When you want to cut your expenses, the usual recommendation is to focus on the big-ticket expenses first. Finding ways to trim your housing payment, your insurance costs, and your transportation costs leaves you with more money to put toward financial goals. Although focusing on the big expenses is a good move, it’s also worth paying attention to what you spend on the little things.
Have you ever thought about how much of your income goes toward buying things like laundry detergent, gardening supplies, and dish soap? If you’re not paying attention or finding ways to maximize your savings, the answer might be more than you’d like. Shaving a few dollars or so off of your regular household expenditures every month can go a long way toward helping you reach your goals financially.
Luckily, reducing the cost of household purchases doesn’t have to be complicated. You just need to follow a few simple steps.
Easy Ways to Save Money on Household Items
1. Keep Track of Your Purchases
Before you can figure out how to save money on household goods, you need to know what you’re purchasing and how often you’re buying particular products. I use a handy spreadsheet that lists products I regularly buy, the last two dates of purchase (to track the time between purchases), the price I paid, and notes about what I bought — for example, whether it was on sale, I used a coupon, or bought more than usual.
The spreadsheet helps me get a grip on how often I need to buy each essential, such as dish soap or cat litter, which helps me plan my budget each month. It also helps me avoid unplanned expenditures. For example, now that I know I use about one bottle of dish soap per month, I can plan for that expense. Knowing how frequently I need to restock particular products also gives me the option of planning purchases to coincide with sales.
Noting the price lets me determine whether I paid a reasonable price for it and allows me to keep track of fluctuations or increases in cost.
2. Use Rebates & Coupons
Rebates give you cash back when you buy stuff, and coupons reduce the price of a product at the point of sale. Some people get really into couponing and find ways to lower their total at checkout to just a few dollars — or even to $0. But you don’t have to go the extreme couponing route to save money.
You can be casual about your coupon use, applying coupons when you come across them rather than seeking out multiple coupons and building up a stockpile that takes years to get through. If you get a physical copy of your local Sunday paper, you’re likely to come across a coupon flyer or two tucked inside it. Take a few minutes to browse through the flyer, cutting out coupons for things you use.
If you don’t get the paper, there are other ways to find coupons. Some grocery stores offer digital coupons. You can access digital coupons by visiting the store’s website, logging into your loyalty program, and saving available coupons to your account. When you type in your phone number or scan your card at checkout, the coupons you’ve saved automatically apply if you’ve purchased the right products (in the right quantity, if applicable).
Back in the day, if something you bought was eligible for a rebate, you had to send in a copy of the receipt and the UPC symbol from the packaging, then wait several weeks before getting a check in the mail. These days, rebates have gone digital. Cash-back reward apps like Rakuten and Ibotta give you access to rebate offers from a wide variety of stores. But they all work slightly differently.
For example, Rakuten gives you a percentage of your purchase back after you buy at certain stores, either in person or online. For example, if you use Rakuten and order $50 worth of stuff from a store that offers a 5% Rakuten rebate, you’ll get $2.50 back.
Ibotta offers a cash-back percentage for online purchases at certain stores but also gives cash rebates when you buy specific things, such as a bottle of XYZ Brand all-purpose cleaner or a roll of tape. The app also offers “any item” rebates, which give you cash back on any brand of a particular product type, such as paper towels or window cleaner.
To get a rebate, you scan the UPC symbol with your phone’s camera and take a picture of the receipt. Usually, you get notice of rebate approval within a few minutes of submission. Depending on how frequently you use the app, it can take a while before you reach the minimum payment threshold of $20 (for Ibotta) to cash out through PayPal or Venmo. But if you use it a lot, you might reach it quickly and get your cash fast.
3. Always Get the Deal
If you can, never pay full price on anything you buy. Most everyday necessities, from soap to detergent and lightbulbs to kitchen gear, will go on sale at some point. The key is timing your purchases so you only buy stuff when it’s discounted.
There are a few ways to go about getting a deal when you shop. If you mostly buy online, it can be worthwhile to install a browser extension, such as Capital One Shopping or Honey. Both extensions browse the web and alert you if a coupon is available or if the product you’re looking at is available for a lower price somewhere else.
