Saving $ by reusing
November 30, 2018 8:22 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for reusable items that I can buy once to replace things I have to buy repeatedly and thereby save money (and reduce waste). Bonus points if they also save time and/or would make good holiday gifts.

Here are some examples of things I've already replaced:
*Cloth napkins instead of paper napkins
*Cloth rags (my former cloth napkins) instead of paper towels
*Silicone baking sheets instead of parchment paper/foil
*Pyrex/tupperware instead of ziploc bags
*Nursing pads (!!!) instead of cotton pads/balls for removing makeup
*Menstrual cups, Thinx, or cloth pads instead of tampons/disposable pads
*Microblading instead of brow makeup (okay, this probably didn't save money, but it definitely saved time)
posted by quiet coyote to Shopping (36 answers total) 62 users marked this as a favorite
Reusable produce/bulk bin bags for the grocery store.
Obvious, but a good water bottle and grocery bags if you don't already have them.
posted by lucy.jakobs at 8:31 AM on November 30, 2018 [3 favorites]

Cloth hankies instead of Kleenex. (But do keep in mind that used paper towels, tissues, and such are eminently compostable, if that option is available.)
posted by beagle at 8:31 AM on November 30, 2018 [8 favorites]

You just need to buy a foaming soap dispenser once. After it's empty, reuse the same bottle and just pour in regular soap, just water it down (I think the ratio is 1 part water to 4 parts regular soap).
posted by HeyAllie at 8:35 AM on November 30, 2018 [22 favorites]

I like the beeswax paper for wrapping food and think it makes a good gift, if one's gift criteria is "pleasing things the recipient would never spend money on themselves".
posted by crush at 8:37 AM on November 30, 2018 [7 favorites]

I'm still using the same handkerchiefs I recommended a couple of years ago. They came in a cute gift box, which would've been good if I'd been buying for someone other than myself. (I think I saved the box to use for another gift.)
posted by asperity at 8:47 AM on November 30, 2018 [3 favorites]

Washable furnace filters
posted by cosmicbandito at 8:52 AM on November 30, 2018

Dryer balls (if not stolen by dogs looking for fun new toys).
posted by snaw at 8:56 AM on November 30, 2018 [4 favorites]

Good makeup brushes instead of those foam eggs for foundation and blending - I like sephora's pro series foundation brush.

Mason jars - I like the pint size for drinks, and got the bernardin (I think) plastic lids with straw holes and they are so handy for converting the jars to kid and bedside-friendly glasses, so many household uses for mason jars.

Silicone or stainless steel reusable straws and a good straw cleaner.

More and more places offer refillable shampoo/conditioner/bodywashes (where you bring or buy a bottle to start).
posted by lafemma at 9:07 AM on November 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

Kind of in the same vein as handkerchiefs, but in Japan it's pretty common to carry around a terry cloth handkerchief or decorative washcloth for drying your hands after washing them in a public restroom—at least when I was there a few years ago, it wasn't always guaranteed that all restrooms would have paper towels or dryers, especially further outside of the city.

Also, Pinterest is chock full of ideas for mason jar-based holiday gifts if you happen to have a jar surplus. And, as lafemma mentioned on preview, they're also really useful for all sorts of other stuff around the house.
posted by helloimjennsco at 9:08 AM on November 30, 2018 [7 favorites]

Glasses instead of paper cups. Travel mugs instead of paper coffee cups.

Glass or metal straw.
posted by AugustWest at 9:10 AM on November 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

completely past-it cloth rags nee cloth napkins (or tee shirts or underwear or jeans) cut into small squares to wipe grease off of dishes and pans before washing instead of calling a plumber every five years or so when the grease finally packs the pipe.

Any totally exhausted natural fabric will work for this. If it's too embarrassing to goodwill and too full of holes to be a good dustrag, cut it up and use it to keep grease out of your pipes.
posted by Don Pepino at 9:11 AM on November 30, 2018 [8 favorites]

Grow your own fresh herbs, instead of buying in the store. (For some herbs, this is easy. For others, we don’t think it’s worth the hassle.)

