Disposables can be so convenient, but they can take a toll on the budget, not to mention the environment. Eliminating single-use items from your family routine can be so rewarding. How to stop spending money on these disposables and what to do instead.
Welcome! Maybe you popped in here because the environment is a concern for you or perhaps you are looking for ways to trim expenses from your budget (or maybe you just want to class things up a bit).
Did you see my other post?
30+ Ways I Don’t Spend Money that Might Surprise (and inspire) You?
That post shares more ideas and inspiration of ways we save money – letting go to live more!
Either way, taking a close look at single-use or disposable items in your lifestyle is a great place to start. My first introduction to thinking more seriously about reusable goods was when I had my first apartment.
It was somewhat on accident in the beginning.
Just so you know, this post might contain affiliate links, and as an affiliate and Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. See my full disclosure here.
Things to not spend money on
How I got started
I spotted some adorable cloth napkins on clearance that happen to coordinate with the retro-inspired pastel kitchen theme I had going at the time. They were about 25 cents each. I bought the colorful, cotton napkins and started using them for everyday meals in lieu of paper napkins.
We felt a little fancy using cloth napkins with our grilled chicken on Tuesdays. It was easy to toss them into the regular laundry routine and use them over and over. I gathered a small collection of cloth napkins and quit buying the paper ones altogether.
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How it’s going
It just grew from there. As much as is reasonable, now, we use reusable items instead of disposable versions.
I have never taken the time to add up the exact dollar amount, but we have saved thousands of dollars over the years by reusing instead of buying disposable.
I will show you which disposable we do not use and what we do instead and, most importantly, how you can do it too!
I don’t like to spend money on disposables
First, making changes does not need to be all-or-nothing. You can choose one thing and leave the others because they are not for you, at least not at this time.
Secondly, one tiny change can make a big difference. If you are interested in trimming out some use-and-toss items, you can start small.
For example, start by purchasing a reusable water bottle that you like. Use it instead of bottled water sometimes. If you save one disposable water bottle a week from the landfill that is still 52 in a year (more than 2 cases!) and over 10 years that is 520 – pretty great!
Whether your motivation is money peace or world peace, start now and see what happens.
How to not spend money on these disposables and what to do instead
- Paper Products
- Single-use Plastics
- Personal Care
We do not buy disposable paper masks. We use washable cloth masks. I know you can buy them everywhere now. But in the very beginning (March 2020), we started making them and this is the pattern we used from Jennifer Maker.
Like my story above, for me, it started with cloth napkins. Instead of buying paper napkins, get reusable cloth napkins. My first ones were an impulse buy because they were cute and went with the aesthetic of my kitchen.
Then I realized it was easy to toss them in our regular laundry – they are small and did not add to the bulk of my laundry routine. Using them was an easy switch.
Over time, I added more cotton napkins to my kitchen in a variety of colors and styles and even some for special occasions like holidays and celebrations.
You can get creative with it!
Sometimes I bought cloth napkins in packs in the kitchen goods department. Other times, I purchased themed handkerchiefs on clearance after a holiday at the craft store.
And sometimes, I used pieces of fabric, cut it into a 19″ square (1/2″ seam allowance all around), and hemmed the edges for homemade napkins.
I can’t spend money on chintzy paper napkins anymore. I am too bougie now (ha ha – I’m joking).
I do not buy facial tissue (Kleenex). We use baby washcloths or squares of flannel and toss them in the wash with the rest of the laundry after it is used. A handful of extra cloths in the laundry each week is not even a noticeable addition to the routine – totally worth the effort.
We do not have designated paper products just for noses in our house. A quick wipe with a cloth does the job. Then it is laundered with the regular washing and returned to its home, clean and ready for the next time.
We do not carry the same cloth all day and use it over and over as the old practice of a cloth handkerchief. We use it once and put it in the hamper to be washed like a tissue.
If someone is sick with a runny nose, I purchase one box of tissue at that time to manage the germs and I have a pocket pack in my purse. I also keep a box in the house for guests. (Occasionally, someone uses toilet paper to blow their nose.)
See? It is not all or nothing; we do what is reasonable.
We have paper towels, but we use about 8 a year. Most of the time, when we clean surfaces, wipe up spills, or wipe our hands, we use reusable rags and cloths instead of paper towels.
We keep paper towels on hand for especially dirty things like greasy spills or paint, but typical day-to-day life can be managed with reusable rags and cloths. Also, guests usually use paper towels. I am good with that because it is a little more sanitary.
