Frugal Tricks to Make Consumable Purchases Last Longer

toothpaste tube

Other than our mortgage and utilities, the majority of our regular spending goes to consumables. It’s amazing to think how much it costs to keep our bodies fed, clean, and healthy. Penny pincher that I am, I try to squeeze every last bit out of our consumable items before I throw them away. Each little bit may cost only a few cents, but those little bits add up. By habitually using some frugal tricks to make consumables stretch, we can save a greater portion of our money. Here are a few ways to make those consumables last just a little bit longer:

First, use less than recommended. Not only do I wash my hair every other day (a habit that actually was recommended to me by a hairstylist), I only lather and rinse once each time. Who has time to repeat, anyway? My hair looks and feels as clean as that of most people who lather and rinse twice every day, using four times as much shampoo as I do. Using less than recommended works for more than just shampoo, too. I know I could use less food (smaller portions) than I do! Some people swear by using less laundry or dish detergent, though I still use the full recommended amount, partly because I have an extra large washing machine, so I still wind up cleaning more with less.

One way to use less is to dilute cleaning solutions, juices, and other liquid consumables with water. Water is also a great substance for getting out the last bit of liquid soap or shampoo (instant suds) and for refreshing any cleaning or baby wipes that have dried out. I have often added a few teaspoons of water to a tub of wipes to make them as good as new. If you have the opposite problem with wipes — running out of wipes before the solution that saturates them — add paper towels to the container and get a few more uses out of the solution.

Using leftovers doesn’t just apply to cleaning solutions. The most obvious leftovers to be used are food leftovers, and even though my husband takes leftovers to work for lunch, I’m still amazed at how much we throw out. If too little food remains on your plate to make another meal, save what’s there and turn it into a snack. Also be sure to keep track of what leftovers you have so that you use them before they go bad. (That’s something we need to work on in our house)

“Reduce, reuse, recycle” has become the mantra of environmentalists, but they don’t often mention that reuse leads to reduction. Whenever you can, use consumable items more than once, and the packages will last longer.

Speaking of packages, there are many things you can do with packaging itself to squeeze out a bit more when their contents seem depleted. Turn bottles with lids on top upside-down for several hours to bring contents to the opening, cut open plastic lotion bottles and use your fingers to wipe out the lotion stuck to the sides (I’ve gotten five or six more uses out of some containers this way), and squeeze the toothpaste tube from the back (sorry, middle-squeezers) When I get to the end of the tube, I even fold in the sides, just above the cap, and push down on them to get out two or three more brushes after my husband has given up and left the tube for dead.

Sometimes, you can use tools to get at a package’s final contents. Try a cotton swab or Popsicle stick to get out the last bit of lipstick, lip balm, eye makeup, solid stain remover, or even deodorant. Add a little nail polish remover to nail polish that’s getting gummy, and it’ll be as smooth as ever. When a child’s medicine dropper no longer reaches the bottom of the bottle, pour out what’s left of the medicine into a small cup with a wider mouth, and you should be able to use it all.

Other ways to squeeze out every last bit of your consumables include writing/printing on both sides of a sheet of paper (be sure there’s nothing confidential on the opposite side if you pass something along to someone else), moving depleting batteries from toys or gadgets that use a lot of energy to others that require less (not recommended by the manufacturers, but I’ve seen it work well), and applying heat to the tips of dry pens to get the ink running again.

Some of these ideas may sound like a waste of time to you, but in reality, they take very little time or effort, especially once they’re habitual. They can make a noticeable difference not only in the amount you spend on consumables over a year, but also in the amount of waste you generate. Sounds like another, older, slogan can apply here: “Waste not, want not.”

Image courtesy of justinhenry

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12 Responses to Frugal Tricks to Make Consumable Purchases Last Longer

  1. Traciatim says:

    “moving depleting batteries from toys or gadgets that use a lot of energy to others that require less”

    Do people really still buy alkaline and other single use batteries? With NiMH, and Low Discharge NiMH you have all your bases covered and only need to buy enough to have a spare set around.

    Camera, NiMH. TV Remote, Low Discharge NiMH.

    I still don’t get how companies are possibly making products that take proprietary batteries. I wish people would wake up and stop buying things that do this. Nothing works but money to get things to change, where the money goes, the products follow.

  2. Right Traciatim – the 3 unit phones we bought last year at Walmart – NOW they no longer carry the batteries nor does Radion Shack. The only way to get them now is to buy on ebay or from the manufacturer. Bahhhh!

  3. Joan says:

    I had a pile of paper that had already been used twice by printing on both sides. I went through it page by page to cut out remaining portions that were still one-sidely blank on areas large enough to write down phone messages— a 2 X 3 inch piece, for example. Those pieces will be sent to my favorite local charity where they will use it for just that and then re-cycle it. Of course, I will recycle the printed up portions that were left. That was a way to use the paper 3 times before re-cycling.

  4. Anders says:

    I’d say to plan your purchases and your consumption as much as you can. You can buy things in larger packages or 2 for 1 sales and save alot. Sometimes I’ll save small containers and use them for something else (like hair gell) when the big package isn’t convenient. I’ll get a dozen bagels and freeze half for later. Also, avoid single use or single purpose items. Vinegar and diswashing liquid on a sponge suffice for most cleaners, and a microfiber cloth and water will replace most removers.

  5. Coupon Fetcher says:

    Great tips. And I agree with you that the secret is to start and then it will become a habit. If the food leftovers go bad, add them to a compost pile and use the compost in the garden.

  6. Sharon says:

    How about using newspapers to clean your windows. They are much cheaper than paper towels and they do not leave streaks either. I’m sure most people get a Sunday paper for the coupons, since we all like to save money. Why not let your paper be one of the consumable purchase last longer?

  7. Nate says:

    You probably won’t like this, but what about spending your time making bucks instead of saving pennies. I’m not a wasteful person by any means but there is an important concept called Opportunity Cost. I regularly buy anything that is underpriced (usually cars or anything from people that are hard up for a few bucks) and turn around to sell it for double within a week. Think about it, and don’t step over a dollar to pick up a dime!

    Using paper 3 times, that cracks me up. No offense.

  8. JohannaB says:

    I do most of the things you mention in the list. My co-workers laugh at the tube of toothpaste I’ve been using for a week since it “ran out” and it’s not really empty yet. Let them laugh.

  9. pelf says:

    Thanks for the very simple and practical tips to making our purchases last longer 😀

    I wash my hair every other day too, but I’ve had hair dressers tell me that its important to wash my hair daily! But since I don’t sweat a bucket everyday (some people hold jobs that put them in the sun for hours a day, and that’s a different case), I just stick to washing my hair on alternate days 😀

  10. Chiya says:

    Some good ideas there.

  11. Wendy says:

    I have a foam pump soap dispenser from Bath & Bodyworks in my bathroom that was given to me as a Christmas gift last year. I go to Walmart and buy a biggie size liquid soap and fill my dispenser 1/2 soap, 1/2 water. It works perfectly and really extends my bang for the buck.

  12. girl3938 says:

    great tip for nail polish- worked like a charm!!

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