Saturday, September 12, 2020

Reducing Household Expenses (Every Penny Counts)

In addition to cutting your food bill, household expenditures are a prime area you can reduce spending. I learned many of these cost-cutting hacks from my grandmother, who grew up during the Great Depression.

1.  Laundry -

Wear your clothes more than once before washing. I remember being mortified when my grandmother told me that she only had three dresses at a time during the depression. One for school, one for play, and one for church. She was tickled when I told her that she must have been stinky. She quickly assured me that only her dress for play got dusty and smelly. 

While I’m not suggesting that you wear dirty clothes or let your children run around looking like street urchins, consider wearing jeans, pajamas, and sweaters more than one time before washing.

Having a set of play clothes and school clothes for your children is a great idea. Of course, the ages of your children and their level of activity will determine how often their laundry needs washing. 

Use one bath towel a week per person. If you are using the towel to dry your clean body, there is no reason to toss it into the laundry after one use. Hang your towel up to dry, and it should last for days. Not only will you save on laundry detergent, you’ll see a reduction in your water bill.

Cut cost on your laundry supplies. Either buy less expensive detergent and softener or cut your usage in half. We often fill the measuring lid to the rim when half the amount would work just as well. 

If you are really in a financial pinch, you can make your own detergent for pennies per wash. This is the recipe that I love, but there are multiple variations available on the internet. Instead of fabric softener, use vinegar in the final rinse or make your own dryer balls by crumpling tin foil into golf-ball sized balls. You can reuse them and just two work nicely to cut static cling. 

My grandmother would often use a teaspoon or two of liquid dish soap instead of laundry detergent. It works fairly well and can double as a pretreat for stains.

If you have the space, either in your yard or basement, string up clothesline to dry your clothes for free. To get rid of the crunchy feeling that line-dried clothes seem to get, toss the clothes into your dryer while they are slightly damp. This will fluff your laundry at a fraction of the cost it takes for a full cycle.  

2.  Kitchen –

Paper towels are a luxury. Have you ever noticed how quickly a roll of paper towels disappear? We always have a clean dish towel hanging above the kitchen sink for hand drying, and yet the entire family will use a wad of paper towels in less than a day, if given the opportunity. While I do still purchase paper towels from time to time, they are the first to be cut from my purchases if money is a little tight. 

Keep a stack of old cut-up bath towels handy for drying. Worn out sheets and t-shirts can also be cut into hand towel sizes. Stitch around the edges to prevent fraying if you have a sewing machine. 

Aluminum foil, plastic wrap, and plastic Ziplock bags aren’t a necessity. Get into the habit of using reusable storage containers. If you don’t have a supply of containers, you can save butter tubs, ice cream tubs, etc. to store food. A dinner plate can serve as a lid for a bowl in the refrigerator. With a little ingenuity, you can cut costs and add less trash to the landfill. 

My grandmother saved almost everything from used tin foil, plastic bags, and empty food containers. If the item had another use left in it, she’d find it!

Save on water and dish soap/detergent by packing up half of your dishes. Do your family members get a new cup out every time they get something to drink? What about bowls, plates and silverware? If each family member has an assigned cup, plate, bowl, and silverware, the pile of dirty dishes will go down drastically. 

One of my childhood friends came from a family of ten. I was amazed how each kid washed their own plate and silverware after dinner. Not only did they NOT have a ridiculous pile of dirty dishes, each child was responsible for his or her own dinnerware. When one of them helped themselves to a drink during the day, they rinsed their cup and placed it on the counter to be used again and again. It isn’t glamorous to label everything, but it sure feels great to get rid of the problem.

Use less dish soap. As with laundry detergent, the amount of liquid soap we use could be reduced by half. Let stubborn pans soak for a half-hour or so before scrubbing. 

Knockoffs of the expensive versions often work just as well. While it’s true that some off-brand liquid dish soaps can be less effective than the brand names, I’ve found Walmart and Kroger carry an imitation of Dawn that is fantastic. 

Run the dishwasher only when it’s full. There’s no sense in wasting electricity and water for a few items. Don’t use the heat-dry option, and you’ll save even more.

Save your coffee grounds and vegetable scraps for a compost pile. You’ll be feeding next year’s garden and putting less waste into the garbage bin. 

Set your freezer and refrigerator to the recommended temperatures. Keep your freezer as full as possible so it doesn’t have to work as hard. If you are low on frozen foods, fill plastic jugs with water to fill the empty space. The same goes for your refrigerator. And for goodness sake, don’t stand with the door open for any longer than necessary. 

