• Ali

10 Things I Have Actually Tried To Save Money. What Worked, What Didn't.


I started to become aware of money and the spending of that money many years ago when I didn't have it. We had a small budget with a small income so we had to make it last a bit better than we had before. School is too expensive but at least we got to try lots of crazy things to save our pennies!


We were living in Halifax at the time which was a great spot to learn to be thrifty because there were lots of hippy type people around who had thrifty habits I could learn to adopt. Many of these habits happened to be more health and ecologically conscious so that was a bonus.

Here is a quarter of my giant list of all the things I have actually tried to do to save money. This list will be different from lots of other money-saving tip lists I've read because these have all at least been tested by me. So many of the lists out there have really impractical recommendations. There will be impractical ones on this list too but I will tell you if they didn't work and why.

1. I Stopped Using Shampoo and Conditioner


I stopped buying and using shampoo and conditioner for at least a couple of years.

How it works: I used baking soda and apple cider vinegar instead of shampoo. I would massage a small amount of baking soda into my scalp near the roots, rinse well with water, rinse again with a jar of water with 1 tbsp of apple cider vinegar dissolved in it, then rinse lightly again.

Did it work: Yes, I was able to do this quite easily. My hair did not appear greasy and was easy to work with. I did not smell like vinegar or anything else. I had long hair at the time and this was not an issue at all. I had to shower everyday to make this work but this was part of my routine back then anyway.

Did it save a lot of money: Not really. Shampoo is not that expensive so I saved about $4.00 every few months. The baking soda and vinegar were cheap and took forever to get through.

Added benefits: Shampoo has some questionable compounds in it that I didn't want to absorb (sulfates and estrogen mimicking compounds) so this habit removed my exposure to those chemicals. This was especially important to me at the time because I was trying to get pregnant and didn't want to expose any potential babies to unnecessary chemicals. I expect using baking soda and vinegar is less environmentally taxing than a shampoo. Most shampoos contain surfactants which are bad for aquatic life.

Drawbacks: One draw back to using this process is that I had to shower everyday. If I skipped a few days my hair would get greasy pretty quickly. I don't have time to shower everyday anymore so I don't currently use this method. Maybe I will be able to again when baby gets older. I use shampoo but I did not use conditioner until very recently. I never needed it before moving to Kelowna. It's dry here.

2. No Extras: Shaving Cream, Fabric Softeners, Rinse Aids, Cleaning Products Etc.

How it works: I really consider whether I need to purchase a product before I do. There are a lot of products we may think we need because of habits or we grew up with them but if you take a second to think about them, the product may do so little for our quality of life that it's not worth the cost.

I shave my legs in the shower so I don't need shaving cream. I have never had any problems with razor burn or anything even though I use the cheap disposable razors for months longer than recommended.

I'm allergic to fabric softener and dryer sheets so I have never really used them. I tried a "natural" fabric softener once and didn't notice any difference in my laundry. Most fabric softeners and dryer sheets are made of animal fats so I have since adopted that reason to not use them as well. But mostly, these things seem like a waste of money to me.

I don't use rinse aids in the dishwasher. I use vinegar. It's a whole lot cheaper and seems to work just fine. I also don't care if there are spots from dried on water on my dishes. If it bothered me, I would remove them with a slightly damp towel.

I don't buy a lot of cleaning products. I buy a few and make the rest out of common house hold items. There will eventually be a dedicated post on just cleaning product recipes that are cheap, low in chemicals and just pleasant to use.

Did it work: Yes, I still carefully consider whether I actually need a product before buying into it. There are a lot of marketing dollars going into convincing consumers that we need this stuff so being objective and considering our needs carefully is our only defense.

Did it save a lot of money: Yes, I'm not sure how much but I feel like over the years I have saved quite a bit not purchasing these products.

Added benefits: Again, not buying all these chemicals limited my exposure to all these chemicals. Cleaning products have been coming under greater scrutiny lately and for good reason. There seems to be bad long term health effects to using cleaning products. Some are likening the use of cleaning products to smoking cigarettes. I think the language is more alarmist than accurate but suffice it to say, using cleaning products is not doing your lungs any favours.

