My Frugal Must-Have List
25 Things That Could Save You From a Run to The Store During The Covid19 Pandemic (Or Anytime)
I am happy to be alive.
I always feel that way, but I’m acutely aware of it today, shortly after finally recovering from a 7-week bout of what can only have been Covid19. Testing was not yet available when I, and then two of my children fell sick. We experienced a dry cough, severe fatigue, fever, and shortness of breath. Struggling to breathe makes you intensely aware of your mortality.
On an only slightly lighter note, we are under Stay-At-Home orders right now in our county. There are shortages of toilet paper and cleaning products and rumors of a future scarcity of eggs, milk, butter, and meat. My family is quarantined and not leaving the house even to shop. Thank goodness for our garden and the fact that we’re used to “making do and doing without.”
It occurred to me that certain aspects of our lifestyle make this much easier for my family than for many others. I would like to help. Over the next several months, I’ll try to tailor the tips, hacks and advice that I share to be specifically useful during the Covid19 pandemic.
Today, I want to share a list of my personal must-haves in order to spend less, save more, and quit “needing” to shop all of the time. Many of these items first interested me because they are environmentally friendly, but, even though some have a higher upfront cost, they are also very frugal choices.
When thrift stores open up again in your part of the world, and if you believe it’s safe to do so, I recommend starting there. Most of the purchases I make cost a fraction of the normal cost because I buy used. This is also protective of the environment: it’s the second R in “reduce, reuse, and recycle.”
I will include links to show which products I use, many of which are available on Amazon. This is mainly for illustrative purposes. I do receive money from Amazon if you buy one of the products through my links. As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases. I appreciate the support, but I really do hope that you’ll wait for a thrift store treasure, find a coupon, or make do with something you have that can serve the same purpose. Think creatively! If all that fails, just comfort yourself with the knowledge that the items I share below can save you a lot of money in the long term, even if you pay full price upfront.
Here are the investments I’ve made to that end:
I always thought cloth napkins were for people who had too much time on their hands- for washing and then, worse yet, ironing. Yikes! The appeal of saving money and trees sure was a nice dream though.
Then, one day I discovered small, square, soft flannel napkins. They don’t need to be folded. They don’t need to be ironed. They even come in adorable, cheery mixed patterns.
Flannel napkins don’t need ironing and stack nicely. They’re cheaper and work better than paper, yet they feel luxurious.
There are many beautiful designs and styles to choose from, including elegant, matching napkins or fun, playful variety.
Here is a link to some of the napkins that our family uses:
They are also available on Amazon:
(Ad link to cloth napkins)
I spent most of my adult life wishing for a bidet. I first saw one on a vacation in Europe, and I was amazed: you mean a large percentage of the world walks around with behinds that are actually clean? I never stopped thinking about that.
It was many years later that I learned that it is possible to get a bidet without remodeling your bathroom. They now sell bidet attachments that go under your toilet seat or even bidet toilet seats to replace your old seat altogether.
Even with this newfound knowledge, it took me quite a while to take the leap. I wasn’t afraid of the change but the cost seemed a little steep for a frugalista. Worse yet, I hadn’t yet developed the low-level plumbing skills needed to install a bidet.
Finally, one day I just bought an inexpensive bidet attachment. It was a holiday gift to myself. I was so excited, but my husband at the time was not. He wasn’t interested in having a bidet attached to the toilet and he procrastinated installing it (okay, let’s face the facts: he probably never intended to install it.)
At least a year later, I determined that I would figure it out and install it myself. However, by that time I felt even more inclined to spoil myself. So, I bought a fancy bidet toilet seat. It’s amazing: the seat is heated (with three temperature levels to choose from), there is a separate spray for “front” and “back,” there is a “massage” option and a “movement” option to make sure the job gets done, there is an air dryer, and there is an air freshener feature.
