Counterintuitive Tips Around The House
July 23, 2012 10:59 AM   Subscribe

Trying to save time and money around the house, what are some counter-intuitive (or not easily grasped, or just obscure) things I should or should not be doing?

I am completely sure there are aspects to saving time and money around the house which I (and my girlfriend) have Totally Wrong Ideas about. We've started buying in bulk for instance, but that made sense right off the bat. Except when I started looking deeper into pricing, it turns out that a lot of bulk items -- dish soap, napkins, toilet paper, paper towels -- isn't always less (and oftentimes more) expensive than buying it at the store. So buying in bulk will not always guarantee money saved. I mean, yeah, no shit, but it still took me some time to realize that.

What are some things that don't immediately give you that sense of "ah HA!" but end up paying off in the long run. I'm basically looking for the housekeeping equivalent of purchasing a $300 pair of boots to last for ten years rather than a $50 pair of boots to last one year.

Feel free to ask me questions because I don't think I've explained myself very well.

(Also, if it matters, we live an inherited co-op apartment in Brooklyn and do not own a car or plan to own a car.)
posted by griphus to Home & Garden (60 answers total) 205 users marked this as a favorite
We've found that store brands, in many cases, are just as good as the name brand (and sometimes are made by the same manufacturer!) and they tend to be cheaper too!
posted by Hanuman1960 at 11:05 AM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you don't already know how to cook, learn to cook. Yes you'll spend money outfitting your kitchen and you'll waste food the first time you try to make a pie but in the long term you'll save money. Buy simple, commercial kitchen grade aluminum pots and pans and they should last forever.
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:07 AM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

Clean showers and bathroom sinks weekly or use the "after shower" mist solution after you use the shower. Cleaning the grout between tiles thoroughly, with a small brush and concentrated solution, is soul-destroying. It's really one area where a small, but regular investment of effort saves you a frustrating time later.

I didn't believe in rice cookers until I had one underhand. If you eat rice (or, really, any grain, including buckwheat) and obtain a rice cooker that reliably fails to burn your food, you will avoid quite a bit of washing, save effort, and have an easier time assembling meals that are rice + another dish. It's especially great on weekdays, when time is short.
posted by Nomyte at 11:07 AM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

Plain vinegar + Dawn detergent mixed in a spray bottle = best and cheapest bathtub cleaner I've ever used.
posted by HeyAllie at 11:08 AM on July 23, 2012 [15 favorites]

Response by poster: Oh! And we have a little dog, so pet tips welcome as well.

We buy store-brand everything except garbage bags.
posted by griphus at 11:09 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

You know how you'll be going to a party or to someone's house and you'll want to bring a bottle of wine or 6 pack or something over and have to stop at the store first? Have several of those things stocked in your house so you can just grab one and take off. (For me, this means always having the ingredients at the ready for a pan of brownies--YMMV.)

This accomplishes three things: 1) save the time and hassle of going to the store on a Friday night when everyone and their brother is buying a 6 pack or bottle of wine, 2) save money because you can get it at your preferred store instead of the corner shop where they jack up the price on everything, and 3) have a choice of items instead of having to pick from whatever happens to be left there on a busy night.
posted by phunniemee at 11:10 AM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

I was resistant to it for a long time, but menu planning saves me a huge amount of time (both physical work-time and thought-time) and money (both in not needing to get take-out, and in not over-buying at the market). It's not sexy (unless you shop naked), but I've been managing a large household for about seven years now, and it's what makes the most difference for me.
posted by cocoagirl at 11:11 AM on July 23, 2012 [13 favorites]

Put up weatherstripping on your doors and windows. My local Ace has strips of felt that can be wedged perfectly in the gaps around my ancient metal windows and they significantly reduce the draft. One window's worth of felt strips is $1 or so. I'm sure this reduces my heating bills although I can't quantify the amount.
posted by sacrifix at 11:13 AM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you've got your little dog trained to go inside on puppy pads, consider litter training him. Paper litter is cheaper and needs to be changed less often (pick up the poo and flush it down the toilet immediately and it's smell-free).
posted by phunniemee at 11:14 AM on July 23, 2012

Stop buying paper towels period. A dozen inexpensive dish towels costs about the same as a dozen rolls of paper towels, but will last you for a few years.

Wash your clothes in cold water, hang things up and wear multiple times between washings, and turn your jeans inside out before washing. You'll wind up doing laundry less often and your clothes will last longer.
posted by drlith at 11:18 AM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

My sister recently went along with a friend of hers who is a professional housecleaner, i.e. maid. What she learned gave her that "ah HA!" you're probably looking for:

For mirrors:
NEVER BUY WINDEX AGAIN. All you need: two rags. One dipped in cold water to get the mirror wet, and one that is dry to shine it up.

For every other surface in your shower and house: Mainly the only cleaner you need is a vinegar solution in a spray bottle, made of 1 part vinegar, two parts water, plus a little essential oil to make it smell good (I like Lavender). Spray everywhere. Wipe clean.

To clean shower surfaces: Spray your vinegar spray all over the walls. Use a Nylon Bristle (not plastic bristle) broom to tap the cleaner into the crannies. Leave for five minutes. Come back and wipe down with a cloth.