I'm a little skeptical that using shaving cream is a healthy habit as well. Applying a chemical concoction to the skin and running a razor over the skin causing numerous tiny micro abrasions where the chemicals can easily enter seems like a bad idea. I used shaving cream as a teenager and my legs were always itchy after. I wonder if anyone else notices this?

3. I Cut My Own Hair (And Later My Son's Hair)


I like adventure and I have long hair. What I don't have is $70-$100 to spend on my hair every 4-6 months. So I bought some proper hair shears for $5.00 at a beauty supply store and never looked back... except once. I went to a salon to get a special hair cut and it was so bad. Just so bad. Now I trust myself to get the look I want more than a hair dresser.

How it works: I started off just cutting the ends of my hair straight across. This worked okay and no one seemed to notice that it was a home done job. Eventually I became more daring and graduated to Pinterest layers. I saw the below image on Pinterest and tried it out. I make the pony tail exactly in the spot that is pictured below.


Did it work: Yup! It worked so well I have been cutting my hair this way for years. The trick is to not pull it too far forward in front of your face when you cut. I would not try this with short hair, I have long hair so if I cut a little too much in one spot, I can fix it by cutting it a little shorter.

Did it save a lot of money: Yes! So much money! I went for a hair cut when I lived in Toronto. I paid $70 which was a cheaper rate for a hairdresser with experience but she wasn't a "master" or what ever. She ruined my hair so I guess I would need to spend even more if I went back for a better hairdresser.

Assuming I stuck with $70 and went 4 times a year, cutting my own hair saves me $280 a year. Maybe more if you throw in taxes and tip.

Added benefits: One massive benefit that I have alluded too is that when I cut my own hair, no one destroys my hair. I have had some bad luck with hairdressers, especially the last one. It was the most expensive hair cut I had ever had and yet she ruined my hair and cut it too short to fix. It took a long time to grow it back to normal.

I'm pretty careful with my own hair. I cut a little at a time and can fix minor errors when they rarely occur. I have developed my skills over the years and can razor cut the sides and do slightly fancier things. My son likes his hair long so when it needs a trim, it's within my skill level to do it at home despite the added challenge of curls. He's a bit shy so not too keen on having a barber that close to him anyway.

4. I Went Paper Towel Free for a Few Years, Paper Towel Reduced After Baby.


We received a large, free newspaper every week and I had some old clothes I could cut into rags. Seemed like we had an alternative that could be more cost effective.


How it works: For washing windows, it makes sense to use newspaper because it leaves less streaks than paper towel does. I just applied this concept to a lot more cleaning. Newspaper is not terribly absorbent so I cut up a bunch of rags and used them when needed. I have since bought some j-clothes at the dollar store and other cheap clothes to add to my collection.

Did it work: Yes... mostly. I learned rather quickly that cleaning white surfaces with newspaper, while possible, is a big pain in the butt. The ink can transfer. Also, once I had a kid, I needed the paper towels again. I just was not set up to rely on clothes. I am hoping to cut down my paper towel use again and keep it down, even with this new baby but I am more set up for it now.

I think the key to making this work is having a dedicated laundry spot for the rags. I did not want to wash dirty rags with my clothes. Having enough rags to get to a small load is also key. There will always be certain kinds of messes that I will want disposable paper towel to clean up but using less is still helpful.

Another issue with the newspaper is that we do not receive free newspapers in Kelowna. We have everywhere else that we have lived but BC is more environmentally conscious than most places so it makes sense. Even when we used the newspaper for other things, most of it was thrown away. It was wasteful.

Did it save a lot of money: I would say it saved quite a bit in the first few years when I tried it. Probably about $6 per month so about $100 per year. Once I had a baby, we did not save so much. Even now though, I expect we use about half as much paper towel than what we would otherwise use so that should save us around $50 a year. It's not a huge amount but its enough to help a bit.

Added benefits: Using less disposable paper products is clearly better for the environment. Less paper use means less trees cut down for the purpose.

5. Save On Bread By Making It At Home


I bought a brand new bread maker second hand (mint in box) for only $15 dollars because someone was moving and selling all their stuff.


How it works: You put ingredients in the bread maker and turn it on to the right settings. Super easy. The ingredients cost pennies per loaf. This is substantially cheaper than buying bread ready made at the store. Bread products cut into our food budget a lot. I have always felt they are more expensive than they should be so it was no surprise to find out the grocery stores were fixing the prices. Flour, yeast and salt are not expensive after all.

