Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Saving money off the beaten path

Eventually, in the course of trying to save money, you're going to hit a wall.  You don't buy things unnecessarily, you don't allow yourself very many frivolities, and yet you need to cut down expenses more.  It's time to start re-thinking what's actually a necessity.

What helps me when we come to this is to think about what the "olden days" were like.  How did they survive before everything was instantly available, what sorts of things did they do?  What did they do without that we take for granted now?   And, consequently, what can I do toward living without whatever that is?

What started this journey for me was cloth diapers.  Of course paper diapers (as we now call them) are convenient (no washing them out, yeah!).  But, you pay $15 ish for a package, that lasts 2-3 weeks if you're lucky.  Over at least two years (in reality more like three for most kids), well, that's a lot of money.  Why just throw that away?  Just as my first kid was born, I was given loads of cloth diapers.  And so that journey began.  Paper diapers are a luxury, not a necessity.

What else do I use this way?  To buy and throw away, just because the alternate involves more work, and/or is icky?

Baby wipes, for sure.  Just buy a few wash cloths, rinse them out with your diapers, and toss them in the wash (with your diapers).  By the way, I wash my diapers with my clothes.  Not everyone is willing to do this, but it really doesn't bother me.

Next on this list for me was tampons and maxi pads.  If I don't mind putting cloth on my baby's butts, why should I mind putting it on mine? 

Here's where I need to introduce a second principal, which was difficult for me at first.  Sometimes you need to spend money to save it.  Take the cloth diapers example (never mind that mine were given to me).  They are expensive.  Really expensive.  If you don't have  a free source, or don't have free fabric to use in making your own (cut up old t-shirts and the like), they're gonna set you back a lot.  How long would they take to make up their price?  (In the case of cloth diapers, if you're creative, it'll be easily less than a year).  Things that pay themselves off somewhat quickly (as in, less than, say three years if they'll last fifteen, or something...), are worth that extra up-front expense.

So, back to tampons and maxi pads.  Both pretty recent inventions, both totally unnecessary!   How can we do without them?

I read Little Heathens a few months ago, and they just pinned rags in their underwear.  I have to admit, it gave me a feeling of validity, because that's essentially what I do too.  But there's some more "civilized" ways to essentially do the same.

It's easy and cheap to make your own maxi pads.  My two favorite articles and tutorials on it are here and here.  I don't need to re-say what they do.  It's really worth doing this.  If you cut up old clothes or towels, they're essentially free.  And much nicer to your system to boot.

If you like the security of tampons, get a Diva cup or a Keeper.  I have both, and think the keeper is more comfortable to wear (I have the latex keeper, not the silicon one).  The diva cup, though, is easier to get in correctly.  And the Keeper is only more comfortable to wear if you cut the stem nice and short.  You can get both locally where I live -- look for a "natural living" type store.  They cost about $30-$35 - definitely not cheap, but will pay for themselves in less than a year.  But I really prefer wearing one of these with my pad pinned-in-rag on a "heavy flow" day that I have to work.  It just feels safer.

To take this further: Cloth napkins.  Hand towels in a basket on the counter instead of paper towels.  Soft flannel hankies instead of Kleenex.  How close can we get to getting rid of everything disposable?

Even toilet paper can be done away with if you're adventurous.  In Little Heathens, they used junk mail (catalogs, actually), wadded it up real well, and straightened it back out, until it was soft, then wiped with it.  Of course, they had outhouses -- junk mail probably wouldn't be good for our plumbing! (Sad, I think I could really like using some of the junk mail this way..). But, we could cut up old t-shirts into wash-cloth sized squares and use them instead, couldn't we?  Just rinse them out, and wash them with the laundry?  (Note, I haven't convinced my husband that this is worth trying yet, so you'll still have toilet paper if you come visit us, Ha!)  This, by the way is not a new idea, and is called a family cloth, and is rather popular in the "green" crowd.  Here, here and here are my favorite articles on using them.  Just writing about it now, and refreshing my memory, makes me really want to try this, soon.  Perhaps we'll start slow...

And we'll keep the toilet paper around, so you'll have it if you visit.  But you'll have to look hard for paper towels or Kleenex.


  1. While it may be weird for me to be commenting on this post...

    I tried the diva cup and hated it. It didn't seal right or something and I still ended up using pads. That said, I will be switching to more organic/non bleached ones once I use what I have. I also tried cloth pads (made myself) but wasn't patient enough to sew them nicely so they weren't as nice as the ones on etsy. :) Maybe I'll try again.

    I may try hanging one of those plastic bag holders near the sink with rags in it. It would last better than a basket at my house, be out of the way and be a good reminder to use what can be re-used!

    Family cloth? I've heard of it, but no thanks. :)

  2. Yeah, Tara, I think the Keeper seals better and it more comfortable (once I cut the stem really short, that is), but I do wear a pad with both -- just like I would with a tampon back in the olden days :)

    And I just rinse my pads out with cold water in the sink and toss them in the laundry. I know that's a bit much for most people, but it works for me.

    No family cloth yet. I might try it soon. If I'm going to do it, I have to start before the kids decide the idea is gross :)

  3. I'll keep my eyes out for the Keeper. Thanks!

  4. We switched to family cloth when our older daughters (twins) were potty training. What finally made it "do-able" for me was when it finally clicked with me that it wasn't an all or nothing thing. . . the girls & I use cloth for pee! One of my dd's uses it for poop too, but my other dd & I (and dh) use TP for poop. Since we switched just as they were potty training we just moved the cloth "baby wipes" from the changing station to the bathroom.

    I've always washed all the cloth items you mentioned in this post, along with towels, in one load. I keep it separate from other clothes because I do a pre-rinse, and then wash it on hot, I wash everything else on cold, so that's my reason for washing them separately.