Geographic Arbitrage and Your Hair

Yes, you heard me. Before you write me off as completely bonkers, let me explain. Most women spend shitloads of money on haircuts. Even if they don’t have a particularly complicated hairstyle, average prices in women’s hair salons are pretty steep…

…not in Romania, it turns out. While prices in Romania are pretty comparable with those in Germany (and sometimes loads more expensive!) – food for example – some things are not. It pays to do some research and compare prices. Yesterday I got the zip on my winter boots replaced for the princely sum of €2. Today I paid €5 (including a tip) for a haircut. By a professional hairdresser with a certificate in an actual salon. Here’s the evidence:


My Romanian hairdresser in action

This is part of the fun of FI and minimalism. I love trying to find creative ways to get a better deal. It’s not (just) me being cheap. But I resent paying upwards of €30 every time I need someone to chop a few centimetres off my short, poker straight hair. Mr W has offered to do it for free but I think I’d need to be pretty drunk to agree to that one – I’m not that cheap! The salon people would also try to put tonnes of goop and hairspray and God knows what else in my hair unless I was really, really insistent that I didn’t want any, and they would spend ages drying it so it stuck up in a big puffy way around my face. This seems to be universal and not something that got lost in translation. They did that to me in Scotland as well. I would rush home from the salon hoping I wouldn’t run into anyone I knew in the street and wash my hair as soon as I got home to get all the goop and puffiness out of it. It was annoying. Very annoying.

But then I discovered the joys of the provincial Romanian hair salon. The lady thinks I’m cute because of my broken Romanian and treats me a bit like I’m mentally retarded. When I say I don’t want any goop in my hair she puts down the aerosol spray can. She even lets me dry my own hair even though she gives me funny looks. I think she just has me down as a crazy foreigner. Sometimes it helps to play that card.

Me and Mr W are trying to apply this principle to other stuff we pay through the nose for in Germany. Since we track every cent we spend, we can compare prices really easily. Here are some other things we’ve also successfully applied the geographic arbitrage formula to:

  • Teeth cleaning and other dental work
  • Non-essential medical stuff like blood tests: Mr W wants to know if he has any serious disease. He has no symptoms; he just watched some health documentaries and got curious.
  • Mind-blowing 50 cent fast food (hungarian “lángos” with sour cream, cheese and garlic) with enough fat and carbs to light up a small city for an hour or so.
  • Organic fruit, veg and wine: Mr W’s Dad made 150 litres of organic wine this year. How do we know it’s organic? He pinched the grapes from a tree growing in the churchyard that nobody had cultivated for years. So far, God hasn’t struck him down by lighning. We’re working on destroying the evidence…

Ok, so we’re never going to become millionaires by saving a few Euros on little day-to-day things. That’s not the point. It’s a game. It’s a hobby. It’s become a bit of an obsession. We’re here in Romania for another month, so we have plenty of time to sniff out other good deals. We’ll keep you posted…

Don’t conveniently spend loads of time in low-cost countries? You don’t have to. Just by being aware of the price you pay for things at home can help you notice great deals while you’re on holiday, or even if you just travel to another city within your home country. Once you catch the mindfulness bug, it never lets go.

Do you do geographic arbitrage on random goods and services? What deals have you found? Did you have any bad experiences? Tell us your stories in the comments.