To mop your floor: Take an old hand towel, cut a hole in it, and drop it over the handle of your Nylon Bristle broom. Get your towel wet in a version of your vinegar wash, mop the floor, take off the towel and throw it in the laundry to clean before next use. THIS WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE.

To dust: Use a dry rag with one spray (on the rag) of your vinegar wash from above.

For disinfecting on your toilet or other grimey places:
make another spray that is one part bleach, three parts water, plus your essential oil for good smelliness.

Other tips I highly recommend:

To brighten colors and whites in the wash: Add hydrogen peroxide.

To whiten your teeth: swish hydrogen peroxide in your mouth (DO NOT SWALLOW) then spit out before brushing. Repeat daily.

To make your own astringent: Mix witch hazel, rubbing alcohol, and some essential oil for smell in a ball jar and keep in your medicine cabinet. Dip cotton balls as necessary and clean your face.

Can't wait to see other tips!
posted by whimsicalnymph at 11:20 AM on July 23, 2012 [236 favorites]

Do you have a space where you can put out a clothes line (even indoors)? This made a much bigger dent in my energy bill than i would have expected.

I wash most of my dry clean clothes on gentle and dry them flat, huge savings.

But what is cheap and in season for groceries, but only if you don't have to buy a bunch of unique costly ingredients to make the meal.

I have had good luck with some of the cleaning products from the dollar store. Specifically the oxy-clean and the swiffer pads (although I really should the washable ones).
posted by Nickel Pickle at 11:21 AM on July 23, 2012

Buy (or make) cloth napkins. I bought about 10 of them years ago and my boyfriend & I each have our assigned napkin that we use for a while until it gets grungy, then we throw it in the wash on hot with the other towels. Paper towels are only for cleaning up the bathroom and icky spills. It takes us about 6 months to go through a roll of paper towels now.
posted by jabes at 11:22 AM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

This reminds me of a conversation my parents once had with my grandmother. She was thrilled to report, with some great authority, that she had discovered that it was cheaper to send your laundry out to have it washed, dried and folded. Imagine. Their. Surprise.

Well, yes. In fact, she had worked it all out, and when you calculate/amortize the price of the washer/dryer, the cost of regularly buying detergent/fabric softener, the cost of water and electricity to run the machines, and factor in the cost of hiring someone to come in and do the laundry, why you'll be shocked to realize that it is cheaper just to send it out.

This still ranks as one of my favorite stories about my grandmother.

Which I suppose is to say, take all the advice you get with a grain of salt! It may work for some people, but may not work for you!
posted by jph at 11:22 AM on July 23, 2012 [8 favorites]

Ok, on preview everyone is saying everything I'm saying, so I'll just post now!

Nthing suggestions to unplug things and cook two-or-three-meals-worth of rice, grains, etc. Also:

- Don't use a dryer; string up some thin rope or twine from plant hooks/nails on the wall/some other strong anchors across a seldom-traversed part of the apartment, and dry your clothes that way.
- Look for cooking/kitchen supplies at Habitat/Goodwill, etc. We've scored an amazing stock pot, pressure cooker, plates etc. for very cheap, all surprisingly clean.
-Try to limit the use of paper products. Trader Joe's sells these amazing all-purpose towels for surface cleaning. Just soak in vinegar when it gets dusty/dirty and it springs back to life.
posted by obscurator at 11:23 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

One thing a lot of smart people don't do is to set up your smartphones on your wireless network at home and at your office (if applicable). You might save money by going to a cheaper cellphone plan or you might just avoid overages/throttling depending on your data plan. You'll save time by having a faster connection most of the day.
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:24 AM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Safe gift bags to reuse. Buy a jumbo roll of neutral, unisex gift wrap and ribbon so you don't have to spend an arm and a leg on gift wrapping materials of in-store gift wrap at the last minute.

I agree with the dishtowel over paper towel suggestion. Another thing I do is cut squares or rectangles of old cotton t-shirts. Use instead of paper towels or wipes. I still buy paper towels but the cut up t-shirts come in handy and reduce paper towel waste.

If you are in charge of bringing a side dish to a picnic or get together, make homemade coleslaw. It's inexpensive and delicious. I use this recipe. It's your standard coleslaw recipe, nothing fancy, but everybody loves it. Cut your own cabbage and shred your own carrot. The pre shredded stuff is more expensive and doesn't look as nice.
posted by Fairchild at 11:27 AM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh! A few more I just remembered:

To get rid of scratches in wood:
Polish with a dry cloth and a little olive oil. It'll erase almost anything and make the wood shine.

To seal dry leather boots: Same as above. Dry cloth and olive oil.

And always keep Bar Keeper's Friend around. I've used it to get caked-on, burned oil off pans, and sticky goop off of my wood floors. It's a wonder product.

N'thing the rice cooker investment. It is a budgeter's dream. Well worth the up front cost.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 11:30 AM on July 23, 2012 [6 favorites]

Nthing cloth napkins and dish cloths. We haven't bought paper towels or napkins in years. They just get thrown in the washer to get washed with the next load when they can't be used for another meal. I also have a bunch of Ikea washcloths for wetting and wiping things down (tables, toddler, floor) and same thing, into the washer after use.