You can also replace single-use sandwich baggies with reusable silicone ones. These can take up less space than Tupperware of Pyrex.

After doing many of the waste-reduction things you mentioned, my MIL realized she no longer needed to use plastic bags to line the kitchen garbage. She isn’t using paper towels anymore, food waste goes to compost, etc. So the garbage can doesn’t get that gross. It just needs periodic cleaning with vinegar.
posted by Banknote of the year at 9:23 AM on November 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

I carry (steel, folding) camping cutlery with me so that when I'm getting a snack or street food that requires cutlery, I can use my own. It's also nicer to eat with than plastic.
posted by Too-Ticky at 9:36 AM on November 30, 2018 [14 favorites]

Bulk foods, purchased in your own containers at stores like co-ops and natural food stores. Anything from dried herbs and spices to rice, beans, granola, olive oil, liquid soap, etc. You'd be amazed how much you save just on spices.
posted by beagle at 9:40 AM on November 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Wool dryer balls instead of dryer sheets. I was using the dryer sheets for anti-static rather than scenting, but you can also use essential oils to scent the dryer balls if you wish.
posted by serelliya at 9:42 AM on November 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

Rechargeable batteries.
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:49 AM on November 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

Euroscrubbies in place of dish sponges and scouring pads. As a bonus, these don't get stinky!
posted by DrGail at 10:08 AM on November 30, 2018 [4 favorites]

Any totally exhausted natural fabric will work for this. If it's too embarrassing to goodwill and too full of holes to be a good dustrag, cut it up and use it to keep grease out of your pipes.

do you then throw away the greasy cloth or does it go in the washing machine to be reused?
posted by poffin boffin at 10:08 AM on November 30, 2018

I can confirm that the My Hanky handkerchiefs Asperity recommended to me a couple of years ago are great, and they are a great gift as well.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 10:12 AM on November 30, 2018

Garlic and other produce items are sometimes sold in hard nylon mesh bags. These bags can be used as pot and dish scrubbers. They last nearly forever. They rinse out much more easily than commercial pot scrubbers. They are free.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 10:15 AM on November 30, 2018 [10 favorites]

Seconding rechargeable batteries! I think the trick is getting enough to replace everything, so you get in the routine of having charged up spares handy. When I first tried them years ago, it was frustrating because they were expensive and didn't hold their charge in storage. The technology is a lot better now, I bought a couple dozen last year and haven't looked back.

Also, pens and pencils. I bought a few nicer pens and mechanical pencils (and by nicer I mean, $5 apiece instead of 10 for $5). Not sure it really saves money but they are more pleasant to use and I'm more careful with them, so I don't go through nearly as many crappy Bic pens.
posted by yeahlikethat at 10:15 AM on November 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

We use the reuseable basket in our coffee maker instead of paper filters, though it's a pain to clean and I worry about the amount of coffee ground that go down the drain.

Proper grocery bags can replace the plastic ones at the store, but it's a trial to get the baggers to use them as you might like.
posted by SemiSalt at 10:22 AM on November 30, 2018

Any totally exhausted natural fabric will work for this. If it's too embarrassing to goodwill and too full of holes to be a good dustrag, cut it up and use it to keep grease out of your pipes.

do you then throw away the greasy cloth or does it go in the washing machine to be reused?

When they're fully grease-logged I douse them with TONS of dish soap and boiling water to clean them; this works two to four times before I have to throw them out and start over.

We bring our own leftover containers to restaurants when we know that we're going to be taking leftovers home with us.
posted by spamloaf at 10:30 AM on November 30, 2018 [3 favorites]

Give gifts in reusable tins or cloth wrappings like furoshiki, instead of wrapping paper. (This works best for gifts within the household, or to other people who also enjoy saving and re-using wrapping material.)

A safety razor still uses disposable blades, but the blades are much cheaper and smaller than disposable razors or cartridges.
posted by mbrubeck at 11:26 AM on November 30, 2018 [4 favorites]

spamloaf: We bring our own leftover containers to restaurants when we know that we're going to be taking leftovers home with us.

Extra bonus: they generally stack better and are less bulky than most of the take-home boxes from restaurants. If you're going with a big group, you can bring enough for everyone, and you might gently nudge them to start doing the same.

