Breaking up with service providers is hard to do

— -- Joanne Paholak agonized for months.

This decision would save time and money. But it could also hurt the feelings — as well as affect the income — of someone she cared about.

Finally last spring, she did it. Paholak broke ties with the hairstylist she'd seen for about 25 years.

She now visits the Great Clips chain near her Southfield, Mich., home to get her close-cropped hair cut. The price is about 80% less. And since no appointment is required, she can stop in whenever she has a free moment.

Parting ways "was very, very hard to do," she says. "It had become quite a close relationship as a hairdresser and client."

But as her stylist upgraded to increasingly chic salons, her prices kept rising. And Paholak, who is 68 and retired, realized she was spending way too much on the trims she received about every five weeks.

Faced with a volatile stock market, reduced home values and shrinking incomes, many folks are making the often-awkward decision to leave long-standing hairdressers, fitness trainers, housekeepers and other personal service providers.

A quarter of respondents have left one or more service providers to save money, according to a September BIGinsight poll conducted for USA TODAY.

Slightly more than half now do the tasks themselves; 26% found a less-expensive provider; and 23% decided they no longer needed the service.

A separate survey from America's Research Group and UBS found that nearly half of respondents who have cut spending decided to reduce lawn service visits and do more landscaping themselves.

Nearly 20% now cut their kids' hair, while 15% shear their own locks, the survey also found.

It's about the bottom line

Rising financial pressures and the plethora of ways to find less-expensive services mean more folks who once didn't have the desire — or nerve — to move on are doing just that, says Kit Yarrow, psychology department chair at Golden Gate University.

"There's less inertia," she says.

Online review sites such as help people locate new providers, as well as get peer feedback on those services. Group-buying sites such as LivingSocial let folks test new services at deep discounts.

And for those who want to handle a task themselves, there's a variety of tools (such as manicure sets and eyebrow-waxing kits) as well as myriad magazines, TV shows and online videos that give instructions on everything from hairstyling to car repairs.

With the unemployment rate hovering around 9%, those without jobs have less money and more time to tackle the chores they used to outsource, says Caitlin Moldvay, analyst at research group IBIS.

And some folks enjoy the bragging rights that come with their new self-reliance.

"There is less shame — and even pride — in cheaping out with do-it-yourself solutions," says psychologist Yarrow.

Although she works full time, Kristen Dennis is making time to tackle more duties around her San Diego home. "I'm doing more DIY projects and calling on a handyman less often," she says.

She also traded in her professional colorist for L'Oreal dye purchased with coupons.

"I went from spending close to $200 every six weeks to $6," she says.

Craig Biddle, a retired attorney who lives in Incline Village, Nev., left his hairdresser of 15 years. His wife, Pat, now does the job with store-bought electric clippers.

Sales of Intuit's TurboTax Online were up 18% for the recent tax-filing season this April as folks opted for its $80-and-less tax preparation instead of paying hundreds to an accountant.

Mark Gershman cut across the board: He parted ways with his personal trainer, traded in a high-end hair stylist for a regular barber and has the landscaper come less often.

"While the services they offer are beneficial, they aren't necessary," says Gershman, who works in sales in Scottsdale, Ariz. "Putting food on the table, paying the light bill and filling your car with gas are today's realities and essentials. Anything past that is prioritized as to what gets spent on what."

Business gets personal

It makes sense to scale back during tough economic times. Yet, leaving a service provider — particularly a long-standing one — has a different emotional feel than buying cheaper groceries, cutting back on clothing purchases or shelving an annual vacation.

It means severing ties with a person who touches them (hairdressers, personal trainers), visits their homes (landscapers, nannies, housekeepers) or knows intimate information about them (accountants, as well as hairdressers, personal trainers and others).

"There is a reason why these are called personal services," says clinical psychologist Irene Levine. "They are one-on-one personal relationships."

In addition to the emotional concerns, there are practical matters as well, says Jodyne Speyer, author of Dump 'Em: How To Break Up With Anyone From Your Best Friend to Your Hairdresser.

For instance, housekeepers and dog walkers often have keys to their clients' homes.

And friends and family sometimes share the same provider. So when one client decides to part ways, the remaining clients can be left to answer questions about why that relationship didn't work out, she says.

As if the potential for complications isn't big enough, throw social media into the mix. A client may part ways with a personal trainer, but they can remain connected through Facebook, LinkedIn or e-mail blasts that the trainer sends out to current and former clients.

So while it may seem silly to some, feeling anxious about ending such a professional association is normal, says Maryann Troiani, a clinical psychologist and author of Change Your Underwear— Change Your Life.

"When you interact with people, there's a bond that develops," she says.

For those who have spent years with a housekeeper, hairdresser or personal trainer, the parting process can be as stressful as breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend.

There's often anxiety in deciding whether to stay with a known entity or try something new, Troiani says.

And just like a business owner who has to lay off a long-standing employee, many clients worry about how this decision will affect another person's life.

There are worries about making someone angry or upset, or even imparting financial strain, Troiani says. "Because, like it or not, you're supporting them.

Those awkward moments

The overload of emotions can paralyze people. Some can ruminate for months without taking any action, psychologists say.

Others get so jarred by the idea of confrontation that they simply cut ties without saying a word. They never make another appointment and avoid any follow-up calls or e-mails.

New York City hairstylist Eva Scrivo says she knows women who "dodge and hide from former stylists" even ducking behind cars or sliding into stores if they see their ex-hairdresser on the street.

"They are afraid to run into them because they never explained why they left the relationship," she says. "They feel bad because there isn't closure."

Paholak grappled with how to orchestrate the breakup, but knew that disappearing wasn't an option.

"There was no way I could just not go back again," she says. "I couldn't leave her wondering what the heck was going on."

She sought the advice of friends and another hairstylist. Her decision: write a letter saying that while the friendship and service meant a lot to her, she was moving on — and that perhaps they might meet up one day again for lunch.

Paholak and her ex-stylist exchanged holiday cards last year, but they haven't spoken since. And the lunch never happened.

"I felt terrible (because) I had been such a long-term, loyal client," she says.

But she doesn't regret the move. "It was a hard decision," she says. "But I don't have second thoughts."