When you want to cut expenses, you usually focus on the big-ticket expenses first. Finding ways to trim your housing payment, auto insurance premium, and transportation costs leaves you with more money to put toward financial goals.
That’s a good move, but 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? Probably more than you’d like.
Luckily, reducing the cost of household purchases doesn’t have to be complicated. You just need to follow a few simple steps to start saving money.
Easy Ways to Save Money on Household Items
Paper towels, cleaning supplies, tools for home improvement projects: The little purchases you make monthly can add up. Fortunately, you can save a lot of money on the essentials with just a few money-saving tips.
1. Track Your Spending Habits
Before you can figure out how to save money on household goods, you need to know what you’re purchasing and how often.
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, which helps me with my budgeting 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 and keep track of fluctuations or increases in cost.
2. Use Rebates and 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 nothing. But you don’t have to go the extreme couponing route to save money.
You can be casual about how you use coupons. 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).
Rebates work a little differently.
Back in the day, if something you bought was eligible for a rebate, you had to send 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, Fetch, and Ibotta give you access to rebate offers from a wide variety of stores. But they all work slightly differently.
Some only work at brick-and-mortar stores, while others cover online purchases too. Some only give you rebates via gift cards to various retailers, such as Amazon, Target, or Walmart. But others also give you the option to receive PayPal or check payments.
The cash back may be for a specific product (sometimes even in a particular size or quantity). But you may also see generic cash-back offers, such as scanning any receipt or buying any product from a certain brand.
For more options, read our article on cash-back rewards apps.
3. Always Get the Deal
If you can, never pay full price for 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 get a deal when you shop. If you mostly buy online, it can be worthwhile to install a browser extension, such as Honey or Capital One Shopping.
The extensions browse the Web and alert you if a coupon is available or the product you’re looking at is available for a lower price somewhere else. Some, like CamelCamelCamel, also track prices (though this one is only for Amazon).
If you prefer to shop in person, those snail mail or online weekly sales flyers are your friends. Review the flyers each week to see what’s on sale as you make your shopping list.
Just as you’d base your grocery list on a meal plan heavy on sale ingredients, compare your spending habits, including how often you usually buy essentials, to what’s on sale. For example, if your brand of dish soap is on sale now and you know you’ll need it in a few weeks, jump on the deal now.
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, buying paper products in bulk often makes sense because they don’t expire and you’re sure to use them.
When I moved into my own place, I ordered a bulk pack of 48 toilet paper rolls online. The price worked out to be much cheaper than buying a four- or six-pack from the store, and it will be a while 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 and pick a delivery schedule.
Your schedule can be as often or as seldom as you need, and you can change the schedule if it doesn’t work for you. Amazon sends you an email before it ships your goods, meaning you can always cancel it if you realize you don’t need it.
But the best part is you get anywhere from 5% to 20% off each shipment, depending on what the product is and how many subscriptions you have. The more subscriptions, the more subscriptions, the more you save.
You can also use the service for products you don’t need to buy in bulk.
For example, you can schedule a single laundry detergent bottle to arrive each month. Or you can schedule maintenance supplies like air conditioner and water filter replacements to come during the recommended replacement window.
Another option for bulk buying is a members-only warehouse store such as good old Costco or Sam’s Club. But they charge annual membership fees, so they’re only worth it if you shop there frequently.
For example, a Costco membership will set you back between $60 and $120 per year. But you also get access to tremendous savings. The retailer is known for selling enormous sizes of things like detergent, shampoo, and bandages but also offers great deals on almost everything else.
Before buying in bulk, check to ensure it will actually save you money. You can compare prices by looking at the unit price listed on the tag on the shelf. But 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 quantity in the case of countable goods like sponges or the weight (usually ounces or pounds) in the case of products sold by weight, such as laundry detergent.
For example, if a 48-ounce bottle of dish soap is $9.99, it costs about $0.20 per ounce. If a 16-ounce bottle of the same product costs $2.88, its unit price is $0.18 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 batteries, lightbulbs, or tissues, 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 store-brand versus name-brand products.