If you know people who have Keurig-type "pod" coffee machines, there are refillable pods a-plenty. I use these from Delibru - and that Amazon link includes 4 in the order, so you could give one or two to different people, or the whole set to a more coffee-fond household.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:28 AM on November 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Snow Peak chopsticks; titanium flatware for street food/fast food, LightmyFire food storage containers. Japan and Sweden as places of manufacture; respectfully.
The Snow Peak double wall titanium cups and mugs are bar none the last coffee cups/soup mugs I'll ever purchase; and do make incredulously classy gifts.
posted by Afghan Stan at 11:55 AM on November 30, 2018

If you're looking specifically to save money rather than to minimize your environmental or carbon footprint, some of these things become hard to justify.

E.g., reusable grocery bags are probably a net win for the environment, assuming you get the right kind (not cloth!) and use them enough (for years). But it's hard to justify this just on a cost-savings basis, because grocery stores give out the plastic ones for free—at least in most places. You'd have to switch to a low-cost grocery store that doesn't do the free-bags thing, like Aldi, to see any financial ROI.

You are probably better continuing to use disposable bags and then finding some secondary use for the bag that saves you money, if the motivation is financial. (Dog poop bags? Trashcan liners? Laundry bags?)

Now, if you make reusable grocery bags from something that would otherwise be waste—say, an old T-shirt—that's going to be an environmental win and a wash financially (again, unless you switch grocery stores to one where you're either rewarded for BYOB or the prices are lower because they don't give them out free).

Similarly, rechargeable batteries are better for the environment than single-use ones, particularly since people rarely recycle single-use batteries properly. But I've run the numbers and decent rechargeable batteries (Panasonic Eneloops) just barely break even. It really only makes sense to use them in constantly-running, fairly high-drain devices where you can be sure to avoid purchasing a bunch of disposables during the lifespan of the rechargeable battery (which has both a maximum number of cycles, and a "shelf life" measure in years—typically 3-5—before the chemicals begin to break down on their own and they start losing capacity). I use them in battery-powered under-cabinet lighting, which would otherwise chew through batteries at a stupendous rate, and also a few other specific devices where they make sense (wireless mice, portable Bluetooth speaker, etc.). But I don't think it makes financial sense to buy rechargeables for stuff like TV remotes, where a disposable set will last almost the full lifespan of a rechargeable battery.

Reusable water bottles—either plastic (Nalgene) or steel (Better Bottle) type ones—make sense if and only if they cause you to stop purchasing bottled water. Environmentally and financially, they require much more resources to initially produce than a 30-gram PET disposable bottle, so achieving positive ROI requires that you use them a whole bunch of times. But the calculus is more favorable than grocery bags, because in addition to saving on the creation disposable bottles, the reusable bottles are doing something more important: making you drink tap water. The cost of bottled water, both carbon and money-wise, is mostly in transporting water, which is heavy, and really stupid to move around in small bottles. Moving it via pipes is a better system in every way. But if you already drink mostly tap water, and having one won't cause you to use less bottled water, then buying one is just unnecessary clutter.

tl;dr: I would look for "meta-items", that is, not items that you use directly, but items that you use to create or reuse other items. For instance, a sewing machine lets you make all sorts of stuff out of clothes that you would otherwise throw out, and might even let you repair or modify clothes and keep wearing them. If some kitchen tool makes you more likely to cook at home and buy grocery-store ingredients rather than go out to eat (or order in), it's a big win. Rather than looking at end products, look for tools. Or even training/learning: the sewing machine is only as useful as you are good at using it, so even if you have one, maybe consider taking a sewing class or something. Similarly for other classes of tools that will let you use resources more efficiently.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:34 PM on November 30, 2018 [15 favorites]

Upgrade your mason jars with plastic watertight lids so you can use them as lunch containers, freezer containers, leftover storage, etc. Look for the kind with the rubber/silicone gasket on the inside of the lid. The glass doesn't soak up weird tastes and colors, they're microwaveable, all the lids are interchangeable if you stick to one mouth style.
posted by blnkfrnk at 1:13 PM on November 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

In addition to regular reuseable grocery bags, I like the ones that fold or stuff into a tiny, lightweight ball that you can just throw in your backpack or purse. Really good for when you stop at the drugstore, buy a random gift, buy just a few things at a clothing store.
posted by radioamy at 1:16 PM on November 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have a desk job.

