How Low Can You Go? Cutting Back to Minimum

I was sick again yesterday morning. To console myself, I made a cup of cocoa. As I was preparing to add the required three tablespoons of chocolate powder, it occurred to me that maybe I could get by with two tablespoons. I'd be saving calories and money at the same time!

The cocoa wasn't quite as good as usual, but it was good enough. And by dropping to two tablespoons instead of three, I saved 33% (or about 29 cents).

Now obviously saving a few pennies on an occasional cup of cocoa isn't going to make me a rich man, but this principle can be applied to other aspects of my life. That's what thrift is all about: learning money-saving skills that can be transferred from one situation to another. When we use enough of these skills in enough places, the savings can be substantial.

One way to save money is to use less of things.

How much dishwasher detergent do you use, for example? I used to fill the soap containers to the rim. Sure, the dishes got clean, but do you know what? They get just as clean now that I fill them only halfway. (And I sometimes wonder if I could use even less detergent.)

There are many ways we can cut back on the things we use. Some of these are systemic changes: you might, for example, decide to eat less meat in order to reduce your grocery bill, or to drive less to save on fuel and maintenance.

Here are a few specific examples of how cutting back from the norm can save you money:

  • Toothpaste. How much toothpaste do you really need? The instructions on Kris' current tube say that she should “apply at least a 1-inch strip of the product onto a soft bristled brush”. Instead, she uses the pea-sized amount that once was the standard.
  • Shampoo. Lather, rinse, repeat? The instructions on many packages are written from the manufacturer's perspective, not the consumer's. Use the directions as guidelines. Judge for yourself just how much shampoo (or anything else) works for you.
  • Juice and drink mixes. Juice and beverage mixes can be made more dilute and still quench your thirst. Again, this saves calories as well as pennies. Made according to the directions, some drink mixes are too sweet for adult tastes anyway. Try increasing the volume of water by 50%.
  • Pet food. If I were to feed my cats as much as the package suggested, they would look like enormous tribbles. Instead, I give them as much as they'll eat in a day. It took a while to find that amount, but we have it now, and that's what they get.
  • Engine oil. The 3,000-mile oil change is a myth propagated by quick-lube places to get you in their doors more often. Most vehicles can go much farther between service appointments. This isn't one you should experiment with, though. Failure to change your oil frequently enough can ruin your engine. Check your owners manual for the recommended interval. (It's unlikely to be just 3,000 miles!)
  • Shopping. Earlier this month, I shared how America's Cheapest Family saves more by shopping less. By grocery shopping just once a month, they make better use of their money. Kris and I aren't ready to make that leap, but we're earnestly trying to limit ourselves to one trip every two weeks. (With a quick supplemental trip for milk and produce.) So far, so good.
  • Water. When we first bought a house, I watered our lawn often. I paid to have a green lawn. Now, however, I'm happy to let the grass go dormant. I don't water the lawn at all during the summer. The grass “dies” in July and August, but becomes green again when the rains return in September.

A friend of mine once worked for a large consumer-goods conglomerate. Recently he confided, “Some companies mess with cap and lid sizes as a way to increase consumption. Want a bottle of laundry detergent to run out faster? Then increase the cap size slightly. Many people use a capful per load.” Manufacturers want us to use more than we need.

In many cases, it's possible to use less of something and still get satisfactory results. Cutting back can save you money, but finding the right amount can take a little trial and error. Don't let it fluster you.

You might, for example, cut back too far on dishwasher detergent and find one load doesn't get completely clean. That's okay. Next time, use a little more. The key is to cut back until you notice a difference. (Or, more precisely, until the difference crosses your “irritation threshold”.)

Have you been able to reduce the amount or frequency with which you use certain products? What sorts of things have you cut back on?

Photo by Joel Telling.

