It’s no surprise that as a frugal food blog, the most common question I get is “How much should I spend on food?” (Which I answered in this post.)
Another common question though, is “How much should my toiletries budget be?”
Considering a lot of people buy their toiletries from the grocery store, it’s only fair to wonder how to budget for them. So let’s talk about that.
My Old Method for Making a Toiletries Budget (that I don’t recommend)
Many years ago, I bought everything from Walmart.
Chicken. Eggs. Pot holders. Oil filters. Bananas. Sheets. Tires. Vacuum cleaner. Those little felt pads to put under tables and chairs so they don’t ruin your hardwood floors.
If we needed something, surely Walmart had it.
Anytime we ran out of something, we added it to our shopping list and picked it up the next time we went to Walmart.
At the end of the month, we grouped all of our “Walmart” purchases together into one lump sum and called it our grocery budget.
I don’t recommend doing this. Here’s why:
- If you want to save money on toilet paper, toothbrushes and shampoo (aka toiletries), you have to know how much you’re current spending. That won’t happen if you lumping it all together with other purchases.
- It’s random. If you run out of any number of items in a given month, you could easily blow your budget. Living within a budget (and saving money) requires planning, and there’s no rhyme or reason to this method.
- It was a monthly thing. Unlike food, most toiletries DON’T need to be replaced every month, and they have longer shelf lives (if they “expire” at all). Budgeting monthly meant either not having enough, or having too little. Neither of which is a good thing.
Our Current Toiletries Budget Method
Step 1: Get a grip on what you’re spending.
In order to get a grip on what you’re spending on toiletries, you have to know what you’re actually spending on them. So, the next time you go to Walmart or CVS or shop online at Amazon, make sure you’re checking out with JUST toiletries on the belt.
Step 2: List out what you’re buying.
Once you’re in the habit of paying for your toiletries separately, start listing them out one by one.
- Dish soap
- Dishwasher tabs
- Laundry detergent
- Toilet paper
- Paper towels
- Toilet bowl cleaner
And so on, and so on. List every personal and/or toiletry item you’ve purchased for the past 3 months or so, give or take.
If you’ve been following my advice to keep ALL of your receipts, this shouldn’t be a big deal. If you are new, start keeping your receipts (here’s why).
Psst! If you’re in the diaper changing stages of life and don’t want to mess with the drugstore game, check out Amazon Family. It’s Amazon Prime plus special coupons for diapers and household items like toiletries! Try it free by clicking HERE.
Step 3: Start Reducing Your Expenses
Now that you’ve listed out everything you’ve bought, it’s time to whittle it down.
Look at each individual item and ask yourself, “How can I eliminate this expense? If I can’t, can I make it myself? Or substitute with something else?”
You might be wondering how you can eliminate things like toilet paper and laundry detergent. For some things on your list, you won’t be able to eliminate it. And that’s okay. (Trust me, I’m not asking you to ditch toilet paper.)
But I’m willing to bet that there’s at least one item on your list you can eliminate. There may be more.
And if you can’t eliminate it, surely there’s a way to “get the job done” for less, right? Let’s look at paper towels for example.
Can you eliminate paper towels? Sure. We did several years ago and switched to using cloth napkins at the table (here’s how we did that).
If you use paper towels for cleaning up household messes or cleaning mirrors, can you switch to bar mop towels instead? (These are a good deal.)
Switching to cloth or reusable items DOES require an upfront investment. But it pays off quickly. Check out the numbers:
When we used to buy paper towels, we’d buy them in bulk from Costco when they were on sale for about $16 for 15 rolls. This would last us about 2 months.
Now, in case you’re wondering how come we’d go through so many paper towels so fast, let me share this. Paper towels are convenient, easy to use and disposable. When we had them, we used them for EVERYTHING. They were the default, “Quick, hand me a paper towel” for napkins, cleaning, spills, boogers, wiping the baby’s face… you name it. There was always a roll on the counter, and we didn’t think twice to grab a sheet when we needed it.
To switch to re-usables, take what you would ordinarily spend on the item ($16, in this case) and invest in what you need INSTEAD OF the paper towels.
- If you need towels for cleaning up messes, buy a 12 pack of bar mop towels for $19 (which is a good deal and WAY more than plenty to get started).
- If you need cloth napkins, invest in a set of 24 commercial grade washcloths for $14 (which is a REALLY good deal, by the way) and use those instead of napkins.
Once you make this initial investment, you start saving every time you DON’T have to re-buy them.
In one year, you could spend $96 on paper towels, OR you could spend $33 on a set of cleaning towels and washcloths and never buy paper towels again. You’d save $63 in the first year alone.
