Money saving ways to reduce your waste

Reducing your waste doesn’t mean expanding your budget. My experience reducing my waste has rarely made me stray from the frugality I was raised with. In fact, reusable options will save you money in the long run, if not immediately.

To calculate the savings, I have used prices from places that most of us have access to or actually shop, such as Amazon, Walmart, and Target. I have linked to all of these places and products as well, but I don’t know if the prices will change over time or the links will expire. All of the prices are included in the calculations, so if you click through and it is different, know my calculations are based on the price I mention.

As I’ve already written about clothing, secondhand is affordable and accessible, even if you’re on a budget. Many of the money saving reusable things here are also available at thrift and consignment stores, like water bottles, travel mugs, and kitchen towels. I encourage you to shop secondhand first (of course) but for the sake of these calculations I used first hand goods to compare prices.

So, how much can you save by switching to bar soap instead of liquid? How much can you save switching to reusable towels over paper towels? Reusable bags over plastic? 

Bar soap

Did you know it is estimated that liquid soap has a 25% larger carbon footprint than bar soap? Yikes. We use more liquid soap than bar soap as well per wash, about 2.3 and .35 grams respectively. Not to mention, bar soap is notoriously less expensive.

Let’s look at the cheapest of the cheap: the Dollar Tree, with $1 liquid and bar soap. This 32 oz soap refill (907 grams) is enough for 394 washes. A 4.25 oz (120 grams) bar of soap has about 342 washes. Shopping here and purchasing a huge 32 oz soap refill will end up slightly more cost effective than a bar of soap for the same price.

Let’s return to reality, where most people don’t buy all of their soap at the Dollar Tree. and liquid and bar soap don't cost the same price Plenty of people shop regularly at Walmart. Here, a 32 oz soap refill can cost $8.87 and a 4.25 oz bar of soap can cost $2.43, or .02 cents per wash and .007 cents per wash.

Let’s go back to the big picture and say you wash your hands 7x a day (totally making this number up, sorry folks. No available information on how often people wash their hands), everyday, for 365 days a year for a total 2,555 times a year. So you would need about six and a half (6.5) 32 oz bottles of soap refill, or seven (7)  4.25 oz  bars of soap. Obviously, if you are buying 32 oz dollar tree soap refills, you’ll save 50 cents a year using liquid soap over bar soap. If you’re a regular person who buys soap at other places (like Walmart) you would spend $57.65 a year on liquid soap, or $17.01 a year on bar soap. In other words, you could save $40.64 a year on soap by using bar soap over liquid soap.

Note: the CDC recommends washing your hands all the time-after using the toilet, changing a diaper, touching garbage, after touching an animal, before preparing or eating food, and more. Considering these recommendations, 7x a day is not that many to wash your hands, and theoretically, you could save even more money by switching from liquid to bar soap if you wash your hands more frequently.

Cloth towels

There was a time before paper towels, believe it or not. People were able to clean up messes or wipe things down (even gross things) without them using cloths. This blog claims ditching paper towels can save up to $1000 a year on paper towels.

I’ll break it down-let’s say you use about one roll of paper towels a week. Here, you can get 12 rolls (3 months worth) for 28.99. For a year, it will cost you $115.96 to keep up your paper towel habit. Kitchen towels (assuming most of us use paper towels primarily in the kitchen) can vary in cost greatly. This set of 15 towels is $12.99. Let’s say you clean up more than 15 spills a week-let’s go big. You clean up 5 spills a day. You’ll need 30 towels a week, and let’s assume you do laundry at least once a week. That would cost $25.98 for all 30 towels that can be used and reused again.Even if you have to replace your reusable kitchen towels every year, it will still cost you $89.98 more a year to use paper towels than actual towels. Actual towels look nicer and are far softer as well for those of you wiping little faces and hands after meals.

Safety razor

A safety razor is a reusable razor that gives an incredibly close shave. They’re a bit old fashioned but still widely available at stores and very easy to use. This one can be purchased at Target. Disposable razors cost big, and aren’t currently widely recyclable because they are made of mixed materials (metal and plastic). Safety razor blades are typically made of steel and can be recyclable.

A pack of 4 disposable razors costs $5.99 and the above safety razor costs $17.19, and a pack of 5 blades costs $2.89, so it takes a little over 3 packs of disposable razors to equal the same cost of the initial investment for a safety razor. I invested in a $10 vintage safety razor and a pack of blades over a year ago, so I have spent under $15 dollars on shaving in the past year.

It is recommended that razors are replaced every 4-10 shaves, so roughly once a week, depending on your habits. 4 razors a month at $5.99 will come to $71.88 at the end of the year! If you invest in a safety razor for $17.19 and use 4 blades a month, you will need 10 packs of blades for $28.90. The cost after a year will be $46.09, which is a savings of $25.79 using a safety razor over disposable razors. In reality, there is absolutely no reason to change your safety razor blade once a week, and my first pack is still going after over a year! My experience with disposable razors was similar in that I changed them less frequently than recommended, about every other week. Those figures add up to $20.08 for a year of saving with a safety razor, and $35.98 for a year of disposable razors. The yearly savings for this is still $15.90.

Reusable sandwich bags

Many of us pack our lunches daily or send children to school with bags of snacks. Packing a lunch of snacks is a great way to save money already, and using reusables can increase your savings.