More about...Frugality

Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

Subscribe to the GRS Insider (FREE) and we’ll give you a copy of the Money Boss Manifesto (also FREE)

Yes! Sign up and get your free gift
Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

192
Leave a Reply

avatar
newest oldest most voted
Caitlin
Caitlin

What’s nice is that lower consumption of detergent, water, packaged goods is also benefiting the environment.

nicole
nicole

I still live at home, and for at least a few years now my mom has been using the back side of junk mail, and my old homework and such to write down to-do lists, or shopping lists.
Also, when we get mini pizzas or other boxed foods that recommend we cook them in the oven, i would often start it up and run if for close to a half hour to cook this stupid thing. recently, I started cooking them in the microwave.

George
George

Wow Nicole, you really nailed it! Microwave owen are really really bad for your health! Get rid of yours, use the classic owen instead you will be doing something smart for you and your family.

Frugal Bachelor
Frugal Bachelor

You lost me at “dishwasher”. If the goal is to minimize consumption, why would you buy a very expensive machine, which sucks as much water as possible, uses lots of electricity, and expensive detergent? A small sink full of water, a sponge, and a couple drops of concentrated liquid soap work just great.

Mark
Mark

Sure, if you don’t mind spending hours of your life washing dishes by hand. I just got a dishwasher, totally worth it.

Gwen
Gwen

Dishwashers actually use considerably less water than washing by hand. Lots of “green” websites and things encourage their use as good for the environment – provided you’re getting your electricity from a renewable source.

I don’t have a dishwasher, but I can’t wait to get one, even though I live in a country where water bills are included in my local tax.

Zelda
Zelda

With cat food, when you take your cats in for their yearly physical and shots your vet can tell you, based on the cats’ weight and brand of cat food, how much you should be feeding them. We just went through this last week and I learned I should be feeding them a quarter cup less each. It’s better for their health and your pocketbook.

AmyDe
AmyDe

A dishwasher uses about 2/3 less water than handwashing – even Ed Begley uses an energy star dishwasher. However – you are only supposed to fill the cups 1/3 full and at that only the one that closes unless your dishes are REALLY dirty. Many dishwasher repairs (seals, clogs, etc.) are a result of using too much soap.

Lori
Lori

You may want to watch out for your car’s warranty conditions if you aren’t getting regular oil changes… you may void it by going against the recommended minimum.

Pam
Pam

We buy way too much juice, but I’ve cut back by having the powdered lemonade always in stock so I can use that instead of being tempted to buy the more expensive bottled juices. The juice is for my kids though – I drink water at home. I used to drink a soda a day at work, but I’ve cut that back to one soda a week on the weekend as a special treat. At work I drink water from the cooler, and at home I drink tap water, not bottled water. Bottled water is one of the silliest wastes… Read more »

Britalian
Britalian

The shampoo directions are crazy, but people mistake foam for cleaning.

It takes a small amount of shampoo to clean your hair. I use about half a grape worth, wash my hair then do the same again.

You think that a lot of foam means your hair is getting cleaned better, it’s not the case.

Also, an inch of toothpaste is was too much.

Jason
Jason

Dishwashers use half the energy and one-sixth the water of hand washing, and considerably less soap and leaving your dishes, glasses, baby bottles and silverware considerably cleaner than hand washing. Not to mention saving enormous amounts of time. Using an enzymatic dishwasher soap also means no pre-rinsing is required. Scrape the plate, put it in the dishwasher, done.

We have a family of four and the dishwasher runs probably every other night at a minimum. When it was just me and my wife we’d run it every 2-3 days when it was full.

Sources:
http://www.treehugger.com/files/2005/08/dishwasher_vs_h.php

http://www.portlandtribune.com/sustainable/story.php?story_id=116026922858324800

Jen
Jen

Actually, some studies have shown that using a dishwasher actually uses less water than doing dishes by hand (also depends on the specifics of each, but it’s not as cut and dry as you’d think). It’s a different question if you don’t have one yet, but many people already have one.

Also, if you can train yourself to do so, drink only tap water. You get used to it and it’s way better for you (and cheaper) than cocoa or juice.

Ryan McLean
Ryan McLean

Hmm thats an interesting way to put it. I think I’d rather spend the $0.29 and have a really good cocoa though. Although, if you drank a TON of cocoa, then this could be a good way to save money.