We’ve been using cloth napkins now for five years and we’ve saved $447 so far – JUST by eliminating paper towels!
You repeat this same method for all the toiletries you originally listed out. Every month, every other month or once a quarter (it all depends on your budget), choose one item you’re going to either eliminate or “get it done” for less.
Over the years, we’ve whittled our toiletry budget down significantly. Here is my current list of basic toiletries for my family of 4. I’ve included what we buy, how often we buy it, where we buy it from and how much we pay:
Every 6-8 weeks from ALDI for $5.49
Shampoo/Hand Soap/Body Wash/Deodorant/Lotion
Once a year I place a big order from Bend Soap Company for $85 (orders over $50 ship free, and orders over $100 save 15% – click HERE to shop Bend Soap Company)
I make the most of my bars of soap with these simple tricks, and then when I only have slivers of soap left, I use them to make more soap out of scraps.
Recipes & Articles: How to Wash Your Hair without Shampoo // Homemade Conditioner // DIY Liquid Herbal Shampoo // DIY Herbal Shampoo Bar // Exfoliating Body Wash // DIY Foaming Hand Soap
I make homemade every other month using a tub of Redmond Clay that I buy from Amazon for free using Swagbucks, once a year.
Here is the recipe I use for homemade toothpaste (essential oils are nice, but optional), and on occasion we pair it with homemade mouthwash.
One 24oz tub of Redmond Clay lasts us well over a year, if we only make toothpaste. We do other things with it too (like burns and cuts and everything else on this list), so I buy it in bulk in this big 6 lb bucket. This right here saves me nearly $3 per pound!
Bathroom Cleaning Supplies
Once a quarter from Grove Collaborative for $14.
Update: I USED to buy from Grove Collaborative (you can read my review here) but have since found out that the “natural” cleaning supplies I ordered weren’t really all that natural. (More on that HERE). Now I buy my cleaning supplies from Young Living. You can read why and how we afford essential oils (and Thieves cleaning supplies) on a budget HERE.
Recipes & Articles: Homemade Soft Scrub // DIY All-purpose Cleaner // Homemade Bleach Alternative // Citrus Infused Vinegar
Purchased as needed from Amazon for free using Swagbucks. My husband uses one $1 can of shaving cream per year. You can make it though, and this is a great tutorial.
I invested in these Sonicare toothbrushes when I saved up enough Swagbucks, and we won’t need to replace them for several years.
Note: Our dentist recommended an electric toothbrush after my husband healed his own gum disease. We’ve had excellent check-ups since then, so for our own dental health, we won’t go back to traditional toothbrushes, despite the fact that you can get them for $1.
Make homemade as needed in the summer months using lotion from Bend Soap Company and this zinc oxide that I bought from Amazon for free using Swagbucks.
Here is the recipe I use for homemade sunscreen, and this one pound of zinc oxide will last AT LEAST 3 summers.
The “toiletry” category is huge, so here are a few other things I now make myself using ingredients I already have at home OR things I bought using Swagbucks.
- Homemade Make-up Remover
- Whipped Magnesium Lotion
- Detox Mask with Charcoal and Clay
- Hand Sanitizer
- Lip Balm
- Tinted Moisturizer
Total Cost for Toiletries: $177.69 a year, or $14.81/month
Our totals used to be significantly higher several years ago, but by slowly switching out one item at a time, we have a budget for toiletries that works, and that’s predictable!
The above steps for getting a handle on your toiletries budget is similar to what I teach in Grocery Budget Bootcamp. Knowing what you spend and how to change your spending habits makes a big difference in your budget! Learn the details and much more in this online eCourse.
We’ve covered other budgeting topics in the past – check them out and see if they can help you in other non-food areas:
Do you use washcloths in the kitchen along with the bar mop towels you recommend? I’m making a switch from the kitchen Norwex rags and not sure what would be the best option. Thanks for your help!
Hi Sonia! I was gifted washcloth-like clothes (dish rags might be the “technical term”?) so we use them some, mostly to clean up spills or messes at the dinner table, but we use e-cloths most often for actual cleaning. I love that they only need water, clean all the surfaces in the kitchen (i.e. granite and glass cooktop) and can be thrown in the washer. You’re very welcome!
Thanks for sharing! I will try each of your recommendations just like sparing cash from my basic supplies. I will arrange all the important things and take a rundown, stay away from those stuff that are not important and need. Also, to always keep in mind to save all the receipts.
My daughters have thick, long hair. Detangler is expensive. I make my own with a little bit of conditioner diluted in a lot of water in a spray bottle. also, cloth napkins rule but I can’t get my teens to use them in their lunch bags at school.
