If you’re looking to cut your spending in a hurry, one way to do that is to stop buying so many disposable products. Disposables may seem like a good deal because, for example, a pack of paper plates costs $2.00 and a set of durable plates costs $40. However, the durable plates will last you many years, whereas you’ll be back at the store buying more paper plates in two weeks. At that rate, it will only take you ten months to recoup the cost of the durable plates. Every time you use the plates from then on will be “free.” Buying reusable products does require a larger outlay of cash on the front end, but the amount they reduce your monthly spending over time is dramatic.
Paper towels: I used to spend about $10 per month on a large pack of paper towels at the warehouse store ($100/year). Then one day I saw a pack of twelve cheap washcloths at Target for $2.50. I bought those and started using them to clean up most messes and it has worked wonderfully. I just toss them in the washer after each use and wash them with the regular clothes. It costs me no more in time or washer expenses to care for them and now I only buy a big pack of paper towels about once a year. That’s a savings of $90 per year.
Napkins: Just as with paper towels, I’ve discovered that cloth napkins are more cost effective than paper and very easy to clean. I bought a set of eight napkins on clearance for $2.00. I used to buy about one big pack of napkins for $6.00 at the club store and they’d last about two months ($36.00/year). I no longer buy paper napkins at all, so I save that $36.00 per year.
Paper plates, cups, and plastic cutlery: These might be great for picnics or large gathering where you don’t want to do the dishes, but for day to day use, durable plates and silverware are more cost effective. One box of plastic cutlery might last you a month and cost $4.00, but a set of silverware may cost less than $40 and last for ten years or more.
Ziploc bags, foil, and plastic wrap: Instead of putting sandwiches, snacks, and leftovers in baggies or wrapping them in foil, invest in a good set of plastic or unbreakable glass storage containers. There are many sizes and shapes available today for almost any storage need. A box of baggies may cost $2.00 and last a month, but a good set of storage containers costs less than $30 and lasts for five years or longer. When I quit using baggies, foil, and wrap I dropped about $70 per year off my spending. I still buy foil for some applications, but one roll usually lasts longer than a year.
Lunch bags: Buy a reusable lunch bag or box and save the cost of brown bags. You don’t even have to buy the lunch bag. Many places give away insulated lunch totes as promotional items. That’s how I got mine and it works great. Savings: About $20 per year.
Batteries: Rechargeable batteries are great money savers over disposables and they come in all sizes. They’re great for things that eat batteries like digital cameras, gaming controllers, and handheld tools. A 4-pack of disposable batteries costs about $3.00, but a 4-pack of rechargeables (with charger) costs around $18.00. Six uses in your digital camera and you’ve paid for the rechargeables.
Shopping bags: If your stores offer money back or money off your shopping order for bringing in reusable bags, these can be a great money saver. Many reusable bags are inexpensive or even free through promotional giveaways. When not in use for shopping they make great lunch totes, or just handy bags to carry things in. I bring ten bags to my store which gives $0.05 back for each bag. That’s fifty cents back on every shopping trip. Over a year of weekly shopping that’s $26 per year.
Disposable cleaning supplies: Disposable is all the rage in cleaning products these days. Toilet scrubbers, wipes, and mops are all disposable now. But they are also pricey. A canister of wipes is at least $2.00 and you may get 45 wipes. Using your own rags, sponges, or cheap washcloths and a spray on cleanser is far less expensive. A regular toilet brush can last for years. If you’re worried about germs, clean it with bleach occasionally and let it dry in the sun. As for disposable mop products like Swiffers, you’ll come out ahead economically by buying a reusable mop for what a box of refills costs for the Swiffer.
Bottled water: A case of store brand bottled water runs about $4.00 for 24 bottles. Yet you can buy a stainless steel, filtered water bottle for about $30 (much cheaper if you don’t mind your tap water and want to forego the filter). If you normally drink four bottles of water per day, the case will last you six days, meaning you’ll buy about four per month for a total of $16/month in water. At that rate your bottle pays for itself in two months.
There are three other areas where you can save a lot of money by choosing reusable over disposable, but many people have a harder time adjusting to them: Cloth diapers, Diva Cups or similar (for feminine needs), and handkerchiefs instead of tissues. If washed and cared for properly, these options are no more unsanitary than their disposable counterparts and they are much less expensive over time. Only you can decide whether or not you’re comfortable with reusable versions of these items of it you’d rather stick with disposables.
This isn’t to say that you can never use disposables. There are some messes that are so gross they require paper towels. Sometimes baggies are necessary. If you’re going on a special picnic, paper plates may be better than china. Sometimes it makes sense to use a disposable product and that’s okay. It’s when you rely on them everyday for everything that they start to take a big chunk out of your daily budget. Cut down on your use of disposables and watch your savings climb.