Save Money & The Planet! RE-USE IT

Easy Reusable Everyday Items

There have been many times when people commend us on our environmental ethic. I am proud to say that some things Simon & I do are intentionally to try to help the environment- reusable shopping bags, walk/bike instead of drive, buying local foods, etc. However, there are many, many more things that we actually did to save money, and later realized that they had a big side benefit of helping the Earth too. Here are some examples – you might find a helpful hint for your own life in here!

This is a general post that leads to many others – reusing things instead of throwing them away. Do you have other ideas of

Are you sensing a theme here? The original three R’s of being eco-friendly from my childhood were reduce, recycle, and reuse.

Reusing things is one of the very best ways to save money, and it has a nice positive environmental impact as well. The principle is very simple – instead of buying a disposable object (i.e. paper napkin), using it once, and throwing it away, you have a slightly sturdier version (i.e. cloth napkin) that you use over and over, washing between uses.

This almost always results in financial gains long-term. The initial investment is often (not always) higher for a reusable item than its disposable counterpart, but it only takes a month or two to break even and start saving money. To really do things on the cheap, many of these items can be crafted from other things that you already have around the house, saving you even more cash. Another perk is that the reusable versions of products are almost always more aesthetically appealing, and will hold up better to the kind of abuse we put our things through. Each individual thing may only save you a few dollars a week, but bundle a few of them together for a couple of months and it really adds up! Here’s a list of items that we reuse with a few pro tips for each.

Water Bottles:

our stash of reusable coffee cups and water bottles.
our stash of reusable coffee cups and water bottles.

I bought a bottle of water in a gas station the other day for $2.50. You’ve got to be kidding me! You can get a wide range of reusable water bottles (or make your own from a previous water, soda, or juice bottle) that can be refilled for free to a few cents in virtually any restaurant, service station, or home in the western world. If you have concerns about BPA and other plasticizers, stainless steel or aluminum bottles are easy to come by for as little as $4.99 in general stores.

Coffee Cups:

I know, I just told you to make your own coffee at home, so you aren’t getting all of those paper and plastic Starbucks cups anyway, right? It never hurt anyone to have a to-go style coffee mug ready for that homemade coffee or the off-chance that you need a second caffeinated beverage from your neighborhood café around lunchtime. Most places (including sbux) give you a discount for bringing your own cup, and the insulated versions keep your drink warm or cold much longer! These are also easy to find in stainless steel for under $10 (although not at sbux 🙂 ).

Napkins:

Our stash of fabric (reusable) linens for the kitchen- from the bottom up are dish towels, napkins, dish cloths, baby wash cloths, and snack bags.
Our stash of fabric (reusable) linens for the kitchen- from the bottom up are dish towels, napkins, dish cloths, baby wash cloths, and snack bags.

Cloth napkins range in price but can be found for less than a dollar per napkin. We have a set of 12 that I bought for $5.99 on sale six years ago that are still going strong. They are softer and more absorbent than paper napkins (an important feature with our little mess-maker), and take up very little space in the laundry so really do not affect our energy and water budget for washing! This was also one of the great Tim Ray’s top ten environmental tips.

Dish Towels:

Use these for drying dishes, covering baked goods before serving, drying hands, and wiping down the kitchen table. This again minimizes your need for paper towels. Dish towels and napkins have a huge price range, but simple cotton sets can be found at target or dollar general for a few dollars.

Food Storage:

an assortment of washable food storage containers
an assortment of washable food storage containers

We use a wide range of glass containers with lids for leftovers and airtight jars for dry goods in our pantry. Ikea sells the storage jars for a great price, and almost any grocery store or target sells the pyrex and Tupperware storage containers. There are also a plethora of cute snack bags, sandwich wraps, and specialty reusable lunchtime paraphernalia available on the internet. It takes a little longer to realize savings here, but over time all of the zip-loc bags, plastic wrap, and aluminum foil add up. The environmental impact is big – far fewer one-time wrappers being manufactured and going to landfills. For more cost-savings, save jars from pasta sauce, salsa, yogurt, etc to use for your leftovers or packed lunch.

