Here we go, another way to chop down your monthly costs, going where few dare to go! Seriously, paper goods add up quickly, and most people don’t stop to figure just how much they are adding to their monthly costs. Paper goods can be convenient, but the convenience comes at a cost.
We use very, very few paper goods, with disposable diapers being the biggest exception (in the winter, not the summer). I don’t consider this part of our food budget – it’s budgeted as part of our miscellaneous needs each month, but the amounts aren’t very significant at all. I think it’s a good idea for people to separate their miscellaneous expenses from their food costs, even if they’re purchased at the same store, so that they have a clear idea of what they’re really spending in each area. I’ll start at the beginning, and if I forget something, then ask me, okay?
Disposable dishes and cutlery – we hardly use these at all, except maybe on the second day of a three day yom tov if we have guests and I’m not feeling like washing any more dishes by that point. At one point I realized that I never had enough silverware, and that the pieces from our service of 12 had slowly gotten lost. (I think pieces sometimes get thrown away by younger children when they clear their plates.) So as much as I like good quality silverware, I decided to head to Walmart and buy a bunch of cheapie stuff – they were five pieces for $1. I got thirty each of soup spoons, small spoons, forks, and 18 knives ($21 total). That gives me enough for the average Shabbos to get through without having to wash them. (I don’t generally mind washing dishes, but on Shabbos I really dislike it.) I recently stopped in and got a bunch more of that pattern, since I noticed the attrition rate was beginning to affect my supply.:)
Dishes – we use regular dishes all week, including Shabbos and holidays. For Pesach, my inlaws’ contribution for several years has been a stack of disposable dishes – one year they asked how they could help (since they come for the seder, etc.), and that’s what my dh suggested, since particularly on Pesach, it seems that cooking and cleaning up from meals is nonstop. Years ago, we also used paper plates for a couple of weeks after I gave birth, but that was when my kids were younger and I was doing all the dishes. Now they’re well trained and wash the dishes, so after birth is the same as any other time.
We also used to buy disposable plastic cups for Shabbos (we had enough to patch together from different styles during the week), because our glasses were always breaking, and it didn’t take long for a complete set to become uncomplete. Then after I don’t know how many sets of glassware, I tried buying the rigid plastic cups, that are clear and look like glass. They cracked after being dropped a few times. Then I tried the unbreakable plastic (well, unbreakable to any other family, but we managed to break even some of those!), but most of them disappeared over time. Kind of like the silverware dilemma I shared above. (Those of you with small families might not understand how this is possible, but this is the reality I live with – that I can buy 20 – 30 cups and only find 2 when it’s time to set the table, and that’s when all the dishes have been washed. :)) I really didn’t like using the disposables, especially since I didn’t keep them enough at the forefront of my mind, and ran out too often. I kept thinking about what I could use instead. A couple of months ago I noticed some clear poly-carbonate cups in Walmart that looked like glass but were very sturdy. The problem was that they were a bit more than I wanted to pay. However, H-shem was guiding my steps in the store, and that very day I found the same glasses, but colored instead of clear, in the clearance section, for .50 each. (I’ve never before noticed a clearance section in Walmart.) I bought all that were left – I think there were 13, but would have gladly gotten more if they had them. I told my kids when I brought them home that they must not be taken to other parts of the house, and so far, almost two months later, we still have all of them. And none are broken. So now we don’t need disposable cups even for Shabbos. Whew – that saves us a big $1.29 every few weeks.
Napkins – okay, I use paper napkins for Shabbos/yom tov, though not the very expensive ones. I’ve tried several times to use cloth napkins, and I don’t like them. They don’t absorb – the material they all seem to be made of kind of just smears the grease around. Then they get stained, and I’m obviously not a laundry maven, because I wasn’t successful in getting the stains out. Putting out cleaned but stained napkins isn’t something I’m comfortable with, so they were relegated to rag status. At some point in the last few months, I had the brainstorm to use colored wash cloths, which are great for wiping hands or table spills, but not so beautiful for Shabbos. So I buy one large package of 500 napkins, 1 ply (I don’t remember how much they cost, but not more than a few dollars), which lasts at least at least a couple of months. For weekday meals, we have the washcloths.
Paper towels – I don’t buy these at all, and don’t think I ever have (if I’ve had them, it’s because a visiting parent bought them). I use cleaning rags – I used to cut up our old towels, but we didn’t wear out our towels at the rate necessary to keep up with the spills needing to be wiped up. So to bulk up our supply, I bought a couple of large packages of shop towels when a local store was going out of business. I think I got something like 50 for $15. They’re red, which I like because they are easy to sort into the wash and out of the clean laundry basket, and I use them for everything – wiping down the table/counters, cleaning spills, wiping hands. They’re also good for washing dishes with. I keep them in a basket in the kitchen, along with any old towels, washcloths, and cloth napkins. Also, old cloth diapers also make good rags – we also had some of these in our cleaning stash, but the conflict was that some kids didn’t distinguish between old cloth diapers that were ragged and very nice new ones. You can see why the relevance of the red cleaning rags now, right?
Plastic bags – I periodically buy sandwich bags, the cheapest ones that are $1 for 150. I also reuse plastic bags that foods come in, if they are dry and clean, like bread bags. They usually don’t need more than a quick shaking out of crumbs. You’d be surprised how many bags come into your home that are useful in this way once you start paying attention. I also reuse the cheapie bags I buy, if they are dry and clean – many of the times, I use them to put in a leftover muffin, piece of bread, biscuit, and there’s no reason not to use them again. I don’t rewash baggies, mainly because: a) my kids wash most of the dishes, and I don’t ask them to do that, and b) I buy cheap sandwich bags (only ziploc type bags are worth washing), and don’t feel the effort is worth saving a dollar every two or three months. Also, I have plastic containers of different sizes to keep food in, so this minimized how many bags I use. Buying these was an upfront cost, but there are some companies that sell decent quality containers for signifiantly less than Rubbermaid. Also, you can reuse the plastic containers that some foods come in (like cottage cheese, or margarine – not that I’m recommending you eat that horrible stuff, blech), and then you don’t have to buy any. I happen to be partial to square or rectangular containers because they use space more efficiently so I’ve chosen to buy the less expensive containers as my main containers.
Aluminum foil – I reuse the pieces that are basically clean and dry. I don’t rewash it, though, because it gets too complicated to keep track of what was used for dairy and what was used for meat. Not to mention too messy to store two sets of used foil.
Disposable pans – I’m very happy that since I recently aquired stainless steel baking pans, I no longer need to buy these. When I did buy them, I reused them a number of times, making it a long lag between buying new ones.
Baking/parchment paper – I used a lot of this when I used disposable aluminum pans, because I didn’t like cooking directly on it. Now that I’m using stainless steel pans, it’s cut down on my parchment paper use. When I do use it, it’s usually for challah or cookies, and the pieces that are in good condition can be reused several times.
All of this does make for more dishwashing – significantly more – and more laundry – not so much more. But it cuts down on costs, cuts down on time spent in stores, and cuts down on running out of something and needing to go to the store. If you’re in an area where you’re charged for garbage pick-up, it also cuts down on your trash costs (the large cost of pick up itself, plus the small cost of extra garbage bags). On an ecological front, it cuts down on the huge amount of things that go into a landfill and won’t be decomposed until long after our grandchildren are grown. Nice when something can be good for you and the rest of the planet, too.