Waste Not, Want Not: Turning Waste Into Savings

Living paycheck to paycheck often leaves no room for the “extras”, forcing you to live on a tight budget and leaving no room for a savings plan. Even rainy day funds are not able to get incorporated into a family budget because money is just too tight. There are countless pieces of advice for those looking for ways to save money, much of it mentions things you need to do such as stop eating out in restaurants and cancel your subscriptions to cable television. That advice is good but isn’t always relevant, as some families don’t even partake in these activities and still don’t have any extra cash. Living without extra luxuries sometimes isn’t enough to stash away the extra cash.

So what can you do to find a few extra bucks you can tuck away for a rainy day? Start thinking about how you live each day. While living frugally usually brings people to think about what they are spending, many will forget to consider what they are wasting. If you can adjust your daily habits in some very minor ways, you can start saving some extra cash each month.

Here is a list of ideas you can start implementing into your life to make saving a little bit easier and cut down your wasteful practices immensely, helping you to not only save your own money but also helps you to preserve the environment as well.

In the kitchen:

  • Stop spending money on paper towels. Instead use old towels or clothing cut up into convenient cleaning rags.
  • If you use a dishwasher, you can allow your dishes to air dry naturally instead of using power.
  • Reuse as much as you can and what you can’t reuse then recycle. You can find great uses for orange juice cartons and milk jugs. There is also no shame in reusing items like tin foil, Styrofoam plates and cups, and utensils.
  • Stop buying expensive garbage bags and use the bags you get at the supermarket and department stores. They are great for lining the smaller trash cans throughout the house.
  • When cooking, make enough food so you can eat two or three more times. Leaving just a little each time, you are more likely to throw out the extra rather than eat it later. Plus you save on cooking and cleaning time during the week. You will also be saving at the grocery store by planning bulk meals and avoiding the fast-food drive thru’s in favor of quickly reheating an already prepared meal.

In the bathroom:

  • Stop purchasing expensive and potentially toxic cleaners and use baking soda to scrub your sink and tub. Use vinegar on your mirrors and windows for cleanliness and shine.
  • Take it easy on the toilet paper. You may not realize how much extra paper you yank off the roll each time but it can add up. Being a little bit more conscious of your habits, even ones this normal can make a big difference.
  • Turn shampoo and conditioner bottles upside down to get every last drop. You can also add a bit of water and swirl it around to get one more use.

In the car:

  • Stop wasting gas with unnecessary trips to the store. Instead, plan to go to the store only once a week and keep a list easily accessible. You will save gas and money and resist the urge to impulse shop when you just stop in to “pick up a few things”.
  • Pay attention to how you heat and cool your automobile. Don’t blast the air conditioner when you have the windows open. Conserve energy as much as possible and save gas in return.
  • Forgo the car as often as you can and walk instead. Not only are you saving money on gas and car maintenance, you are benefitting your own health and well-being.

Miscellaneous Places

  • Find a way to line dry your clothing, even in the cold weather.
  • Turn off all lights and unplug all electrical cords you are not currently using.
  • Use junk mail and envelopes that have no other use as scrap paper instead of buying new notebooks or memo pads which can get pricey.
  • There is no harm in free samples. You can often find samples of food and health and beauty items right in the store or you can sign up online to receive them by mail. It is always good to have various items on hand when you are running low.

Again, it’s the little changes that you can make to save you money. It does take dedication to making the changes but it is not impossible. Focus on your current living habits and make changes where you can. Once you start finding a few extra bucks where you least expect it, it will get easier and you will end up more motivated and more creative with ways to save.

Tagged: Frugal Living
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Debbie Dragon's picture

is a tough one.  I've been trying to use less paper towels for awhile now, and not having much luck with it.  I think paper towels go hand and hand with little kids - everything from juice spills to peanut butter smeared faces can be quickly and sanitarily cleaned with wet paper towels.  Maybe 2009 will be the year I finally cut back! 

Guest's picture

All your ideas are great... I already do all of them... others: bake your own bread, stop buying boxed cereals and make oatmeal instead, bundle up and turn the heat down, use more vegetable in your meals and less meats, cook with more beans, lentils, barley and so on, buy in bulk, can your own food... oh, there are more, but I'm sleepy!

Guest's picture

In response to Debbie Dragon - a very simple way to reduce paper towel use is to purchase the paper towels that come in the 1/3 sheet sizes. We do this and go through towels much slower. Needing a full size paper towel is is rarer then you think. Here are some other great money saving ideas from my father in-law:


Thanks -

Debbie Dragon's picture

This is a good idea and one we haven't tried yet!  Next trip to the store we'll grab the papertowels with the various sized perforations and see if we can make a difference that way.  Thanks!

