When you’re making your budget, household goods like food, cleaning supplies, and toiletries probably make up one of the largest groups of expenses after your rent and student loans. Some items are necessities, but you can save money by making smart choices about what you buy. In some cases, making unique choices can save you money along with being more efficient and being better for your health. In other cases, going without certain products simply help you to keep more of the money you make.
If you’re looking to pare down your budget, consider trying some of these tactics to save money. Not all of them will be changes you’re willing to make right away, but even small changes can lead to big savings over time. Take a look, and see if there are ways you can save money right away.
1. K-Cups and coffee pods
Making your own coffee is certainly much cheaper than stopping for a daily morning brew at Starbucks. However, if you’re using the no-mess, super-convenient Keurig K-Cups and other brands of coffee pods, you’ll end up spending five times more on your coffee than if you bought a bag of Starbucks coffee in your grocery store.
K-Cups are still somewhat novel, and they solve a lot of problems with leftover coffee, messy used grounds, and measuring out the coffee in the first place. However, most of the pods are made of plastic that isn’t biodegradable or recyclable (aside from DIY projects found on Pinterest). The creator of the first K-Cup has famously said he feels a little bad about inventing them in first place, and said he doesn’t use them because of the cost. Sinking a few hundred dollars into a Keurig brewer might seem like your only large investment to support your morning coffee habit, but in reality the appliance continues to cost you far more than a home-brewed cup of joe really needs to.
2. Paper towels
Environmentally-conscious organizations are skipping paper towels in their bathrooms because of the waste they create. That waste is still there when you’re using paper towels in your kitchen at home, though you probably don’t think about it as much.
According to blogger Trent Hamm on The Simple Dollar, using paper towels to clean up messes is often more expensive that using rags or washcloths, even when you account for the extra cost of washing and drying those cloths to reuse them. Martha Stewart suggests picking up a few tea towels or rags that you don’t mind displaying in your kitchen for everyday use, and hanging them from your oven door so they dry without growing bacteria. Having an extra rag under your sink for emergency spilled milk and other dirtier jobs means you’ll be able to clean up messes in no time.
Another blogger on The Barefoot Budget wrote that she cut up an old jersey sheet that had already ripped into small rags, recycling the sheet and also gaining free cleaning supplies. She’ll toss the rags she uses into a bucket under the sink, and toss them into the washing machine with some detergent and vinegar (to nix any lingering odors) for reuse. Rags are just as easy to use, are often more durable, and will save you the $30 for a 12-pack of paper towels you use in a month or so.
Insurance is a good thing when it comes to rental properties and cars, but extended warranties (insurance against flaws down the road) aren’t normally a good deal, many experts conclude. For one thing, the manufacturer often supplies a warranty that will cover any short-term issues you encounter. Plus, the retailers offering the warranty often keep at least half if not more of the proceeds from the warranty, which is a convenient way for them to bulk up their profits. In other words: it’s a marketing scheme, and you should stop paying for it. Investopedia points out that warranties are often used right after buying a product, when the return policy for the purchase is still valid.
“The only instance I’d recommend a warranty is in the case of a laptop. Otherwise, the warranties themselves can often cost as much as simply buying a used or new replacement for your item, or repairing it,” Andrew Schrage, founder of MoneyCrashers.com, told Business Insider.
4. Robotic vacuums
The idea of a robot cleaning your floors is a nice one, especially if that means you can avoid purchasing an upright vacuum and spending extra time cleaning with your time off. The technology for Roombas and similar products has improved in recent years, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to forgo vacuuming yourself.
Have you ever noticed that ads for these machines feature a room that’s already spotless? According to the blogMake Use Of, there are plenty of issues that the vacuuming discs just can’t handle. They can’t do stairs, for example, though some advanced versions have technology that keeps them from tumbling down a flight of steps if you’ve assigned it upstairs rooms to clean. They also lack the suction power of a typical vacuum, and can’t navigate around excess clutter very well. For it to really do an ok job, your floors have to already be fairly clean. Not to mention, the machines still require a decent amount of maintenance — something you don’t want to do after spending between $300 and $900 in the first place.
5. Air fresheners
Sprays like Febreeze can mask the smell of pets and stinky gym shoes coming from your carpets, but it’s likely a temporary coverup that costs more than it needs to. There are plenty of alternative options that won’t cost you money, and won’t add chemical smells into your home.
The most popular choice is to leave a bowl or two of baking soda in a bowl on the counter, or sprinkle it into smelly shoes or your carpet. Leave the baking soda in the bowls overnight, or vacuum up the baking soda in the carpet after letting it rest for a little while. The active ingredient, sodium bicarbonate, reacts with the acidic odors in your home and absorbs them, getting rid of odor. Some people remain skeptical, but many people who try it for themselves find that it works well. (It’s also why your mom might have kept a box of baking soda in the back of your refrigerator to absorb odors.)
6. Other cleaning products
You might have grown up believing that your house is clean when it reeks of artificial lemon from cleaning products. While those cleaners are effective, some people worry that the harsh chemicals aren’t great for you. Regardless of what you believe, they can certainly put a large dent in your wallet, all to clean messes that can be cleaned with far cheaper methods.
Baking soda can play a large role again, mixing it with water to gently scrub counters or other surfaces to clean away dirt. Vinegar works as a natural disinfectant for general cleaning. (It won’t be as effective as bleach for killing germs when you’re sick, however.) Remember the chemical reaction experiment where you add vinegar to baking soda? If you dump baking soda down the drain followed by vinegar and allow to sit for 30 minutes before rinsing with hot water, it should work just as well for most stopped drains.
If you’re looking to use fewer chemicals or simply want to see if cheaper pantry items can clean your bathroom as well as $5 bottles of cleaning solutions, Buzzfeed compiled a list of other cleaning supplies you can substitute, often for a fraction of the price.