7 Green-ish Ways to Lower Household Costs

by Ivory Soap


We’ve already covered the grocery store, but what about the rest of the household expenses?  Yes, being weird suburban homesteaders reduces those costs too.

1.  Have a little house. Small houses require less stuff to keep them going.  Less utilities, less heat, less air, less carpet, less roof, less lighting, less everything.  And my un-green husband can bury my thermostat on 70 all summer if he wants and we still have some of the lowest utilities in the county.

2.  Tolerate a wide range of temperatures. This is all TL.  They don’t turn on the AC unless it’s over 85  in the house.  And no heat unless it’s below 60.  I don’t get to do that, but their utility bills are beans.

3.  Don’t have cable or satellite. There’s nothing on it anyway.   And certainly nothing on it that we can’t watch online.  We also recommend library cards.

4.  Don’t have gym memberships. Why pay someone to build a fence for you then pay again so you can go burn some calories?  Why pay for gas to go to the corner store a million times and then buy a treadmill?  We build our own fences.  We walk on the road or with this lady.   (One exception: we highly support gym memberships for moms with kids at home…for the child care.   The guaranteed two hours of freedom a day is priceless.  Pay your bills, make important calls, stare at the wall…PRICELESS.)

5.  Use cloth, not paper. Cloth diapers are WAY cheaper over the long haul.  Cloth towelettes cost nothing compared to paper towels, kleenex, and napkins.  However, we’re both very strong supporters of toilet paper.  I could maybe see myself using cloth for tinkles, but the other business? NEVER.

6.  Use containers, not baggies. You can wash baggies, but who wants to?  Tiny tupperware is where it’s at.  Some people don’t do any plastic.  Meh.  I’m not sending my five year old to school with anything breakable and that stainless stuff is WAY too expensive to entrust to people who regularly misplace their own underpants.  But if you want to be super-frugal, try these.

7.  Make your own…anything. This is a real money saver.  Homemade laundry detergent costs almost nothing, same with homemade soap, deodorant, lotion, wet-jet refills, sandwich bread, cheese, pickles, anything.  I buy razors, tp, light bulbs, and dishwasher detergent (tried ALL the recipes and rinses known to man…goo on my plastic).  That’s about it for household stuff.  I make (or quit using) almost everything else.  And if I don’t feel like making it, we just don’t have it that day.  I’m certainly not going to go BUY it!

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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Eleanor August 27, 2009 at 8:50 am

Any suggestions for getting your husband to drop the gym membership because he’s not going… But, of course, he Going To Go! (so he says.)

Mimi August 27, 2009 at 11:05 am

I love your blog and wouldn’t miss it for anything. I do have a couple points about your suggestions this time, tho. Little house is good, very good and if you have the good fortune to be able to build your own small house, don’t forget to use 2 x 6’s rather than 2 x 4’s because you can definitely up the insulation and get great benefits there, I know, we did it. I agree with the temperatures and do lots of conserving that way also. I don’t agree with no satellite. I get a wealth of excellent, extremely enriching educational shows on satellite that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I’m not out there on the town paying for other forms of entertainment, so I figure the satellite is my less expensive version of nights out on the town. Yeah, I’m with you on the gym memberships, cloth not paper, and containers not baggies. But, unless I’m not having to buy a lot of ingredients to make my own, then I’m not positive I’m saving as much as it might appear. If, however, one has a well stocked larder of many of the ingredients that go into the “make your own” items, it gets to be a bit more costly to do that. One really big plus in making your own is: you know what’s in it and you definitely will exercise quality control! thanks for all the great tips you give; you have inspired me in a lot of ways. Mimi

Summer August 27, 2009 at 11:07 am

Seven great tips! I’m trying to do #7 more and more, hopefully to the point where we don’t need to go to the store more than once a month.

Chookie August 27, 2009 at 11:44 am

We are keeping our gym membership because we have a family one, and use the swimming pool at the gym a couple of times a week – it is a cheap, easy way of entertaining the kids. And Hubbs and I also go swimming by ourselves a couple of times a week as well as a means to get fit. The annual family membership works out cheaper than paying for individual swimming sessions for 2 adults and 4 kids each time we go.

But all the rest – I am with you there. I buy very, very few cleaning products, don’t buy tissues or paper towel, use cloth for most things. And containers in place of the baggies.

I am not convinced on the home-made laundry detergent as I found that the whites were going greyish and it doesn’t perform well at cooler temperatures. I am now thinking it may be better to buy one of the cold-water detergents for doing the laundry. What I loose in paying for the detergent I will save in not having to heat the water.

Margaret August 27, 2009 at 1:07 pm

Great suggestions. I do have a gym membership because I’m about as hardy as a paper doily and the most outdoor stuff in a non-controlled environment I can do is swim. Totally worth it for me.

I like to make my own cleaning supplies, too, mostly because I have bad allergies (hence the need for climate control for exercise). Using baking soda, vinegar, or Borax to clean is much easier on my airways.