Did it work: Not really. I wish it had worked out better because this would have been a pretty significant money saver. The problems that I ran into were...

  • The pan was not that easy to clean and I couldn't make it into a habit. It was also hard to get the bread out of the pan.

  • The machine I had was loud, shook the table while it kneaded and beeped loudly when done, waking my baby far too frequently.

  • The bread tasted good but was difficult to cut into slices thin enough for a sandwich.

  • The bread was only good the day I made it so there was more bread waste. I could not keep up with making new bread everyday.

I stopped trying to make sandwich style loafs and have since given my bread machine away to someone who seemed like they needed it more.

But Something did work!: Making Naan and pizza dough is cheaper and fresher than buying it in the store. It's also easy, requires no machines and minimal planning ahead. How much you save depends on how often you make naan or pizza. We like the taste better than store bought so this recipe became part of our regular meal plan.


Did it save a lot of money: Making Naan and home made pizza dough probably saves us a few dollars a week. Even more if we make pizza instead of going to Panago. Making the sandwich style loafs didn't really safe us much.

I think trying a few basic "knead free" recipes could replace the need for a bread machine completely if I can find a good one. I don't have the energy to knead bread right now.

Added benefits: You would consume less preservatives if you made your bread yourself. You get a fresher product as well.

6. Used Free Produce Bags Instead Of Plastic Wrap

We buy a lot of fruits and vegetables which means we end up with a lot of those clear produce bags from the produce section. These are free and water proof.

How it works: When we use up a fruit of vegetable from a produce bag, I just save the bags in a tissue box in the cupboard. If they are a little dirty, I just give them a quick rinse, turn them inside out and hang them to dry. If one gets really gross, I can toss it. I always have many stored away so it is no great loss. These are disposable bags after all but they can still be reused for many uses.

Most bowls we have fit inside the produce bags. then we just twist the open end, tuck it under the bowl and pop the leftovers in the fridge. Simple and free. It also works for on the go food like sandwiches for lunch.

Did it work: Yes, I have been doing this for years. I still buy plastic wrap for occasional use but only 1-2 times per year.

Did it save a lot of money: Not a huge amount, probably $20-40 per year depending on individual use but it's so easy to do and free so I think it's very worth doing.

Added benefits: Less plastic in the environment, as long as you don't start taking more produce bags than you otherwise would. A better alternative might be to make your own fabric food wraps and produce bags if you are more environmental than me. I have not tried this method yet but it's all over Pinterest.

7. Ditched the Dishwasher- What Was I Thinking?


When we first had a dishwasher we didn't use it.


How it works: I washed the dishes by hand to save water.

Did it work: NO! It was a lot more work to wash the dishes by hand and the dishwasher was pretty new so it was likely more efficient than I was. I stuck with this for 6 months (not knowing any better) then converted to the dishwasher faith and never looked back. I will not even consider renting a place if there is no dishwasher. Especially with kids, I don't have an extra hour of time to waste on dishes every day.

Did it save a lot of money: No, it probably cost me money. It costs more to heat water in the water heater than the dishwasher. It certainly cost me time and it was less environmentally efficient.

Added benefits: None, there were no benefits to this at all.

8. Ditched the Washing Machine and Dryer


I could only do this when it was just the two of us and my husband helped with the laundry a lot. It's hard work but it made me appreciate what a women's life would have been like in the past. With even one kiddo in the picture, there was no way I could sustain this. We use a washing machine and dryer now but I am trying to cut back on the dryer use which will save electricity money.


What I felt like doing laundry this way.

How it works: Fill up a bathtub with warm water and add a loads worth of soap as it is filling. Add dirty clothes to the water and swirl them around, squish them, jostle them, get the clothes good and saturated. You may choose to soak for a few minutes. Drain the tub, squish out as much soapy water as possible. Refill the tub with clean water. Mush the clothes again to get as much soap out as possible. Drain and repeat until the clothes seem soap free.

Wring out the clothes by hand as much as possible and hang to dry. We hung our clothes on two fold-able racks inside usually though we were blessed with a clothes line in one place we lived which was obviously better. Moisturize your hands, they are going to need it.

