9 Ways to Cut Costs on Non-Food Grocery Items

by Erin, The $5 Dinner Mom on February 10, 2010

Our $60/week grocery budget includes household items, toiletries and diapers.  In order meet the $60 goal each week, I wanted to share a few more ways to cut grocery costs on non-food items.

1. Use cloth dish towels. No need to buy paper towels when you have a stack of sturdy dishtowels to use!  While I do buy paper towels on occasion, I use them sparingly!

2. Cut dryer sheets in half. And then they will last twice as long.  A large box of dryer sheets for $5.99 when on sale with coupon will last me about 9 months when I cut them in half.  (Or you could make you own dryer sheets!)

3. Use half the recommended fabric softener. I use half the recommended fabric softener…and sometimes none at all. (Or if you’re up for it, make you own!)

4. Stockpile household cleaners and laundry items. If you are not up for making your own cleaners and soaps, stock up when the price is right (insert theme song and Bob Barker, er, Drew Carey!).  While I’ve bought laundry detergent for as little as $2/40-load bottle, my goal price is $5 or less for a 32-40-load bottle or box….with sale and coupon, of course!

5. Don’t pay for toothpaste, razors and soap! Watch the drugstore circulars.  Match coupons up with sales and ECB/RR deals.  Cutting out these costs from your grocery bill will allow you to spend $$ on other things…like food ;)

6. Make your own cleaners. Try out this recipe for general 409-like cleaner, or this one for homemade glass cleaner, or these great recipes for fruit and veggie cleaner and more, and this great non-toxic cleaning kit! And another great comprehensive homemade cleaners recipe list from Jolly Mom.

7. Make your own laundry soap. It is much cheaper!  Here is Gayle’s recipe for making your own laundry detergent, and another from 2 Make Ends Meet!

8. Reuse foil. Be careful how you use it. Rinse it if a little food gets on it.  Let dry, fold and store for using again.  Obviously, if a ton of melted cheese gets all over the foil, don’t reuse!

9. Wash and reuse plastic baggies. When you finish using up a freezer baggie or a baggie that stored something not too messy, turn it inside out, wash with dishsoap and hot water and rinse.  Place the slightly wet plastic baggie, still inside out and upside down so the water will drain off, up to a clean painted wall (doesn’t work on wallpaper or textured walls).  The baggie will stick to the wall and dry. Once dry, fold it back to the correct side and store for use another time.

If you do plan to start making your own cleaners and soaps, check out Soaps Gone Buy if are having trouble finding some of the ingredients. Thanks Renee!

What other suggestions do you have for cutting non-food grocery costs?  We’d love to hear!!!

{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah February 10, 2010 at 9:40 am

Back when I was in highschool (a while ago!) my Economics teacher gave us a few money saving tips. One of them included never buying brand name dryer sheets, unless you get a really good deal on them. Turns out that all dryer sheets are made at a plant and the individual companies just cut, scent and package them. So, as long as you’re not attached to a particular scent, the store brand dryer sheets are the way to go. :)

Reply

Alison February 10, 2010 at 9:44 am

I just overheard this one at Pet Smart! We adopted a new dog last month and he loves toys. We bought him a Kong and the spray stuff to go inside, but he goes through it so fast! To save money you can fill up the Kong and stick it in the freezer. It will take your dog much longer to lick out the frozen treat which means you’ll go through less!

Reply

Elisabeth February 10, 2010 at 9:56 am

Another idea with the dryer sheets is to keep an empty tissue box next to the dryer and save the dryer sheets after you use them. We generally use a few used dryer sheets per load, and it makes them last a lot longer. :o)

Reply

Megan February 10, 2010 at 10:02 am

I make a lot of things on my own like buttermilk, mayo, yogurt, breads, salad dressings, etc. That helps me eliminate those things from my grocery budget. I want to start putting together a cost comparison chart so I can see exactly how much I’m saving. I also reuse plastic baggies but instead of washing them by hand, I wash mine in the washing machine when I wash my dish towels. Works great and the towels act like scrubbers to help get the bags extra clean. Love you website and your tips!

