Simple substitutions = more money in your wallet

Being willing to try substitutes at the store can save you money.  One easy example is generics.  You may not love every generic item you try, but if even half of what you try works for your family, that’s more money in your wallet at the end of every shopping trip.

I love Cream of Wheat, but one box costs $3 and lasts my family barely a meal. I can get a similar same amount of quick grits at Wal-Mart for 1/3 of the cost, and we like it as well as Cream of Wheat. Now, you southern folks who butter and cheese your dinner grits might not recognize my breakfast version, all doctored up with butter and brown sugar. But we love them and find them to be a great substitute for Cream of Wheat.

Last fall I bought four 18-packs of brightly colored washclothes ($4 a pack at Wal-Mart) to use instead of paper napkins. That $16 would have bought about 1200 paper napkins, enough to last our family only 6 weeks.  Even if these new ‘napkins’ only last a year, that’s $70 saved.  (Since we’re using those washclothes only as napkins, I’m guessing they’ll last way longer.) Simple substitution = more money for other things.

One last idea: I wrote awhile back about making shipping envelopes from gift bags.  What about you?  What do you use in unconventional ways to keep costs down at your house?


40 Bag Challenge update: 3 bags of coat-closet extras (outgrown/doubles/etc) went  byebye yesterday, bringing my total to 7.5 kitchen bags.


  1. Plus, using cloth instead of paper napkins is a much “greener” choice – win-win!

  2. Washcloths for napkins… What a great idea?!?

    Oh, and by the way, Southerners still eat their grits for breakfast, even though they have salt and cheese (and sometimes bits of bacon) in them. Around here, the only grits you see outside of breakfast is Shrimp or Crawfish and Grits, which is a dish served mainly at brunches.

    Sorry if you didn’t want a lesson about Southerners and grits… Sometimes I get a little carried away:)

  3. We use those inexpensive white wash cloths instead of paper towels. i keep them in a basket near the kitchen sink. We also use cloth napkins….some 18 inch square cloth that has been surged around the edges.
    Finally, we use home made laundry soap! It costs us $5 for 10 gallons and really works well. I do 5 loads a day, plus diapers. It saves us big time!

    • Kristina says:

      I need to get back to the washcloths – I did that for when the babies needed cleaned up instead of papertowels – I think I will pick up a pack at the store next time I am there.

      I buy fabric on clearance,or the rement bin and make napkins. The kids love them. I even got “Happy Birthday” fabric for $1.00 a yard to make Birthday Napkins!!!!

      I also make my own laundry soap! I bought a five gallon bucket, lid for bucket and my supplies I needed for making soap for about 20 bucks. That was several months ago and I am still working thru the supplies and my clothes are clean!!

    • We use old cloth diapers instead of paper towels–I also use them as cleaning rags. They are perfect!

  4. Those same washclothes, I bought last year. I bought a whole bunch. There are 7 of us. I cut them in half. Now there is double. We use them as toilet wash clothes. And the sink is right there handy in case you want it warm and wet. At the end of the day they get bleached, sanitized, and rinsed over a few times. Water ended up being cheaper than paper around here. We haven’t used real toilet paper for almost a year. I keep a roll around for guests. We haven’t used paper towels or napkins in a long time either (except for picnics, less to carry), my oldest claims it’s been 5 or more years. The bar mops and hand towels, alos those washclothes from Walmart work just fine. I do keep a few boxes of tissues around. One thing I need to do with the new tp is sew the edges to keep it from fraying.

  5. We use cloth napkins for a week before washing. They’ve held up for years. I think I know those washclothes you’re talking about though because I bought some to use as milking clothes (to wash the udders before milking) and others for cleaning up kids after meals. They did wear out in a year, but the slightly more expensive ones were still going strong so I replaced the cheeper ones with stronger washclothes and expect to get about 3 years or more out of cloths that were 50% more expensive.

    I also use cloth diapers so using cloth wipes with that just makes sense and saves a ton. I just keep a spray bottle of slightly soapy water with a few drops of tea tree oil to moisten it.

    We wanted to move toward eating only homemade breads (not necessarily cheeper, but definitely healthier). 100% whole wheat sandwhichy breads are HARD to make. So I make biscuits for breakfast (which I cut and freeze in bulk so they are freshly baked each morning without the work) and tortillas and other types of flat breads for other bread needs. A rolled up pbj tastes just as good in a tortilla as in spongey bread.

    I love putting greens in a quiche or other casseroles, but sometimes the garden just isn’t producing. Dollarweed is not only edible but very nutritious. The smaller more tender ones taste better and kids love to pick them. I send my little ones out in the yard with a bowl and they come back with dinner!

    And we make our own toothpaste- equal parts of sea salt, baking soda and xylitol. Sprinkle some on your hand, scoop it up with a wet toothbrush and brush away. No concern of little ones swallowing flouride. We’ve been doing this for 2 years with no cavities. Even the kids like it.