Sarah
Sarah

If you’re interested in food consumption, check out Brian Wansink, (http://www.brianwansink.com/) if you don’t know him already. He wrote Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think.

I remember reading an article he wrote years ago where he found that when you have a larger container (like you do when you buy in bulk) you tend to take larger portions without realizing it. So, for example, you have a 1 lb box of spaghetti, and a 3 lb box, you would put more in the pot from the larger box, thinking you are preparing the same amount you always do.

JD Jackson
JD Jackson

My wife and I use a spaghetti measurer. Solved. :p

Hank
Hank

At what point does the cost savings not outweigh the loss of quality of life? There is a point when frugality can go too far. I’d rather have full hot cocoa than save 29 cents.

MattA
MattA

In the summer I tried experimenting with putting in CFL’s and just turning OFF the central air until about noon (it’s cool in the morning here). It drove my wife crazy. She can’t stand fluorescent lights, and she really, really likes AC. I agree with the laundry detergent thing. Most of the time I only use 1/4 cup if it’s a small-to-medium load. @ Nicole: I agree with reusing envelopes for scrap paper. WAY cheaper than Post-it notes. :-p I also use them to hold my receipts for each month. @ Frugal Bachelor: There is no way I’m going to… Read more »

Alison Wiley
Alison Wiley

I’m with you, J.D., especially about the way instructions typically tell us to use more of a product than we need to. Using less is good! With the cocoa, I find that reducing the water as we go from three teaspoons to two will preserve the rich chocolatey flavor.

The whole point is not to have what the economists call a high standard of living (measured by how much we consume) but to have quality of life — measured by our happiness and security. My related piece (GRS-inspired!) on high quality of life with low spending is here: http://www.diamondcutlife.org/about-getting-rich-slowly/

LK
LK

The problem with letting your yard die in the summer is if you live in an HOA neighborhood, you’ll probably get dinged/fined for it! I personally wouldn’t let my yard die, the look it gives the property is not appealing to me. My current problem is the new ‘ultra-concentrated’ laundry detergent, where you only need a tiny amount of the detergent to wash a full load. My brain can’t wrap around using such a small amount! I try but I know sometimes I use more than necessary, because I want to “be sure” the clothes are clean. Guess I need… Read more »

DIYJoe
DIYJoe

I was pondering along these lines just last week. For me it was cutting out a second haircut a month (because I was feeling fuzzy).
http://diyjoe.blogspot.com/2008/10/is-key-to-frugality-simply-asking.html

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!

Chris from St. Mary's
Chris from St. Mary's

I read the instructions after I bought the ultra concentrated Tide on sale. Line 1 was for regular loads, Line 2 is for large loads. So what size is Line 3? And why is Line 3 only two-thirds up on the cup? Actually, I found that even for my largest loads, the scent on my clothes after using the amount on Line 2 was too strong, so I use Line 1 for everything.

Joanne
Joanne

For women: I recently learned a trick I love. I used to buy a small bottle of mascara remover for a couple of bucks. It lasted about 5 weeks. However, I get the same exact result from using a mixture of 1/12th baby shampoo to 11/12ths of water which I mix in a much bigger bottle. Yes, soap and water works also, but I use the morning washrag (still damp) with a little soap to wash my face at night and I don’t need to use water in the evening, except to rinse after brushing my teeth.

Whitney
Whitney

I’m pretty sure that modern dishwashers are water- and energy- efficient, even compared to handwashing. It probably varies based on how many dishes you do. Me? I cook every meal at home, running about two loads of dishes per day. When our dishwasher broke, the mounds of daily dishes were overwhelming. I will never voluntarily go without a dishwasher again. =)

On the cocoa note, last night I followed the recipe on the Hershey’s cocoa box (baking cocoa, not hot chocolate mix) and accidentally used 3/4 of the sugar and cocoa it called for. It was perfect!