Reply

Evelyn Cox February 10, 2010 at 10:04 am

I LOVE the little tip about plastic baggies sticking to the wall! Never knew that!!

Reply

Christina @ Northern Cheapskate February 10, 2010 at 10:16 am

Great post, Erin!

Most of the time I don’t even use dryer sheets…. but when I do, I’ve been known to cut them into THIRDS and they work just fine! :-)

Reply

Seth @ Boy Meets Food February 10, 2010 at 10:40 am

#5. Are you actually able to get those items for FREE? I try to use coupons whenever I buy those things, but have never been able to get them for FREE. I’d love a little more explanation on that one.

Reply

nikki February 10, 2010 at 11:37 am

I make my own powdered laundry soap and use white vinegar as a softner.

Reply

milk donor mama February 10, 2010 at 11:48 am

I also cut dryer sheets into thirds! Also, I only put underwear and towels in my dryer. I have three folding racks and two hanging racks in my basement next to the washer and dryer. Everything that is not underwear or towels gets hung up on a drying rack. They dry in a day, they don’t get as faded or worn out, I save electricity (and dryer sheets), and no worries about bird poo or rain since it’s in my basement!

Reply

Diana February 10, 2010 at 11:58 am

I make my own powderd laundry soap. It cost $1.92 and about 25 minutes of good ol’ fashioned elbow grease for three months worth of soap (120 loads) Our clothes have never been cleaner and the clothes don’t wear out as fast-which saves even more money!

Reply

Liz February 10, 2010 at 12:07 pm

Great Tips!!! Defiantly will put some of these to work… Just need to get the BF on board with the paper towel usage, or lack thereof!

Reply

Kelly@Living Deliberately February 10, 2010 at 12:09 pm

Thanks for the great post! I take advantage of free samples when available, and I double-duty my cleaners. I use the same cleaners for my kitchen as I do my bathroom.

Reply

teresa February 10, 2010 at 12:35 pm

For some reason, I go through a lot of dish towels. I reverted back to using what my grandmothers used to use – muslin towels. For under $2 a yard for muslin, you can get 3 to 4 towels, depending upon what size you want. just do a quick hem job on the edges and they are read to go. I only need to replace them every 9 to 12 months.

Reply

Melissa February 10, 2010 at 12:37 pm

Thanks for the tips. I have food and household items together in our grocery budget too. When I read this I had a laugh picturing inside-out baggies stuck all over your kitchen wall! :) I hadn’t ever heard of that trick before.

-Melissa

Reply

Sarah February 10, 2010 at 1:23 pm

A friend emailed me a list of odds and ends info, so I thought I’d share this since we’re talking dryer sheets here……

INFO ABOUT CLOTHES DRYERS
The heating unit went out on my dryer! The gentleman that fixes things around the house for us told us that he wanted to show us something and he went over to the dryer and pulled out the lint filter. It was clean. (I always clean the lint from the filter after every load of clothes.) He took the filter over to the sink and ran hot water over it. The lint filter is made of a mesh material . I’m sure you know what your dryer’s lint filter looks like. Well …. the hot water just sat on top of the mesh! It didn’t go through it at all! He told us
that dryer sheets cause a film over that mesh – that’s what burns out the heating unit.
You can’t SEE the film, but it’s there. It’s what is in the dryer sheets to make your
clothes soft and static free. You know how they can feel waxy when you take them out of the box … well this stuff builds up on your clothes and on your lint screen. This is also what causes dryer units to potentially burn your
house down with it! He said the best way to keep your dryer working for a very long time (and to keep your electric bill lower) is to take that filter out and wash it with hot soapy water and an old toothbrush ?at least every six months.
He said that increases the life of the dryer at least twice as long! How about that!?!
Learn something new everyday! I certainly didn’t know dryer sheets would do that. So, I thought I’d share!
Note: I went to my dryer and tested my screen by running water on it. The water ran through a little bit but mostly collected all the water in the mesh screen. I washed it with warm soapy water and a nylon brush and I had it done in 30 seconds. Then when
I rinsed it … the water ran right through the screen! There wasn’t any puddling at all! That repairman knew what he was talking about!