I have microfiber cloths for cleaning. (I do not plan to buy more because I have learned a microfiber cloth is not great for the environment either, but we are all learning.) I will still use them because I have them.
I downgrade old ratty towels and washcloths to rag status. See my hot tip below about keeping rags and good towels separate.
And I love cotton bar towels (image link below) because they are absorbent and versatile.
If you start using old towels as rags, how will people know what can be used as a rag and what is a good towel?
Glad you asked!
Assign rags a color. Buy Rit dye and color all of the cleaning rags that color.
Paper plates, cups, bowls
We don’t spend money on paper plates, cups, or bowls. We use real dishes 99% of the time even when we didn’t have a dishwasher. We have enough dishes for company, too.
We are a family of four. Our practice is to clean up the dishes after each meal. It takes me 5 minutes to wash the plates by hand after a meal if I clean-as-I-go with the meal prep.
With a dishwasher, it is even faster as everyone in the family clears their plate and puts them in the dishwasher.
My favorite family dishes are Corelle. I use a plain white set. I mix and match my tablescape flexibly because the white goes with everything – even more adorable cloth napkins for every occasion like I mentioned above!
Here is an image of my favorite Corelle set and a link to them on Amazon:
Corelle is thin and light to lift, but super durable. They are not completely unbreakable, if dropped on a hard surface, at the correct angle, with the right amount of force, they will shatter.
However, breaking them is rare. I’ve had mine for over a decade and I have not broken a single one – even with toddlers. (My mom has had them for 30+ years).
Side note: I sold my “china” dishes before a move once and even though I love to entertain, I do not miss them. My everyday Correlle dishes have been just enough.
Stops spending money on Single-use Plastic
We are a water drinking family. If you want to learn some of the things we do to drink more water, check out my post about how we Drink More Water here.
I do not buy cases of bottled water for our family at home or for trips.
We each have our reusable bottles (linked image below) and we have a filter. Where we live our water is considered good. It is cleaned by reverse osmosis, but because of the pipes and…you never know, we run it through a filter.
Plastic wrap and zipper bags
Instead of plastic wrap or plastic zipper bags, we use reusable containers, reusable bags, and occasionally compostable paper storage bags.
Plastic grocery bags
It is estimated that one could save 100-700 plastic bags from going to a landfill a year by replacing them with reusable bags when shopping.
Changing this habit probably won’t save you any money, but it is a smart move for the planet. I can see why some states are banning plastic shopping bags. Have you ever seen them stuck in a tree or floating in a body of water? So sad.
Somehow we acquire so many totes from events we go to and gifts. I use them for shopping. So this switch was free for us. I love that they are more sturdy and easy to carry than the disposable kind, so worth it to me.
You might not be as privileged to be as bag-rich as us, but most stores sell reusable for $1-$5. If you buy one a week, in a few months you should have enough.
Like plates, we use real flatware for meals or in lunchboxes. I have some extra stainless steel spoons and forks from the thrift store that are used for lunchboxes and if we eat away, like a picnic.
Speaking of lunchboxes, if you send kids to school, check out my Lunchbox Notes. 200+ printable notes to send love and encouragement to school every day of the school year.
In addition to regular glasses, my kids have reusable bottles with built-in straws (and also 360 cups), so usually, straws aren’t even a thing. We drink water 99% of the time. See my post about how I help my kids drink more water here.
I avoid buying single-use straws at home. I have tried the paper kind, but my kids don’t like the feel of them. We do occasionally eat out and a few of us use straws then, but I don’t buy them for home.
We use regular flushable toilet paper. We do not use a reusable version of toilet paper at this time.
Disposable Plastic Toothbrushes
A few years ago, The Mr. and I received rechargeable electric toothbrushes for Christmas gifts. We still use them a few years later. We replace just the head a few times a year, which is less waste than a full toothbrush.
Our dental hygienists ask “do you use an electric toothbrush?” “I do.” “I can tell,” she says. Consider switching.
If the electric reusable ones are not for you, or not in the budget, consider a more sustainable bamboo toothbrush for an easy swap. They are biodegradable and affordable.
Makeup Remover Wipes
Not only are the makeup remover cloths bad for the environment and over-priced, but they also are not that great for your skin (even if the package says they are).
Instead, remove makeup with a reusable makeup remover cloth, such as Erase Your Face (image below), and a melting balm such as