On my desk, I have a stainless steel thermos for my tea, a stainless steel cup, and a set of steel silverware. That takes care of about 90% of the disposable things that I'd normally use in the breakroom.

I just brew the tea in the thermos, and pour what I need into the cup.
posted by spinifex23 at 1:28 PM on November 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

I get a huge amount of use out of these RuMe tote/shopping bags (which are the aforementioned thin-but-strong fold-up kind), and not just for groceries. The flat-bottom construction makes them a lot more useful for carrying things (books to the library, small boxes to the post office, folded laundry from the laundromat) easily and comfortably than totes with just a single seam, and the handles are long enough for shoulder carrying. I've had mine for a decade and they're still in good condition. Plus the prints are cute, which makes them more appealing as gifts.
posted by karayel at 1:35 PM on November 30, 2018 [3 favorites]

If you drink soy or nut milk(s), making your own can quickly become cost-beneficial even if you get a fancy machine.
posted by teremala at 2:00 PM on November 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Most of my nice sturdy grocery bags are from Goodwill. People put stuff in them to take to GW, or amass too many of them. I have a couple thin ones in my purse because I just never remember to bring them in.

The mesh bag from the turkey is useful for camping - air dry dishes, etc., and mesh bags from onions are useful.

I have a metal scrubbie that has probably been in use 5 years or more. When it gets greasy, dishwasher.

I have a gold-plated mesh filter for a Melita drip coffee maker.

Drying rack instead of clothes line is a simple investment; clothes last longer. Anything with elastic, like bras, panties, socks, lasts a lot longer. If it's wrinkly, it can go in the dryer with a damp cloth. In winter, this helps humidify my dry house. In summer, I use a rack outside.

Buy good shoes, polish them My leather boots have lasted over 10 years. I have shoes that look pretty good for their age because of shoe polish.

I use newspaper to drain bacon, then greasy paper (or cotton fabric) gets used to light a fire in the wood stove.
posted by theora55 at 2:03 PM on November 30, 2018 [4 favorites]

Replace disposable pens with cheap Chinese fountain pens from eBay. The Jinhao 992, about $2, is not as iffy on the quality control as some others I've tried, and a bottle of ink will last you a LONG time.
posted by Jeanne at 4:43 PM on November 30, 2018 [3 favorites]

In the same category as microblading is laser hair removal. Mornings are faster. Razors are fewer. On the cash front, it's going to take many years to pay for itself, but faster and less stuff win pretty quickly.
posted by talldean at 8:25 AM on December 1, 2018

I don't like reusable gold filters for coffee because they let grounds in, so I got a pile of white restaurant towels that somebody was selling in a garage sale and cut a couple of them into roundish circles for my melita (which isn't a melita, it's a ruinously expensive china thing that will one day shatter when I drop it on the floor, whereupon I'll replace it with steel). I rinse these out and re-use them over and over, running them through the washer occasionally. You have to be careful with this because grounds down the drain is a very bad idea. (Ask me how I know...) I rinse them over a steel mixing bowl so that all the water and grounds go in the bowl. Then I pour the coffeemudwater on azaleas, which supposedly like acid. I don't know if they actually do. They haven't died, yet, so maybe.

Hey, am I alone in this observation? Razor blades last a lotlot longer than reputed? I've been using the same shick quattro razor insert for over a year with no noticeable issues other than the stupid "lubricating strips" wore away ages ago. The blades are still mowing down leg stubble just fine. What is up with that?

Advise replacing mason jars with stainless stuff; try Korean stores, where I've found steel containers in various sizes that have plastic snap-on lids with rubber gaskets. The steel stuff won't break, and it's lightweight. Lids can be washed in the dishwasher, top shelf. Gaskets can be removed and washed bottom shelf.
posted by Don Pepino at 4:57 AM on December 2, 2018

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