Reply

Mom of 4 February 10, 2010 at 1:31 pm

Word of warning on home-made laundry soap: every recipe I’ve seen involves using true soap (as opposed to detergent). It’s usually either Fels-Naptha or regular bar soap. Anyhow, soap causes certain stains, like sweat, to set. I made some home-made detergent, and it wasn’t long before every last one of my husband’s and boys’ T-shirts had yucky yellow stains around the neck and underarms. And what wasn’t stained was very dingy-looking.I’ve since found something called “Charlie’s Soap Powder”. The name notwithstanding, it’s not actually soap. A tablespoon is enough to clean a normal load, it’s unscented, HE compatible, and runs $ 0.10/load if you buy the gigundous bucket. I tried a small bag first, and LOVE it, so I’ve since bought the bucket. It removed those yellow stains left from my homemade stuff, and gets everything really really clean. I found it at Amazon, with free shipping.

Reply

sara February 12, 2010 at 8:24 am

@Mom of 4,
I’ve tried Fels Naptha and it cause horrible fading! Now I use Kirks Castile bar soap and have had great results! Another benefit is I use the leftover nubs of soap to wash my face-Kirks is technically a beauty bar soap and it works great on my skin (and my clothes look good too LOL!)
sara http://myfrugalfunlife.blogspot.com/

Reply

Bobbie February 10, 2010 at 1:35 pm

I learned from staying at an ‘old fashioned’ Northern Minnesota resort that to scrub a pot with those green/yellow pads you only need 1/4 or 1/8 of a pad. When I buy 1, I cut it up into 4th’s or 8th’s then each pad goes a long, long way…this practice always makes me feel so thrifty!

Also, I use Bonner’s soap from the local co-op. It seem much more concentrated than other brands. So I get more for my buck from an oz.

Reply

maria February 10, 2010 at 1:50 pm

I love love love the clorox wipes……but they were getting a bit (ok, way)too pricey! So I bought a Rubbermaid shoe box ($1) and a 12 pack of cheap itchy washcloths ($4) at walmart. I filled the box about 1/3 of the way full with water, added some Mrs. Meyer’s clean day concentrate and put the washcloths in and let ‘em soak! I use 2-3 per day and wash them with the towels……they work great. 1 does the entire bathroom (tub, then sink, then toilet) or kitchen (table, counters, sink then stove top).

Reply

sara February 10, 2010 at 2:35 pm

just found this site and love it! We’re a family of 5 of a $50 a week grocery budget (includes HBA/toiletries) and a few things I do is use cloth diapers, use vinegar instead of fabric softner and also make my own laundry detergent and cleaners :)sara http://myfrugalfunlife.blogspot.com/

Reply

ParisGirl111 February 10, 2010 at 2:52 pm

I get free toothpaste every 3-6 weeks at my grocery store by doubling the coupon on the special. It’s usually colgate..my preference is Crest. But I would much rather spend that money on food than a special preference in toothpaste. Budgeting is about deciding where to spend you money. So, great ideas here!

Reply

grace February 10, 2010 at 5:21 pm

I have been rinsing out baggies for years. I leave open and put over a small glass so air can dry them.
we always re use aluminum foil at least twice.
I buy my liquid soap in a large bottle and fill small bottles at the different sinks rather than buy the small bottles.

Reply

Susie's Homemade February 10, 2010 at 6:41 pm

Those are GREAT tips!!

