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Economizing at Home (When You Really Don’t Want To)

Updated on March 14, 2013

Nobody wants to cut back and deprive themselves of the little pleasures of life and no one likes to be inconvenienced. Unfortunately this is exactly what people think has to happen in in order to economize. Cutting back and watching your pennies does not have to painful but it does take a certain amount of effort and constant vigilance.

I am married with a wonderful one year old daughter and over the past year we have definitely had to learn how to make our paychecks stretch further. While my husband makes a great salary he is forced to cover probably 90% of our expenses to make up for my poor salary. We live in Massachusetts where it seems the current trend is high prices and held back wages. But until I find a new job with my newly acquired Master of Arts Degree we will have no choice but to make a stab at frugality.

There is no bigger brand-snob than me, but even I have learned that store brand products really do work just as well as their brand name counterparts. While there are some products that I will only buy the brand name no matter what, I have learned to embrace a lot of generic alternatives. After being married for four years these are some money-saving tips I have picked up.

Carry Cash

In the age of debit and credit cards we have become very accustomed to swiping for everything we buy. By allowing ourselves a predetermined amount of cash per pay period we feel the weight of our purchasing decisions more. When I am working off of cash I find myself asking the question “do I really need this?” more often. And while most people find coins a hassle I think of them as a great way of putting aside some extra cash. I save all quarters, dimes, and nickels in a small bank that I have had since I was a kid; I keep pennies in a separate jar. Once the bank is filled I take it to the nearest coin machine and cash them in. The last time I did this I came home with over $65.00. Not bad considering the coin machine charged a heavy fee which is worth not having to roll coins. My husband and I used this money towards a dinner and a movie which we normally would have foregone due to the cost.

Cut Out the Take-out/ Buy in Bulk

We have onenight a week that we get take-out as a rule, and it is on a night that we both get home too late to make a decent dinner and eat at a reasonable time. The rest of the week my husband cooks all the meals and it saves us a considerable amount of money. We buy a lot of chicken breast since it is inexpensive when bought in large packages and just break up the packages into smaller portions in freezer bags. By using a lot of chicken in our diets and really thinking through what we buy for meat and how we’re going to use it I spend an average of $50 for a half a month worth of meat. This averages out to $3.60 per meal for meat for two people. Some other ways to make the food budget stretch is to work a whole wheat pasta night into the rotation or a taco night using ground beef which can also be purchased cheap and divided up for multiple meals. Just make sure to date any food in your freeze not in the original packaging so you can be sure of its freshness.

Another big savings is brown bag your lunch! You could potentially spend over $200 a month on lunch is you eat out every day! Pack left over with some chopped up fruit and vegetables. Also use a reusable water bottle instead of buying individual bottles and fill up at the office water cooler!

Store Rewards Cards

Those annoying little cards might collect fast on your keychain but they can really save you some money! The only reason I ever go into CVS is to pick-up a regular prescription. When I pay for this I always give them my card out of reflex even though it saves me no money on the prescription. A couple of weeks ago when the pharmacist gave me my receipt she told me I had $2.00 in ‘Extra Care bucks’, this is the rewards system CVS has for shopping with them. I saved the receipt with the coupon in a pile on my desk and did not think much about it. My mother then told me that Scott Bath Tissue 12 packs were on sale for $6.99 at CVS. Normally I would have blown this off since in my mind it is pretty set that I do not shop at CVS, it is too expensive, but I then thought about the $2.00 coupon I had to CVS. If I used that it would mean the bath tissue came down to $4.99 for 12 rolls, 50% less than I pay on a regular basis at Wal-Mart. The next day I packed up my daughter for a string of errands, made sure a CVS was on our path home and saved myself $5.00 on toilet paper. This experience just proved that the lowest prices are not always at Target or Wal-Mart.

Another store rewards I love is my Paper Store card. The birthdays in my family are so spread out that I am constantly buying greetings cards. For every purchase you make at the Paper Store or a Hallmark store you get points on your card, these points eventually become a gift card back to the store. Just recently I received an $8.00 Hallmark gift card which I accrued as a result of my Easter card shopping, but there have been times after Christmas when I have received a $12.00 gift card. These gift cards make a real difference, especially considering the price of cards today.

Return Your Bottles

In Massachusetts we pay a .05¢ bottle deposit on all carbonated beverage containers. Now it is not as if when we return the bottles, cans, and glass we are given a nickel for being environmentally friendly, it is our money! All we are doing is getting the deposit we paid back. We recently had our daughter’s birthday and we thought it would be nice to have glass bottles of Coke, Sprite, etc. Well we were left with 20 peoples’ empties and you can bet that I packed them all up and placed them in the garage to be returned at a later date. The glass bottles are expensive as it is, I want my deposit back. And yes I am conscious about the environment and want to recycle as much as I can but honestly lately my wallet has warranted more urgent attention. All money I collect from bottle redemption I place in an envelope and tuck away. This has allowed me to slowly build up a small “stash of cash” for the little things that come up and cash is more convenient than card.

