I’m frugal and conservation-minded, preferring to save money and resources — and reduce waste — whenever I can. As a result, there are some things I never buy or only buy on rare occasions.
1. Fabric Softener
I find that often my clothes are fine without using fabric softener. I sometimes use it during the winter when dry air can cause more static problems with clothing, but I’m so accustomed to not tossing a fabric softener sheet in the dryer that even during the winter I usually forget. This saves me a small amount of money and means I’m not throwing away several dryer sheets each week, which adds up. If you remain convinced that you need them, I’ve seen some frugal homemakers suggest cutting a dryer sheet in half to make a box last longer.
2. Disposable Plates, Cups, and Silverware
I only buy disposable dinnerware if I’m tent camping or if I’m at home and serving a crowd of more than about 10 people, since I have a limited number of dishes. I have a dishwasher, so it’s easy to simply load it after a meal and let it do the washing up. All those disposable plates, cups, and silverware cost money and take up space in landfills. If I do have to buy disposable dinnerware, I stick with paper plates that can be composted — or burned in the fire pit if we’re camping. I also prefer to use plastic disposable cups that can go in the recycling bin rather than Styrofoam cups that can’t be recycled and don’t break down easily, and I’ve been known to wash and reuse plastic silverware.
We try to use cloth napkins as much as possible at home. These can be purchased for just a few dollars in big box stores or on Amazon, and you can buy plain white or colored or patterned napkins. They are a cinch to throw in the washing machine (I wash them with hot water to sanitize them). I only buy paper napkins if we’re hosting a crowd, like I mentioned above. I do keep a few rolls of paper towels in the house to serve as napkins if we’re eating something really messy (like barbecue) or if family members are sick and we simply want to dispose of the germs. If I haven’t had a chance to launder our cloth napkins and we end up using paper napkins, I toss them in our compost bin when we’re done eating.
4. Shaving Cream
I don’t remember if I discovered this on my own or if I read it years ago from Crystal Paine of Money Saving Mom, but regular conditioner or body wash make a decent moisturizing lather instead of using shaving cream to shave legs, and they cost less.
5. Cable or Subscription Television
My family doesn’t watch much television, but if we did, there are a range of cheaper options besides traditional cable or satellite television. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Sling, and Roku are a few choices. However, we don’t even use any of those. Nearly a decade ago, we cut our satellite service and went with an antenna and free over-the-air high-definition programming. We get local and national news, PBS programs for children and adults, a classic television channel that airs I Love Lucy and similar shows, and more. Our children have access to many kids’ shows for free on the internet on sites such as disneyjunior.com or nickjr.com. We also can check out many television shows from our public library.
6. New Movies
We rarely buy new movies because we can rent almost any movie we want to watch from our large public library system for free. Most people only watch a movie once or twice anyway, and then it takes up space in a cabinet or gathers dust on a shelf. We save our movie purchases for big films like the Star Wars franchise or certain Disney films we know our kids will watch repeatedly. It helps that we live in a large metropolitan area with a good library system. People who live in rural areas or small towns without large libraries may do things differently, and that’s okay.
7. New Books
We prefer to check out most of our books from our public library for free. Again, this saves shelf space, and most adults don’t read most books more than once. We do have a good-sized home library for our children (many of the books were purchased secondhand from thrift stores or garage sales), but the public library still gets a ton of use from our kids.
8. New Music
Same reason as listed above. We love our library. We also like Pandora.
9. Movie tickets
Movie tickets — especially if you go to a later afternoon or evening show — are expensive. We save going to the movies for special times when we are visiting with extended family or when — for my husband — a new Star Wars movie comes out.
10. Restaurant Meals
All the financial experts talk about how cutting back — or cutting out — eating out is a major way to save money. They are right. Even if you’re buying fast food and not going to more expensive sit-down restaurants, it still costs in the $20 to $30 range for a family of four to purchase one fast food meal. If you eat fast food once a week, that’s $80 to $120 a month. If you eat out more often, take a moment to do the math.
My husband and I have both known how to cook at home for many years, but we also enjoy further developing our cooking skills by looking for new recipes online or in library cookbooks. We don’t really miss eating out when we know that we can cook pretty darn delicious meals at home for a fraction of the cost. The money we save on not eating out also gives us margin in our budget to sometimes splurge on nicer meals we cook at home such as steak or seafood.
If you don’t know how to cook, check out some cookbooks from your library or look for easy recipes online. If you can read and follow directions, you can cook. Start with simple recipes and gradually work up to bigger things.
By the way, on the rare occasions when we do go out to eat, we order water with our meals to save money. That leads me to my next item …
Soda is seriously unhealthy. Other than candy, few foods come close to having as much sugar as soda. Even diet soda has serious flaws. My 7-year-old understands how unhealthy soda is and often requests water or milk even when we visit friends or go to parties where soda is available. Parenting success!
12. Coffee Shop Drinks
We don’t spend money on coffee, tea, or other drinks from places like Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonald’s, or the corner gas station. My husband and I enjoy hot tea, which I drink daily, but we make it at home for about 10 to 20 cents per cup. We also sometimes indulge at home in hot chocolate made with milk and powdered cocoa mix, with a dollop of frozen Cool Whip on top.
13. New Children’s Clothes (and Sometimes New Adult Clothes)
When my children were babies and toddlers, I found all the clothes they needed at a multitude of garage sales in our community. Now that they are in elementary school, I can’t find their sizes at garage sales easily, but I can find almost everything they need at resale shops such as Once Upon a Child and at thrift stores. One of my new favorite thrift stores is the chain Savers, which features nicely organized stores and quality gently used merchandise.
I also try to buy a portion of my own wardrobe at thrift stores. Again, I’ve had good luck recently at the Savers chain. As I type this, I’m wearing a cardigan I purchased at a thrift store, and no one would ever suspect I didn’t buy it new.
14. Birthday Gifts for my Children
My kids are fortunate to have many grandparents, relatives, and friends who give generously on birthdays and holidays. We live in a home that is just over 1,000 square feet, and our toy room in the basement fills up and requires decluttering on a regular basis. So a few years ago, my husband and I decided we would not buy our kids birthday gifts that added significantly to the toy clutter in our house. Instead, my husband and I allow our children to choose what we call an experience gift. Our kids still get physical gifts or cash (which they use to buy toys) from other relatives, so they’re not missing out on anything. When our oldest daughter turned 9, she chose to have lunch at the American Girl store in our metropolitan area. Last year, she asked for a day at Six Flags. My youngest daughter asked for a betta fish and tank for her birthday this year. Experience gifts allow us to make happy birthday memories without getting overwhelmed with new stuff that fills up our house. Other experience gift ideas include memberships to zoos or museums, magazine subscriptions, music or dance lessons, or tickets to a play or concert.
15. Gym Memberships
I have nothing against gym memberships if you actually use them. I prefer to exercise at home or in my neighborhood. I walk, play the Wii Fit, ride my exercise bike, do crunches and stretches, or use fitness DVDs from the library. By not having a gym membership, I not only save money, but I also save time driving to and from the gym, which is a big deal to me. If I had to change into workout clothing and drive to the gym, it might be a motivation killer.
16. Extended Warranties
We almost never use them, and they usually are nothing more than pure profit for companies that sell them.
17. School Fundraiser Products
Our kids bring home order forms several times a year for wrapping paper, magazine subscriptions, cookie dough, and jewelry. Schools usually receive only a small portion of profits from the sale of items like these, with the fundraising company taking the majority of the earnings. We prefer instead to make a donation directly to the school so they receive all the money.
How about you? What are some things that you don’t buy?