Tiny Money Savers

Guess what? Family Feasts for $75 a Week is now IN STOCK!


Often people resist small money-saving changes exactly because they seem so small. The tiny savings don’t seem to outbalance the inconvenience of doing without an item, or switching to a different one.

Take paper towels, for example. If instead of using a couple of rolls of paper a week, you substitute cloth towels, you could save about $3 a week. $12 a month. $144 a year. A tiny savings, right? Maybe.

But what if you incorporated 5 tiny changes into your life? At the end of the year you’d be $700 ahead. That’s enough to buy a washing machine, or gas for a road trip, or to just tuck into savings just in case.

Easy examples? Dollar store shampoo– you may find a brand that works just as well for 1/3 the price. Homemade pancake syrup, or yogurt (I did this today!), or salad dressing (see my book!)

With thought, you can often make the frugal fix almost as easy as the more expensive convenience. For example, if you’re already in the habit of reaching for the paper towels for a cleanup, hang 2 cloth towels right on your paper towel rod– one towel for drying hands and dishes, and another towel for messy spills. Keeping the cloth towels in the exact same location as the paper makes it a no-brainer to grab cloth, even for the kids.

I’d love to hear how you save a few bucks here and there. And how have you fit those changes gracefully into your life?


  1. Going along with the paper towel theme….we use cloth napkins. We have used them for the last two years. I have only bought paper napkins when we were hosting a gathering for too many people who we were feeding for more than one meal. I am sure the savings are similar to the paper towels. I also bake a quadruple batch of pancakes and freeze them so that I can take a couple out at a time instead of buying the over processed boxes of pancakes. I can’t wait to read your next book. Your first book inspired me in many ways!

  2. We cloth diaper our babies part time when we are home which saves us money on disposible diapers.

  3. We also use cloth napkins. Which work really well for cleaning up spills too. And we keep a special small laundry basket in the kitchen for wet napkins or towels so they get washed often.

  4. Hi, I just discovered your blog recently and LOVE reading your thoughts. I cannot tell you how helpful it was the link you posted recently to Shaun’s blog (Beggar’s Fortune Posts).

    I recently looked at my grocery budget and took the most expensive things (besides poultry/lunch meat) and decided to make them myself. So I have been making my own low fat ice cream, cloth diaper 3 babies, and making my own cleaners, laundry detergent, and fabric softener. I also have been line drying all of our clothes and then putting htem in the dryer for 10 minutes with a wet handtowel to soften. I have also been using coupons with the grocery store ads and my grocery budget has dropped about 65%. I figure we will save $12,000 in a year with these changes and not eating out or blowing money on books, etc. And know what? Doing these things means I have MORE time with my kids because they enjoy helping me make homemade ice cream and bread and hanging the clothes on the line.

    I am going to start using this method instead of paper towels. My question is, if you use paper towels for cleaning windows, what would we use instead? Newspaper? I have been saving newspapers all year for to make firestarters for our winter fireplace.

  5. Money Saving in any form is a definite plus. Just bought the book on Amazon and look forward to the clever ideas!
    THANKS for sharing!

  6. Homemade salad dressing and yogurt are HUGE savings for our family, as we tend to eat a lot of both. In addition, they are often MUCH healthier (far less sodium and no preservative with the dressing and far less sugar in the yogurt). Thanks for the encouragement

  7. This tip works with regular size toilet paper rolls, not the double or triple rolls. My college roommate taught me to squeeze the roll before putting it on the spindle. This makes it a little misshapen and does not spin quite as easily or as quickly, so you have more control over how much toilet paper you rip off. It keeps little kids (and bigger ones) from taking too much toilet paper.

  8. @Heather, we invested in a few microfiber cleaning cloths (they carry them at our local discount store in both the cleaning and the auto sections, but they’re actually cheaper in the auto section…) that we use for all kinds of household cleaning including windows. Easy to wash, just don’t use fabric softener because it affects how well they work. I’ve also used pieces of old flannel pajamas for cleaning glass and other shiny surfaces.

  9. I use cloth napkins and towels in the kitchen, a big stock of rags for cleaning. I also take care of the things I own by making sure they’re clean and maintained so I don’t need to replace as often. I try to package food in re-usable containers and line dry my clothes.

  10. I made my first batch of yogurt last week. I used the crock-pot method from a blogger’s recipe. It turned out really well and my husband just couldn’t get enough of it. The crock-pot method took away my fear in making my own yogurt. Per your encouragement, I am going to try homemade salad dressing next!
    I have made many “small change of habits” as well. I have stopped buying Ziploc bags and replacing them with glass containers (to continue my 3R practice – reduce, re-use and re-cycle). I still have paper towels in my kitchen but only use them with very dirty/greasy works. I am in the process of saving my husband and son’s old T-shirts so hopefully to use them in place of the paper towels for the dirty/greasy works someday soon. I have just stopped buying paper napkins as well. I have some nice cloth napkins for special dinner table setting but I am also collecting fabric scraps to make napkins for everyday uses.
    I also joined a community’s “food share” program which’s headed up by a church to give out perishable food items from an organic food market. This alone has saved us hundreds of dollar in a year. We don’t know how long the program would last but are grateful at the chance to be good steward for what we’ve been given.
    Another two places I look for “free” items are the Freecycling.com and Craig’s FREE list. Many of you might already know about these links. We’ve gotten some really nice items from there. Our most current blessings were 10 boxes of canning jars in variety sizes with a box of the plastic jar lids, 26 near-new condition cabinet hinge sets and a whole bag of organic whole wheat pastas (expire in Feb. 2011). If you have not tried these links, Google them and have fun hunting!

