Who Really NEEDS Paper Towels?

Posted on February 11, 2012 by

I am always on the lookout for ways to trim the fat from our household budget. With five children, expenses can sneak up on you in ways and places you least expect: An inopportune trip to the emergency room, new piano lesson books, replacing outgrown sneakers…the list goes on and on. I am constantly aware that it’s my responsibility as the primary homemaker to do whatever I can to stretch my hubby’s hard earned dollars as far as possible.

While many of our expenses are fixed, there is one area that I constantly struggled to keep a handle on, and that’s our grocery budget. It seemed that no matter how many sales I shopped and coupons I cut, and even prayed, the bottom line wouldn’t budge. I told myself that there was nothing I could do about it except make peace with the fact that our grocery really did cost a small fortune. And then one day I noticed how many paper towels were in our trash can. We were literally going through a big roll every two days! My husband asked how much I was paying for them, and when he heard the price, he was the first to question if we really needed paper towels to begin with. Wouldn’t it be more cost effective to use cotton, washable towels in the kitchen? We already use the washer and dryer everyday: no extra cost associated with that.

Who needs paper towels? I do, I thought! They are an indispensable part of my day. Toddlers make a lot of spills, I am constantly washing my hands, and the big girls always grab a paper towel when they make a sandwich or eat a snack of some kind. Why can’t they put their apple slices on plates, he asked? We already use the dishwasher every day; no extra cost associated with that. Now this may seem insignificant, but I was spending $30 per month on paper towels alone.

When I finally stopped to challenge myself on the way I’ve been doing things, I discovered that there were many things I was spending extra money on at the grocery store that were wholly unnecessary. For example, when I was a kid, we used vinegar and water as glass cleaner. The mirrors always shined and rarely had streaks. A gallon of vinegar costs about a buck. A bottle of quality glass cleaner costs $3.

Instant oatmeal, turkey breakfast sausage, bagged salad…oh goodness! I was wasting more money than I ever even realized. Yes, it takes a little more time and energy to make these things from scratch, but it’s not like I have to cook breakfast before I rush out to work in the morning or cook dinner on the fly after a long day at work. I can make the time to do things in a way that doesn’t break the bank.

I am happy to say that in recent months I have shaved $125 a month off our grocery budget! I still buy paper towels, but I no longer purchase them in bulk (yes, I was buying them in bulk!), and we use them much more sparingly. A small roll can easily last us half the week. My kids much prefer my homemade breakfast sausage over the prepackaged stuff. I can’t believe it never occurred to me before to question what I viewed as a necessity. Old habits die hard, I guess.

One question I am learning to ask myself whenever I shop is “Who really needs this?” I find that this is a better question for me than asking if I really need it because I can always find a reason to believe that I need a thing, whether anyone else needs or not. If you are trying to find ways to budget better, you might want to ask your self: Who really needs paper towels? Or pre-shredded cheeses? Or gourmet coffee? Or even glass cleaner? I’ll admit it takes some adjusting to switch from the world of the quick and convenient to one of resourcefulness and creativity, but isn’t that one of the blessings of being full time homemakers to begin with?

This was originally posted on Breathing Grace in January, 2008.

Posted in: Homemaking