Drying rack for inside / clothes line for outside (we live in Oregon, so the drying rack sees much more use than the clothes line.

Menu planning!!! I just discovered this recently and OH MY GOD how it has changed my life. We have a set menu for easy things on weeknights and a little wiggle room for different things on weekends. All the shopping for the week is done on Saturday, so I never have to stop at the store on the way home from work or spend time thinking about what to have for dinner (or doing that tedious "I don't know, what do you want to have?" "I'm fine with whatever you want" conversation with the spouse). Also it is much cheaper, you shop with a list and can plan how much you can spend and it just rocks in every way. We cut our food costs in half by doing this. Memail me if you want specifics.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 11:31 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Always have some quick, easy meal you both like in the freezer. And some kind of booze if you/your friends drink. A $5 frozen pizza will save you $25 in takeout the night you both don't feel like cooking. $20 of bourbon will make a lot of people happy when you spontaneously have guests.

*It need not be prepackaged food by the way, homemade tamales will last a long time in the freezer, or just some already cubed chicken and frozen vegetables.
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:38 AM on July 23, 2012 [7 favorites]

Eliminate the need for paper towels and mangy gross sponges mouldering in the sink.

Get a whole bunch of cheap flour-sack dish towels and a whole bunch of cheap dish rags, and place a small hamper in or very near the kitchen. Quantity is key. Get enough to make a good load for your washer. You have to have enough that you can wipe up a spill, drop the towel or rag into the hamper, and grab a fresh one without a second thought. When you start to run low, wash 'em all on hot.
posted by BrashTech at 11:54 AM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: As laundry seems to be coming up a lot: we use the coin-operated washer/dryer in the basement of the building, we don't own our own units.
posted by griphus at 11:57 AM on July 23, 2012

Yeah, I'm not sure how doing extra loads of laundry is somehow more economical than sparingly using recycled paper towels.

We should prolly just start an NYC mefite costco collective.
posted by elizardbits at 12:04 PM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

Dish towels and cloth napkins are awesome, but they require total commitment. Finding sopping wet dish towels sitting and rotting in your sink after a long day at work is less than fun.
posted by Nomyte at 12:08 PM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

This requires an initial investment, but has dramatically changed our food bills: a "food saver" machine that seals foods airtight. You don't have to get a fancy one -- I'm not even sure you can buy a "fancy" one, and you can get inexpensive bags online.

We've tried and tried Planned Menus, but it doesn't seem to work for us. But there are lots of things that we love that are too much for two people, like lasagna and chili and shredded bbq chicken. Eat some, freeze the rest, and when we don't feel like cooking (which is where our menus tend to fail us), we don't go out or order in, we just pull a frozen dinner out. Our course, this only works if you have a freezer bigger than 2 ice cube trays.

(The trick to using the food saver, by the way, is to freeze the leftovers first -- we usually use a bread pan -- and then seal them. So we have tidy blocks of dinners in our freezer, and nothing gets squished by the sealing process.)
posted by kestralwing at 12:17 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Speaking of laundry - make your own laundry soap. It does a fine job for most laundry work and after an initial 30 bucks investment, you'll have soap that will last you for half a year.

The basic is combination of Fels Naptha soap, borax, and washing soda.
posted by 7life at 12:19 PM on July 23, 2012

Don't buy anything new except food and underwear. I exaggerate a little but thrift-shop buying can save a ton if you have the time for it. Buy those dish towels at Goodwill for under a buck, look for an Armani jacket for $5, all kinds of kitchen stuff really cheap. It's even fun sometimes--feels like you're getting away with something.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 12:32 PM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

An easy way of reducing detergent costs is to use less detergent. Most detergents are very concentrated. I often ended up pulling clothes out of the machine after a wash and they would foam up when I rinsed them in water. There is never any reason to use more than the smallest indicated quantity of detergent, and I usually use even less than that. I've been using the same canister of Store Brand for the past year, and it's not even close to empty.
posted by Nomyte at 12:36 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you use those plastic baggies on a roll to pick up dog poop, they are wayyy cheaper on Amazon. Also I have found a lot of great dog stuff at Marshalls/TJMaxx (toys, beds, bowls, etc) for way cheaper than retail.
posted by radioamy at 12:37 PM on July 23, 2012

I send my laundry out- 8 bucks for 2 weeks worth of laundry, maybe up to 12 bucks if I throw in ALL THE TOWELS. I drop it off in the AM on my way to work, and pick it up that evening on my way home.

I don't have much storage space, so I actually use dishtowels more than I use paper towels. I usually have 3 dishtowels that I use each week, in varying states of grunge. (I probably own 6 of them total). After about 2-3 days, the dishtowel is determined to be too dirty to wipe my hands on after doing dishes, and gets splashed with bleach and water and used as a makeshift "swiffer" pad to clean the kitchen. This means my kitchen gets "ghetto swiffered" at least 2x a week, and that I never have a filthy dishtowel around. (bonus, it takes about 2 mins to do, and my floors and surfaces are moderately clean!)

Dishtowels don't take up much space in laundry, so they get thrown in with the regular stuff once they are dry after the swiffering.