Coffee Runs

I am not a big coffee drinker. I like a few sips of iced coffee in the morning and then I’m done. But when you’re paying around $3.00 per iced coffee at Dunkin Donuts every morning it adds up. Not to mention they do not usually make it like I ask and I am very picky. I have now picked up a tip from my husband and made a cup of hot coffee in the Keurig before bed and let in sit on the counter to cool. The next morning I pour it in a reusable iced beverage cup, add ice, make it to my liking and move on with my day. This saves me money and a trip to the crowded coffee shop. Where a medium iced coffee from Dunkin Donuts would cost me $2.39, a cup I brewed and prepared at home would only cost me an average of .63¢ based on box of 24 K-cups costing $15.00. Now there are brands that cost even less but this is the cost of my brand of choice (Wolfgang Puck). With close to a $1.75 in savings per day, only taking a few sips does not make me feel nearly as guilty.

Household Cleaning

No matter what your politics are about the Wal-Mart Corporation in many cases you cannot beat their prices on household necessities. Their “Great Value” brand is true to its name in regard to price and performance. For years I spent an outrageous amount on Glad brand trash bags, not usually getting more than 40 in a box for around $6.00. When I finally began to make a stab at cutting back I bought Wal-Mart’s “Great Value” brand trash bags for $6.97, only there were 80 in the box. This proved to be a great savings over time since trash bags are one of those absolute necessities. Recently I found an even greater deal at Target. They had a ‘mega’ box of 200 tall kitchen bags marked down to $11.99. This makes Target’s trash bags around .06¢ per bag where Wal-Mart’s brand are .09¢ a bag.

I grew using Windex and had never thought of using anything else. Until I went to pick-up the refill jug of Windex for $5.00 when I noticed that the “Great Value” brand was only $2.00. I must have stood there for five minutes debating in my head until I finally chose the Wal-Mart brand. I refilled my spray bottles with it the next day and much to my delight the results were the same as if I had spent $3.00 more. Store brand Swiffer also work just as well as the name brand at a noticeable savings!

I went completely out of my box yesterday and purchased Target’s ‘Up & Up’ brand dishwashing detergent; a move that completely surprised my husband since I have never bought anything other than Cascade. We have no yet tried this out yet, but I will update when we do. **Update, Target brand dishwasher detergent works the same as any name brand, we will never go back!

Now not everything you buy must be store brand in order to save significantly. Sometimes it is just a matter of knowing what certain stores charge for products you use. I love Softsoap brand hand soap for both my bathrooms, but I know that I this product should be purchased on a Wal-Mart run for .98¢ because Target charges $1.47. The Wal-Mart brand hand soap is typically .88¢ and for only a .10¢ difference I prefer to buy the brand name with the scent I enjoy. Anyone who has children appreciates how much hand washing goes on in our home, for this reason I like to enjoy the scent of my hand soap (little pleasures).

Napkins can surprisingly save you money on paper towels. Paper towels are so expensive that I hate to waste them on simple things like substituting them for napkins at the dinner table. If you have a group of messy eaters you can really burn through a roll of paper towels quickly. Napkins tend to come in large quantities and can be a cheaper quality than paper towels without losing their effectiveness. Now napkins are one of those products that you may be tempted to buy the “pretty pattern” but believe me you do not notice the pattern on you napkins as much as you would think. Go for the bulk and take the time to do the math in your head! We just had my daughter’s birthday party and saved the stack of unused napkins (we did pay for them after all), two weeks later we are still using up a stack of party napkins while my original package has remained untouched. Do not waste anything, if you spent your hard earned money on it use it!

I do have to draw the line for store brand products when it comes to paper towels. I grew up using Bounty paper towels and I will always buy them. Despite Proctor & Gamble’s attempt to baffle the consumer with an array of roll sizes and completely confuse our sense of how much we should be paying per package Bounty paper towels are still the best I have ever used. Bounty Basic paper towels may be slightly cheaper for a package but you will find out quickly they are much thinner and more loosely rolled to look as though it is a fuller roll. The hitch with being a loyal Bounty user is the effort it takes to get the best deal possible. Never buy the ‘regular’ size rolls, the original Bounty rolls were never that small, that is nothing but a scam. Other sizes include ‘Big’, ‘Huge’, ‘Giant’ and ‘Super-Mega’. All I can tell you is that the pack of 8 rolls (that supposedly really equal 12 rolls) should not cost you more than $10.50; $10.00 is the best price. Just yesterday I went to Target because they were having a special; if you bought two of the 8-packs of Bounty for $10.50 each you received a $5.00 Target gift card good towards your next purchase. This was a deal that I could not pass by even though I was not in need of paper towels at the moment. This is one of the hardest concepts of economizing that even I still struggle with: you must invest to save. If I had passed up this deal than more than likely when I actually needed paper towels I would have had to spend the regular price of $12.50 for an 8-pack. I not only saved $2.00 a package, but I made $5.00 off the purchase. I do tend to prefer my local Target rather than the local Wal-Mart when it comes to Bounty since Target has regular sales and also offers different sized packages. Wal-Mart only tends to have the 12-pack (which really equals 16 rolls) for $16.97. This comes out to roughly $1.41 per roll where just yesterday I spent $1.31 per roll. The price is somewhat negligible but Target also carries the printed paper towels which I prefer to the plain white.


