This post is from contributing writer Bethany Wright.
My Budget Secrets
When people find out that we like to eat whole foods, organic cuisine, local produce, or farm-fresh meat, they often gasp in astonishment. I can pretty much predict what the next question will be: how can you afford it??
Over time, I’ve compiled a list of budget-saving tips that doesn’t involve food. Many of these tips are just small suggestions that save a few dollars here or there. But when you add up a bunch of little items, it can lead to a big budget difference! Freeing up money in this part of the budget allows me to allocate more resources to our food budget.
And the best part about each of these tips? Not only will it help you save money, it will also help you in your journey of stewardship. Budget-friendly AND earth-friendly? Yes, please!
TIP 1: Replace your kitchen paper products with cloth alternatives
This is a well known tip – but still worth mentioning!
Do you reach for a paper towel or napkin to clean up a spill? It’s an easy habit to slip into (and seemingly so convenient!). Rather than use a disposable paper towel (or two … or three…), try using a dishcloth, microfiber cloth, or Skoy Cloth. We bought a 4-pack of Skoy Cloths four years ago and they are still wonderful workhorses of the kitchen! I keep a basket on my counter top so they are easy to default to.
And instead of paper napkins, try switching to cloth. My family members typically get one cloth napkin per day. I’m amazed how cloth napkins perform under pressure. I thought for sure we would blow through cloth napkins like we do paper napkins (or is it only my kids who make messes?). But the cloth napkin has a durability and absorbability that paper just can’t match. And when you are done, just throw it in the wash and re-use! We keep a cute basket on our dining room table.
TIP 2: Replace your regular bottle of dish soap with a foaming pump soap dispenser bottle (DIY!)
Once you have been in the natural-food-genre for a while, you start to pay attention to what you put IN and ON your body. This can include dish soap. A few years ago, we stopped using anti-bacterial dish soap and switched to something with healthier, simpler ingredients – both for our hands and for the environment.
Personally, we love Trader Joe’s Dish Soap. (Don’t have a Trader Joe’s? No worries. I’m 80% confident that it is the Ecos Brand dish soap, just store-branded.) Not only are the ingredients simple, I found that it doesn’t dry out my hands like many mainstream brands.
HOWEVER. This dish soap does cost a little more than conventional brands. Which made me cringe when I realized that I was seemingly blowing through a bottle each week. I mean, you need a squirt every time you sporadically wash a dish or counter. And the soap!! The waste factor was driving me bonkers. Those quick clean-up soap squirts are always more than you really need.
Until one day I discovered that Dawn sold a foaming dish soap dispenser that was refillable. I was already making my own foaming pump soap for washing hands (see Budget Tip #3).
So I grabbed the bottle of Dawn, discarded of the contents (Disclaimer: At the time, breathing synthetic fragrance would trigger an asthma attack. There was a reason for my ‘waste’ back then!), and filled my bottle with my own stuff. VOILA! Suddenly a full bottle that only lasted 8-10 days of heavy use was lasting multiple weeks.
Even if you don’t care what ingredients are in your dish soap, this friendly tip will save you money!
To Make Foaming Dish Soap:
- Get a foaming dispenser bottle.
- Fill the empty bottle half way with dish soap. EDIT: a few tablespoons to 1/4 full of regular soap usually does it, less if concentrated soap.
- Fill the remaining half with water, allowing a one inch head space (you do not want the plastic aerator pump to sit in liquid).
- Tighten the lid and gently tip the bottle upside down and right side up to blend. No need to shake vigorously – just turning it upside down and back a few times will blend it. Remember, this IS soap. If you shake it, you will cause bubbles to come out the seal. 🙂
- Instantly use!
Looking for something more eco-friendly? Check out this DIY dish soap.
TIP 3: Make Your Own Hand Washing Soap (DIY!)
You can read about making your own foaming hand soap in this Kitchen Stewardship article.
Short on time? Simply use liquid castile soap and follow the instructions from Tip #2. I can purchase a 32-oz container of castile soap at my regular grocery store for $10. From that large bottle I can make about 8-9 bottles of foaming hand soap (typical 8oz size). Remember – you are only filling the bottle half full of soap. What might set you back $4-5 at a health food store will only cost you ~$1.25 at home. That’s pretty hard to beat!
TIP 4: Use Vinegar For … Well … Everything
You know those party games where you answer questions like: “If you were deserted on an island, what random things would you take with you?” My response is always white vinegar and coconut oil. Seriously.
We keep vinegar handy at all times for sooooo many uses:
- Forget buying window cleaner. Use vinegar in a spray bottle to clean your windows and mirrors.
- Use vinegar as a 1-to-1 replacement for fabric softener in your wash cycle. I promise, your clothes WILL NOT smell like vinegar.
- In fact, you can also ditch your dryer sheets because the vinegar in your wash cycle naturally softens your clothes and helps reduce static electricity. (If I ever go a load without vinegar, I can tell my mistake because my clothes are noticeably more stiff and full of static.)
- Replace the rinse-aid in your dishwasher with vinegar. I find it works beautifully.
- Use vinegar as a great all-purpose cleaner in your bathrooms and kitchen. Katie has lots of information about using vinegar as a kitchen cleaner!
- Use vinegar with baking soda to help unclog drains.
And this is only my short list! Cleaning chemicals, dryer sheets, and fabric softeners can be real drains on the budget. Try giving vinegar a chance!
TIP 5: Make A Menu Plan For the Week
I know this tip may seem obvious, but when we meal-plan, we save money. There is a clear connection in our budget between planning to use food and spending less. Grocery trips without a plan can become dangerous adventures that kill even the most generous budgets.
And when I don’t plan, a lot of food ends up getting wasted or becoming spoiled before we have a chance to eat it. There’s nothing worse than throwing out molded locally-grown organic produce because you forgot to eat it for two weeks. 🙁
If you’ve tried meal-planning in the past and it just didn’t work for you, don’t give up hope! Maybe you just need to find the menu-planning style that best fits you. Check out this post on 6 different meal-planning styles (and why thematic planning saved our dinner … and budget).