It probably takes me about two-three months to go through a roll of papertowels- much faster if I have guests who prefer to use papertowels to wipe up everything.
posted by larthegreat at 12:42 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Making your own laundry soap: 1 cup of washing soda, 1 cup of borax, 1 bar of finely grated fells naphtha soap (or even a bar of fancy schmancy soap). Stir it all together very well. 1 tablespoon of this washes a load of laundry. I take all day to grate the soap, just doing a little bit every time I walk past, but the result lasts me for months. There are recipes out there to make it all into a liquid, but that's just more steps and a bigger mess if you spill it. If for some reason you decide you really prefer whatever branded detergent you love, go back to it, and use up the Borax and washing soda by adding a bit to each load. Or give it away to someone who wants to try making their own.

Buy the dishtowels and make sure they're all the same color (or color family) as your bath towels, which you should be washing at least once a week anyway. A dozen dish towels takes up about as much space as one big bath towel. Less storage, no more laundry than you're already washing. Wash on hot though. I don't understand why anyone buys bath towels they can't wash on hot.

I am a big fan of handwashing clothes. Delicates, bras, linen, white clothes that I really want to stay white. Do not use Woolite, not even on wool. Sorting colors into medium and dark, and never washing white with colors. Never wash towels with clothes, because towels are rough and will abrade your wardrobe. For line drying, something like this might work in your coop. If not, maybe something you attach to the wall. This is a blogger who made one, because she didn't want to spend an arm and a leg for the Ballard Designs version.

Make your own salads. A few heads of romaine lettuce are usually about the same price as one bag of mixed field greens. The thing is, whole romaine doesn't get squished and bruised as easily, and it keeps a whole lot longer,and you can cut it up in whatever sized bites you want! Make your own dressing. Much less expensive, even if you spring for the fancy dressing jar. Much more tasty. Saves a bit of room, because most people keep mustard, oil, vinegar and some spices around.

Keep masking tape in the kitchen to mark the date and contents of things you put in the freezer. It's no good to have piles of delicious dinners in there if you can't remember when they went in, or what they are. Unless you're really adventurous. I freeze things in glass Pyrex bowls, and ziploc baggies (things like chilis in adobo that I only need one of, freeze the rest of the can, break of each as needed). Plastic food boxes, I break them.

Use a bristle brush to clean dishes. Someone here posted a system where they had a few things in the kitchen to use for dishes. I cannot stand the smell of a wet sponge that wasn't wrung out, nor the cost of replacing sponges that have become a zoo of bacterial plagues. At Ikea they have a dish brush for a dollar. I also have an OXO soap resevoir brush with replaceable heads.

Are you remembering to change your air filter every month? No? Start now. Please. Do you vacuum the coils on your fridge? That will make it less expensive to operate. Not counterintuitive, just not something that most people think of.

What temperature is your water heater set to? Check it out! The hotter it is, the more it costs. Don't go too low, because legionnaire's disease can breed in that environment. An acquaintance of mine actually installed a switch in his home so that his hot water heater only ran when he wanted it. The family routine was, wake up, flip the switch on, take the dogs out for a walk, come in, make coffee, then have a shower. They knew exactly how long it took to get enough water heated for the family to shower and clean up breakfast. After those things were done, the switch was flipped off before everyone left for the day. When they got home from work, flip the switch and then get started on dinner. Hot water off before bedtime. The savings they enjoyed far faaaaaaar surpassed what it cost to get the electrician out there to set it up!

Make sure your curtains have white facing the outside. Better yet, insulate further with a set of white (sheers or heavier even) between your curtains and the outside. White reflects the sunlight away, and in winter the extra set will help keep the heat from zooming out the window. Better still, have your windows checked/get an energy assessment from the electric company.

For cleaning tips, here are some links:
Clean like a professional
A thorough spring cleaning checklist.
Laundry stain cheat sheet
18 ways to deep clean your home. Who remembers to wipe down their chair legs? This lady!
If your shower is really grungy, use this mix of dawn and vinegar. The purpose of the dawn is that it's viscous and will keep the vinegar from sliding off the walls. Same idea as attaching a bag of vinegar to your showerhead to remove limescale. Speaking of bathrooms, check the grout and caulk in there. Replace as needed. This is another thing where hiring a pro will save you money in the long term (but you may not need to hire someone. Caulk is relatively easy.) because bad grout can let water into the space behind your see where that goes.

Things to buy or pay people to do:

White curtains
Cloth napkins and dishtowels.
Bristle brush
Salad dressing recipe bottle if it'll keep you from buying premade stuff.
Electrician for water heater
Handyman for grout/caulk
posted by bilabial at 1:42 PM on July 23, 2012 [24 favorites]

I live in a three and a half story house, so saving time cleaning this big house has become something I give a crap about nowadays. That said, I (try to) never leave a room empty handed, and certainly never leave one floor to go to another floor empty handed.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 3:21 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

use a stain stick on your clothes. Address stains right away - a quick rinse and even just rubbing some dishsoap on it can make a big difference; it's worth the effort because you save everytime you don't have to replace clothing that's been ruined by an unfortunate splotch.

To add to that, if you can't wash stuff right away, squeeze out any excess water from the rinse and put the item in a grocery bag in your hamper or laundry bag. If you want to really keep it soaking, use a ziplock and more water, but just a little, not enough to strain the seal, and those slide-lock ones are better for this kind of thing. I do this because when I leave things to soak under the sink or whatever, I forget them. This way they're already in the laundry bag and ready to go.

