Paper Products


A truism of mine is “There are always more than two choices.” At first glance, there may seem to be only two choices. Sometimes that is because many of the choices are so unpleasant we automatically disregard them. Sometimes it’s because we don’t have all the information yet, and when we do we’ll see the additional possibilities.

If neither of the obvious choices is attractive, look around for more.

To take an extreme example, suppose money is so tight that buying toilet paper is a problem. At first glance, the choices seem to be: 1. do without something else important in order to buy toilet paper, or 2. do without toilet paper (eew).

As described in my Frugal Living book, there are several other choices:

“The next step is cloth wipes. I’ve started with just using them for urine. As a woman of a certain age, I pee quite a lot and flush away a few cents worth of paper every time. One 2X T-shirt made about twenty wipes, roughly 6 x 7 inches. I didn’t hem them, and I didn’t need to, so that was easy. Some Internet posters prefer thicker material such as pieces of cloth diaper, or flannelette cloth.


I find them to be more comfortable and more effective than paper. They are much nicer in every way. And no bits of paper left behind! A damp cloth wipe can be used like the newly fashionable wet wipes. Flushable wipes can cause problems in water treatment plants, so wetting a cloth wipe is safer.

I toss them straight into a covered container. I don’t feel they add to my laundry costs enough to count. They are small, and collectively add up to no more than a T-shirt per load. I kept track for a while and learned that using this method I use roughly one third as much toilet paper as I used to. People who use them for #2 often use a disinfectant such as tea tree oil, vinegar or bleach in a diaper pail.

This is something that lets me do what disposables do, but without having to buy disposables. If I run out of paper, I’m not up the proverbial creek because the cloth wipes are there when needed. Even if I used wipes for everything, I would still keep paper on the dispenser for guests, of course.

I have seen this method scorned as “reusing toilet paper.” That’s silly. There’s no realistic and sanitary way to reuse toilet paper. People using this method are using reusable cloth instead of disposable paper. Nobody calls using cloth napkins “reusing paper napkins.”

In a pinch, the cloth wipes make okay handkerchiefs, too. A nice clean hanky or cloth wipe is also great for cleaning my eyeglasses without scratching. (Never use paper on dry glasses. It will scratch!)

On an episode of Extreme Cheapskates, I saw a family that used newspaper as toilet paper. This is NOT flushable. They put the used newspaper into a trash bag and when it was full, threw it away.”

In almost any situation, there may be more choices than you’ve thought of. Searching online and talking it over with friends and family may open up new possibilities for you.



52 Weeks: Frugal Invitations and Thank You Notes

With better quality home printers and software available now, more couples are designing and printing their own wedding invitations. If you buy enough of the same kind of paper, you can make matching thank you notes as well. One enterprising poster on even made her own paper by re-pulping junk mail. Instructions for this are common on the Internet, including on To find it, type “make paper from junk mail” into the search box. Some are attractive and original.



Marie Brack is the author of Frugal Living for the 21st Century: Adventures in Using Your Money Wisely. It’s available on in both Kindle and paperback versions.

Challenge Me!

My book is all about finding useful, affordable alternatives to the things modern life has conditioned us to believe we “have to” buy.

Think of something that costs money that you don’t know of an alternative for. Challenge me to offer an alternative by leaving a comment on this or any other post. Please include the word “challenge” in your response.

Shredder Alternative

Clearing out papers for the new year? It’s important to destroy any data that could let identity thieves do you harm. Account numbers, date of birth, place of birth (those security questions websites ask you), and most importantly social security number.

The most common suggestion is a shredder. The best shredder is a cross-cut style that makes confetti instead of strips. Theoretically, a patient person could reassemble strips. Personally, I think that as long as businesses and my neighbors are carelessly discarding whole sheets of paper, no one has the motivation to try to piece together shredded strips. If my data is harder to get to than the next person’s it’s relatively safe.

When my shredder quite working a few years ago. I looked around for alternatives. My favorite is tearing off the important parts, tearing them up, and getting them very wet. Once they are soaked and soft, I squeeze the into a very tight ball and throw it out. You can’t tell by looking at it that it’s anything important, and there’s no way to undo it and still be able to read anything.

I read about the idea of disposing of large amounts of paper by soaking them in water in a large bucket or pan until they disintegrate into pulp. I tested this. On day one I tore a bunch of unneeded checks in half and immersed them in water in a soup bowl. Twenty-four hours later they were soft enough to easily pull into small pieces. Three days later they were still soft but showed no sign of turning back into pulp. Maybe I should have used a container large enough that I could stir and mash them. As it was, I just squished the softened checks into a tight ball and threw it out.

Disposables – Trash Bags

From the book, Frugal Living for the 21st Century:

“When I was a child, my mother never bought trash bags. Somehow as an adult, I came to assume that I had to. I still remember the moment my ideas about trash bags changed. It was sometime in the early ‘80s. I was trying to feed a family of four on one income. I was standing in the grocery store aisle with my hand on a box of trash bags. Suddenly I thought, “I’m about to pay money I can’t really spare for something I’m literally going to put straight into the trash!”

For a kitchen trash can I used a paper grocery bag, like my mother before me. She turned the top down like a cuff to keep it from collapsing shut, and put a newspaper section in the bottom to catch any moisture. I don’t get the paper, but there’s always junk mail. Living alone, I use a small wastebasket that fits a plastic grocery bag perfectly. Green enthusiasts may prefer the paper bag choice.”

Disposables – Coffee Filters

Though I don’t drink coffee, I know many people who do. For decades, I just assumed that of course one had to use paper coffee filters in the coffee maker. When I bought coffee makers for my rental rooms, I became aware of the existence of permanent, metal, coffee filters. Some coffee makers on come with the permanent filter in them. You can also buy them separately.

No more having to buy filters over and over and throw them away. The metal filters are easy to wash and very effective, and they last for years.

52 Weeks: Week One: Disposables – Picnicy Stuff

Plastic utensils, moist towelettes, paper plates and bowls, paper or plastic cups, how did people eat quickly on their way somewhere, or go on a picnic, for all the years, centuries, before these conveniences were invented?

They took the real stuff with them, is how, and brought it back home and washed it as usual.

Convenience is great, and the older and more tired I get the more I understand why people go for it. On the other hand, I have more time than money, so it does me no real harm to use real utensils and dishes and eventually* wash them up.

When life calls for me to take a meal with me I use an insulated bag, possibly with a small blue ice in it. The beverage goes in a stainless steel water bottle. I wrap flatware in a cloth napkin and put the food in whatever reusable containers are suitable. A scrap of cloth, dampened, in another small container, works as a moist towelette. After all, moist towelettes are just a disposable substitute for the good old damp cloth people had always used.

My intention here is not to campaign for never using disposables. My hope is to let people who are trying to spend less and save more implement one more way to do that.



*I’m not among those noble people who wash dishes after every meal. That might be an argument for using paper dishes, but no. Because there are other people in my household to be considered, I daren’t fill up the sink with my dishes. I rinse them and put them in a dishpan off to the side on the counter. Because they aren’t sitting in water, they don’t develop a stink. When I’m ready to wash them I fill the dishpan with hot soapy water and leave it to soak until the water has cooled off enough to be comfortable for my hands.