If you prefer to shop in person, those weekly sales flyers, which come in the mail but are also often available on store websites, are your friend. Review the flyers each week to see what’s on sale. Just as you might use a price book to track sales on fresh food and pantry items, you can use it to track the price of nonedible household essentials.
4. Make Smart Bulk Buys
If you use something regularly, have the room to store it, and can save money by buying it in bulk, go for it. For example, it often makes sense to buy paper products in bulk since they don’t expire and you’re sure to use them. When I moved into my own place, I ordered 48 rolls of recycled toilet paper from Who Gives a Crap. The price worked out to be much cheaper than buying a four- or six-pack from the store, and it will be awhile before I have to think about buying TP again.
Another way to economically buy in bulk is to use a service like Amazon Subscribe & Save. You buy a product you regularly use, like toilet paper, paper towels, or room deodorizer. You then pick a delivery schedule. For example, you can have 48 rolls of toilet paper delivered every six months or four 20-pound boxes of cat litter delivered quarterly.
You not only get the convenience of not having to think about buying everyday household items, but you also get to save a bit. Depending on the product and schedule, you can save up to 15% over one-time purchases. You can also use the service for products you don’t need to buy in bulk, such as scheduling a single bottle of laundry detergent to arrive each month.
Before you buy in bulk, check to make sure doing so will actually save you money. You can compare prices by looking at the unit price listed on the tag on the shelf (though you should check these numbers frequently or if something seems off — there’s anecdotal evidence they’re sometimes incorrect). If there’s no unit price listed, you can do the math yourself by dividing the price by the number of ounces or another unit of measurement.
For example, if a 48-ounce bottle of dish soap is $9.99, it costs about 20 cents per ounce. If a 16-ounce bottle of the same product costs $2.88, its unit price is 18 cents per ounce, meaning you can save money by purchasing three 16-ounce bottles compared to one 48-ounce bottle.
5. Skip the Name Brand
When you buy name-brand detergent, light bulbs, or paper towels, what are you paying for? Often, it’s prettier packaging and marketing but not necessarily a higher-quality product. Many stores have their own private label for household necessities, and you’re likely to save if you buy those products compared to their name-brand counterparts.
One category where it makes especially good sense to buy generic or store brands is medicine. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), generic medicines work the same as branded medicines. All medications have to be reviewed and approved by the FDA before they end up on store shelves. A store-brand aspirin helps reduce your headache pain just as well as a branded aspirin. A store-brand allergy pill reduces your allergy symptoms just as much as the name brand.
Switching to generic brand medicines can save you a pretty penny. According to the FDA, generic medication can cost as much as 85% less than branded products.
6. Keep Things Simple
You can save money by buying fewer products if you buy all-purpose rather than specialized ones. For example, ask yourself if you really need to purchase separate bathroom, kitchen counter, and sink cleaners. The odds are likely you can use a single cleaning agent to clean all those surfaces.
Simplifying means reducing the options in your life and the number of decisions you need to make. It can help you save money and allows you to avoid decision fatigue, in which you feel worn out and tired from having to make so many choices throughout the day.
7. Get Stuff for Free
The world is drowning in stuff. If you live in a populated area, someone you know or in your neighborhood probably has an item you need, meaning you don’t need to run out and buy it.
There are lots of ways to get household goods and pretty much anything else for free. If you use Facebook, you can join a local buy-nothing group. The groups are limited to people in particular geographic areas and designed to foster communication and community among neighbors. You can post to the group describing what you’re looking for, and if someone nearby has it and is willing to part with it, they can give it to you. People also post things they’re giving away.
It’s surprising the types of things people give away on these platforms. They regularly post various household goods like cleaning products, nails and screws, and vacuum bags. It’s not as strange as it sounds. They may find that a particular cleaning product, while perfectly good, isn’t suitable for their needs after using it once. Or perhaps they had to replace a broken vacuum cleaner and can no longer utilize the bags.
If you want to get more personal, you can arrange a swap with friends. You can swap kitchen gadgets, cleaning or gardening tools you no longer want or use, or even consumables like sponges or furniture polish. Just because one person decided they no longer want or don’t like a product doesn’t mean it isn’t just right for someone else.