Wash everything you can in cold, and air dry. Only towels, the boy's underthings, and socks get washed in hot at my house. Stains don't get set, and it's less wear and tear on your clothes.

This might sound too obvious, but a big way to save money for me is: stay out of the store. Do as much as you can to stay out of the store. Because even if you go for just one thing, you're going to think of something else you need - or "need", or something that appeals to you. This is why I keep dry milk around for cooking.

It's why I menu plan too. But I don't do the "monday - meatloaf, tuesday pork chops, wednesday chicken soup" kind of meal planning. I figure my budget and how long I'm shopping for, and when I know how many dinners I'm going to need to make, I make a list of meals I want to make, and shop accordingly. That way I can cook anything from the list, going by what sounds good or how much effort I feel like making.

and if you have an aldi's, shop there.
posted by lemniskate at 3:25 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Clean and even Replace old fridge & oven seals
Retrofit all light globes to lesser Watt ratings
Get decent power boards with a master on/off switch and connect all your electrical equipment into one per room so you can flick everything off whenever its not in use or you leave to go holiday.
Switch off fridge for extended holidays (2+ days)
Adjust all of your thermostats (water heating down, air-con & heating to 21deg) - that will save you alot.
Consider to purchase a new energy efficient fridge and water-saving washing machine.
Always wash full loads (never half loads) in any kind of washing machine (clothes or dishes)
Insulate windows with better curtains and use door snakes to close door / floor gaps during cold months.

Alot of those are already somewhat 'Ah-HA!' but anyhow.. good luck!
posted by Under the Sea at 5:22 PM on July 23, 2012

Box wine instead of bottles, if that's your thing. Yeah yeah, it's box wine, whatever. It tastes fine. I like Black Box cabernet sauvignon, which is $18-ish around here.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:43 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

For socks and tupperware, unless you have very specific needs, throw out what you have and buy a lot that are exactly the same. Removes the need to hunt for the other sock / the matching lid or to make judgment calls about which to use.

When you have plastic bags from the grocery store, flatten them, roll them up (from handle to handle), and tie it in a loose knot. You can then put the bags in a box by the door to your apartment or hang them on a hook.

A good place to store cooking or bread knives is a rack on the door under the sink. (For reasons I do not understand this is apparently universal in Japan.)

For things you always need to have, like laundry detergent, cooking oil, common sauces, and so on, buy an extra bottle. When you use up one bottle, you switch to the spare and pick up another spare so you never find yourself rushing to the store to pick some up.

Double-sided safety razors aren't actually at all hard to use and the blades are incredibly cheap.

Agree on cleaning everything with vinegar. Also use Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap for at least bath and hand soap - not the cheapest up front, but reduces the variety of soaps you have (so no time spent picking and choosing) and lasts forever.
posted by 23 at 7:13 PM on July 23, 2012

A specific brand recommendation: skip the house-brand toilet paper and go straight for the Scott 1000*. It's reasonably sturdy (doesn't fall apart under normal use) and soft enough to be comfortable (no bad flashbacks to the early days of recycled-fiber toilet paper). It's generally one of the least expensive toilet papers on the shelf, and because each roll is 1000 sheets of unquilted single-ply tissues (no wasted space on puffy air), a roll lasts much longer than the typical roll of any other brand I've tried over the years.

*Sadly, the reviews on that second link indicate that like so many things these days, it's been hit by the grocery shrink ray.
posted by Lexica at 7:51 PM on July 23, 2012

Here's one an economist would probably say:

Don't be afraid to spend your money feeling comfortable in your home, and put your extra time and energy into making more money. In the long run, this will probably be a better solution if your goal is to save time and money.

If you're into focusing on these minutia that's cool-domestic living and care can be pretty zen. However, if you think about how low the costs of housekeeping are compared to the bigger stuff (rent, ect.), spending so much energy lowering its costs could be a waste. You could be spending that energy on your career, and pretty soon you won't need to worry about housekeeping at all!
posted by swappler at 9:31 PM on July 23, 2012 [9 favorites]

I apologize if everybody else already knows about this, but I was shocked, SHOCKED, to find out only very recently that you are NOT supposed to use fabric conditioner on your towels. Apparently it leaves a layer of residue that makes them less absorbent. So now I just pop a couple of tennis balls with my load of towels and bedsheets in the dryer, and they seem to fluff up just fine.
posted by pimli at 3:41 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've linked up specific cleaning tasks with non-cleaning habitual tasks to reduce overall time spent cleaning. example: every morning I wake up on the weekend, the first thing I do, almost always, is go to the kitchen, drink a glass of water, and root through the fridge for a snack. I've conditioned myself to load or unload the dishwasher between drinking water and getting snack.