At that point, the splurge was great enough that I really needed to buck up and learn to install it. I opened the package and read the directions, and did it. It was really quite simple and not even time-consuming. One tip I would recommend is to use Teflon tape (plumber’s tape) on the threads before screwing the hoses to the pipes.
I installed the fancy seat bidet in my master bathroom and I installed the simpler, cold-water attachment to the kids’ bathroom. The bidets saved us money on toilet paper and helped save some trees.
You might be surprised to find out that bidets also save water. The production of toilet paper requires so much water that you actually *save* water when you spray it on your backside instead of wiping.
Here is some great information that I found about bidets on the Scientific American website:
Justin Thomas, editor of the website metaefficient.com, considers bidets to be “a key green technology” because they eliminate the use of toilet paper. According to his analysis, Americans use 36.5 billion rolls of toilet paper every year, representing the pulping of some 15 million trees. Says Thomas: “This also involves 473,587,500,000 gallons of water to produce the paper and 253,000 tons of chlorine for bleaching.” He adds that manufacturing requires about 17.3 terawatts of electricity annually and that significant amounts of energy and materials are used in packaging and in transportation to retail outlets.
To those who say that bidets waste water, advocates counter that the amount is trivial compared to how much water we use to produce toilet paper in the first place. Biolife Technologies, manufacturer of the high-end line of Coco bidets, says the amount of water used by a typical bidet is about 1/8th of a gallon, with the average toilet using about four gallons per flush. Lloyd Alter of the website treehugger.com reports that making a single roll of toilet paper requires 37 gallons of water, 1.3 kilowatt/hours (KWh) of electricity and some 1.5 pounds of wood. Thomas points out that toilet paper is also a public nuisance in that it clogs pipes and adds a significant load onto city sewer systems and water treatment plants.
I installed the bidets before Covid19 came to the USA and they sure came in handy when toilet paper disappeared from the stores. If you don’t yet have a bidet and can fit one into your budget, now is a great time to take the “plunge.” Even the non-heated attachment is easy to use and not nearly as shocking to the system as one might expect.
I think the world would be a better place if everyone who could afford a bidet used one. In my opinion, America is a bit “behind” the times when it comes to bathroom hygiene.
Here are some links to the bidets that I installed:
The “fancy” one:
(Ad link to Brondell Swash 1400)
The simple one:
(Ad link to Luxe Bidet)
Don’t have a bidet yet? You can buy an inexpensive peri bottle (perineal irrigation bottle). It’s basically just a little squirt bottle that you fill with water and use to clean off after toileting. If you’ve ever given birth, you may still have one that they gave you in the hospital.
Here is the type I received in the hospital:
(Ad link to Peri bottles)
They are currently selling for less than $5 for three.
Here is a fancier kind which might be slightly easier to use, though I can’t personally endorse it:
(Ad link to fancier Peri bottle)
Bonus- it’s fuschia!
I think I first heard about family cloth a year or two ago. Family cloth is a replacement for TP which is made of reusable cloth instead of paper. I found the idea to be repulsive: using cloth instead of toilet paper to wipe a dirty rear-end. It’s definitely more environmentally-friendly, but the idea of storing cloth with “number 2” on it until the next wash just seemed a little gross.
Here is one option for family cloth, but you can also consider white terry cloth washcloths or even old clothes that you turn into rags:
(Ad link to family cloth)
But, family cloth combined with a bidet is really perfect. The bidet cleans everything and the only remaining need for any type of wipe is to dry off.
Don’t have a bidet yet? You can use a peri bottle. Don’t have a peri bottle? Any squirt bottle can be repurposed for this use.
Stacks of white washcloths:
Many cleaning experts recommend microfiber cloths to replace paper towels and for all-purpose cleaning. Personally, I prefer cotton terry cloth because it feels nicer to the touch. Microfiber snags on my skin no matter how well-moisturized my hands may be.
