color + tip. That’s almost $1,000/year on hair alone. Imagine what it would cost for an entire family. That would be a lot of savings if you also cut your spouse’s and kids’ hair!

Don’t only think about the annual savings. Consider the time value of money and the power of compounding. Over 10 years, $1,000/year of savings is approximately 13x that amount, so $13,000, assuming a 6% return on investment (ROI). Over 20 years, the relevant factor is about 37x, so $37,000, given the same ROI! That’s only for -one- person. Imagine if there are two or more people! That is a significant amount that could be invested for financial independence.

I decided to learn how to cut my own hair in order to save that money.

Since barbershops and salons are closed during the COVID-19 lockdown, now may be the perfect time for you to make the switch to cutting your own hair. So, I want to recommend tools, videos, and a shift in mindset that hopefully will fast track your learning.

Haircutting Tools During the Pandemic

I assembled this list of tools, which are for men only, after watching countless YouTube videos. I include affiliate links in case you buy what I recommend.

Essential Tools

Nice to Have

  • Self-Cut System Three-Way Mirror. I love this mirror! You hang it over the door, and it makes it easier to see the back of your head when cutting.

For the Fun of It, Why Not?

The last section is for an authentic barbershop and salon experience. I only use mine occasionally so you can skip them.

YouTube Haircutting Videos

I just checked YouTube, and there are tons of videos on cutting hair during the coronavirus pandemic. You can just search for one, especially if you want to cut your kid’s hair.

This was the video that convinced me to cut my own hair. Watch how this guy blocks the part of the hair he doesn’t want to cut? That ensures you don’t make a tragic mistake!

I also learned from beginnercutz on YouTube, but he seems to have taken down his videos. This one shows him guest-posting in the Self-Cut system channel. I love this mirror.

Adopt an Artist Mindset

Cutting your own or someone else’s hair for the first time will be scary. Changing your mindset will help.

Don’t Aim for Perfection

Just like creating art, don’t aim for perfection at the outset. Your haircut will not be as polished as the barbershop’s. What helps me is to think about the cost savings. You could get a haircut every three weeks with no additional cost! I repeatedly bring up cost in this blog because I believe achieving financial independence(FI) is the key to one’s future. FI is a vaccine that protects people from economic shocks resulting from black swan events like the one we’re going through right now. It’s convenient and fast. I usually do it right after a Saturday morning run.

Measure Twice and Cut Once

This carpentry rule is applicable here. It even applies to cutting matboards for photographs too! But I digress.

When using hair clippers, always start with a larger-sized attachment comb and work your way downwards. My clipper goes from size 8 to size 1. Size 3 is the shortest attachment comb that I use. Size 1 will show scalp so be careful.

still life of hair clipper and size attachments
Hair Clipper Attachments. Essential tools during the Coronavirus Pandemic

Go Platinum Blonde During the Pandemic

For the sharp readers out there who picked it up, I also color my hair!

I’ve had white hair since Grade 6. True story. I started using Clairol when I started my first accounting job at 20 years old. As I climbed the corporate ladder, I became lazy and just had it done.

I’d always colored my hair black or dark brown, but after discovering FIRE and giving my resignation notice, the first thing I did was get a buzz cut and bleach my hair. It was just practical! By that point, I had more white hair than black.

The first day I went to work, nobody recognized me. My coworkers were shocked that a conservative, straight-laced accountant would bleach his hair platinum blonde! Clearly, something was up. Psychologically, I was ready to go. My readiness was starting to show externally. My hair was on FIRE.

Here’s my favorite video for going platinum blonde. I simplified the process for my own purposes. I only do one bleaching session (instead of two), and I cut the time down to 10 minutes (instead of 1 hour). I also don’t do the color step, just the bleaching step. This works for me because I mostly have white hair, so I can get away with these drastic modifications. Also, I don’t seek perfection, so that helps. All in all, it takes me about 45 minutes max for haircut + bleaching. I get all my bleaching supplies from Sally Beauty. The gloves I use when developing my cyanotype prints are the same ones I use of bleaching my hair. How’s that for multi-purpose!

So here’s me with the platinum blonde treatment. I just cut my hair and bleached it two days ago.

asian man with platinum blonde hair
Jonah Calinawan. With platinum blonde hair


I look at my partner’s haircut again.

“Maybe you should go platinum blonde,” I say.

“Nope, not a chance,” he says, “we’ll leave that just for you.”

“Can you fix this part though?” He motions to that problematic part on the left side.

Very gently, I run the clipper with a size 6 attachment comb through. That should do it.

He looks sharp, except for that little bit of hair still sticking out on the left. It will be covered by Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at the hospital. No one will care that it’s not perfect…there are more important things right now.

Looking at himself in the mirror one last time, he says, “It looks great, lover. Thanks.”

Art is never finished, only abandoned.

My job is done.

* * * * *

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