12 Clever Substitutions That Save Money (Nearly) Effortlessly

One of my favorite ways to trim money from my spending is to find simple little substitutes for my regular expenses. If I can trim a few bucks from the cost of household supplies, routine purchases, and other things like that, over the long run, that can add up to a lot of money with virtually no change in my life. Here are twelve of my favorites (not including my “infamous” homemade laundry detergent).

Laundry Softener -> Vinegar
Instead of buying expensive laundry detergent, just use half a cup of white vinegar to the “softener” cup in your washing machine. It accomplishes the same effect as softener – it makes your clothes really soft – plus it breaks down the laundry detergent, making the clothes much better for people with sensitive skin or allergies. What about the smell? Once the clothes are dried, you smell nothing at all. You can buy four gallons of vinegar for $6, meaning the cost per load is about $0.05, while a load’s worth of Downy costs about $0.15. You save a dime per load and your clothes are less chemical laden.

Ziplocs -> Reusable Containers
Ziplocs – especially the small ones – usually wind up in the trash after one use. On the other hand, a reusable container can last for years. Since a typical Ziploc costs about $0.10 and you can get a reusable Rubbermaid container for about $1.00, you break even on the container after about twelve uses or so (the cost of washing the container in the dishwasher is estimated there) and everything thereafter is pure savings.

Dishwashing Detergent -> Simple Homebrew
Instead of using liquid or powder dishwashing detergent (and paying a stiff premium for it), just take an old milk jug, put two teaspoons of liquid dish detergent and four teaspoons of baking powder in it, then slowly fill the jug with warm water, sloshing it while you do it (even better, just slowly add the soap as you’re adding the water). Then put that jug under the sink. Each time you do a load, fill up the cup with the homebrew. It works like a charm. The jug will provide enough for eight to ten loads of dishes for about a penny each, compared to about thirteen cents per load for ordinary detergent.

Knife Set -> Chef’s Knife
You’re just getting started in the kitchen and you think it’s time to get yourself a big ol’ knife set. Don’t. Unless you’re doing crazy things in the kitchen, all day every day, you really only need one knife – a chef’s knife. Head down to your local retailer and check them out. One good chef’s knife will make kitchen work easier than an entire block’s worth of other knives. It’s really all you need – I can’t even remember the last time I used a knife besides that one. Just learn how to properly hone it and sharpen it (both are easy – check out this YouTube video).

Windex -> Vinegar
Seriously. Just use vinegar instead of Windex when you clean your windows. It cleans off almost anything on a window and doesn’t streak and, more importantly, doesn’t leave a film behind as Windex often does. Just put some vinegar in a spray bottle – maybe that Windex one that you didn’t buy a replacement for – and just wash windows as normal. You’ll be quite happy with the results – and you’ll save about a penny per squirt.

Paper Towels -> Reusable Cotton Cloths
Cotton cloths work better, absorb more, and you can get a five pound (!) box for about the same price as a jumbo pack of paper towels. But what about the WASHING? It’s easy – just keep a ton of them in a drawer in the kitchen and use them for spills and filtering and other purposes until they’re dirty, then just toss them into any load of socks or underwear or towels. Even a big handful take up barely any room at all and before you know it, you’ve refilled your supply. Better yet, you’re not buying any more paper towels and you’re reducing your garbage.

Drain Cleaner -> Baking Soda and Vinegar
Remember those nifty volcanoes that kids tend to make for science fair projects in grade school? The basic mixture that made them bubble up was baking soda and vinegar – it expands nicely and pushes itself into everything. Perfect for clearing a clogged drain, no? Just put in a quarter cup of baking soda, chase it with half a cup of vinegar, then cover the drain and wait fifteen minutes. Once that’s done, chase it with a gallon or so of boiling water. This will clean almost any drain and save you from blowing unnecessary amounts of money on a big bottle of Drano. This also works as a toilet bowl cleaner – it’ll foam up like crazy at first, but after fifteen minutes, you’ll be able to scrub your toilet with a brush with ease.

Television -> Old Computer
If you need a new television somewhere, why not just use an old computer instead? A computer that’s five years old with a ‘net connection can easily be a substitute for a television. You can watch tons of programs full screen on Hulu and many channels offer a full screen stream, too, plus it’s simple to watch DVDs on a computer as well. Even better, you can stow the box somewhere out of the way (in a cabinet, perhaps) and just leave the monitor somewhere easy to access. This can be a great solution in a kitchen, where you can watch television on it or use it to call up YouTube videos to tutor you through a meal prep – plus you don’t have the cost of buying anything to get it working.

Oven Cleaner -> Ammonia
If you cook at home, you’ll eventually have to clean your oven – and it can be a nasty job. There are lots of products out there that claim to be able to make this process easy, but the easiest way I’ve found is far cheaper – and far easier. Just put a cup of ammonia in a glass bowl in the evening, put that bowl in your oven, and close the door. Let it sit overnight. The next morning, get rid of the ammonia and you’ll find scrubbing down the inside of your oven is suddenly quite easy. The burnt-on drippings from spilled dishes will come right up with no problems. Plus, a jug of ammonia is far cheaper than some spray-on solution.

Soft Scrub -> Baking Soda and Dish Soap
Soft Scrub does a great job of cleaning up serious stains all around the house, but you don’t need to drop four bucks on a small bottle of it. Just put half a cup of baking soda (cost: about a quarter) and then add a little bit of liquid dish soap and stir. Add a bit more liquid soap and keep stirring until you have a paste that’s about the consistency of frosting – and you’re ready to go. It costs about forty cents to make more than enough to clean anything you want to clean – far cheaper than Soft Scrub and with the same results.

Air Freshener -> Baking Soda
I actually don’t like most air fresheners – they usually make a room smell like chemistry. Fortunately, there’s a much easier solution – just put out a saucer with some baking soda sprinkled in it near where the odor is and it’ll go away. Got a baby diaper pail? Just put some baking soda in it. Baking soda just eats odors.

Carpet Cleaner -> Baking Soda and Peroxide (or Club Soda)
Got a nasty spot on your carpet? (I could tell you a horrible story about a blood stain on a couch, but I’ll spare you the details.) You don’t need carpet cleaner to get rid of it. Just dump a few spoonfuls of baking soda on it, rub it in, then put some hydrogen peroxide (a capful) or club soda (as much as you want) on the soda and rub it in as it bubbles. This gets rid of almost any carpet or upholstery stain you’ll face – it literally saved some microfiber for us that seemed to have a permanent stain on it. Plus, it’s cheap – baking soda is really inexpensive and even club soda is something inexpensive you might have in the cupboard.

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