I got my white terrycloth washcloths from the Costco warehouse, but here are some similar cloths on Amazon:
(Ad link to white terrycloth washcloths)
I buy a giant pack of plain white washcloths from the Costco warehouse. They are only available in-warehouse at this time, not online. There are plenty of other places that you could buy stacks of washcloths, our you could just make rags from old towels, clothing, etc. I personally enjoy the neatness and uniformity of a large stack of white cloths always at the ready under my kitchen sink.
Because I have so many of them, there is never a worry about running out. I use them instead of paper towels and for all types of cleanup around the house. I think that the reason that I used to think paper towels were more convenient was just that I hadn’t bought enough “rags” to always have a fresh one on hand.
Now that I have and use the cloths instead of paper towels, I actually find them to be more convenient. That is because I never run out, never have to buy them, and never have to run downstairs to grab another roll.
It seems obvious looking back, but just in case it’s news to you: terry cloth actually absorbs more and cleans better than paper towels, too.
If you’re still using disposable tampons or pads, I’ve got great news for you: menstrual cups are made of silicone, they’re comfortable, and they’re reusable. Also, they usually come in a small drawstring bag which you can keep in your purse or car. Buy one menstrual cup and you’ll never have to run out to get supplies for “Auntie Flo” again.
With a menstrual cup, I noticed less cramping, less odor, and definitely much less cost.
Most menstrual cups come in two sizes: small for anyone who has not given birth vaginally, and large for anyone who has. Really, there can be so much nuance to finding your perfect cup, though, so I highly recommend you do your research first. You can learn all about menstrual cups and find the one that best fits you here:
Although I recommend you find your own perfect match, just in case you’re curious this is my personal favorite cup:
(Ad link to Lena menstrual cup)
Once you have a reusable menstrual cup, you’ll never want to pay for any menstrual products- period! So, if you still need a pantiliner for extra reassurance or for slight leaking, consider cloth liners.
Choosing cloth liners can be fun. I like choosing cute ones on Etsy or at Party in My Pants. Here is one cute option on Amazon:
(Ad link to cotton cloth liners)
I think you’ll agree with me that cloth liners are much more comfortable and much more fun than disposable.
Thinx period panties:
Yes, I’m still talking about menstrual products. But really, it’s so nice to just buy a cup, some liners, and some period panties and then hardly notice “that time of the month” from now on. Period panties were an especially exciting discovery for me because they prevent nighttime leaking. Just think of all of the time and stress you’ll save when you don’t have to check for a red spot on the bedding in the morning.
There are many brands of period panties, and I have not tried them all. In fact, I have only tried one brand: Thinx. I like them, but they are a pretty big initial investment. If I ever need to replace the Thinx I currently own, I will probably buy them at Amazon next time to save on shipping:
(Ad link to Thinx period panties)
Reusable K cup pods:
I bought my Keurig machine at Saver’s thrift shop for about $4. It’s in excellent condition and works perfectly. I highly recommend a Keurig if you’ve never tried one. It’s so nice to just pop in a pod and push a button and instantly get a hot cup of fresh coffee.
Definitely check your local thrift store first for the machine. A simple one like mine costs 15 times as much online. Wow. Here in Utah, where I currently live, there is usually at least one Keurig machine every single time I shop at the thrift store.
This is my machine:
(Ad link to Keurig machine like mine)
Depending on your wants, Keurigs can cost as much as $250 online. Again, I really recommend the thrift store.
So, what if you already own and love a Keurig? It’s time to consider the pod. Hopefully, you already use refillable Keurig pods. If not, please check them out.
Reusable k-cup pods are very easy to use: just fill with ground coffee and close the lid. Then, just pop it into the machine the same way you do with the disposable pods. You may find that, by filling your own pods, you end up with even better coffee. You can buy your absolute favorite beans and then grind them fresh. Cleaning out the k-cups is also very easy: just gently scoop out the used coffee grounds and sprinkle them around your roses-they love coffee grounds.