  11. We use cloth napkins, and have for many years. We don’t use paper towels very often. I have a whole file of “make it yourself” items, including taco seasoning, onion soup mix, refried beans, chocolate topping (delicious), granola, you get the idea. Not only are they savers, but as far as the food goes, you actually know what’s in it. Recently I made my own cheese crackers – unbelievably good.

    I like being frugal.

  12. Hi, Mary! Just wanted to let you know that one of our bloggers just posted a review of FAMILY FEASTS FOR $75 A WEEK. Our entire staff loved it. Keep up the great work!

    (Find your review under Michelle’s Picks.)

  13. This comes to mind quickly because it’s on my “To Do” list for tomorrow afternoon…

    With 3 boys in the house, sometimes pants/jeans don’t survive to the next brother without holes in the knees. So, instead of throwing away the holey pants, I cut them off and make them into shorts.

  14. I make my own baby wipes!
    a roll of Bounty paper towels cut in 1/2, about 2 cups of water and and 2 tbs baby soap. If you pull the wipes out from the middle after the cardboard tube gets soggy they are as easy to use as the regular wipes.

  15. I, like some other posters, use only cloth napkins. It’s easy to find them on sale, particularly if you don’t care whether they all match at mealtime! Sometimes stores get down to having 1,2 or even 3 of a pattern left and deeply discount them. I always buy them and that keeps us from using paper napkins.
    I also cook in bulk, several times a year I will do chicken meals one day and beef/hamburger (except in my case I use ground tuckey) another day. Spaghetti sauce is an example of something it’s just as easy to make 3 or more than it is to make 1, and it freezes very well. That keeps us from eating out so much!
    I’m slowly giving up paper towels, probably not completly, but somewhat. I found some great towels at Vermont County Store (www.vermontcountrystore.com) that can be used instead of paper towels for messes, so I’m looking forward to weaning myself off those. I buy sugar, flour, etc. in bulk whenever I can, and found a great make-ahead biscuit recipe that I can freeze them singly and bake as many or few as I need.

    Thanks for the great hints!

  16. One of the ways we dramatically reduce our spending is to cut out just one or two restaurant meals per month. It’s a small, and not-too-painful habit change that can create substantial savings.

    Casual Kitchen

  17. Oh, and one other thing about saving money I meant to mention. Depending on your income tax bracket, it can take $1.30 to $1.50 (and likely going higher in the coming years) to earn an after-tax dollar in salary!! Thus Ben Franklin was wrong when he said “a penny saved is a penny earned”–in reality a penny saved is more like 1.3 pennies earned. 🙂

    This is why saving even small sums of money is more powerful than it first appears.

    Casual Kitchen

  18. Dena’s comment reminded me of what my mother used to do–she would buy these sturdy iron on patches at the fabric store, and then iron them on the inside of the knees of my brothers’ jeans–before they wore them.

  19. I use cloth napkins most of the time (excecpt for particularly toxic messes), I cloth diapered my little ones until recently – yay for potty training!! I grow an herb garden and buy my spices in bulk at the health food store, which saves me a lot of money (good cumin is $5 or more at the grocery store, but I can buy a bottle full for less than $2 when I buy in bulk & refill my containers). I make as much from scratch as possible, and almost never use processed food. We rarely eat meat, and when we do, it’s usually as a side dish or accent (think: stir-fry, heavy on the veggies). We run our a/c as little as possible, using fans to cool down the house at night, and closing up windows in the morning while it’s still cool inside (we live in South Dakota – I know this trick doesn’t work further south!). My kids wear hand-me-downs and consignment store clothes, and don’t have huge wardrobes. We try to make our own fun, and save outings with admission costs for birthdays and special occasions.

    Now, if I could get my hubby to quit buying toys for himself, we’d be in business!

  20. jenn…ditto on the hubby. 🙂

  21. Can you post some of those recipes Cassie-b mentioned in her response. I’d love make – your – own taco seasoning, onion soup mix, choc topping , etc.

  22. Hi Sandi,
    I have a whole chapter of that type of recipe in my book- and most of it tastes better that the store kind!

  23. We don’t buy whole bottles of dressing. We hardly eat it at all, maybe just some vinegar and oil or freshly squeezed lemon (cheap!) But if we want a special caeser we buy bagged with all the stuff (+ grilled chicken on the foreman, cheaper than a restaurant salad.) That way there is no waste from dressing and we are less tempted to eat it if there is not a bottle there.
    And since eating out is so difficult with a little baby, we get a $6 pizza and call it a night instead of going to a restaurant if we really want to splurge.

  24. Cloth napkins, cloth kitchen towels. Vinegar, baking soda, and water instead of cleaning solutions. CFL bulbs. No-knead bread from the Artisinal Bread in 5 Minutes a Day book. Tiny changes that save big bucks over the long haul.

  25. I use rubbing alcohol in a squirt bottle to clean mirrors, glass and anything shiny. I use baby oil to clean glass shower doors. Both of these items are available at any dollar store or discount store for a whole lot less than brand name bottles. We buy pizza every week from the grocery store instead of ordering delivery for a savings of $20 a week. Little savings can add up to a lot over the course of a month.

  26. Since we have zero expendable income and $50/week for groceries I have no choice but to live frugally. One thing I do to keep the water bill in line is when I shower I let it fill up the tub. Then when I get out of the shower, I put the kids in for their bath. Then I also don’t have to feel guilty about how much time I spend in the shower (one of my few luxuries) since it is doing double duty.