Guest's picture

You can also have a little handtowel in the kitchen for drying everyone's hands instead of using paper. And plain newspaper is great for sopping up spills instead of using papertowel - But put a layer of paper towel underneath a very light surface, as the newsprint will leave an impression on a light surface....Great for spills on dark carpets!

Guest's picture

Especially the one about cooking in bulk.

I think we can just reduce a lot of waste if we stopped with the disposable everything like disposable wipes or one-use items.

What's wrong with reusing?

Oh and no more water bottles, PLEASE! I even feel guilty getting a Starbucks treat if I don't have my mug with me. I am trying to make a conscious effort not to create more unnecessary waste.

Fabulously Broke in the City
Just a girl trying to find a balance between being a Shopaholic and a Saver...

Guest's picture

I totally agree. Small things can really add up. If you save a buck here and there it may look insignificant but it does add up!

That is also the reason why i feel more comfortable buying 1 expensive item then buying a dozen cheap items. The small and cheap items can be really expensive in total and is much harder to control these spendings.

Myscha Theriault's picture

You know, this might not work for everyone, but we found once we had a stocked supply at every place we needed them, then it became convenient enough to integrate the cloth version. We still have them for icky jobs, but the usage is way less.

Guest's picture

Breaking the paper towel HABIT is hard. But it is a habit. With little ones in the house it is going to be more difficult. So start with just one thing - instead of paper towels to wipe up spills use a sponge or cloth. Rinse well, let air dry, change daily.

For wiping little faces and hands a thin washcloth or square of old t-shirt works very well. Again, rinse well, air dry, change daily.
Run thru the washer to get really clean and for sponges, the top shelf of dishwasher.

Another easy way to save is to use less shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, etc. Especially with toothpaste - if you put it on your brush like in the ads, you'll waste 3/4 of it. Shampoo and conditioner - put a dime sized amount in your palm, rub palms together then apply to hair. And, only one application is necessary unless you've dunked your head in a bowl of oil.

It's all those baby steps that add up to the giant steps that will pay off big time.

Guest's picture

One way to reduce paper towel costs is by buying your paper products like paper towels, napkins, and paper cups from the dollar store. You should be able to see great deals in the coming days as dollar stores liquidate grocery stores' holiday themed paper products. Who cares if the napkins or paper plates are red or green or if the paper towels have snowmen printed on the edges.

Guest's picture
Vik Dulat

Great article. I am guilty of the toilet paper. I try to use as little as possible but sometimes when I grab more than I need, I just think oh well.

Also, wasting gas is a big one. Sometimes I just go for a drive for no apparent reason.

Guest's picture

I buy an 8 pack of my favorite towels (Bounty Basic) when on sale and those 8 last me about a year. I use cloth rags for lots of things, but still grab paper for absorbancy. But sometimes if you are just dabbing up some orange juice or other not-icky thing, I rinse out the paper towel. That's why I like Bounty Basic--holds together. I drape the used towel somewhere-usually over the faucet-to air dry and THAT"S the towel I use for the cat barf, etc. :-D

I have my electronics on power strips that I switch off completely. ANYTHING with a remote control is always partially 'on' you know. But not the brain of my computer. Learned my lesson there, with a dead battery inside. (My expert brother replaced it for $5.) However, I don't pull the plug on other things, like the toaster, etc. when not in use. Is there some elec. loss with items like that?

I know powder laundry detergents are harder to find these days, but if you can get a small box (it will last ages) I find it is great as a bathroom scrubber. Tough soap skum that vinegar or baking soda can't quite defeat is long gone after a scrubbing with the detergent.

There is a wooden drying rack nearly perpetually in my (yes) dining room, now that it is winter. (I am an old woman. I no longer give a darn what people think!) My dryer only gets used occasionally on 'no heat-fluff' to suck the cat hair out of a few things. Of course, I have outside lines in summer.

Satellite TV is long gone and I am happy with just antenna TV. I TURN IT OFF more now.

Took a $6 surcharge off my phone bill for long distance. If you guys have cell AND a land line, see what you can pare off in services on them that you don't need on both.

I have made a weekly menu out before grocery shopping, for my entire adult life. Poke through the freezer and fridge and cupboards and incorporate leftovers or extras into your menu plans and only buy what you need to fill out a week. Then put aside the extra dollars that week and you have some spare cash to buy in bulk when you see a heck of a sale on something.