Jennifer
Jennifer

@Frugal Bachelor – It’s actually more cost effective & efficient to use your dishwasher than hand washing dishes. See the following articles:
http://www.nationalgeographic.com/everyday/greenhouse/tips.html

http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/appliances/kitchen-appliances/dishwashers/reports/less-work-less-water/index.htm

Janet
Janet

As far as oil changes — it depends on whether your car is domestic. I had a Dodge that had to have an oil change at 3k. Now I have a Toyota that requires an oil change at 5k.

EscapeVelocity
EscapeVelocity

I used to use powdered milk made with half the amount in college–that would be my definition of going too far. You can cut back on laundry detergent–the problem most people have is actually using too much, and then the clothes don’t rinse clean. And I have lived my whole life without fabric softener. I don’t use a dishwasher, but I think that depends on household size–for a family, being able to store the dirty dishes under the counter and only wash once a day does save time. If you’re single, they’ll fit in the sink, and by the time… Read more »

LC
LC

Frugal Bachelor – A dishwasher uses less water than filling a whole sink or running the water long enough to clean all the dishes (as long as it’s full). Plus you are sure that they get really clean. I fill up the main wash all the way and skip the prewash section and never noticed a difference.

Same with laundry deterngent, especially with a high efficiency washer, I use about 1T. And toothpaste, I use about 1/4 of what’s recommended.

Christine Groth
Christine Groth

Saving pennies and hopping over dollars.

Can I say more?

http://www.101WaystoMagnetizeMoney.com

Read this book and you’ll see why saving pennies, buying used clothes, is NOT how the wealthy think.

jtimberman
jtimberman

JD: On engine oil – I’m a fan of converting my vehicles to synthetic oil. It lasts a lot longer than traditional oil, to the tune of 10-12,000 miles (or close to a year). Yes, it costs more up front, but like many things that cost more up front, it saves money in the long run. @Frugal Bachelor: In some households, doing dishes by hand is a great way to do nothing but wash dishes. Our family of four uses a lot of dishes. I work from home full time – more common these days – so I add to… Read more »

Poor Bachlor
Poor Bachlor

FOr saving a few dollars I have found Foamy soap great… pay the price for a foaming soap dispenser and buy a regular soap refill bottle. When the foamy soap runs out add 2 Tablespoons of liquid soap to 10 tablespoons of water. Shake it up and let it sit for a few minutes and tada a full bottle of foamy soap… I actually have a half full refill bottle (12 oz i think) that i bought in march… and i wash my hands with it at least 3 times a day.

KC
KC

I’m just not a big consumer, never have been. I always use as little a product as I can get always with. Remember when Woolite used to come with an itty-bitty cap and you use only a capful? Now it has a cap the size of a Tide bottle and you still use a capful? Not me, I still use a dab. I try to be very mindful of how much toothpaste, soap, shampoo, etc that I use. It isn’t about the money its about the time it takes me to pick up all these “extra” things at the grocery… Read more »

Ralph Hogaboom
Ralph Hogaboom

We’ve cut back on several things, over the last six years or so. Each choice has been a quality of life thing for us, though. * TV. We shut off our TV service (and now don’t even own one) when my six month old daughter started watching it. * Cell phone. There are times when it would be handy. But I’m a happier person without it. * Long distance. When necessary, we make our long distance calls by Skype. * Cars. We’re in the process of selling our second car to be a one-car family. We have bikes, and busses,… Read more »

J.D.
J.D.

Hank wrote: At what point does the cost savings not outweigh the loss of quality of life? There is a point when frugality can go too far. I’d rather have full hot cocoa than save 29 cents. That’s the point I’m trying to get at! For many things, we can cut back without losing quality of life. For me, sacrificing the third tablespoon of cocoa is one of these cases. @Christine Groth You keep leaving comments saying that the wealthy don’t think about “saving pennies”. You are wrong. For everything I’ve read (from reliable sources, anyhow), the wealthy do care… Read more »

Whitney
Whitney

By the way, you can dilute your shampoo (and always skip the “repeat”, yikes)–it’s way better for your hair, especially if you use a cheap shampoo. Also, try showering every other day–but only if you’re very very sure you don’t need a daily shower to smell nice!