Other links:

- empty all trash bins when main trash goes out
- take out the recycling when the amazon fresh delivery is unpacked (the broken down boxes are stored behind the amazon totes)
- throw a load of laundry in when I go to the utility room to get something bike-related
- check the fridge for expired condiments after loading fridge from grocery run
- sweep the floor after attending to the litter box
- water the patio garden when I turn on the first light after sundown

When I'm really on top of my game, my childhood conditioning of 'clean your workspace' comes out, and I'll clean as I generate messes. But the habitual links save my house from getting appalling when that doesn't work.
posted by par court at 3:52 AM on July 24, 2012

Use liquid body wash instead of bar soap in the shower. It really cuts down on the resulting soap scum and the amount of scrubbing you need to do when cleaning the tub. I'm not sure if it saves money in the long run (depends on the cost of body wash vs. soap and how quickly you use up each) but it sure saves effort, which is worth it to me.

Also, to reinforce what 23 said above: I had an ah-ha moment a few years ago when I realized I didn't have to buy just one of whatever consumable items I need. So now I always buy at least two (e.g., bottles of shampoo, sticks of deodorant, bottles of juice) so when one runs out, I don't have to make a special trip to the store to replace it. Just add it to my list for my next regular shopping trip. Maybe that's obvious to most people, but it wasn't to me for a while, partly because I did most of my shopping on foot rather than in the car, so I always tended to buy only what I could carry the few blocks home.
posted by Nothlit at 5:55 AM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

This may be weird and may not fall exactly within what you're looking for, but major cost savings for us:
- simply having a clear and strict budget. I mean, duh, everyone knows that, but it actually is true. We opened a joint account that we each put a set amount of money in every 2 weeks and that is our grocery money. Run out? Too bad. I tell ya, we're spending way less now.
- dicthing satelite/cable and instead getting a slightly faster internet connection so that we can download/stream any tv shows that we want through our playstation. major MAJOR cost savings, and frankly we watch way less tv now and we're happier without it.
- keep your thermostate set a little more moderately. Wear a sweater in the winter to stay warm, prance about in just underpants in the summer to stay cool. Cheaper to just get used to it than it is to crank the heat/AC.
- Ditch going out to the movie theatre/expensive dates for board games. You can get some really fun board games for the same price as one evening out, and they can be played multiple times over. And they're more interactive than a lot of "normal" dates.
posted by gwenlister at 7:44 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding box wines. They're cheap, they're eco-friendly, and the space-bag inside keeps leftover wine well: I just got back from a ten-day trip and the stuff in the bottle was barely potable, but the box was fine.

Decent Yet Super-Cheap White Wine is a lot harder to find than red. The best I've found is Varas, a boxed blend of various white Lisbon-region wines (the label specifies percentages of each grape variety), plus 10% Sauvignon Blanc. Here is a list of U.S. distributors: the one in Jersey can probably tell you what stores carry it in Brooklyn.

On the other hand, since you're in Brooklyn you can probably just hit Trader Joe's, who sell a lovely vinho verde for $3.99/bottle. Buy a case to lug home in your wheely-cart; drink & gift it all summer.

Sorry, I've just noticed that you're asking for counter-intuitive tips, which these aren't, really. Um, invest in a sodamaker?
posted by feral_goldfish at 8:08 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Far be it from me to counter a highly favorited and otherwise excellent answer, but don't do this,
"To whiten your teeth: swish hydrogen peroxide in your mouth (DO NOT SWALLOW) then spit out before brushing. Repeat daily.
Seriously, don't do it. Household concentrations of hydrogen peroxide will have a hard time killing you but they can very easily really hurt you, and they won't do shit to your teeth that mouthwash wont do much better.


"To make your own astringent: Mix witch hazel, rubbing alcohol, and some essential oil for smell in a ball jar and keep in your medicine cabinet. Dip cotton balls as necessary and clean your face.
" Witch hazel should be cut to a concentration that is good for how tough your face is, I'd start out with something like 1:6 witch hazel to olive oil and work from there. Also rubbing alcohol does not make a great major component of a face wash, it is a pretty powerful skin irritant is is far more likely to exacerbate any issues you have than help them.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:38 AM on July 24, 2012 [9 favorites]

To get rid of scratches in wood: Polish with a dry cloth and a little olive oil. It'll erase almost anything and make the wood shine.

If that doesn't work on the scratch, then brown shoe polish. The wax kind, not cream or liquid. Rub some into the scratch, let it sit a minute, then buff it with a towel.

But mct, you say, the brown of the shoe polish doesn't match the brown of the wood. And yet I say: it works anyway. It's magic. I cannot asplain it, but I have children, and my floors would look like hell if not for this trick.
posted by middleclasstool at 10:11 AM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

A walnut rubbed across the floor scratch will also get rid of it. Dark stains created by dog pee (gross) can be bleached away (this blew my mind).

1. If you can, get on a pre-pay phone plan. Use Skype more often.
2. Ditch cable. It's all on the internet anyway.
3. Make at home some dishes you normally order out. This is usually where the greatest savings can be had. Pizza, for instance, costs a dollar or two to make.
4. Buy an incredible egg for your shower.
5. Insulating your home can really save you money.
posted by xammerboy at 9:15 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't be penny wise and pound foolish. In particular, don't miss maintenance on big ticket items. You might think that $150 annual maintenance on the heating/air unit is a waste until you've got to find $5000 to prematurely replace the unit.
posted by kjs3 at 1:56 PM on July 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

I've used vinegar and water to clean everything for many years, but I recently read that vinegar damages grout. I wonder if that is why my bathroom caulking is wearing out (besides the "management" company's cheap grout and poor work). I recently got a new unsealed tile kitchen floor, and I was glad to find out that I need to use an alkaline, not acidic, cleaner on it.
posted by jgirl at 5:52 AM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Most of use have accumulated older iPhones/iTouches, aging notebooks, etc. (Compatible devices) This equipment can be repurposed to give you instant whole-home audio, using Airfoil. In combination with a remote app on your current phone/tablet, it's like a more customizable and extensible Sonos (minus multiple zones), for a one-time registration cost.

