Photo illustration by E. Carr

Photo illustration by E. Carr

At the end of the month, when your budget is getting thinner, you may start to wonder where exactly all of your money went, especially if you didn’t have any splurges or out of the ordinary purchases. The USDA reports that even food alone takes up almost ten percent of our budgets, depending on our income bracket. Sadly, the USDA also reports that 30-40 percent of food is wasted in the US, meaning that we are literally throwing some of our money away each month. These numbers don’t even include the cost of supplies to run a household, from laundry soap to toilet paper and paper towels (if you can find any). Check out these strategies for saving money on everyday supplies.

1. Utilize free item offers on social media

Have you ever posted to see if anyone had an opened box of size 3 diapers? I have, and now I have a closet full of open-box (but sealed package) diapers for my child, for free. I simply posted in some local Facebook groups, and it turns out many people have items sitting around like this that they just can’t use. Maybe their spouse bought a less than favorite brand of detergent, or maybe their child grew like a weed and the unused diapers are just going to get tossed out. Post an “ISO” (In search of) and see what turns up.

2. Buy in bulk

Costco, SAM’s, and similar stores are booming for a reason. It’s way more economical to buy 300 dish detergent pods than sets of 25 from a regular grocer. While you may worry about the upfront cost of membership at a bulk grocery store, the initial costs pay off throughout the year. Money guru and author Dave Ramsey explains on his blog that it depends on what you are buying, and to be smart about selecting things you will actually use and that won’t go bad in the meantime: 

Let’s say you and your spouse drink a combined four cups of life-giving coffee a day. If you buy your coffee in bulk, that’s a $16 savings each year. And if both of you grab yogurt to snack on at work each day, buying that in bulk would save you a whopping $214 over the course of the year. On top of that, tossing Clif Bars into your kids’ lunchboxes every day while going the bulk-buy route would save you right around $178 each year. Now bust out your calculator and get excited—that adds up to more than $400 in yearly savings! That’s your Christmas fund right there!”

Items that you should avoid buying in bulk include:

  • Fruits and vegetables that you don’t plan on freezing (how many strawberries can you really eat in five days?)
  • Condiments that you use rarely
  • Seasonal items (the weather may change before you really use that ten pack of gloves or six bottles of sunscreen)
  • Milk, eggs, and dairy (again, unless your family is big or using it quickly)

3. Check out the clearance rack at discount food stores

There’s a reason the Big Lots near my house is always packed on the weekend. They’ve just restocked their food, which often involves dented boxes of cereal or imperfectly packaged items that didn’t work out for the real grocery store. But what happens the day before the restock? Tons of items are moved to the clearance shelf and marked half off. I’ve fed three babies all of their baby food from a certain clearance shelf at Big Lots, where their organic food in a glass jar (typically $1.26 at the regular grocery) gets discounted to $0.50 because it will expire within the month. Works for me, because my babies definitely ate them within the week, then I’d check back again.

Similar stores like Aldi and Dollar Stores may also offer discounted food and supplies as well. Beware if you are picky about brands, or if your bathroom trips just aren’t the same with a high-ply toilet paper, though.

4. Reevaluate what you are overusing

Do you reach for a paper towel every time there’s a tiny drop of juice on the counter? Would a dish rag also work? I’m guilty of this, and my paper towel expenditures are off the charts. Take inventory of what foods and supplies you are using very quickly, and if there’s a way around this. Maybe your kids (or mine…) are reaching for a juice box every time they want a drink when a water cup with their name on it by the sink would save money and their sugar intake over time. 

Consider how you are contributing to the food waste epidemic. What types of foods generally are wasted at your house? If you are throwing out lunch meat at the end of the week, it may be time to simply order a half-pound rather than a whole pound. Do you keep trying to buy new vegetables to have a healthier diet but end up throwing out moldy kale from the back of the fridge? Switch to a frozen option, or try just one new food per week instead.

Getting these expenditures in check, and consciously working to save money on food and supplies can have big payoffs to your budget at the end of the year. If you are in a more urgent situation and need food or supplies right away for free, contact your local food pantry using this directory and reach out to local churches and organizations near you for assistance.

Alexandra Frost


Alexandra Frost

Alexandra Frost is a Cincinnati-based freelance journalist and content marketing writer, focusing on health and wellness, parenting, education, and lifestyle. She has been published in Glamour, Today’s Parent, Reader’s Digest,