    I think that’s most of ’em. Thanks for a great post! I’m going to look forward to reading all the ideas!!!

  6. My kids use old (REALLY old) cloth diapers and old receiving blankets for kleenex when they are sick. I guess they find something comforting about carrying a blankie around. LOL

  7. thriftymomma says:

    Alison–do you mean you freeze baking powder or baking soda biscuits as rolled out dough, before they’re baked? I’ve made biscuits instead of bread for years and never thought to freeze the dough.

    I like all the washcloth ideas too.

    • Thrifty – You can freeze biscuit or cookie dough, but you’ll want to use baking POWDER. The baking soda reacts instantly with the wet ingredients, so by the time you baked thawed dough, it would not rise. Since baking powder has a double-reaction (the second being with the heat of the oven) you can use it with no problem in doughs to freeze and rethaw.

      God bless,

  8. A lot of my money-saving substitutions are food-related. I’ll frequently substitute mushrooms for meat in a recipe (portobellos make good burgers). Dog treats are also super expensive, so sometimes I’ll alternate treats with regular ice cubes. The dogs love those too (and in case anybody fears I’m starving the babies, most of our puppies could stand to lose a couple of pounds!) I substitute stuffed animals picked up at yard sales for 25 cents for doggie chew toys. The local Chinese restaurant has really sturdy plastic takeout containers with lids that double as tupperware. My Snuggie is a good substitute for keeping the thermostat a few degrees higher, but I can see how that one might cause a mutiny in some families.

  9. Oh, sorry to double-post, but forgot my favorite- cheap dollar store conditioner instead of shaving cream- much cheaper, I’m less likely to cut myself, AND it keeps your skin smooth and moisturized!

    • Wow! Really? I never would have thought of that! Suave is always on sale at my store for a $1.00 or so…and they have some yummy smelling varies too! I’m trying this! Thanks for the tip! 🙂

  10. we have used cloth napkins for a long long time instead of paper napkins or paper towels. I still use a few paper towels occasionally, but I bought a bunch more dish towels at dollar store and we use them for almost all messes, unless it’s poultry related and has all the germs….

    All of these are interesting ideas, but honestly I’m too much of a germophobe to use some of these… I just make as much homemade food as I can, jelly and bread, and cookies, etc.

  11. Katherine says:

    I think getting high efficiency appliances has helped us alot. When the washer and dryer had wore out we got an HE set that I love, my washer is a top loader and I can fit so much in there and it turns out really clean. We also got a freezer to keep in the laundry room and that has helped so much, now I can stock up on meats when there is a good sale, I used to not be able to because I had such a small freezer.
    I do make our own laundry detergent now and all my own cleaners. It is so cheap and easy to do and they work great. Plus my husband thinks it is really cool that I know how to make laundry detergent and make homemade foods and I like that he is impressed, it makes me smile!

    • Sue from Buffalo says:

      Katherine, how do you make laundry soap for HE washing machines? We have a front loader. Don’t know if that makes a difference or not. I know that when we bought the HE machine, the store was very clear that we had to use detergent specifically made for the HE. My friend’s mom tried using the regular soap but it destroyed the machine. Too much, I guess.
      Anyways, how do you make it and how do you know how much to use?

      • The homemade Laundry isn’t a soap it is more of a detergent. So it dosen’t bubble which is what will ruin the machine. I used homemade soap with Sears blessing with no problems from the soap. I used about 1/3 to 1/2 cup in mine. Love it and you can scent it anyway you want.

        • Sue from Buffalo says:

          Sounds great. How do you make it?

          • Sue, there are several recipes on the internet to make your own laundry detergent. I’ve done this successfully with my HE machine. You use only 1 – 2 Tablespoons of dry detergent or about a half cup of the liquid. When a repair man came to help us with leveling the washer, I asked him how much laundry detergent to use and he said a Tablespoon or two is all you need, even if you buy the commercial kind and it doesn’t need to be HE. I’ve been using powdered gain detergent since we moved (just haven’t gotten around to making my own) and one big box has lasted us months. My children are all grown so we don’t do as much laundry as many of you young moms but I still believe it is less expensive when you use only a Tablespoon or two. Our clothes get clean and I make my own spray and wash, which I use on collars, grass stains, etc. Teri

  12. In the UK we get large plastic bags put through our doors often more than one a week, from differnt charitys asking people to fill them with goods they can sell. When I have items to recycle I prefer to take them straight to one of our charity shops, I use the bags to line my kitchen rubbish bin, and haven’t needed to buy bin liners for several years

  13. When a cloth is becoming threadbare it is often sent to the kitchen to help wash dishes.

    We use old cloth diapers for all sorts of jobs. I bought them 19 years ago and some are still in use.

    Because I live in a warmer part of the world I substitue a clothesline for a dryer. Not only do you save but the sun disinfects and the clothes last longer.

    I buy socks in bulk to make matching up and replacing easier. Someone here uses compression socks and at $50 a pair I need to stretch their life.

