Sometimes it takes an outside perspective to see where we can save money in our own home. We get into routines, buy the same things every week, watch our bank account rise and fall like the tide. After a while we stop looking at our expenses with a critical eye and just accept them as the cost of our lifestyle.
Then you hear about a great money-saving tip and wish you'd been listening sooner. And we're not talking about "saving money" the way marketers abuse the term, where they tell you that you'll save money buying their product instead of the other guy's. There's no savings when you buy something you don't need, at any price.
These five tips, in contrast, are absolute money savers, stuff you can stop buying because you already pay for the alternatives.
Stop Buying Bottled Water
Most bottled water is tap water. There, the secret's out! It's drawn from municipal pipes, sent through a process or two for flavor, bottled, trucked, stocked on the shelf, and sold to folks who have the same water flowing into their home already.
The markup, as you know, is astonishing. If your tap water cost the same as the cheapest bottled water, your monthly water bill would be about $9,000. The average consumer drinks 30.8 gallons of bottled water a year and piles up 167 empties as a result, according to marketing resource Brandon Gaille.
ThoughtCo. estimates that men who buy bottled water drink $4.00 worth per day, women $2.92. Annual cost: $1,460 for men, $1,066 for women. Now imagine the cost of a whole household drinking bottled water! And those estimates were based on buying cheaper water in bulk. If you drink premium brands, your costs are significantly higher.
"But we don't know what's in tap water," you say? Tap water is tested hundreds of times a month. A city of one million people tests its water 200-300 times, while a city of three million tests 400-500 times. Every month. Tap water is so clean, so tightly watched, no wonder most bottled water companies rely on it. Coca Cola and Pepsi own 50% of the market, and you know they're not dipping cups into mountain streams for it.
If you have lost confidence in the purity of your tap water over the years, that's by design. Ads for bottled water contrast images of mountain streams with metal pipes, as if their own bottling plants aren't a riot of metal pipes too. "Bottled in Fiji, not Cleveland" was the slogan for a Fiji Water campaign. "They manage to undermine our confidence in our tap water," filmmaker Stephanie Soechtig told CBS News. Her documentary Tapped examines common misconceptions people have about tap water thanks to the subtle yet relentless marketing of the bottled kind.
Stop Ignoring Your Oven
It may not seem so, but groceries have gotten more affordable over the years. In 1900, most households spent nearly half their annual income on food, according to TheStreet, whereas today the average household spends about 11%. Grocery prices aren't going down, that's for sure, but the bite our grocery bill takes out of our budget has grown dramatically smaller.
You can buy groceries for a whole week with the money you'd spend on takeout or delivery for just two days. Making your own meals is not only an obvious money saver, but it also means you know every ingredient in the dish, the hygiene of the cook, the cleanliness of the kitchen, and the freshness of the food.
The latest craze in home cooking is sheet pan meals, and it's a great entry point for people who think they don't know how to cook. No fussing with fancy equipment, no worrying about the level of the flame, and (most importantly) no buying another kitchen gadget. You already have an oven.
For inspiration, check out this gallery of cheat sheet meals from the TV show The Kitchen. Or watch host Jeff Mauro make eggplant parmesan the sheet way in the video below.
With one baking sheet, a few ingredients, and less time than it takes for delivery, you can feed a household well for a few dollars per person.
Get the eBooks You Already Pay For (Plus Free Movies)
Library cards must be one of the most overlooked resources in America. You're already paying for the latest bestsellers and cherished classics in the form of your tax dollars. You've already bought, indirectly, the newest audiobooks and the most useful how-tos and self-help guides, the niche gems selected by your hardworking local librarians and the mass-market books in the center of our national dialogue.
"But I don't have time to go to the library," you say? Meet Libby, the online portal to your local library, where you can borrow books and audiobooks without ever leaving home. Available as both a smartphone app and a fully functioning web app, Libby leverages the power of your library card to send books to your Amazon Kindle, or you can read them (or listen to them) in the Libby app itself. Imagine an inexhaustible supply of books at your fingertips, and you never need to visit the actual library (except maybe to apply for your card in the first place).
Avid readers can't praise Libby enough. It has been a gamechanger during the Covid-19 lockdown for sure. Instead of spending $25-$75 a month on books, we borrow from the library, at any time of day, even when a pandemic has shut the library down. And lest you think this model isn't fair to authors, libraries are a key component of the publishing industry.
If you live in a big city with both local and county library systems, get a card from each and set them up in Libby. When one system doesn't have the book you want, the other might. Switching libraries is as easy as tapping a different card in Libby.
Kanopy: The Movie Streaming Bonus
The Libby of movies is called Kanopy, a video streaming service that leverages the power of your library card. If your local library participates, there's no reason not to sign up at Kanopy to increase your free entertainment options.
Kanopy is available for FireTV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, and other living room streaming devices. You can also watch on mobile apps for Android, iOS, and Fire Tablet, or watch via a web browser.
Never Buy Another Spot Remover or Carpet Cleaner Again
People underestimate the cleaning power of laundry detergent. Reach for yours the next time you spill on your shirt, drop something on the rug, or let a morsel of food fall on the sofa. You can stop buying stain fighters (Tide To Go pens, Clorox Stain Remover) and carpet cleaners (Woolite, Resolve) starting now.
If your preferred laundry detergent is powder or a pod, you can make a liquid stain remover with four common and cheap household items, or just keep an inexpensive liquid laundry detergent under the sink for stain fighting (it's bound to cost less than dedicated spot cleaners):
- White vinegar
- Baking soda
- Hydrogen peroxide
Use this concoction on carpet as well as clothing and upholstery, says leading housekeeping blog The Spruce.