I run the linux speakers app on my Myth front-end boxes, as well the iOS client as on an old iPhone and the windows client on an old notebook.

MythTV and other software based PVRs and network media systems are also worth investigating. Using dumb receivers and a system like Myth, rather than paying for the provider's DVR and its service charges, is cheaper and more powerful over the long term. If you can live without live TV (or without every TV being able to watch live at once) then you can use Myth to support many TVs with a single receiver/cablebox connected to the back-end. You don't have to rent a STB for each set. In fact, your recent HDTV, BR player or game console can likely service as the playback device for a media server on your LAN, holding the content recorded from a single feed. And an old computer is usually more than capable of handling the server-side end of things, as much of the grunt work is done by the recording device, and the playback device.

As others have mentioned, if you're willing you can cut the cable and get all of your content over the 'net.


On the cloth towels over paper towels: I do this, and it's awesome. I'd suggest flower sack towels as dishtowels and using terrycloth shop towels (like the kind sold in packs for auto detailing) for everything else. they're tough, soften after one or two washings, and you can get them filthy and then bleach the hell out of them and they come out looking OK.

When they do get too stained for you to want to use them on surfaces etc you can demote them to mop status.

Which reminds me. These kick Swiffer's ass:

Cuban mops; stick and towel basically -- pretty sure I saw this on mefi -- wood version -- metal version.

Similarly, Silicon push broom, with anchors for a towel/rag.

I have a little steam cleaner (the flogged on TV 'Steam Buggy'), which can be big help blasting tile, grout, etc. Not quite as miraculous as the ads make it seem, but I've had it for years and I get my use out of it.

Kitchen herbs are expensive to buy packaged but are easy to grow at home, even on small patios, balconies, windowsills, fire escapes etc.

Potato cut in half can be used to remove a broken bulb from a light socket. A tiny bit of vaseline on the threads can help get a bulb into a stubborn socket.

To get an onion to chop/dice itself:
Cut in half so that the root is split. Each half should have half the root.
Slice off the very end opposite the root.
Grasping by the root, make vertical slices of the width of the pieces you desire.
Then carefully make horizontal cuts, towards your hand, of the height of the pieces you desire.
Then slice down across the face of the onion, to the depth of the pieces you desire.

First thing my Mom taught me to do with a knife.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:13 AM on July 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

Buzzfeed has 18 household tips, one of which are posted already (rub a walnut on a wood scratch to minimize its appearance). Since they're cobbled from other sources, I'll list them here and save you a click:

1) to untie a knotted bag, twist one loose end and push it through the knot
2) a dustpan can be used to direct water from a sink into bucket on the floor (depends on the shape of your dustpan)
3) use a staple remover to open metal key rings and make putting new keys on more easily
4) wrap a rubber band around a paint can, so you can wipe the paint off of your brush and keep the edges of the can free of paint (though this might just lead to a mess when you remove the rubber band)
5) the walnut tip
6) cut toilet paper rolls length-wise and use them as cuffs around wrapping paper
6b) keep toilet paper rolls whole, and use them to keep posters rolled up
7) put a pool noodle under a fitted sheet on the outside edge of your kids bed to keep your kid from falling out of bed
8) use a hanging shoe rack to store cleaning supplies organized and away from kids
9) use a can opener to open blister packs
10) plastic bread clips can prolong the life of flip-flops with split holes
11) toothpaste can clear up hazy headlights
12) you can cut plastic bottles with handles to make a dust pan or a scoop (see the pic; more creative re-uses in Getting Started in Permaculture [Google books], and even more odd re-uses for laundry bottles from
13) cut open and clean a sun screen bottle to store your phone, wallet, keys, and whatnot and keep them safe and organized in your beach bag (you could probably cut a flap instead of lopping off the top/bottom, and it could work even better)
14) use nail polish to identify different keys (except nail polish doesn't last all that long, and could end up being more expensive than buying cheap key toppers)
15) use soda-pop tabs to offset (or group pairs of) hangers to save space (or keep things slightly more organized)
16) cut an old shampoo-type bottle to make a cord holder/charger caddy (source and complete how-to)
17) continuing the magic of vinegar: tie a baggie full of vinegar over your shower head and leave it on for a while/over night. Viola! Clean shower head
18) put a stocking over the end of a vacuum to find small items, like ear rings, without having to dig through the vacuum bag/container
posted by filthy light thief at 8:35 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Anything that takes time! Another commenter already mentioned that it's usually cheaper to send out your laundry to a wash + fold place than to do it yourself. For things like this, I factor in how much my time is worth. At a minimum, $10/hour (but really more, so it depends on the project). So if I decide that trying to fix something myself will only take $30 of tools but possibly hours of labor & frustration, I'll hire someone because the cost will come out about the same and will save me all that frustration!