Reply

Rene @BudgetSavingMom February 10, 2010 at 7:09 pm

Those are all really great ideas. I try not to use paper towels as well and use several of your tips as well. I make my own dishwasher detergent as well. I have the recipe here:

http://budgetsavingmom.com/2009/06/19/dishwasher-detergent/

Reply

brianna February 10, 2010 at 8:13 pm

I love that you reuse foil and plastic baggies! I do too, and now I don’t have to feel so weird! A way I dry them out if you don’t want to use your walls, is to put some larger utensils (spatulas, wodden spoons) in your dishdrainer, and set the rinsed bags on top. They usually dry out by morning as long as the bag isn’t touching itself on the inside. Then again, we don’t have a dishwasher…if you do, it is probably easier to put them on your wall!

Reply

Jane February 10, 2010 at 9:30 pm

I don’t use sandwich baggies at all- I bought everyone a small plastic container with a different color lid and just wash out and re-use.

Reply

Pam February 10, 2010 at 9:31 pm

Thanks for the great tips. I use dryer balls instead of dryer sheets. You only have to buy them once and then you can reuse them over and over. They work especially well for people with allergies. I also like using regular white vinegar to clean the bathroom. It works great and is inexpensive to buy.

Reply

SW February 10, 2010 at 10:19 pm

I too cut out paper towels – I bought a big batch of cheap washcloths at Costco and throw them in the washer. It took my husband months to figure out I’d stopped buying paper towels. Same was true for paper napkins. I put out a basket with a bunch of cloth napkins and that’s all we use. Neither take up any additional room in the laundry.

I don’t use dryer sheets (hate the chemicals) – and love using vinegar and baking soda for cleaning. I use vinegar in the dishwasher’s rinse aid compartment – works great.

Next up I want to buy some reusable baggies – there are a bunch of sellers on Etsy – to use instead of sandwich and snack bags.

Reply

Shannon February 10, 2010 at 11:05 pm

On #5 I have about 13 tubes of toothpaste that my fav drugstore paid me to take home, I cut myself off on getting more till I work that down, if I can’t help myself I start giving them to family members, a or two’s worth of razors, soap and shampoo, stockpiling can become addicting esp when the stuff is free after combining sale price with coupon sometimes they are great fillers $/$$ coupons.

On dryer sheets and fabric softener, both make towels and diapes less obsorbent, so it is better to not use these things with every load, try just on your clothes, you ‘ll be amazed at the difference in absorbancy one the residue finally washes all off.

Reply

Tracy ~One Retro Mama February 11, 2010 at 7:07 am

I also cut my dryer sheets in thirds & use the cheapest brand that I can stand the smell of. I usually buy purex laundry soap or another store brand that runs me about $2.99.

Reply

Cari C. February 11, 2010 at 8:03 am

Well, if you don’t want to buy cloth diapers (which you can later sell back or reuse for the next child) at least make or buy cloth wipes! There are many easy recipes for wipes solutions, usually with some baby wash and a drop of tea tree oil for it’s antibacterial properties. I use Kissaluvs Diaper Lotion Potion concentrate. A $15 bottle has lasted me about 9 months and I’m sure I’ll get another 3 months out of it. Just a small squirt into my son’s wipes warmer then I add warm water. Drop in some old wash cloths or other wipes or even paper towels and voila! Then just put some in a (reused) baggie for the diaper bag. They can be washed with your child’s regular clothes (unlike cloth diapers).

Reply

sara February 16, 2010 at 2:00 pm

@Cari C.,
I use both! Love my flats and Thirsties covers-paid under $200 for my diaper stash and its going strong after three years and two kids! I also use cloth wipes with a wahm bum wash and love them :)
sara http://myfrugalfunlife.blogspot.com/

Reply

Queen of the House February 11, 2010 at 8:46 am

Thank you, Erin, for mentioning “2 Make Ends Meet” in this blog post! I’ve had a lot of traffic!!! :) I love reading all of the other ideas that people have too, for saving money! Keep up the good work! :)

Reply

Sandra February 11, 2010 at 9:55 am

I wash my plastic baggies, too. A while back, I found a carousel sock dryer at a yard sale for a quarter. It has about sixteen little clips that you can hang socks from to dry them. I use it to dry my bags. I turn them inside out and just hang them up. It has been a real space saver to me, plus, I don’t have plastic baggies sitting all over the place. If you can find one of those dryers for cheap, they work great!