 If you use two disposable sandwich or snack bags a day, that adds up to 730 bags. Here it costs $7.37 for 240 bags, so over a year you will spend $22.11 on disposable sandwich bags. A set of reusable sandwich bags costs $7.99 here. Over a year, you will save $14.12.

Travel mug

Disposable coffee cups are a pet peeve of mine. Who doesn’t have a reusable travel mug from a gift or even given as a freebie somewhere? Disposable cups are not recyclable or compostable because they are actually lined with plastic.

Many coffee shops and chains offer a discount for bringing your own reusable travel mugs. The average discount I’ve seen is about 10 cents. The average cup of coffee in the US is $2.70. If you buy a cup of coffee every day, at the end of the year you’ve spent $985.50 on coffee (ouch). If you keep up the coffee habit, but bring your own mug, you’ll save $36.50 over a year. Maybe your coffee habit is only Monday-Friday for the work week; still, you’ll spend $702 annually without a reusable cup and save $27 a year by using a reusable cup.

If you don’t have a travel mug, they can vary in costs. Here is one for $8.99. Even if you invest in one, you would still average $18.01-$27.51 in savings a year.

Reusable water bottle

Using a reusable water bottle is an easy way to reduce your plastic waste. Don’t forget that 91% of plastic is never recycled, so recycling your disposable water bottles is not the answer. Stainless steel is a great choice for a reusable water bottle because it is recyclable and doesn’t promote unnecessary use of plastic like plastic water bottles, and will not break when dropped. Bonus: many are insulated and keep your drinks cold.

If you drink one disposable bottle of water a day, that’s 365 bottles a year. Using a reusable water bottle can prevent this entirely avoidable waste. Unless you live in Flint, Michigan or a place of extreme drought, in the US you should have access to clean, safe drinking water from the tap. Drink it.

The costs are as follows: here is a 17 oz stainless steel water bottle for $6.25. With this option, you’ll save $130.32 over a year! Even if you buy a very expensive Kleen Kanteen reusable water bottle for $30.95, you will still save $105.62 over a year.

Reusable grocery bags

Plastic bags are avoidable disposable plastic, and reusable grocery bags are widely available. Studies on dead sea turtles has found that more than 50% have plastic in their stomachs.

 While it hasn’t caught on all over the US yet, some stores charge for plastic bags. When I lived in France, they didn’t even offer you a bag for groceries and I didn’t learn for a couple shopping trips that to get a bag, you must ask and pay for one. In the US, Aldi has this policy. It says here that a disposable grocery bag costs about 10 cents at Aldi. When living alone, I bought 2-3 bags of groceries a week. If you buy 3 bags a week all year, it will cost you $16.80 to buy (trash) plastic bags. Here reusable bags can be purchased for $9.99. Over a year using reusable grocery bags at Aldi, you would save $6.81. Not to mention, reusable bags can be used for years. There’s no return when you buy disposable plastic bags.

Menstrual cups

It is estimated that by menopause it will cost a person, on average, $2,216 to purchase pads and tampons. This calculation is based on 38 years of having a period, which brings it down to $58.32 a year. Do yourself a favor and invest in a menstrual cup (or cloth pads). A menstrual cup can cost anywhere upwards of $10 online (but usually more in stores). They are reusable and most last 10+ years, but I’ve never heard of a cup needing to be decommissioned. In the US, cups must be approved by the FDA, and are thus made of medical grade silicone, which would not go bad so much as lose firmness. Cloth pads require a higher up front cost, but could also be made at home to save money. Again, a single cloth pad stash (as they’re called) can be used and reused for years.

With a stash of cloth pads at about $150 and a menstrual cup at $15, and you replace all of your pads and cup once, it will still only cost you $330. In other words, reusables could save you $1,186 by the time your period ends. A menstrual cup will stills ave you $43.32 the first year you have it! After that, the cost is $0. Not to mention, there’s no risk for life threatening toxic shock syndrome associated with tampons when using cloth pads or a menstrual cup. 

Cloth diapers

It has been estimated that a baby can send up to one ton of trash from disposable diapers to the landfill each year! Cloth diapers are a thousand times better for the environment than disposables, plus they’re thought to help babies and toddlers potty train faster as well. The consensus is as follows: cloth diapers will cost more in up front costs, but save you money by the end of the first year because you won’t need to continually buy disposable diapers. There are many online mom groups where cloth diapers can be found secondhand for even better prices, and if you keep the diapers to use with any subsequent children, the cost per wear continues getting lower.

I don’t have any figures for this, sorry folks. The cost of diapers (disposable and cloth) can vary greatly, as can the number of diapers each family finds appropriate if they use cloth. In addition to this, some families use a diaper service for their cloth, which can also tip costs.

Total savings

$89.98-towels

$43.32-reusable menstrual products

$40.64-bar soap

$25.79-safety razor

$14.12-sandwich bags

$18.01-reusable travel mug

$136.57-reusable water bottle

$6.81-reusable grocery bags

A grand total of $375.24 in savings per year!

I don't know about you, but I could use an extra almost-four-hundred-dollars. What is your experience? Where have you saved money with zero waste? Have you many any other money saving changes to reduce your waste?

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