8. Borrow or Rent Infrequently Used Tools
There are some things you need infrequently for projects around the house but don’t want to buy. If possible, see if you can borrow or rent them instead. Some examples of tools worth borrowing or renting include specialized cleaning tools, such as a steam carpet cleaner or a hardwood floor buffer.
Tool lending libraries have become popular in certain areas. They give you access to equipment you only need from time to time, like a drain snake or shop vacuum. Some even lend everyday tools some people don’t often use, like push brooms or extension cords.
Your local public library may also lend more than just reading materials. Branch locations of my local library, the Free Library of Philadelphia, allow people to borrow nontraditional materials, such as cake pans.
Beyond lending libraries, a friend or relative might have something you need. Ask them to let you borrow it. Just make sure to return it in the same condition it was in when you borrowed it.
If no one you know has the equipment you need and you don’t have a lending library available, you can often rent seldom-used cleaning tools. For example, many supermarkets and hardware stores rent out steam carpet cleaners or even power tools. The rental cost is usually a small fraction of the equipment’s purchase price, depending on the length of the rental. You can cut the rental cost even more by splitting it with friends or neighbors who also need to use it.
9. Reuse or Replace Single-Use Products
Some products sold as single-use don’t have to be. While zip-close plastic storage bags are designed to be used and tossed, you can wash them and reuse them. Just remember good food safety practices when deciding whether or not to reuse a plastic bag. If it previously held raw meat or something that molded or rotted, your safest bet is to toss the bag and start fresh.
You probably don’t want to reuse zip-close bags too many times. But even if you get just two uses rather than one out of most of the bags in a package, you’re effectively cutting your zip-close bag expenditures in half.
When you replace your toothbrush with a new one, don’t just chuck it in the trash. Wash the bristles and give it a second life as grout scrubber or brush to clean hard-to-reach areas, such as around the tub faucet.
If you don’t own a squeegee and want to get away from using paper towels, yesterday’s newspaper is very effective at cleaning windows. If you don’t subscribe to a physical newspaper, pick up a free copy of something like the Pennysaver the next time you’re at the grocery store.
Along with reusing single-use items, you can save money by purchasing reusable versions. Beeswax wraps can be a more budget-friendly and eco-conscious choice than throwaway plastic wrap. Cloth napkins cost less in the long run compared to paper napkins. The same is true of using washable dishcloths and microfiber towels instead of throwaway sponges or paper towels.
Instead of purchasing plastic or glass food storage containers, save money by washing out and reusing glass jam jars, spaghetti sauce jars, and plastic yogurt cups. You can use these containers to store food, collect coins, or sort small items like screws and push pins.
10. Make Your Own
Sometimes, you can save serious money by making your own household products instead of purchasing them. Baking soda, distilled white vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, and lemons are the workhorse ingredients of DIY cleaners. They all cost way less than you’d spend on a spray bottle of window or all-purpose cleaner.
Other household goods you can make yourself include:
- Cloth napkins
- Laundry detergent
11. Take Care of Things
If you’re frequently spending money to replace supplies that wear out before their time or products that spoil because you stored them improperly, learning how to take better care of things can help you cut costs.
For example, drying towels, bedding, and table linens with heat can make them wear out more quickly than air-drying them on a line. Washing your textiles with hot water costs more and can cause them to shrink or fade. Learning essential life skills such as how to sew and perform simple repairs can also extend the life of your towels and linens.
Store household basics properly to maximize their shelf life. Generally speaking, your best bet is to store cleaning products out of direct sunlight and away from high heat. Wait until textiles are completely dry before putting them away to minimize mildew growth and keep them from developing a strange smell.
Also, get in the habit of maintaining major appliances, from heating and cooling systems to washers and dryers. A little bit of annual maintenance can go a long way in terms of extending their lives, saving you money over time.
The cost of detergent, soap, and other household supplies can seem small, but they add up over time. Finding ways to trim those expenses can help you focus on saving for your big financial goals.
Cutting back on the cost of household goods by reusing things or making your own isn’t just beneficial to your budget. It can also help the planet. The less you buy and the more you keep out of the landfill or recycling stream, the less you tax the world’s already limited resources.
What do you do to cut your costs at home? Have you found ways to reuse household goods or get them for free?