I tried to not have cable, but it came with the high speed Internet. I also have a Roku (which I actually won on a product review website) that plays Netflix movies and TV shows (not all of them, but many). Netflix and the Roku are great, because I can get tons of new content while paying very little, and it saves me a bunch on entertainment. If you go cable-less, you could do the $10 a month for Netflix and streaming video (unlimited) and not feel deprived.

rowena___. August 27, 2009 at 3:36 pm

how can you be ok with cloth diapers (which we used for all the diaper years–AND which i made myself from recycled materials), but not be ok with cloth bathroom supplies? 😀 and full disclosure, my husband does NOT use our cloth wipes, he uses paper, but ella and i love cloth. i also make and use my own cloth feminine hygiene napkins and the few times i use disposables they feel like bark to me.

Julie August 27, 2009 at 3:44 pm

I have always been VERY frugal, friends and family made fun of me but now they ask for my advice! I’ve done the 7 suggestions you have made, plus many others!

Ivory Soap August 27, 2009 at 6:28 pm

@Julie–Well, share a few!

Ivory Soap August 27, 2009 at 6:30 pm

Rowena!! HA! There is a big difference between baby and big people poo. And I’m all over the fleece liners with my Mia cup ( I can’t believe I’m having this conversation with you), but again, feminine fluids aren’t dookie. I know some consider it a weird place to draw a line, but I have a thing about rectums. It’s a special orifice, with a special product. I just can’t.

Ivory Soap August 27, 2009 at 6:34 pm

@Chookie–I don’t have the grayish problem, but I don’t use the 1-2T recommended by the uber-frugalists. It’s just not enough. I put in way more than that, but it’s still less expensive and it works really well in cold.

Ivory Soap August 27, 2009 at 6:41 pm

@Eleanor–Our rule is that we don’t buy something like that until we’ve grown beyond what we have. If my hubby were wearing out the roads and ten dollar workout tapes consistently for a few months, THEN I would be cool with the gym. Having a membership won’t make people workout. It gives people who workout all the time some variety and amenities that make their workout lifestyle more pleasant.

Becca August 27, 2009 at 7:37 pm

Here’s what we did to go with cloth in the bathroom for wiping. (Prepare yourself for potential TMI.) We purchased a BumGenius diaper sprayer (http://www.diapers.com/Product/ProductDetail.aspx?ProductId=6098) and use this to spray our bums before we wipe. There’s almost never any, hmmm, wipe *product* (hehe) on the cloth after we spray. It lowers the gross factor and it feels good too!

rowena___. August 27, 2009 at 8:37 pm

I.S., it IS a special orifice. BWAHAHAHA in actual fact that is where i drew the line for years too, and then i got stingy. 😀 when i lived in europe, i got spoiled on bidets. if i ever remodel a bathroom to the point of replacing fixtures, there WILL be a bidet and there WILL be a water heater on it.

Laura August 27, 2009 at 9:10 pm

I don’t use cloth T.P. (pondering it for #1, but Ivory, girl, I am WITH you on the “grownup poo is not like baby poo” thang. NEVER.), but I DO use non-disposable feminine products with TOTAL delight. I seriously snicker every time I walk past that massive, plasticky feminine products aisle at the store. But that little tidbit is not something I share with everyone who says, “How can I save money on stuff around my house, Laura?”

Laundry soap, toothpaste, shampoo, lotion, body wash, and almost all of my cleaning products get made in my own tiny kitchen. (Plus bread and yogurt and all that food stuff, obvi.) But I haven’t found a reasonable homemade replacement for Murphy’s oil soap, and I am a total dishwasher detergent holdout. I’ve tried every eco brand (just. no.) and heard the homemade horror stories. I have enough stress in my life. Shoot, I figure I make every doggone OTHER thing in my house, I can let the Electrasol Ultratabs slide, right?

Tanya Walton August 28, 2009 at 12:57 am

if we are all being so economical and green then why are so many people talking about their dishwasher detergents???? It is very easy to make your own washing up liquid and more economical to wash dishes in your sink than to have enough to fill a dishwasher and you also use less hot water and electricity!!!

rowena___. August 28, 2009 at 7:14 am

i think whether or not you save water and energy washing dishes by hand depends on how you wash and the kind of machine. my machine is one of the energy star super-savers, it uses only ONE GALLON of water to wash and only ONE GALLON to rinse. that is way less than i use for the same number of dishes, esp. for greasy pots and pans. the machine also superheats the water to 190 degrees to sterilize, i could never put my hands in water that hot. supposedly the energy cost is less than 60 cents per cycle, but i haven’t actually calculated that with our local electric rate.

but i’m like laura, i use commercial dishwashing powder because i too make nearly every ding-dang thing in the house and i feel i can afford and deserve the one splurge of dishwashing powder that works.

OWL MOMMA August 29, 2009 at 10:05 am

For dishes, we tried every eco friendly dishwasher stuff out there. And nothing worked great. Now we’re using soap nut liquid for the dishwasher with vinegar as the rinse agent. Perfect! We also use soap nut liquid in the laundry, even for our cloth diapers and family cloth. And if it weren’t for football season, I might have won the “no tv at all” issue by now 🙂

Stephanie - Green SAHM August 29, 2009 at 3:06 pm

Becca, I’ve recently been discovering how handy the diaper sprayer is in that way too. A bit cold but so effective. My aunt tried to tease me about it being a bidet but I explained that it does its job quite nicely.