Cleaning Towels/Rags:

Once towels get old and torn, they move to our cleaning bin. We use them to mop stains off the floor, clean windows, and clean off surfaces in the kitchen. All jobs that were once held by paper towels (which we do have but almost never use now!) It is possible to buy this new, but we’ve never had a shortage just by using old towels, sweatshirts, etc so this item is virtually free and starts saving your change from paper towels immediately.

Grocery Bags:

We have an extensive collection of reusable grocery bags by now, collected from various events along the way. I have a fleet of heavy-duty totes (mainly these from LL Bean), which are awesome for shopping (as well as travel!), especially since Joey and I walk to the stores most of the time. I know you’ve heard of this before and you know it is eco-friendly, but how on earth does it save you money if you go out and buy new bags when the store gives them to you for free? Well, most stores give a per bag discount (usually 5-10 cents per bag) if you bring your own. They will honor this even if you save and bring back the plastic bags from your previous visit. However, plastic bags have been outlawed in Hawaii (all of Maui and Kauai), San Francisco, and Portland completely, and many stores and states are implementing policies where customers are charged per bag for plastic or paper bags. So again, not a huge savings but it adds up over time. The reusable bags are far sturdier and have never failed on me, while I’ve had at least four memorable events where a grocery bag has catastrophically ruptured and spilled/smashed food at an inopportune place. If you do get paper or plastic grocery bags, hang on to them to bag your recycling, use as trash bags, carry wet clothes home from the beach, and more.

Baby Wipes:

Handmade cloth wipes from super-soft old t-shirts & sheets, plus some fun flannel from the fabric store.
Handmade cloth wipes from super-soft old t-shirts & sheets, plus some fun flannel from the fabric store.

Flannel and cotton baby wipes are available to purchase online, or you can make your own from old flannel sheets and t-shirts. (We also made burp clothes! I used a mix of upcycled t-shirts, an old sheet, and some new flannel from the fabric store.) Like cloth napkins, these take up very little room in the wash and don’t affect your water or energy budget. Many moms make their own wipes solution with various soaps and oils, but we just use plain water and it has always worked well for us. Keep wet wipes on hand with a dispenser like this at home, or in a wet bag at home and on the go. This saves $100-$400 a year depending on the type of baby wipes you would typically buy.

Baby Diapers:

I would rather wear this - only super-soft fleece against baby's skin.
I would rather wear this – only super-soft fleece against baby’s skin.

I had to make this in to a whole separate post because I’ve gotten so many questions about it that I wanted to answer. At the end of the day, cloth diapers have an initial cost of $200-600 depending on the type, brand, and quantity. They can be re-used for subsequent children (although you may need more for twins or multiple babes in diapers). Washing costs (if you have your own machine) are about $30-50 a year. Paper diapers cost $800-$1200 per year depending on the brand, so you save about $550 in the first year and $1000 each subsequent year your baby is in diapers. The environmental impacts of this one are huge – tons of material not going into landfills and heavy manufacturing burdens and greenhouse gas emissions that you aren’t supporting.

Upcycle Your Old Things!

We have developed a knack for assessing an object for its potential usefulness before it is sent to the rubbish bin. Old t-shirts, sheets, and towels can be transformed into baby wipes, cleaning cloths, and more. Pasta sauce jars can be washed and used for food storage. Cardboard boxes become forts for Joey. The little bottles of shampoo from hotels can be saved for guests, and re-filled from your big shampoo container for future travels. That tent that isn’t really waterproof anymore still makes a great sun shelter in the yard for kiddos. Anytime you can come up with a new use for something, with or without modification, you are minimizing the demand for newly manufactured items and the load sent to landfills. Get creative – and please share your favorites! I’m always looking for new ideas for our family and home.

How Does This Help The Planet?

Nearly everything you buy in a store has to be manufactured in a factory, shipped to a distribution center, then shipped to that specific store. The carbon emissions and pollution add up quickly, especially since so many things are manufactured overseas. The less you buy, the less demand you are giving the manufacturing machine, so it will eventually respond by reducing the supply that it produces.
When we throw things away they don’t just disappear- they are sent to landfills (again, carbon emissions and pollution), which we are rapidly running out of space for. (Think Wall-E)

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