Sometimes cooking from scratch is not always cheaper than ordering out (especially with grocery prices in Brooklyn!)

Making your own clothes is not cheaper than buying them at the store but they are guaranteed to fit you.

I've stopped using paper towels too and just use cloth rags from old clothes (5k race shirts, etc) but unfortunately living in NYC it's tricky to buy used cloth anything! I'd be nervous to buy towels at a thrift store here. This is where buying cheap/used could be counter intuitive, because if you bring one bed bug home, be prepared to spend a few hundred dollars getting rid of that. Expensive price just to save a buck on a towel.
posted by lintacious at 12:29 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you use those battery operated toothbrushes, instead of throwing away an old head into the trash, use it to clean the grout in your bathroom...
posted by Arthur Dent at 2:19 PM on August 10, 2012

Make your own mayo - it's very easy and delicious.
posted by Arthur Dent at 2:19 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd be nervous to buy towels at a thrift store here. This is where buying cheap/used could be counter intuitive, because if you bring one bed bug home, be prepared to spend a few hundred dollars getting rid of that. Expensive price just to save a buck on a towel.

Use the white terrycloth costco auto detailing towels. They are pure cotton and good quality. It is known. They are the same size as the bar mops sold at Smart and Final (a decent but less cost-effective and durable alternative.) I've reached the point that I will be inconsolable if they ever stop carrying them. I love me my racecar towels.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:10 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Make a list before you go and ALWAYS stick to it! Those "impulse" buy can throw of your entire budget. Kanaan Minks
posted by kanaan_minks at 7:14 PM on August 19, 2012

Whenever you need half a chopped onion, chop the whole onion and put half in a ziplock bag. It's AWESOME to not have to chop onion. If you don't think you'll use it in time, throw it in the freezer.

Wrap fresh herbs in the thin plastic produce bags that they come in and stick them in the freezer. When you need fresh herbs for anything other than garnish, just use kitchen scissors to snip off as much as you need.

Speaking of kitchen scissors: they will do a better, less annoying job of cutting many things than a knife will. Bacon and leafy greens especially, but experiment with other things too. If you're struggling and think scissors would be better, you are probably right.

Paper towel/rag debate aside, if you are having trouble cleaning lint or hair out of a sink or tub, use toilet paper or paper towel. It works better.

Shiny black vinyl shoes that get scuffs or scratches can often be helped with a fine-tipped black marker.

Sew the belt of your robe onto the back of your robe. Seriously. Go do it right now. You'll thank me. It's about 10 stitches and saves a world of annoyance.

If you accidentally get some egg shell into the egg you cracked, use half of the egg's shell to scoop up the piece. Works better than a spoon or fingers. No idea why.

If you're juicing citrus fruit, heat it in a 100* oven for about 5 minutes. Roll it around on the counter before you cut it. You will get way more juice.

When you open a can of paint, 1: put it on a paper plate, which will stick to it once the paint drips and become a tray, and 2: use a hammer and nail to make holes in the rim of the paint can (the ledge that the lid rests on), so that excess paint will be more likely to drip back into the can.

Store canned goods upside down. Flip them right side up to open them and the dusty, nasty tops won't get in your food because they will be on the bottom!

An unused teapot is a great place to store a ball of string.

Use slightly moistened newspaper to pick up glass shards.

A piece of newspaper is the best thing to clean glass with. No smears, and unless it's really bad, no lint. It won't get newsprint on your window. No glossies, though!

Store onions in old nylons. Put one in, make a knot, put another.

Never store apples and onions together.

Use plastic clothespins to clip your kitchen gloves together and drape/clip them somewhere that they won't fall in the sink and/or get water in them. That feeling of unwittingly sticking your hand in a damp rubber glove, is a bad bad feeling. You can also use the clothespins to clip bags shut and stuff!

Keep your burn cream in the kitchen. Actually you should probably keep the entire first aid kit there, it's where you're most likely to need it.
posted by windykites at 8:01 PM on November 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

Never store apples and onions together.

However! I once absentmindedly tossed a bag of granny smith apples into a drawer where there lurked a very ripe piece of blue cheese. The apples actually took on the flavor of the blue cheese and were delicious when I sliced them and ate them. I realize this isn't exactly a cost/time saving tip, but I feel like more people should know about this magic fridge drawer preparation method I've stumbled on.
posted by jph at 6:42 AM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Never store apples and onions together.

Counter-intuitive twist: apples and onions actually preserve each other well (if you don't mind flavor contamination). It's onions and potatoes whose exuded gases each trigger the other to sprout.

However, unlike onions, apples are best stored in the refrigerator: sitting out for one warm day ages the apple as much as one month in cold storage. (Source: the most expert of our local apple farmers.)
posted by feral_goldfish at 9:41 AM on November 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Pet brushes are designed for picking up hair, which makes them an excellent tool for picking up hair from other things besides your pet, such as upholstered furniture and the stair carpet. I brush my stair carpet runner before vacuuming it, and it does an amazing job of getting off not only hair, but a lot of grit.
posted by orange swan at 7:20 PM on December 25, 2012

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