I better quit. This frugality thing can get obsessive with me!

Guest's picture

We've been tearing full size paper towels into quarters whenever we need to clean up something. Works well for us.

Another tip is to re-use butter tubs, sour cream containers and plastic take out bins as food storage. Those rectangular chinese food take-out containers are great for packing a lunch in.

Guest's picture

In the past, if there were half-servings of dinner items left over, I might have thrown it out. Now I buy a few of those Ziploc containers with multiple compartments and put the leftovers in them. They go with me the next day as lunch. It's amazing how all those 1/2 servings become one good meal.

Guest's picture

In the winter, little bits of extra food can always be added to your homemade soup. Boil up your leftover chicken/turney bones (Hopefully with some bits of meat on them) add some apple cider vinegar and salt to make stock and then add all the bits you have left over - and add potatoes and onions and carrots - voila! a hearty soup. (Just strain for any bones that survive.)

Guest's picture

I never really thought about how much I spent on paper towels! Thanks for reminding me. It looks like I'll be incorporating this idea into my money-saving ventures!

Guest's picture

I agree, paper towels can add up in cost and it's easy to go through them quickly, mainly because I (like many people) don't have a designated paper towel clip to hold the lightly-used ones for drying out and future re-use. Instead, they tend to go in the trash as a matter of habit.

After stocking the kitchen and bathrooms with a couple good hand towels over the last year, the only thing I use a paper towel for (almost) these days is drying something off that I need to be as absolutely dry as possible, as fast as possible.

Otherwise, (in the kitchen and the bathroom), I use handtowels. If one gets used for something "yucky", I hang it on a hook to dry and use as a floor towel. If the dish drying towel/counter towel gets too damp, I switch it with a different towel (switch them between each other's towel hooks) so the damp one can dry and the dry one is in position over the sink for dish and counter use.

I usually change the whole set of towels once a week and throw the used ones in with a jeans or dark cotton clothes wash. It works great.

Guest's picture

We have a bin of cloth rags (mostly old t-shirts, cut up into squares) in the kitchen, down where my 3-year-old can reach them, and a laundry bin to put them in.

It's great because he can "clean up" things himself without going through a bunch of paper towels.

To break the paper towel habit for grownups, we put them way up high where they're out of sight & hard to reach - we still have them, for cat puke & other disgusting things, but we go through about 2 rolls a year (unless my mom comes for a long visit.)

The hardest thing is teaching my partner the difference between "rag" and "dishcloth".

Guest's picture

I found a nifty patented device called the Clip and Drip. It is a funnel with clips on the top and bottom, both shaped for the neck of a bottle. I use it for food [catsup] and also toiletries [lotion].

In regards to reusing margerine tubs or other retail service containers-- I would be recommend against. Plastics can leach their ingredients into food. The plastics are not designed for acidic items, and reused containers should never be used in the microwave. It's OK to keep a margerine tub to keep a kitchen sponge in, or put a coffee can lid under a plant.

In general I would recommend not to buy single servings: buy the largest size of retail container that is appropriate for your household. Use the bulk food bins at the grocery store to buy food without retail containers!!

Guest's picture
matt wingard

If you're going to use non-paper towels for clean up - it's often useful to have a watered-down bucket of bleach (cold water and 200 ppm roughly). That way you can re-use rags/towels over and over again and not worry about spreading germs..

Guest's picture

Cost to hot-air dry your dishes in a dishwasher (as measured with my dishwasher) <3 cents.

Leaving all my "powered off" equipment plugged in all the time: $4.50/year. Leaving a light on occasionally will cost very little if you're using CFLs.

Using the air conditioner in your car also makes a very small impact. Opening your windows to cool off wastes just as much.
http://wheels.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/07/30/the-air-out-there-an-endless-... and many other articles proving or disproving the theories. :) Either way the end cost is small.

We still need to focus on the large things. Latte's, only name brand food. Eating out!

Guest's picture
Amy K.

Based on the first paragraph and the headline, I really thought this article would be about cashing in your tin cans and other things that might just go in your waste stream. I was thinking "well, when there's nothing else to cut, where can you make money? Oh, the title says waste not..." I'm glad it was a little more conventional - and sparked such lively discussion about paper towels!

For the curious, the cost of scrap is way down right now, so you'd be saving your cans for 5 years or more to meet the $20 minimum my local scrap yard has set.