Plan your baking wisely. If you are going to bake multiple items, fit as many as possible into the oven at once (assuming the recommended temperature is close). This works well with casseroles, meats, and vegetables. If you are baking cookies or breads, you may need to switch the pans halfway to the opposite rack to avoid overcooking the bottom. 

3.  Bathroom   -

Instead of pricey body wash, use liquid hand soap. The ingredients are virtually the same, minus the fancy fragrance. I use the Equate brand from Walmart. There are several fragrances to choose from, and the large refill bottles are a fraction of the price per ounce. Just save your old body wash containers and refill them. Your family probably won’t notice the difference. 

Transfer your shampoo and conditioner into bottles with a pump type lid. Especially children, and sometimes adults, have a hard time regulating the amount of product. Pour top bottles are a disaster, and squeeze tops aren’t much better.

Refill your foaming hand soap bottles with water and a squirt or two from that large refill bottle of hand soap. Shake well and enjoy the savings. It may take a few attempts to get the right ratio, but you’ll get the hang of it. It doesn’t take much, so err on the side of too little soap.

Buy generic cotton swabs, cotton balls, and tissues. You’re likely going to transfer them to containers or jars, and the brand won’t matter. 

Buy generic toothbrushes, dental floss, face wash, toothpaste, and anything else that you can (without sacrificing too much quality). Are you seeing a theme? There are some products that can’t be substituted, but most of what we are paying for in the pricey versions are a brand name and a fragrance.

Experiment with toilet paper brands. Not all toilet paper is created equally. We go through a large amount of toilet paper in our house, and I’ve tried just about every brand there is in an eternal quest for the perfect combination of value and durability. The cheapest brands are too thin, so we go through it faster. I would skip the fragrance, no matter the brand. It’s not vital to the process, and you often pay more for the scent.

Ditch the disposable bathroom cups. They’re cute, handy, and kids love ‘em. A small, plastic tumbler will work just as well for tooth brushing and mouthwash.

Take showers instead of baths and limit yourself to 10 minutes or less. I love, LOVE, my hot showers and baths, but during tight times, it’s a luxury that I skip. 

Every penny spent or saved adds up. If money is really scarce, you can shower every other day, or skip washing your hair. It’s not good to wash your hair every day, anyway. Sometimes a fast scrub of the body and a rinse of your hair is enough to make you feel clean and refreshed. 

Unless they’ve played in a mud puddle, my young children shower every other day and wash off at the sink on the alternate days. 

Hang bath towels to dry and reuse them. Your washing machine will thank you.

4. Cleaning supplies –

Not only are some cleaning products in short supply right now, they can be very expensive. When you are trimming your costs down to bare minimum, you can get by with a few simple ingredients. Most are commonly found in your pantry.

Vinegar can be diluted and used in place of glass and surface cleaners. It is gentle, cheap, and plentiful. If the smell bothers you, add a few drops of essential oil. The vinegar smell fades quickly, leaving behind shiny, clean surfaces. An excellent cleanser can be made by soaking orange or lemon peels in vinegar for several weeks. Strain the peels out, add water, and use as you would any other spray cleanser. You can find the recipe here. The fragrance is wonderful, and it’s non-toxic.

Baking soda can be mixed with a little water to a paste-like consistency and used as a scouring powder. It’s gentle and non-toxic. In a pinch, it makes an effective toothpaste.

Hydrogen peroxide is an excellent cleaning product. Use it to get out pet stains, blood, and other biological matter.

Inexpensive chlorine bleach can be diluted in a 10:1 ratio and used as a disinfectant. It is also great for getting coffee, wine, and tomato stains off surfaces. 

I hope you've found these tips helpful in your quest to live well for less! Watch for future posts on reducing utility bills, natural remedies, beauty on the cheap, and much more. And, as always, I would love to learn about your methods for saving money!


  1. Lots of great advice there.
    I’d also add when buying shampoo and conditioner they are so concentrated you can use half and mix with water. And it still is really soapy. I used to do this and buy brands I liked when they were on special, keep the empty bottles and no one was the wiser

    1. Angela, That's a great tip! It's true - shampoo and conditioner are really concentrated and when using a pump dispenser, the consistency could be thinned out without risking dumping out extra each wash. Love the empty bottle hack ;-)


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