How Do You Save Money on Everyday Essentials?

Wallet and keys

Real Simple readers share how they save big on the little things.

Changing Priorities

Define what is really “essential.” With the changes that have occurred in the state of the economy recently, I feel differently about what is a want versus what is a need. Reality is a very good tool to use when it comes to saving money.
Melissa Fiffield
Manchester, New Hampshire
 
Instead of using store-bought cleaners, I use natural cleaning agents (vinegar, lemon juice) and salt (as an abrasive). Instead of steel wool, I use elbow grease. And instead of buying baby food, I puree whatever we’re having for dinner. My family is healthier, better off financially, and more understanding and appreciative of what our grandparents went through during the Great Depression.
Jacque Foster
Greenville, South Carolina
 
I use coupons religiously and wait for the 25- to 50-percent-off sales, when I can use both the coupon and the discount. I buy better brands in larger amounts―not cheap imitations that end up costing me more because I have to use more product for the same result.
Pam Pampe
Winchester, Virginia
 
I cut dryer sheets into thirds. A third gives me just enough sheet to stop static cling but doesn’t overwhelm my sinuses with the scent.
Patty Laverdet
Spotsylvania, Virginia
 
Instead of buying bottled water from the vending machine at work ($1.25 a bottle), I bring my own glass to work and fill it at the water fountain. This saves me money, and I’m also going green and cutting out the temptation to buy soda.
Amy Parks
Peculiar, Missouri
 
I buy boring stuff at the dollar store near my house. Nobody is going to notice if you don’t have brand-name toilet cleaner or plastic bags. By saving a few bucks on cleaning and household items, I have extra to splurge on fun things, such as a meal out with friends or a new shirt.
Emily Payne
Greenville, South Carolina
 
Bring a bag lunch to work. In our household, brown bagging saves us about $35 to $40 a week.
Joyce Raeburn
Amsterdam, New York

  

My husband and I have made a vow to each other to live more mindfully and think well before making purchases. If we need something, we will head down to the local thrift store before buying the item new. This is good for our wallet and good for the environment. The other day, I found a brand-new, still-in-the-package vegetable steamer for only $1. It was $20 at Target.
Deidre Webster
Minneapolis, Minnesota

I bring coffee from home in a reusable cup, which saves money and the environment.
Caroline Joyce
Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania

Simply by clipping coupons and stocking up when things are on sale. I recently bought a coupon organizer, so when I’m in the store, I’m able to find the item in my organizer quickly. It makes life easier when you have multiple coupons and need to find a money saver for your shopping.
Christy Larsen
Eagan, Minnesota

I have two children who take their lunches to school each day, and using plastic sandwich keepers instead of disposable bags has both saved us money and helped us be a little greener.
Jill Waugh
Hamburg, New York

My husband and I travel frequently for business, and we often take the hotel toiletry samples home. We have fun trying the different products, and using them helps us reminisce about our trips.
Lesley Brandt
Omaha, Nebraska

We grow some of our food, like beans, tomatoes, squash, and other vegetables that change in price throughout the year. Then we can them or freeze them so we can use them whenever we need to.
Chloe Chambers
Molena, Georgia

Use cloth napkins and rags instead of paper napkins and paper towels. Doing this has really cut our spending.
Peggy Lewis
Newhall, California

I stop thinking of “everyday essentials” as everyday essentials. That way, I won’t need them.
Maria Gao
Iowa City, Iowa

  


Rather than buying the same items separately, my friends and I buy in bulk from warehouse clubs and share the cost. We buy chicken, bags of fruit and vegetables, packs of hair products and condiments. (Yes, we have bought a gallon of mustard and separated it into smaller containers.) Not only do we save but we also get to spend time together, even if it's just running errands.
Jen Richer
Washington, D.C.
 
Most of the time, simply asking yourself if you really need an item―from an in-car navigation system to overpriced sugar-filled snacks for the kids―is the best way to save a buck (or $1,000). Grab a map and a piece of fruit instead.
Kristi Waszak
Papillion, Nebraska
 
Borrow and share when you can. A group of friends and I made a list of books we'd like to read, and we each bought one. We just rotate as we finish reading them.
Paula O'Kray
Stevens Point, Wisconsin
 
I find a good price on the wines we love and buy by the case. Most places give a 10 percent discount, and it saves me from going back and forth to the wine store.
Jonelle McAllister
New Orleans, Louisiana
 