Reply

Shannon February 11, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Another moneysaving tip for paper towels is to use microfiber terry towels instead. I tried using just plain dish towels to clean up messes, but it always seems like the area is still damp after you clean up say a cup of milk the kids dumped over at dinner. If you use a microfiber towel instead it is not only super duper absorbent, but there is no streaking of liquid leftover like with a dishtowel and it usually gets it up in one swipe too! I found mine at Walmart for $5 an 8 pack and I’ve even seen them on price cut for $2.50. They are in the automotive section and half are blue and half are white. Make sure it says microfiber terry cloth on the package. Originally a friend recommended these to me as cloth diaper inserts to make the Gerbers more absorbent, but it works great for this too!

Reply

Kris @ Frugal Mom's Kitchen February 11, 2010 at 2:01 pm

I’m surprised no one has mentioned this. I’ve never used both fabric softener and dryer sheets. I just use dryer sheets, and for towels I don’t even use those. I use a bit of vinegar in the wash instead. Fabric softener will make towels less absorbent over time.

Reply

Rachel February 11, 2010 at 11:39 pm

We use cloth napkins instead of buying paper napkins. I already had a week’s worth stashed around the house (wedding gifts, hand-me-downs from my grandmother, etc.). Cloth napkins are kind of pricey if you go to buy them, though. But if you already have them, they’re free! I just wash mine with the towels. Sure, they would look nicer if I ironed them, but we’re okay with using napkins with a few wrinkles in them! You could also buy inexpensive dish towels and cut them into fourths to make smaller cloth napkins – just hem around the edges to finish them off. Cloth napkins also make dinner feel special!

Reply

Jodi February 12, 2010 at 10:06 am

Instead of expensive Soft Scrub, I use a scouring cleanser such as Ajax or Comet (usually .50 at Wags). I only peel off half of the top sticker, leaving less of an opening so I can control the amount that comes out. I almost always get my beauty products for free using RRs and ECBs at Wags and CVS.

Reply

Lara February 12, 2010 at 2:51 pm

We tend to go through paper towels pretty quickly in our house – usually wiping little hands and faces. What do other people do on this? It just doesn’t feel right to reuse a towel for this when my little ones always have runny noses at this time of year especially. I have been trying lately to get them to the sink to rinse off hands and faces first and then just do a dry wipe at the end, but my little one is quick and I often end up with peanut butter and jelly all over both of us!! Would love to hear what you and others do so I could cut down on our paper towel use!

Reply

Kayla March 4, 2010 at 8:57 pm

@Lara, If you sew, you can buy cheap flannel and cut it into 10×10 (or whatever size you want) squares and do a zig-zag stitch around the edges. I’ve been using the ones I made in place of paper towels and napkins. I’d suggest wetting a few before your kids sit down to eat and then they’re ready to use for clean-up. You could also make smaller ones to use to wipe noses. Just throw them in with your towels to wash :)

Reply

Dusti February 14, 2010 at 1:02 am

Lara,
For my son, I have the baby washcloths I bought at Walmart. It was less than a dollar for 5. I use one each day for him. After every meal or snack, I wet the cloth and wipe him down. Sometimes, especially after peanut butter, it takes several rinses! I leave him strapped in his seat at the table while I wipe him. He knows that I won’t let him up until I’ve wiped him so now when he’s done, he asks, “Wash?” :)