One category where it makes especially good sense to buy generic or store brands is medicine.
All medications have to be reviewed and approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration before they end up on store shelves. And generics must legally be identical to their name-brand counterparts to be approved.
So 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 medicines can save you a pretty penny. They often cost pennies on the dollar compared to 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 separate bathroom, kitchen counter, and sink cleaners. The odds are likely you can use a single cleaning agent on all those surfaces.
7. Get Stuff for Free
The world is drowning in stuff. If you live in a populated area, someone you know probably has something you need, meaning you don’t need to buy it.
There are many ways to get household goods and pretty much anything else for free. For example, 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.
Craigslist also has a free section. Some people also list things they no longer want on Nextdoor, a social networking app designed to connect people based on their location.
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. There are also some big-ticket items, like window air conditioners, cellphones, or furniture.
It’s not as strange as it sounds. Someone may find that an otherwise perfectly good cleaning product isn’t suitable for their needs after using it once. Or perhaps they had to replace a broken vacuum cleaner and no longer need 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, 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.
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 carpet cleaners or floor buffers.
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 like push brooms or extension cords.
Your local public library may also lend more than just reading materials, including household goods. For example, branch locations of my local library, the Free Library of Philadelphia, allow people to borrow nontraditional materials like 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 you borrowed it in.
Craigslist, Nextdoor, or Facebook groups can also help you find tools to borrow. Just create a post on your site of choice describing what you’re looking for.
If no one you know has the equipment 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 carpet cleaners or power tools.
The rental cost is usually a fraction of the equipment’s purchase price, depending on the length of the rental and how often you plan to rent one. You can cut the rental cost even more by splitting it with friends or neighbors.
9. Reuse or Replace Single-Use Products
Some products sold as single-use don’t have to be. For example, you can wash and reuse zip-close bags. 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 start fresh.
You probably don’t want to reuse any single-use product too many times. But even if you get just two uses rather than one, you’re effectively cutting your 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 a 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. For example, you can buy:
- Beeswax wraps instead of throwaway plastic wrap
- Cloth napkins instead of paper
- 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 and reusing glass jam jars, spaghetti sauce jars, and plastic yogurt cups. You can use these containers to store cut veggies, 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. Make It Last
If you’re frequently spending money to replace reusable supplies that wear out before their time, learning how to take better care of things can help you cut costs. Likewise, consumables like dish soap and cleaning supplies should last longer than they do for many people.
Several strategies can help you get the most use out of everything you buy.
- Read the Care Labels. Washing textiles like bedding and towels as the manufacturer recommends can ensure they last. For example, some fabrics need to be washed in cold water to keep their colors from fading. Cold water also costs less than hot.
- Figure Out How to Fix Stuff. Learn to do basic mending and repair. Fixing what you already own, whether it’s a dish towel or vacuum cleaner, helps you get months or years more use out of them.
- Keep Things in the Right Spot. Humid or sunny spots can cause your possessions to fade or wear out quickly. Look at a product’s packaging to see if it has storage recommendations. For example, you should keep most cleaning and bath products in a cool, dark area.
- Only Use What You Need. Apply cleaning products to the sponge or cloth to ensure you don’t dispense more than you need. Dilute them with water if you can. For example, Dawn dish soap is ultra-concentrated. You don’t need it at full strength to do lightly soiled dishes.
Other than a few major appliances, the cost of household supplies can seem small, but it adds up over time. Finding ways to trim those expenses can help you focus on saving for your big financial goals or splurge on something fun.
One way to visualize your savings is to put the money you save in a dedicated savings account. Opt for a high-yield savings account so you earn money on top of every penny pinched.
Then, pick a relatively small but extravagant goal to save for. It should be something you’re excited about, but nothing too costly. You’re just saving pocket change here, after all. For example, save for an expensive date-night restaurant or a movie projector and outdoor screen rather than a European vacation.
Once you reach your goal, set another one to inspire you to keep saving.