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)
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.
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.
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: