Editor's note: Amy Dunn writes about living frugally and how to save money on her Centsible Saver blog. Read it daily for alerts on sales, freebies and other ways to save money: blogs.newsobserver.com/saver. Below is a recent post.
I'm a huge advocate of using coupons to save money. It's my job, of course, but I also go home and practice what I teach. I clip paper coupons, load digital coupons onto my store loyalty cards, and match coupons to sales to make our money stretch even farther.
But coupons are only one way to slash your household budget. If you really want to live the frugal life - or circumstances are requiring a more frugal lifestyle - take a good hard look at what you're putting in your grocery cart.
Would your purchases pass "the grandma test"? In other words, would your grandmother or great-grandmother have spent her precious household money on some of the items in your cart - or even recognize them?
I'm most definitely not into deprivation, so I recommend looking for things you can do without - no sacrifice required.
In addition to saving money, you'll reap environmental fringe benefits by reducing the amount of trash you're sending to the landfill.
If you have a reluctant spouse or kids, try eliminating one item from your grocery list at a time. With any luck, they won't notice.
Here are a few suggestions:
Paper napkins. Switch to cloth. It's classier, cheaper, and far less wasteful. Just toss them into the washer with your towels.
Paper plates, cups and plastic utensils. Use the real thing. With dishwashers in the majority of homes and apartments in America, there's really no excuse.
Paper towels. I'm fairly certain this is one of those items that great-grandma would shake her head over - folks spending hard-earned money on rags that fall apart after a single use. We use cloth rags made from worn out T-shirts and other old clothes not worthy of donating to charity. Wash and re-use.
Laundry detergent. Instead of buying it, make your own. For a $7 investment in three basic ingredients, you can make 10 gallons of home-made detergent. (See box on page 2E for recipe.) If you have a front-loader, as I do, that translates to 640 loads. You can easily spend seven bucks on a single 32-load bottle, so it's a huge money saver. And think of all those plastic jugs being diverted from the landfill.
Stain sticks and sprays. Not only are they heavily packaged, they're pricey. We've recently crossed this off our grocery list in favor of a $1 bar of Fels-Naptha soap. It is one of the century-old ingredients in homemade laundry detergent, but it can also be used as a stain remover. Wet the stained garment, rub the bar of Fels-Naptha into the stain, and toss into the washer.
Hand soap. This is another easy DIY project. (See box.)
Swiffer cloths. Replace these with reusable microfiber cloths from the dollar store. Even better, cut up an old flannel shirt into Swiffer cloth-size pieces. Wash with your rags, and re-use.
Bottled water. This one is obvious. Get everyone in the family a quality reusable water bottle and put their names on them.
Juice pouches and boxes. This one can be a hard sell for those of you with kids accustomed to sucking down several of these in a day. Think about the minute amount of juice contained in these and the huge price you're paying for convenience. Water is always the better choice.