These are my reusable k-cup pods. I haven’t seen them at a thrift store, plus I wanted several, so I just bought them on Amazon:
(Ad link to reusable K-cup pods)
Instant Pot or Slow Cooker:
An Instant Pot has become a valuable tool in my kitchen. There are more uses than you would expect, but two of my favorite are making yogurt and making bone broth.
Our family loves yogurt, but the cost adds up quickly when you go through it like we do. A large 32-ounce tub of yogurt costs about $4, depending on the brand. It only takes a gallon of milk and less than 5 minutes’ effort to make your own homemade yogurt. You don’t need an Instant Pot to do it, but it really helps. A slow cooker can also make yogurt, but it will require a little more effort to maintain the ideal temperature during the process.
You can make your own homemade yogurt with just milk and a starter (you can buy powdered starter online or use a little storebought yogurt with lots of cultures in it).
I’ll save the exact details of yogurt-making for a different blog post but rest assured that if you just can’t wait, you can easily do a quick internet search for directions. Plan for about 5 minutes of actual active effort, but overnight for processing time.
Make your own bone broth by saving your bones from meat in a bag in the freezer until you have a pot full. Fill with water up to the pot level and pressure cook on high for 120 minutes or more.
If you don’t have an Instant Pot, you can also make bone broth in a slow cooker- just plan on it taking much longer. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because the whole time you’re making bone broth your whole house will smell like Thanksgiving dinner.
Here is my Instant Pot:
(Ad link to Instant Pot pressure cooker)
Do you still have an old bread machine in your attic? Get it out and look up a recipe book online (for your specific model). Toss in the ingredients and enjoy how the aroma of fresh-baked bread fills your home.
If you don’t have a bread machine, I’d recommend checking a thrift store. They used to be all the rage and many people are finding them in storage and donating them, often without ever using the machine. Most breadmakers work just fine, but if you exclusively make wheat bread or keto bread, consider trying to find a Zojirushi at a thrift store. Here is a popular breadmaker on Amazon:
(Ad link to bread machine)
Leftover bread ends or pieces that are turning stale:
Now that you’re making homemade bread, make sure to use it all. About 40% of food in the USA is wasted, according to the National Resources Defense Council.
If you see that one or two slices of bread are going stale, collect it in a bag in the freezer and then turn it into bread crumbs for breaded chicken, etc. This is especially helpful for people who have to eat specialty bread (gluten-free or low-carb, etc.) so you have bread crumbs with the same health benefits.
Leftovers from meals and snacks:
This really used to frustrate me: I’d cook a great dinner, we’d all enjoy it, and then half would get wasted because no one ate the leftovers. I’ve found the perfect solution for my family. We have a special bin in the fridge called the “leftover bin.” I label all leftovers with the name and date and encourage people to eat leftovers first. Whatever won’t be eaten soon goes into the freezer with the same technique (“leftover freezer bin.”)
This is what my leftover bin looks like. I like that it is clear and easy to pull out of the fridge to rifle through:
(Ad link to leftover bin like mine for the fridge)
Ice cube trays:
Another source of food waste comes from milk or cream that isn’t used in time and spoils. Ice cube trays can help you avoid this problem. Fill them with half of the milk or cream so that the container doesn’t go bad before you get around to use it all. Put the ice cubes in a labeled bag in your freezer so you have ready-made small amounts waiting until they’re needed.
Most ice cube trays you’ll see around these days are made with silicone. I found some of them at Savers, my favorite thrift store, but I wasn’t impressed. It may surprise you, but it’s actually easier to get ice cubes out of the old-fashioned plastic trays. Check for them at the thrift stores because many people seem to be “upgrading” to silicone and donating them.
Here is the type I prefer:
(Ad link to ice cube tray like the kind I prefer)
This is another excellent tool for preventing food waste. As a bonus, I would bet that you could find one in your cupboards right now. I think the regular metal muffin trays work best, but you could try silicone if you prefer.
