A quick walk around the house can uncover a multitude of items we've spent too much on. From pricey shampoos and body washes, to household cleaners and medications, there's a veritable fortune being spent unnecessarily. But once you can identify the culprits and tweak your shopping habits, it's like finding change in the sofa cushions.
Chances are you've got way too many household cleaners under the kitchen sink: one for the windows, one for the dishwasher, one for the countertops—the list could go on forever. Bear in mind that items with name brands don't necessarily clean better than the generic alternatives. Better yet, even bigger savings can be found by mixing a few inexpensive basics like vinegar and baking soda. The all-purpose powder is a natural deodorizer, and when mixed with water makes a great scouring agent. For window treatments, there's really nothing more effective than vinegar and water for cleaning glass surfaces. Go a step further and use old newspapers instead of paper towels for a streak-free, guilt-free, cost-free shine.
Toiletries, like pricey shampoos, body washes and moisturizer are also dollar swallowers. Beauty experts say the basic ingredients of soap and detergents are universal. While the cleaning agent is important, everything else (including flagrance) literally washes down the drain. In the case of shampoo—we only need a gentle cleanser at most—there's even a growing "no-poo" movement that advocates forgoing shampoo altogether. Face cleaners, pricey moisturizers and dental care products all also command more for the label and marketing than for performance.
Electronic or more tech-laden versions of old standbys are even bigger wastes of money. "If it's a battery operated toothbrush which will need replacement heads, buy them at the same time you purchase the toothbrush," says Christine Frietchen, editor of ConsumerSearch. "Let's face it, when you need new heads, you're not going to find them." After time, the company might not sell the item anymore, or you won't remember the model you need and will wind up purchasing an entirely new toothbrush. Battery-fueled face cleaners, razors with special blades, or electronic toothbrushes have more moving parts, making them more likely to break.
Perhaps the most surprising budget black holes are room fragrances and candles, now a multi-billion dollar category. That's money spent to mask odors a good cleaning or open window can take care of, and don't forget that spending anywhere from $10 to $75 for a pricey, celebrity-endorsed candle is forking over money for something you'll set on fire, literally.
There are few remedies more basic than aspirin, and paying more for a brand name version can cost 40% more than the generic, says Joanie Demer, of The Krazy Coupon Lady website and co-author of "Pick Another Checkout Lane, Honey." The same goes for other pain relievers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen. Check the labels for active ingredients and ring up the savings.
Not all laundry detergent or cleaners are created equal, but often brand loyalty is little more than an expensive habit. Try store brands first and if you're not satisfied, take advantage of manufacturer coupons and store specials for savings of up to 70%, advises Stephanie Nelson of CouponMom.com. "A $4.50 bottle of Wisk laundry detergent becomes $1.25 by using a coupon (combined) with a half-price promotion."
Don't just replace household products when refills of the item are available. Jeff Somogyi, media editor and contributor to Dealnews.com, recommends buying refill packs of detergents, soaps and cleaners rather than another new bottle or dispenser. "A couple cents per ounce here and there lead to big savings in the long-run."
Dentists recommend twice-yearly visits for professional cleanings. That's a new, free toothbrush every six months. It that doesn't suffice, buy whatever is on sale with the most features. Following the dentist's instructions on how to brush and how often is most important.
New gadgets quickly become obsolete, break or get discontinued, making it tough to find replacement parts. Experts agree that in most cases the tried and true analog product will last the longest and save money over time. Case in point: A standard coffee press will get you just as far as a fancy espresso machine will—and for less money.