    Even though I live in a hard water area I am able to reduce the amount of detergents I use in the washing machine.

    As often as possible everything is cooked from scratch and there are many acceptable home brand products here.

    We are starting to grow more produce. Pumpkin have hit $2.50 a lb here so I am grateful for that vine.

    Steam mopping is good. No chemicals.

  14. I buy generic a lot, unless it is a brand that makes a difference…cheap dish soap in my dishwasher builds up in my spraying mechanism in a nasty way, but when I use Cascade it doesn’t happen…which saves on my machine, so that is a win-win!

    In making jewelry, I decided to try flattening coins instead of buying the flattened disks at a local hobby store…this saves a lot of money and enables us to make inexpensive gifts for our friends.

    I buy a lot of my necklaces when they are 1/2 price at that same hobby store.

    On the food front, we purchase our beef from a friend, which may not be the cheapest, but I know who I am supporting and it cooks up wonderful, I never have to drain off excess fat and it tastes great.

    We buy a package of the white dishclothes at Sam’s which I keep folded in the kitchen for cleaning the cabinets, drying the dishes, etc. I have had to replace them once every two years and then I keep the old ones for outdoor dirty jobs!

  15. Not sure HOW frugal this is, but I almost always have the supplies on hand, so it is easy for me…making gift bags from boxes…food package boxes…like cereal or cracker boxes.


  16. So many too list!

    Old socks as dusting mitts…

    I take big study plasic “bag” that surrounds my bulk papertowels and or toilet paper purchase and use and reuse those study bags as liners for my bathroom waste baskets!

    Using cloth instead of paper for cleaning stuff

    Using cereal bags for in lieu of wax paper for cooking…

    Use a 1/4 cup white vinegar in the “wash” for softness and use an 18 inch aluminum foil piece crumbled like a ball in the dryer in lieu of dryer sheets…the ball can be used for about 3 months and acts as a conductor against static electricity in clothes in the dryer. After 3 months the ball will begin to fall apart & needs to be replaced.

  17. I enjoy saving money and choosing environmentally sound alternatives so it was fun to read through the comments here. I have to admit though… I got nauseated at the idea of using wash cloths as toilet paper. That is taking the idea WAY too far… there is just not enough bleach in the world.

  18. I will definitely try the washcloths for napkins. Great idea! My favorite way to save money is by always looking for things that are one-time buys instead of continuous buys (just like your napkins). I have a reusable coffee filter, cloth diapers, regular towels to replace paper towels for clean-ups, and so forth. We have a little dog and a puppy who just can’t hold it in all night long so we even lay out cloth diapers instead of disposable piddle pads!

  19. My favorite way of something not used as its intended purpose has to be the altered book. This is an absolutely amazing way to personalize a gift for someone, make a unique piece of sculpture for a home, or just have fun with a very different form of art. To fully understand what I am talking about (if you haven’t allready heard of this), a person has to visit the internet -go to google and type in altered book and scroll down to site and also look at the images of altered books. This is a project that takes some time with some schools working on them for a whole quarter grade.
    And Dayna I agree with you on the washcloths as toilet paper but know someone who made all her own pads (with shirts they weren’t wearing as much) for her and her daughters then lined them with old raincoats and hand washes them after each menstrual cycle. To me, that is as bad an idea in this day and age.

  20. I have saved a TON of money by using a Diva Cup instead of disposable feminine products. It’s a simple catch devise that works really great even on heavy months and feels much cleaner. Purchased it at a health food store. But I’m still going to buy toilet paper!! Oh my!!

  21. Will you all please share your laundry soap recipes? I have tried the Fels-Naptha/washing soda/borax recipe (except using Ivory soap instead), but my clothes seem to be very limp and drab.

  22. We’ve been serious for years to make our money worth more. And I think that it’s something that everyone should do. Try to get the most from what you spend.

  23. Sue from Buffalo says:

    This is a link I found for homemade laundry detergent that is good for both regular washing machines and the HE types as well.

    I’m going to give it a try.

  24. I’m just starting to research ways to save. My favorite find is blue surgical towels from the hospital. They have so many that they just give them away (mostly to their employees but I know someone that works there.) 101 uses and washable. I like them for cleaning rags: mirrors, sinks, polishing, car interior, etc. I like them for burp clothes too. My husband even likes them for camping, fishing, tinkering-on-the-car messes, cleaning guns, etc.

    A couple of questions for those of you who have more experience in frugal living:
    1. How do you scent the homemade laundry detergent?
    2. What scents work best?
    3. Is there a homemade dish detergent that works?

    Thanks for inspiring me and providing me, a new wife and mother, with great examples of a Proverbs 31 woman! Keep blessing your husband and children with your work. May God continue to be with you.

    • My homemade laundry detergent smells like whatever grated soap I used to make it…I don’t really think lots of smell lingers on the clothes–they just get clean! 🙂