Tiffany, I use Bend soap lotion and bar soap as well per your recommendation. I’d like to try the homemade sunscreen recipe. I’m curious if you could tell me what the staying power is in it? How long does it stay on while swimming before you have to reapply. My daughter is milky white and loves to swim but I also don’t want to have to reapply every half hour! Thank you!
Hi Jennifer! My daughter and I are both fair skinned, and if we’re spending a day at the pool, we re-apply about every 2 hours or so, slightly more frequent if there’s more towel usage. If I’m just sitting in the sun (no swimming, no wiping eyes, no drying off, etc.) then I can go a little more than 2 hours. When you apply zinc, it creates a barrier from the sun and your skin doesn’t absorb it. However, you have to reapply if you wipe it off, which we often do without even realizing it. 🙂
We, too, have made, and are still making, the switch from expensive store-bought products to homemade ones. Some of the changes we’ve made were brought about by our two dogs getting cancer. When that happened, we started taking a really close look at the products we were using in and around the home. We were shocked at how many we thought were safe actually turned out to be carcinogenic. The dogs have passed away but the hard lessons they taught us are still remembered.
Outside, we learned that weeds are beautiful. No more Roundup. It’s been about 9 years now so that mess should be about gone from the soil. Despite what Monsanto says, it does stay in the soil for years after application. Living in the country, we don’t have to have a perfect lawn. Besides, weeds are just plants we haven’t found a use for yet. We just found out that wild lettuce has pain killing properties similar to morphine. Still researching that one, but if that’s the case, that could be a natural way to help with our arthritis pain instead of toxic drugs from the doctor. And, boy, do we have the wild lettuce. If a weed killer is needed like along a fence row where we can’t use a weedeater, we now use a mixture of white vinegar and salt. It kills the weeds in no time and isn’t poisonous to us or our dog.
In the home, no more Swiffer for wet mopping. Now it’s plain white vinegar. In fact, it’s white vinegar for just about every cleaning project. We buy it at Sam’s for just over $4 for a case of two 1-gallon jugs. We usually buy two or three cases on each trip just so we don’t run out. We have spray bottles of vinegar in the bathrooms, on the kitchen counter, and one on the dryer. We use white vinegar in place of fabric softener sheets in the dryer. We just spray the dryer drum, add the clothes and dry. We don’t like fragrances in our clothes and linens. We use it undiluted everywhere including mopping floors. A Rubbermaid Revel mop with its reusable pads and refillable bottle works great with the vinegar.
About four years ago, I bought the components to try to make our own laundry detergent – washing soda, borax, etc. My son mixed it all together and made a nice laundry powder but our water is so cold in the winter that the powder wouldn’t dissolve. So he made it into a thick concentrate that is then diluted. He makes up a gallon at a time for use in the wash. I don’t remember how much I paid for the components but for it to last this long has been a really good investment. It made a 5-gallon bucketful of concentrate. If we had to wash clothes every day like some families, it wouldn’t last as long, but we only have to do laundry about once a week (he does his and I do mine!)
In the bathroom, bath soap, shampoo and conditioner have all been replaced by lye soap and apple cider vinegar. We either make our own soap, buy it from a favorite vendor at the Farmer’s Market, or, as a last resort, buy Grandma’s brand lye soap, usually from a Mom-and-Pop type hardware store. We can make a batch of about 6 to 8 bars about $2 or $3 of materials. From the vendor, it’s about $4 to $6 a bar, so we don’t buy much from him. Grandma’s runs about $6 per bar but I have been able to get it for about $3 each on occasion. The apple cider vinegar runs about $3 a gallon at Sam’s. Here again, we use it undiluted. I even use it as a kind of rinse-off toner on my face in the shower.
Paper towels will probably be the last thing we give up. They are just so handy. We buy them at Sam’s for about $16 for 15 rolls of the Member’s Mark brand. It takes us a couple of months or more to go through a case.
It’s been somewhat of an adventure learning how to change from convenient ready-to-use, sometimes dangerous, products to homemade ones, finding out what works and what doesn’t, but it’s been well worth the journey and it isn’t over yet.
Linda, can you please give me an estimated ratio for the vinegar/salt mixture for the weed killer. I have a few weeds that need some attention and do not want to use round up either…….. Got to love country living for sure!
Great topic. essentially, for me the answer for most stuff is – I have no idea!
I buy laundry soap in a 5 gallon bucket from the school’s baseball team fundraiser. 2 buckets last me more than a year. It may not be cheapest, but its a good local cause and its convenient.
I switched to homemade “paper” towels about 3 years ago. I bought about 3 yards of flannel on sale (take the end of the bolt for additional savings!). An hour or so of stitching and I’m still using that set. We use them as dish rags, cleaning rags, napkins, tissues, hot pads, pot holders, etc.