Crystal Tillman
Crystal Tillman

My mom was talking about the laundry detergent the other day. She’d went to the store, and they had a “new size”. It was the same size as they had before the companies started cutting down packaging. The catch? They raised the price… Mom was rather irritated that they called it a ‘new size’ yet it was still the same size as the old ones. To save money on Shampoo, try going ‘poo less’. Using baking soda, and vinegar instead of shampoo. http://lifelessplastic.blogspot.com/2008/01/vinegar-rinse-is-awesome.html Has some good information. Vinegar is cheap, and so is baking soda. Even cheaper than the 88… Read more »

Deb
Deb

our children’s dentist told us to cut juice with water to greatly reduce the amount of sugars on their teeth. Now I see juices marketed for children that are diluted, the ads try to scare you into buying the same volume of juice at the same price as regular juice by saying parents are diluting out all the good vitamins so they have put back in the right amount. Everything is fortified and children should be taking multi vitamins anyway so its probably too much and just another gimmick

Avlor
Avlor

My fave way to cut down on things of late: Converting to fabric napkins. My kids would go through 3 or 4 paper ones at a meal. The paper ones just didn’t absorb or wipe well and are rough. I sewed a ton of cloth ones (about 50 because I had serious fabric stash to use up and that helped put a small dent in the stash). We haven’t looked back. We even used them on a picnic, by wrapping the lunches in the napkins Japanese style. I was worried it would add another load to my laundry, but I’m… Read more »

Mel of Hobocamp
Mel of Hobocamp

I had to laugh reading your cocoa story- I do the same thing- a lot of the time! Usually with this expensive protein shake I take most mornings. I have a clipboard and use it to hold all papers we print on or receive as junk mail- then I write my lists on the back. For my business of crafting- I use & reuse materials all the time. great post~

Megan
Megan

I wash my hair every other day and shave only when I’m going to be wearing shorts or a skirt. I use bath towels more than once before washing them. I give my young boys a bath together so as to use only one tubful of water for both. I never water our lawn! I re-use paper plates if they are not visibly soiled. I wait until the dishwasher is full before I run it, and after reading this I will definitely be cutting back on how much detergent I use.

This is a great idea for a post!

JW
JW

We water down my son’s apple juice because frankly, even 100% juice products have a lot of sugar! To get things started we saved a couple empty bottles, opened two new bottles and filled the old ones about half way with juice. Then we topped all four bottles off with water, doubling our supply and cutting the sugar content for each bottle.

This same mentality, spread across several different household supplies, certainly adds up over time. Great frugal reminders, J.D! Hope you continue to feel better.

Charles Baisden
Charles Baisden

One reader made a great point about Homeowner’s Associations as it relates to maintaining a minimum aesthetic for the lawn. Certainly this is a huge consideration if your neighborhood calls for “green”. One comment referenced the idea of living in a non-HOA neighborhood to avoid these restrictions. My comment is a general concept — I think that settling for a non-healthy, non-green lawn is actually very short sighted, and does not factor in the economic cost of forgoing the maintenance & effort required to produce a healthy lawn. Experts agree that curb appeal is a substantial subconscious (or even conscious)… Read more »

Mel
Mel

When my very first washing machine was delivered it happened that the man who normally did repairs was helping make deliveries that day. He told me to never use more than half the detergent the package told you to use. He claimed that most repairs to washing machines were for broken water pumps. “Lady, they call them water pumps, not bubble pumps. They just aren’t designed to suck soapy air. Too much detergent will kill your machine.” I figured the man who fixed the machines would know and have always followed his advice. Plus my iron doesn’t get that crud… Read more »

Mike Panic
Mike Panic

One thing I’ve done is stopped wearing cologne, or as much as usual when I go to work. My cologne is expensive, it’s one of the nicer things I buy myself for me to enjoy, but I don’t need 2-5 squirts of it to go to work, so I rarely wear it during the weekdays. Laundry detergent is amazingly exspensive and while I do my best to make sure I only do full loads of wash at a time, spend some time to read the label and figure out just how much you should be adding. With regular, concentrate, super… Read more »