Be sure to grease the muffin tray with spray oil or Pam. Crack an egg into each muffin spot and then freeze. Pop the frozen eggs out and put them in a bag in the freezer (labeled with date and name) to use when needed. If you like to bake fancy recipes, or even just waffles, be sure to separate some of the eggs into whites and yolks before freezing.
Didn’t find a muffin tin in your cupboards? Always try a thrift store first. This is the type that I like:
(Ad link to the type of muffin tin I prefer)
Do you spend money on storage containers? Do you give away homemade goodies and then lose the glass dish that you gifted them in? Worse yet, do you go through hundreds of Ziplock storage containers per year, adding to the plastic in our landfills and oceans? If so, I have great news for you: glass storage containers work better and in many cases are “free,” or at least included with purchase. The next time you buy pickles, mayonnaise, jam, or salsa, choose a product in a glass jar. Some even come in very pretty glass jars, so don’t throw them in the trash. Remove the paper label and then put the jar and lid in your dishwasher. Designate a cupboard (perhaps the former Ziploc containers cupboard) to used glass jars. Then, when you need to store leftover soup, smoothie, or any liquid, pull out a jar and lid. They even work great in the freezer- just be sure to save some room for expansion.
If removing the label seems like too much work, just give it a try. Many brands glue only the two ends of the label in one spot, so the label pops right off. Others are a little more tricky and could benefit from an overnight soak in warm water.
For very stubborn label glue, check out Goo Gone Adhesive remover:
(Ad link to Goo Gone)
Whatever you do, get the label off before you put the jar in the dishwasher. The dishwasher can cook the label on even stronger. If the label does come off in the dishwasher, it’s likely to clog the filter and cost you even more time and/or money.
Reused glass bottles are often very pretty and can add a nice touch to a gift of homemade bone broth soup. Just tie a ribbon around it. Doesn’t that look nicer than a Ziploc plastic tub? Of course, the very best part about the gift is that the recipient won’t need to try to return your container to you. Just invite them to reuse or recycle it.
Another great use for the reusable glass jars is to gift flowers. I grow hundreds of beautiful flowers in my yard and I love to be able to gift a “vase” of flowers at a moment’s notice with zero cost.
Don’t have enough tomato sauce/pickles/mayo jars? Just buy Ball Mason Jars. They’re pretty, practical, and very reusable. They come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Remember to always check your local thrift store first.
(Ad link to Ball glass Mason jars)
Got a lonely sock with no match? Don’t throw it away. Fill it with dry rice and knot or sew the end. Now you have a wonderful cold pack (if you keep it in the freezer) that molds perfectly around an injury or a heat pack (if you heat it in the microwave) that holds moist heat for a long time.
I have problems with muscle cramps and tightness, so I’m a big fan of this one. My kids know when they see me rubbing my own shoulders that it’s time to heat up my rice sack in the microwave. The moist heat penetrates deeply and relaxes the muscles. I started with a homemade sock version, and then when I decided that it just wasn’t big enough, I bought this one:
(Ad link to a heating neck wrap like mine)
The weight combined with the heat is very soothing.
Even though the odds aren’t great of finding this at the thrift store, I think this is a worthwhile purchase for anyone with a lot of muscle pain. Think of how many of those disposable heat pad products you could save by just reusing this one.
A bowl of bleach water:
Keep a bowl (maybe your prettiest one?) on the kitchen countertop, filled with water and a splash of bleach. Keep a stack of white washcloths nearby and dip a fresh one in the bleach anytime you want a “disinfecting wipe.” Throw that one in a dirty bin whenever you want to grab a fresh towel. Do a quick 5-minute wipe-down of all surfaces that hands tend to touch at least once a day (and more often when something is going around or if a family member is sick.)
Remember that if you have a big enough stack of white washcloths, you can use them the exact same way you use a paper towel- getting a fresh one every time if you want. It’ll still be less wasteful than paper.
