When making your budget, household products — such as 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, as well as be more efficient and better for your health. In other cases, going without certain household products simply helps 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 whether 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 the coffee. 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 that 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.
Next: A common item found in your kitchen.
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. Hang them from your oven door, so they dry without growing bacteria.
Another blogger on The Barefoot Budget wrote that she cut into rags an old jersey sheet that had already ripped, recycling the sheet and also gaining free cleaning supplies. She tosses the rags she uses into a bucket under the sink and throws them into the washing machine with some detergent and vinegar (to nix any lingering odors) for reuse. Rags are just as easy to use — and often more durable — than paper towels. And they will save you the $30 for a 12-pack of paper towels.
Next: One of the worst deals you can make when checking out.
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 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 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. Pointless insurance policies
Extended warranties aren’t the only insurance policies that are generally a bad deal. Although you don’t want to skimp on essential coverage, such as auto and homeowners insurance, you can save money by eliminating certain policies, especially those that offer single-purpose coverage, according to Bankrate.
Cancer insurance, credit card insurance, and accidental death coverage are usually not worth it. In some cases, such as accidental death and cancer, you’re insuring against something that’s unlikely to happen. Credit card insurance, which will cover your payments if you’re unemployed or disabled, isn’t necessary if you use your cards wisely and have an emergency fund or disability coverage. Collision insurance usually isn’t necessary if you own an older vehicle, and credit card fraud insurance is silly because there are laws limiting your liability if your card is stolen.
5. 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 with an upright.
Have you ever noticed ads for these machines feature a room that’s already spotless? According to the blog Make Use Of, there are plenty of issues 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.
6. Air fresheners
Sprays, such as 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 add chemical smells into your home.
The most popular choice is to leave a bowl or two of baking soda 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 it works well. (It’s also why you keep a box of baking soda in the back of your refrigerator to absorb odors.)
7. Other cleaning products
You might have grown up believing your house is clean when it reeks of artificial lemon from cleaning products. Although those cleaners are effective, some people worry 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 remove 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 well for most stopped drains.
If you’re looking to use fewer chemicals or simply want to see whether 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.
8. Tumble dryers
The average American family probably can’t imagine living without a clothes dryer. Eighty-four percent of U.S. households own this energy-hogging appliance, but they’re much less common in other parts of the world.
There are good reasons to reconsider our addiction to warm and fluffy laundry. For one, ditching the tumble dryer will cut down on your energy costs, though the savings won’t be dramatic, according to the Simple Dollar. You’ll see bigger savings from never having to repair or replace a broken machine. Line-drying your laundry will also help your clothes last longer, saving money. Plus, sunlight also kills bacteria and will help get your whites whiter. If you don’t want to or can’t hang laundry outside (some neighborhoods don’t allow it), look into indoor drying racks.
9. Laundry extras
While we’re on the subject of clean clothes, many people could trim their budget by scratching all kinds of laundry products off their shopping list. Dryer sheets, laundry scent boosters, and fabric softener are all optional or have cheaper DIY equivalents.
Rather than wasting money on dryer sheets, toss a few tennis balls in with your towels or sheets when you dry them. Your linens will come out soft and fluffy, according to Apartment Therapy. And scent boosters might make your clothes smell nice, but they’re not making them any cleaner. Assuming you don’t need your shirts to smell like “spring rain” or “lavender breeze,” you can skip it.
If you buy liquid fabric softener, try making your own instead. Most recipes call for cheap ingredients, such as vinegar and baking soda. Or you could take a clue from millennials, and just skip the softener. Younger people aren’t using Downy, causing sales to dip. Some experts even argue using softener will damage your clothes over time, make it difficult to get items fully clean, and cause build up in your washing machine.
10. Name-brand products
The secret’s been out for a while. Many store-brand or private-label products are virtually identical to their name-brand counterparts. If you’re interested in saving money on household products, swapping out items with famous names for less familiar but just as effective generics makes sense.
The trick is finding out which no-name products are gems and which are duds. GoBankingRates recommends buying generic cereal, spices and seasonings, diapers, and medications. (The latter are chemically identical to their brand-name versions.) Generic toilet paper, off-brand TVs, and budget-priced cheese, however, are often inferior to more expensive versions.
11. Single-purpose kitchen gadgets
No one needs a banana slicer. Or an egg cooker (or an egg peeler, for that matter). These and other single-purpose kitchen gadgets rightfully earn the scorn of accomplished cooks. “I have railed against unitaskers for 20 years. I’ve come around to liking them as strategic gifts for people you don’t like,” chef Alton Brown, who shared his opinion on some pointless cooking tools in a video for the Daily Dot, told NPR. Save your money, and teach yourself some basic cooking skills instead.
12. Useless baby products
New parents want to do everything just right for their little one, and people selling baby products know it. They’ll employ some pretty savvy marketing to convince you that you need to buy things, such as a wipe warmer, a baby food processor, special detergent for infant skin, and a changing table. But you don’t really need all that baby gear, according to Parents. Either those products are unnecessary or you can use lower-cost alternatives. A regular gentle detergent should be fine for your baby, for example, and your normal Cuisinart will do a fine job of pureeing cooked carrots.
Not only are many of these products a waste of money, but some might not even be safe. Elaborate crib bedding sets can increase the risk of suffocation, baby walkers can be dangerous (the American Academy of Pediatrics says not to use them), and infant bath seats could lead to drowning accidents, according to Consumer Reports.
On lists of easy ways to save money, one item makes an appearance again and again: cutting cable. There’s a reason personal finance gurus are always telling you to rethink your TV package. It’s really expensive, and you’re often spending boatloads of money for channels you don’t even watch. The average monthly cost of cable is just under $100 month, compared to under $10 a month for some streaming services.
These days, you don’t even really need cable. Tons of content is available from Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. If you want to stay up to date on a particular show, you can buy individual episodes from Amazon or iTunes. Or get an add-on to your Prime subscription for a few bucks a month, and cancel it when the season is over. And if you think you’re stuck with Time Warner or Comcast for sports, you’re wrong. Although it’s tougher for sports fans to give up cable, streaming options do exist.
14. Expensive convenience foods
We’re not going to knock all convenience foods. Having a few frozen pizzas stashed in your freezer can be a lifesaver on those nights when you’re too tired to cook. And they will save you money on takeout, too. But some convenience foods are just ridiculous — and ridiculously expensive. Pre-cut produce can cost as much as 300% more than the kind you have to wash, peel, and slice yourself, according to an analysis by ShopSmart. Some of these “convenience” items — such as potatoes pre-wrapped for baking — also save you little time in the kitchen.
Other possible wastes of money on your grocery list? Pre-peeled hard-boiled eggs; frozen, crust-less PB&J sandwiches; and 100-calorie snack packs all cost way more than their easy-to-make counterparts.
15. Bottled water
Bottled water costs 2,000 times more than tap water, and Americans drink millions of gallons of it every year. If you’re sipping eight glasses of tap water every day, you’d spend a paltry 49 cents per year on average, according to Ban the Bottle. The same amount of bottled water would cost you $1,400 annually.
Many people choose bottled water for convenience, but purchasing a reusable bottle and filling it yourself is both cheaper and better for the environment. And if you think your bottled water is somehow better for you or safer than what comes out of your faucet, you’re probably wrong. Tap and bottled water are comparable in terms of safety, according to the Mayo Clinic. Unless you live in Flint, Michigan, or another place where the water is contaminated, you should be just fine drinking what comes out of the tap.
Additional reporting by Nikelle Murphy.