Bri
Bri

We definitely watch how much laundry detergent we use. We purchased a large tup of detergent at Sam’s Club about 3 months ago. There is a huge scoop in the tub, but the markings only require about 1/4″ of detergent in the cup for 1 regular load. I make sure to only use that much and I supplement with a bit of white vinegar and some Borax. I also use about 1/3 the recommended amt of fabric softner and fill the cup 1/2 with vinegar and 1/2 with water/softner. We also have started unplugging/turning off power strips for things that… Read more »

Joe
Joe

I only disagree on the car issue, because you’re taking care of a heavy investment/expense. I’d rather spend an extra $50 a year on oil changes than $500 every six months on some related problem, or worse. I cut back on eating out, I only bring my lunch, my wife bakes our bread and we hardly every go clothes shopping, unless their’s a major sale.

KimK
KimK

When we installed a water softener in our condo, we were definiately able to cut back on all sorts of soaps and detergents. Like another post up top, we have cut back on our fabric softner. My husband and I are sensitive to a lot of perfumes and the unscented fabric softner seems like a waste of money for our regular clothes. I’ll try to use fabric softner every other time that I wash the sheets and towels. Plus the water from our water softner tastes so much better that I rarely buy bottled water anymore (it’s a necessity to… Read more »

Kelly
Kelly

@Christine… I hate to say this, but it seems like you post merely to get your web site link out to a totally strange Psycho-kinetic-something site. When a web address merely exists to automatically forward to another address, that sends off a warning bell in my head. ESPECIALLY when related to money / finance advice. JD – I’m sorry to bring this up directly in the forums, but I feel your regulars and newcomers should know that your blog and indeed your comments area are normally kept very clean a free from this. And not by moderation, but by common… Read more »

A.
A.

It’s funny, a lot of ideas that promote “natural” living are also good for being frugal. Here are a couple of suggestions that both reduced my consumption and actually improved my quality of life: 1. I stopped shampooing my hair every day. Shampoo is very drying, and the scalp produces extra oils in response. Over the past couple of years I’ve been slowly tapering off my use, and my hair is *much* happier. I’m down to shampooing once or twice a month, maybe. In the shower I rinse my hair with water and scrub my scalp, then apply a dab… Read more »

Susy
Susy

So true. I empty my powdered dish washing detergent into a plastic container and put a tablespoon in there. Each time I was one tablespoon (not heaping) goes into the soap bin. Cleans just as well as using more and my box of detergent last forever. This allows me to buy the environmentally friendly brand I like to use. I also keep track of how many times I use a tablespoon on a sticker on top of the container so I can calculate price per load.

Amanda
Amanda

If you want some tips on saving money around the house, talk to your Grandparents. I always ask my Grandmother what things I can get away with using less of. She is a total fan of using less laundry detergent. She told me to use the amount for a small load in an extra large load. The only difference I noticed is that our clothes do not have that white film from powdered detergent any more (which tends to be much cheaper than liquid). I cannot complain about that!

Lisa
Lisa

I use vinegar in the rinsing cup of the dishwasher. Works much better than that other expensive rinsing aide. Also to save energy turn off the drying cycle.

C
C

I had an appliance repairman out to fix the handle on my new fridge, and he talked to me about my dishwasher (new, energy-efficient). I’m in Seattle and our water is soft, so he cautioned me never to use more than a tablespoon or so of detergent – he said more would not rinse clean, and be bad for the machine. I’ve followed the advice for almost a year now, and my dishes are clean and the washer runs like a dream! It never feels like I’m putting enough in, but it works.

DollarDream$
DollarDream$

Cutting back to minimum – now that’s the key solution for all of our problems today !Think about it – everying has grown from it’s normal ( minimum) size to today’s huge, supersize ! Our homes, cars, TVs, food, etc. We need more and more of everything. We are not happy with the size of things our parents had. We need 64 oz fountain drinks, 24 OZ coffees, tripple-cheese burgers, large fries, 52″ HD TV, big SUVs, 4000 sq ft homes and on and on..there is no end to our greed and that is getting us in major trouble, financially… Read more »

shares