Here is a ratio that the CDC supplied for the bleach water:
5 tablespoons (1/3rd cup) bleach per gallon of water
4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water
Here is the CDC page I used as a reference:
Celery, carrots, onions and green peppers:
Once chopped, they seem to stay fresh longer in a glass jar of water. To save time and money, wash and chop your own veggies right when you get them. Then, put them in a glass jar and fill with water to cover them. This works especially well for celery sticks. Dip the celery sticks in a bowl of peanut butter with raisins for a delicious snack that is easier than “ants on a log.”
Regrow your green onions:
Green onions are the gift that keeps giving. Save the roots and about an inch of the green next time you chop green onions. Put them in a shallow jar of water in your kitchen windowsill. They will grow back at least once, and sometimes several times. For added value, try actually planting them in a pot in your window or outside in your garden.
Sprouts can be grown in a mason jar with very little effort. They add a lot of nutrition to a salad or sandwich. Sprouting seeds are inexpensive and can be purchased online. They keep a long time and can allow you something fresh to eat when you run out of fresh produce.
Here’s a quick, simple YouTube video about how to grow sprouts in a mason jar:
Here are some sprouting seeds:
(Ad link to sprouting seeds)
You don’t need special lids because you can just use cheesecloth or a coffee filter and a rubber band. But, if you like things fancy, check out these reusable sprouting lids:
(Ad link to sprouting lids for Mason jars)
A few drops of essential oils (or lemon juice, or other favorite fragrance) can be added to water in a small spray bottle to freshen bed linens or for a non-toxic air freshener. Of course, lighting a match also clears the room of odors.
My favorite essential oils for air freshener are orange and lemon:
(Ad link to orange essential oil)
(Ad link to lemon essential oil)
Writing an inventory for the deep freezer can save a lot of effort. Put it in a clear plastic sleeve and use a whiteboard marker to change numbers next to the items. Use a magnet to attach it to the freezer. Whenever anyone removes an item from the deep freezer, make sure they mark it off. This way, you can always know exactly what is in the freezer, even if it’s at the bottom. You’ll never buy something you already have enough of.
The “disposable” foaming soap dispensers can be reused, and you don’t have to buy the specialty refills. Just add water, a small amount of soap, and leave air at the top. Start with this recipe:
1 part liquid soap
4 parts water
Scent if desired (essential oils add a nice touch)
Gently tip back and forth to mix.
I use foaming dispensers for hand soap as well as dish soap, and it makes both go much further. Ever since switching to making my own foaming soap, I’ve noticed that I almost never run out of soap and I’m buying it much less often. People often comment that they enjoy the foaming texture and pretty smell.
Here is a very pretty Mason jar version that is made for re-use:
(Ad link to Mason jar foaming hand soap dispensers)
Another perfectly good option is to buy one of the “disposable” types and just refill it yourself:
(Ad link to Method foaming soap)
Pots and pans are generally reusable, right? So why am I including a tip here to save on pots and pans? And, why a marble?
The quickest way to destroy a pot is to let it boil dry. It’s very easy to do: even if you think you’re watching it, you might look down for a second to read something and then, if that something is this blog (wink, wink…) time flies and suddenly the pot is red hot and burned. From now on, when you are boiling water or cooking a liquid on the stove, drop a clean marble into the pot. I have a specific marble that I keep in the kitchen for this purpose. If a pot starts to boil dry, the marble will jump in the pot, sounding the alarm.
Please remember that, even though I am an Amazon Associate and I do earn from qualifying purchases, I will always advocate for buying things used. If you can’t find one of these favorites at your local thrift store, try eBay or Craigslist. If you still can’t find it used and know that it will make your life easier and/or less expensive, it may just be worth it to buy it new.
One great trick for finding the best prices on Amazon is to copy and paste the link for the item you want into the price-tracking website www.camelcamelcamel.com. It will show you past Amazon prices and will even email you when the price hits a level that you choose.
I’ll try to keep this list updated with as many of my money-saving/environmentally-friendly favorites. I’d love to hear about any products that you’ve found or any do-it-yourself money savers that you’d like to share.