Did it work: Yes, our laundry was clean after this process. It was better as a two person job than a one person job.

Did it save a lot of money: Yup, we didn't have to pay for a laundry pass which would have been $200 a year. I don't think we paid for water at this apartment so it made our laundry practically free. If you pay for your water, take caution with this method as it uses a lot of water.

Added benefits: It was a great upper body workout.

Drawbacks: It was a lot of work. I had trouble doing this by myself. It also used a tonne of water so not great environmentally. Wringing out clothing and towels really dried out our hands.

9. Stopped Eating Meat, Then Stopped Eating Dairy Too


Halifax was a bit of an eye opener. Animal products were so expensive compared to how they were priced in Ontario. Our money was quite limited and we had budgeted $50 a week for food. We started off trying to buy cheaper cuts but even they were kind of pricey. Tofu was cheap at $1 a pack and this could be used for more than one meal. Brown rice and dried beans were also quite affordable. Produce is cheap compared to meat and we could get a large box of organic produce each week for $40. It made more sense to build meals around these affordable goods then meat. So I stopped buying meat and I felt great.

I felt so great that I decided to cut dairy after listening to some plant based people talk about how great they felt not consuming animal products. I am so glad I did. I felt fantastic and I had more energy than ever. A lot of the minor, ongoing health annoyances (hey fever, upset stomachs, minor headaches) completely disappeared. And we saved money, lots of money once my husband quite the dairy. Milk and cheese are expensive and you don't get much for your money.

How it works: Base meals around cheaper, plant based option instead of meat. We started to rely more on brown rice, beans, tofu, pasta, lentils, nuts and grains. All of these options can be bought in bulk for relatively cheap. We stopped buying meat, milk, eggs, cheese and ice cream. We stopped buying most junk food as well as most of it contains dairy or eggs.

Did it work: YES! Biggest money saver ever! We still only pay about $100-140 a week in groceries for the 4 of us (though one of us is a baby who doesn't eat much food yet).

Did it save a lot of money: Yup, though the savings did dwindle a bit when we had kids as they go through a lot of soy milk which is not that cheap. We pay a similar amount for soy milk that we would for dairy milk. We pay a bit less for daiya than we would for regular cheese because we would eat a lot more cheese (it's more addictive). We pay substantially less for plant based meals compared to meat based meals.

For example, I make Butterless Chickenless butter chicken. I use 1 pack of tofu at $2. If I used an equivalent amount of chicken it would be about $6. If I use a can of beans in a stew or a curry, that will cost a dollar. You won't find an equal amount of meat for that price.

Added benefits: The reason I stuck with this diet was because I felt better. I always had a stuffed nose in the morning from allergies and that completely disappeared after i cut out the milk. I also had pretty regular stomach aches and headaches which disappeared as well. These effects may be unique to me but there is more and more research suggesting that plant based diets are very healthy when done right. Plant based eaters have lower rates of heart disease, cancer and all cause mortality. Being healthy is cheaper than being sick.


10. Replaced Liquid Detergent With Powder


How it works: Dishwasher detergent is expensive. The liquid stuff is really expensive. We found a cheap, powder no name brand and used that instead of the liquid detergent recommended by the dish washer instructions for use.

Did it work: Sort of? It depends on the dishwasher unfortunately. The powder worked well in our Halifax dishwasher. Nothing worked well in the old machines we struggled with in Toronto. Our newest machine in Kelowna will work okay with powder. We also don't buy any additives or drying agents so that could be a factor. Pods work best but they are usually expensive

Did it save a lot of money: Yes, for a while using the cheapest powder we could find worked well enough and allowed us to save quite a bit of money. That is unfortunately not the case anymore. The whole box of No Name detergent cost about $3.00 but now the price is creeping up to around $5.00 and we go through the stuff quicker than we once did. Maybe there is less in the box now? Companies are decreasing the size of products on the sly all the time so I would not be surprised.

So there are the first 10 things I have tried to save money. There are many, many other things I have tried which I will cover in future posts. Until then, I hope all your saving money experiments are successful. Happy Saving!


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Kelowna, British Columbia |  Allison.e.mcmillan@gmail.com

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