Laundry is another costly area of home life, especially when you have small children. My daughter spit-up constantly for four months until she began soft foods. This took quite a toll on not only her clothes but mine and my husband’s as well. As tempted as you might be to let a stain go try treating it as soon as possible. I have had the best luck with cold water and Palmolive Oxy Plus dish soap, then spray with Dreft Spray ($2.99). Dreft Spray comes from the makers of Dreft baby detergent which gets out, I am convinced, almost any mess your baby can make while keeping the clothes soft against baby’s skin and smelling great. Dreft rarely goes on sale or has coupons; I have tried the target equivalent and t was not the same. I felt it was a little rougher than it should be on my daughter’s clothes. The quicker you treat stains the more likely you are to get them out. This will save you money in the long run on clothing since no one want to walk around wearing clothes with stains all over them.

Another brand I do not waiver from is Tide. I love to shop and I love all the clothing purchases I make; ide has never let me down before and I am not willing to risk my clothes to another detergent. I may get over this someday but I have not got there yet. It seems that Tide is also the most expensive detergent. But occasionally there are sales and special offers. At that same sale at Target yesterday you could buy two 100 oz. bottles of Tide for $11.99 each and receive a $5.00 Target gift card towards your next purchase. You are not going to get much better than $11.99 and by buying two I made $5.00 on the purchase.

I also love Downy dryer sheets to make my clothes feel fresh and static free. I typically buy the box of 120 sheets for $5.50. However growing up with an economical mother taught me a valuable tip; rip the dryer sheet in half and you now have a box of 240. Right away the price of the sheets drop from approximately .05¢ to about .02¢ and you will not need dryer sheets for quite some time. You do not need an entire sheet for a regular load of laundry in order for it to feel fresh and be static free, trust me I have had my laundry done this way my entire life.

Health & Beauty

Store brand health care items are a great way to save money. I got in the habit of taking vitamins during my pregnancy and wanted to continue to do so after. Since I was no longer having them prescribed and covered by insurance I was forced to enter the overwhelming vitamin aisle at Wal-Mart. While looking at the bottle of Women’s One-A-Day vitamins for around $8.00 I happened to notice that Wal-Mart’s “Equate” brand was only $4.00. That was a 50% savings! Without a second thought I bought the woman’s formula for myself and the men’s formula for my husband. With this much savings we could both afford to be a little healthier.

For whatever reason it just seems as though there is never any Motrin in stock at Target when I go, so I began buying Target’s ‘Up & Up’ brand ibuprofen and I can attest to the fact that there is no noticeable difference.

During pregnancy I was sometimes in need of a Colace for some irregularity issues. Even right after birth I suffered from these issues. Although I would never deviate from the brand name the doctor gave me during pregnancy, post pregnancy I searched for a less expensive option. I found it at Wal-Mart where although you could buy Colace for around $15.00 and only get under twenty capsules, the Equate brand provides the consumer with 80 capsules for $1.88. Again, no difference.

One item I could not believe the difference in price was nail polish remover. I only do my nails during the summer so one bottle lasts me a long time; but I cannot forget that last time I bought it the Cutex brand cost a little over $2.00 while the store brand was under a dollar. As long as it has acetone believe me the polish is coming off!

One generic prescribed by doctor that I did care for was the generic form of Allegra. Personally I need whatever was in the true Allegra 24 hour pill. Though is averages $24.00 at both Target and Wal-Mart I was fortunate enough to find a $4.00 off Allegra coupon specifically at Target. Even though I had a full bottle at home I still bought it at the reduced price and just began the bottle last week; happy in the knowledge I saved money and had the next bottle ready to go eliminating the need for a pharmacy run.

My husband is a big fan of the Equate brand contact lens cleaner. It does the job just as well as by buying the store brand in packages of two he saves even more.

Now these tips will not save you hundreds but you will begin to notice a difference. They have just proven to be a good start for my family in becoming aware consumers and making sure that get the maximum value for our hard earned money. I know there are many more ways in which to save and many more store brands that we have yet to discover. Don’t worry if you smart shop for a while and then fall off the wagon spending an obscene amount on something you really love, I do that a lot! The important thing is to not let companies exploit your precious dollars. We work hard all week for our pay checks, we should be able to have enough left over to have some fun with our families!


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    • RichardPac profile image


      6 years ago from Sunny Florida!

      Thanks for the tips! Another neat trick when deciding on purchase is to simply ask yourself, "Is this a want or a NEED?" I often times talk myself out of buying things in this manner.Every little bit really adds up. With a little one on the way, Every penny counts!


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