My husband was reading a popular investment book. The author asked, "If you could get a return of 50 percent on an investment, would you buy it?" Of course you would. So once a month I visit our local dollar store and stock up on items my family regularly uses (toiletries, sandwich bags, etc.). It's like getting a whopping return on my "investments."
Ilia Beecher
Lewiston, New York
 
Saving money is all about being flexible. Experiment with non―brand-name products and you may find yourself surprisingly satisfied. I was pretty proud of myself when I found that the Target-label paper towels were just as good, if not better, than some brand-name versions. It made me feels as if I was in on some well-kept secret.
Martha Garcia
Dallas, Texas
 
I take department-store samples of my favorite moisturizing lotions with SPF and mix in a drop of foundation to create my own inexpensive tinted moisturizer. It lasts all day and costs less than brand-name makeup that contains SPF.
Megan Sullivan
Springfield, Virginia
 

  


I shop online from my local grocery store and have everything delivered. That way, I'm not prone to last-minute purchases, I can see all the store specials with one click, and nine times out of 10, the delivery is free, based on the amount that I buy.
Sarah Sanders
San Anselmo, California
 
It's really quite easy―just use a little less. Whether it's shampoo, dish detergent, or cleaning products, a smaller dollop does the job just as well. We are all so used to believing that more is better, but you would be surprised at how much money you can save by consuming less. Disclaimer: This method does not work in the case of chocolate.
Ruth Ann Bailey
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
 
I make things from scratch. It's healthier for our family, our budget, and the environment. Plus, homemade pizza dough just tastes better.
Jenny Palmer
West Linn, Oregon
 
I live 60 miles from the nearest large chain store, so stocking up is a necessity. I buy in bulk, usually from amazon.com/subscribeandsave. The prices are comparable to those of the large discount stores, and shipping is free. I can easily control the timing of my shipments, and I never run our for essentials.
Jan Kellis
DeTour Village, Michigan
 
I leave the trip recorder on my car set to "miles per gallon." This reminds me to ease off on the gas pedal. It's good for my pocketbook and the planet.
Barbara McDonagh
Warwick, Rhode Island
 
My friends and I get together once a year for a clothing swap. It encourages us all to go through our closest and weed out those things that no longer fit well, and we always go home feeling as if we've had a full day of shopping without spending a dime. Our old clothes get a new life, and those pieces that don't find a home go to charity.
Kelsey Hughes
Houston, Texas
 
I use a lipstick brush to get every last bit of color out of the tube.
Gayle Ansted
Joliet, Illinois
 
For under $10, I bought a little battery-operated foamer so I can make lattes at home. A little soy milk, some coffee, a microwave, and I'm done.
Kate Leonard
Newton, Massachusetts
 

  


I keep a small pair of scissors in my bathroom drawer. When tubes of lotion, shampoo, or conditioner get low and I can't squeeze out another drop, I snip the end of the tube and squeeze the product out of the bottom. Just like that, I get an extra couple of days' use out of bathroom staples. Over time that amounts to money in my pocket.
Cissy Baker
Ringgold, Georgia
 
I have stopped going to superstores. They have way too many temptations. Now if I am shopping for groceries, I shop only for groceries--not underwear, videos, or small appliances.
Nancy Knight
Seneca Falls, New York
 
I try to calculate what the unit price is on various items, which helps me comparison-shop. For example, I'll figure out the price per bag for a box of plastic bags. It makes it easier to know whether I'm getting a deal or not and also helps me see which stores offer better bargains.
Karen Cadman
San Diego, California
 
I hunt around for free samples. It's a fun way to try new products and fill your mailbox with something other than bills. Plus, you can get some wonderful items: snacks to bring to work, shampoo to take on your next trip, or a dog treat for your pooch. Check the websites of your favorite brands to see what they're giving away.
Barb Addy
Pensacola, Florida
 
I have a three-month-old who hates being in the car. I find I spend less money because I can't go anywhere!
Alana Hickey
North Hampton, New Hampshire
 
Just add a little water. This can extend the life of shampoo, body wash, even makeup.
Kristen Nelson
Franklin, Tennessee
 
I buy only what I need. My 15-year-old brother imparted this wisdom during a recent shopping trip: "Did you know you save more money by not buying anything?"
Jenny Davis
Fargo, North Dakota
 
Meal planning is a big help. By purchasing only the ingredients you need for the week in one shopping trip, you minimize impulse buys and trips to the market, and you save on gas.
Kendra Adachi
Greensboro, North Carolina