Reply

Jo February 16, 2010 at 6:20 am

Might I add…make your own cloth napkins instead of purchasing paper ones…when I first got married 30 years ago I bought a few yards of material, hemmed the edges and made napkins, received a few for wedding gifts, and have over the years refreshed with ones that I’ve made with sale fabric. I don’t think I’ve purchased more than a dozen packs of paper ones/for picnics or large gatherings since then…just throw them in the wash with your regular loads of laundry..no muss, no fuss, no expense…I still have some of the originals and they are in useable shape. My kids/now high school & college students still love the ones that I made for the home packed(every day from first grade through high school) school lunches…the fabric had all kids of lunch food…sandwiches, chips, apples, thermoses on it……oh, and each kid got a minimate cooler and some freezer cooler thingeys when they went off to first grade as their lunch box…that always kept their hot things hot and their cold things cold..so between tupperware glasses, sandwich holders, little dressing cups, etc…and thermoses for soups, banana splits and such…they always had the coolest of lunches..with the healthy foods from home and large enough to keep them happy…again, one small change multiplied times 3 kids times 12 years of school…and let me say..the two college kids are still using the very same minimate coolers…one investment out for more than a decade…adds up into cost savings…

Reply

Chavon (Joshua's Mommy) February 16, 2010 at 9:51 am

My mom always used cloth napkins….you can re-use them for YEARS. I need to get into that habit. They are expensive at first, but rather than going through two rolls of paper towels a month I could just wash them with the towels every week and be restocked.

Reply

Jo February 17, 2010 at 12:01 pm

Don’t make the cloth napkins an expensive option…wait until you find a coupon for one of the fabric stores/or when they have a sale and buy a good quality 100% cotton(a poly blend just doesn’t absorb nor get that soft worn in feel)…I make mine about 22″ square and then do the minimal hems on the edges..either serge 1/4″ and then turn over again so no raw edges..or just do the 1/4″ turn twice so it’s all neat…most fabric is in a 44″ width so if you just halve lengthwise..if you buy 1 1/4 yds you have 4 napkins…times how many you’d like to start with…if I find a cute fabric I’ll buy several yards..prewash, I cut with a razor cutter with a plastic measuring template for ease..and then production line…I lay all the squares on my lap and sew one edge on each napkin in a long connecting string so no stopping & trimming in between…then after all are done on one side..clip apart and do the next side, etc…very very quick and easy…so an investment of maybe 5 yards of fabric @ $4 or so a yard..depending on what you want…= $20 and 16 napkins…which will last for more than a decade…considering what paper costs and how quickly you can go through them it won’t take long to pay them off…and/or you can request fabric from crafter friends and family that have extras…or request on freecycle in your area..

I refresh to match for a special dinner or occasion…then they get put into the rotation…regular meals/packed lunches we just grab whatever is on top..if I’m setting a nice dinner table then I will search through the drawer for coordinating ones with a theme in mind…

Reply

Sam February 18, 2010 at 12:53 pm

I don’t know how many of you drink coffee, but I am the only one in my house that does. Since I can’t make just one cup for me, I make a pot, turn the burner off, and then I just reheat it each day I drink it until it is gone and I need to make some more. If you turn the pot off, it doesn’t burn, so it tastes the same as it did the first time you drank it, plus you are not throwing out unused coffee.

Reply

Kayla March 4, 2010 at 9:05 pm

I bought microfiber towels (pack of 8 for $5 at Wal-Mart) and cut them into Swiffer cloth sized pieces. I used zig-zag stitch around the edges and I can use them on my Swiffer or as dusting cloths. I also just found this tutorial on making washable Swiffer dusters that I plan to do very soon!
http://sewmuchado.blogspot.com/2010/02/tutorial-reusable-swiffer-duster-cloths.html
I also use cloth napkins/towels (made from flannel) in place of paper products and cloth diapers/wipes.

Reply

DiarLorma June 4, 2012 at 5:13 pm

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: