9 Ways to Tidy Your Budget—and Your Home

Marketers invest millions to convince us that we need the latest and greatest cleaning spray, detergent, and paper towel, so it’s not surprising that tidying up can quickly become a budgetary mess. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American family spent $639 on housekeeping supplies in 2009.

Without even realizing it, we’re tossing away more than $50 each month on cleaning chemicals, paper towels, plastic bags, detergent, soap, and other products that promise to make our homes shine and sparkle. The reality is that most of these products can be used more efficiently, replaced with low-cost options, or swapped with homemade alternatives. Plus, reducing our dependency on housekeeping supplies can be environmentally-friendly. By using fewer chemicals and reducing waste, you’ll trim your budget and help out Mother Nature, too.

Buy in Bulk: Pharmacies often carry the highest mark-ups for cleaning supplies. While grocery stores and big box retailers offer lower prices, your best bet is to buy cleaning supplies in bulk from a warehouse store such as Costco. Cleaning supplies often have a long shelf life, so you don’t need to worry about bulk products losing effectiveness over time. The key, of course, is to buy products you have been pleased with in the past.

Reduce Your Trash Load: The more trash you produce, the more garbage bags you waste. The good news is that most household trash can be recycled or composted. To make recycling easier, simply create recycling stations throughout your home. For example, place a small trash can labeled “for paper products only” in the home office. If you’re a gardener, composting is a great way to reduce your trash load and create free, nutrient-rich fertilizer. Composting is easier than you can imagine, too—this resource explains composting basics.

Tear Away from Paper Towels: Paper towels are convenient, but they are also costly. Name brand paper towels are priced from $1.20 to as high as $2.50 per roll. For most messes, a clean rag—which can be tossed in with the laundry and reused for years—is just as effective. Stash a dozen clean hand towels in a cute basket on the kitchen counter and use them to catch spills, dry hands, or wipe mouths.

Make Your Own Laundry Detergent: Creating your own laundry detergent is a fun way to save money—and it cleans just as well as the commercial stuff. Common recipes feature combinations of fragrance-free soap, borax, washing soda, baking soda, and other inexpensive ingredients.

Bust out the Baking Soda: Baking soda is a cheap, natural alternative to many chemical cleansers. “I use baking soda to clean the shower, counter tops, and tile floors,” says Valerie Stewart. Due to its abrasive nature, baking soda easily lifts stains and removes odors. Try mixing it with water or vinegar to create your own cleaning spray.

Buy Generics—Wisely: Buying name brand cleaning products can be costly, but sometimes it's worth the extra cash. Generic sprays and scrubs are often several dollars cheaper and of comparable quality. However, generic trash bags tend to rip easily resulting in unwanted messes. If a generic product doesn’t meet your needs or performs poorly, you might end up spending more money in the long run.

Don’t Overuse: Cleaning sprays are designed to unleash a heavy amount of solution with each pump encouraging the consumer to use up product quickly. More cleaner does not necessarily equal a spotless home, but it certainly results in a lighter wallet! Often, only a small amount of cleaning spray is needed to get the job done. Furthermore, measure out laundry detergent and dish detergent to ensure you’re not—literally—pouring money down the drain.

Buy Reusable Glass Containers Instead of Bags: Instead of packing lunch inside one-use-only plastic bags, buy reusable glass containers. The initial investment might be a higher cost at first, but over time you’ll save money and reduce waste. Plus, reheating leftovers in glass containers is much safer than using certain plastic containers which can leach chemicals into your food.

Vinegar Power: “Vinegar and baking soda are now my go-to cleaners. I started by using the combo on a few things (such as laundry) to cut costs and I loved how effective it was,” says Caroline Weir. “For $10, I buy a 5-pound bag of baking soda and a couple gallons of distilled white vinegar, and the combo lasts me for months.” When washing clothes, Caroline adds 1/4 to 1/2 cup equal parts baking soda and vinegar resulting in 1/3 less detergent used.

Caroline says that vinegar is also an excellent deodorizer. When her home needs freshened up, Caroline will leave out a bowl containing a small amount of vinegar which she says replaces the need for expensive home fragrance sprays. Just one tablespoon of vinegar can also act as a budget-friendly rinse aid in the dishwasher. To naturally disinfect cutting boards and kitchen counter tops, simply spray them with a solution of vinegar and water.

For more green cleaning tips, check out this helpful article.