I’m good at setting the A/C to 85. Getting used to warm isn’t that bad. Takes me longer to get used to cold weather, though. At least for that I can pull on a sweater. I have a baby right now, so there’s only so much cold or heat I’ll make her deal with. She can’t tell me directly when it’s too much, after all.

Michelle August 29, 2009 at 8:15 pm

Cloth in the bathroom for tinkling saves me so much TP! I even had my pad lady (effiethepixie on Etsy) make me four dozen wonderful little wipes. I use TP for most of the backside stuff because I have weird digestive issues but do use cut up T-shirt wipes for the tail end of backside wiping (sorry, couldn’t resist!). So even there I’m saving. I had to get used to the (slight) ick factor with that, but it’s not that bad. With my pads & pantyliners I won’t be saving money for about another year (started my stash about 15 months ago) but after that I will be, and I love effie’s pads SO much more than ‘sposies. Not to mention nixing the environmental issues.

A great thread about “family cloth”: http://www.mothering.com/discussions/showthread.php?t=389009&highlight=family+cloth

Share August 29, 2009 at 11:57 pm

Wow! I have never read so many interesting comments before! I love the money saving ideas! I have never made my own cleaning anything though, can you suggest some great recipes for me? and reusable bathroom products??? Really??? I don’t know if I can do that, but kudos to the rest of you!

Ivory Soap September 1, 2009 at 11:52 am

@Share–We have all kinds of cleaning recipes on the site!

Ivory Soap September 1, 2009 at 11:54 am

Owl Momma- I”m going to check into that soap nut liquid!

Ivory Soap September 1, 2009 at 12:12 pm

@Becca–THIS I could do.

Heather September 8, 2009 at 7:58 pm

I adore your site. ADORE!!! I had to laugh about #4, I’ve never been such a devout gym goer since I had my son. I get time to myself there–no arms full of stuff, no husband, no phone ringing, ahh… From this post I learned how to make my own laundry detergent, which is great! And I just bought a used bread maker off Craigslist today and made my first loaf tonight. Thank you so much for sharing your recipe! It came out great. I love, love, love what you’re doing. Keep it up. 🙂

Ivory Soap September 10, 2009 at 11:14 am

@Heather–I would have NEVER made it through three kids under five at home without the gym! I rarely worked out there, though.

Jackie October 6, 2009 at 2:31 pm

Love these!
I just learned that, instead of buying Jet-Dri for the dishwasher, you can use white vinegar in the Jet Dri spot, and it makes dishes sparkley – That’s what my girls called it!

AnnieJ November 7, 2009 at 6:48 pm

We ran out of dishwasher detergent about six months ago and I mixed up a small batch of homemade to tide us over until I could buy more. It was just equal parts borax and baking soda aka sodium bicarbonate (online recipes say to use washing soda aka sodium carbonate but I didn’t have any) plus white vinegar in the rinse agent dispenser. I used about a tablespoon and a half of the powder per wash, and just filled the rinse dispenser with the vinegar.

That combo didn’t work perfectly, so the next time I used the same powder mix and added a VERY small squirt (a few drops) of dishwashing liquid (Dawn) to the powder dispenser along with the powder mix, and splashed a small amount of bleach in the bottom of the dishwasher (about a teaspoon). This has worked so well that we’ve never bothered to get more commercial dishwashing detergent, and its truly cheaper than dirt.

The drops of detergent are a surfactant – what is needed to cut grease – and its absence is probably why people give up on making their own. The baking soda is a mild abrasive and a water softener. Commercial dishwashing detergents have surfactants, abrasives and water softeners, and also usually contain bleach and borax. If we had hard water, a small amount of citric acid could be added to further help soften the water.

If you give this a try, be sure not to overdo the dishwashing liquid. A very few drops will do the job, and too much will foam out of your dishwasher all over your floor. And don’t forget the vinegar. Without it, your glassware will tend to look cloudy after a few washings but it clears right up when you go back to using the vinegar.

Shannon December 15, 2010 at 7:55 pm

I have a tip for you on the dish detergent. If you mix the powdered dish detergent 50/50 with baking powder you can really stretch how far that box of powder goes. Also I can use just 1 TBSP of the powder mixture to clean a whole dishwasher full of dishes. People typically overfill the tray and that can actually leave your dishes dingy and with water spots.

Canadian Doomer March 14, 2012 at 12:39 pm

When we started using bathroom cloths in December 2010, we had a 48-pack of toilet paper in the closet. I still haven’t had to replace it. I use scraps of anything old, absorbent and cotton – husband’s tshirts, old receiving blankets, etc. As far as I’m concerned, everything comes out in the wash, although anyone who ‘soils’ the cloth is responsible for rinsing their own before putting it in the bucket.

I apparently have a high tolerance for “gross”. LOL

We do all the rest. Well, we don’t have A/C or a dishwasher.

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