How to Minimize or Eliminate Many Repeated Household Buys

Many of the household supplies that we buy at the store are simply replacements for other things, often sold to us in a slightly altered form and advertised as being more “convenient” than “old fashioned” methods. However, the truth of the matter is that they’re mostly just more expensive and the “convenience” that they offer is minimal, if not nonexistent.

If you dig into the reality of many specific household product purchases, there are many smarter ways to get the same effect at a much lower cost. Here are some of my favorite strategies for minimizing or eliminating common household purchases.

Paper towels: Sure, paper towels can be really useful for cleaning up a mess in a pinch, but once you use them, they’re gone. You toss them in the trash and before you know it, you’re replacing the roll. Replace a few rolls and before you know it, you’re headed back to the store.

A much better approach is to simply have a “rag drawer” in your kitchen. Grab a rag when you have a mess and you’ll find that it absorbs much better than a paper towel, works really well with soaps and the water from your sink, doesn’t fall apart while cleaning, and when you’re done, you just toss it in with the dirty clothes. Having a drawer full of rags is a perfect substitute for paper towel use and turns that recurring expense into a very rare one.

Paper plates: Paper plates are a convenience many people turn to in situations where they’re serving a lot of people or serving outdoors, where more expensive and fragile ceramic or earthenware plates can easily be broken.

Instead of using paper plates, which hit the trash and can never be used again, buy a large bundle of plastic plates for those occasions. Bring them out for picnics and set out a bin for people to throw their dirty plates into, then just run them through the dishwasher. If you’re going on a picnic, you can stow a few plates in your basket for clean eating, too. You’ll never have to buy a stack of paper plates again.

Paper napkins: Many people use paper napkins to clean fingers and faces after a meal or to help with minor spills or drink condensation. While a paper napkin can certainly handle such things, putting them out for every meal is a recurring expense.

Avoid that recurring expense by getting a handful of dark cloth napkins and using them for every meal. When you’re done, just toss them in the laundry. Sturdy cloth napkins last for hundreds of uses, completely eliminate the need for paper napkins, and actually look very classy on the dinner table. (One great strategy for keeping them clean is to keep a small laundry basket in the pantry to toss rags and napkins into after using them and then wash a bunch of them at once in a single load.)

Paper or plastic cups: Again, these tend to be useful if you’re serving drinks to a lot of people, but again, they tend to end up just thrown away at the end of the event.

The simple approach, again, is to just buy a large quantity of plastic tumblers and keep them in storage for big events. After the tumblers are used, you can just run a bunch right through the dishwasher and drop them straight back into storage.

Window cleaner: Many people buy bottles of window cleaner in order to clean all of the glass surfaces in their home. It works well in many cases, but do you know what works similarly well?


Yep, humble white vinegar. When you run out of your current spray bottle of Windex, hang onto the bottle and then fill it with equal parts vinegar and water and then a drop or two of liquid dish soap, shaking it thoroughly to mix. You’ll find that this mixture does a wonderful job of cleaning windows hand in hand with a clean cloth. Plus, it’s far cheaper to just buy a giant jug of vinegar than to buy much smaller containers of window cleaner.

Laundry soap: I’m often stunned at how expensive laundry soap is. Even the cheaper brands can cost as much as a quarter per load; more expensive options can reach half a dollar a load just for the cleaning substances. That’s ridiculously overpriced, considering that most of the things we wash really aren’t all that dirty to begin with. You don’t need heavy duty stuff to get a bit of sweat or a few marks of dirt out of a garment.

I’ve experimented with homemade laundry soap many times in the past and I’ve come to the conclusion that the best solution is a powder made of equal parts borax, washing soda, and soap flakes (which you can either buy as a box or bag of flakes or make yourself by grating a bar of ordinary soap). Just add a teaspoon of that mix to any load of laundry and it’ll come out wonderfully clean.

Laundry softener: What about good old laundry softener? You add it to a special tray in your washer just before you wash your clothes (or else add a sheet to your dryer for the same effect) and your clothes theoretically come out wonderfully soft to the touch and wonderful to put on.

The thing is, you can actually soften your clothes quite well by doing the same thing with vinegar. Yep, humble white vinegar, again. Just add a capful of white vinegar to the softener slot on your washing machine and you’ll have very similar results to that expensive fabric softener. As with the window washing fluid above, you can easily just buy a giant container of vinegar for the same price as a small container of fabric softener and get almost the same effect.

Dish soap: Dish soap is a wonderful thing. It takes away the grease and food particles that can coat our dishes and even help take off some of the hard burnt-on materials, leaving our dishes and silverware amazingly clean.

Of course, you can easily make your own. Just take four cups of water, bring it to a boil, add 3/4 cup soap flakes, stir it until the soap flakes are dissolved, add 1/4 cup washing soda and 2 teaspoons of glycerin, stir it some more, then add it slowly to an empty dish soap bottle when it’s just barely stopped boiling. Let it sit for 24 hours and you have some great dish soap. If you only have a small bottle, halve this recipe, and you may need to add a little more water depending on the type of soap that you use.

Again, if you buy the ingredients at the store, you’re going to have them in such tremendous bulk for this recipe that you won’t be buying any more for a long while and you won’t need to buy dish soap again, either.

Toilet paper: One final strategy, one that might be way “out there” for some people in the United States, is to simply minimize or completely eliminate toilet paper use through the use of a bidet. A bidet is simply a device that provides cleanliness with targeted jets of water rather than with toilet paper and, speaking from experience, it actually works rather well. It’s just unfamiliar, since it’s a device that has never really caught on in the United States, though they are common in the rest of the world.

A bidet eliminates the vast, vast majority of toilet paper use, requiring only the tiniest bit for drying afterwards, as there is no real use for cleaning. Given that it only uses a very small amount of highly targeted water, there’s very little cost in using a bidet. Bidets are actually pretty easy to install on any toilet with a simple attachment that can be installed with a screwdriver and a few minutes of work; in fact, this specific model comes highly recommended for both installation and use.

Final Thoughts

Each of these strategies either entirely eliminates a common household purchase or else replaces it with another item or two that can be stretched to incredible lengths. In either event, your routine costs for household products will drop if you use any of these strategies, and the more of them you use, the lower your regular grocery store bills will become.

Good luck!

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Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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