Sometimes when you run out of something, it’s often easier and less expensive to improvise than to run to the store to buy it. Here are some ideas to help!
30 Ways To Improvise When You Run Out Of Money
Here’s an excerpt from our book, Penny Pinching Mama, for you enjoy to help you improvise when you run out of money!
So often, I get asked for specifics about how I saved money. There is nothing more frustrating than to go hear a speaker or read a book on “self improvement” where the “expert” spends the whole time telling you why you shouldn’t do what you are doing but never tells you how to change. I thought it might help some of you to see what I did when I had a nice long shopping list but no money to spend.
Here are some substitutions I made to improvise when I couldn’t afford to buy certain things I needed:
Baggies – small
If you don’t have any small plastic lunch bags, you can use plastic wrap, aluminum foil, wax paper or, in a real pinch, the waxed bag that cereal comes in.
- If you don’t have baking soda but you need it for cooking, then you may simply have to avoid making recipes that call for baking soda.
- If you’re using the baking soda for cleaning, substitute other cleaning supplies you have in its place (like ammonia).
- If you’re using it in the refrigerator for odor control, try using a couple pieces of charcoal.
If necessary, you may have to use just regular mild bar soap. If you have a baby in the house, buy something like Ivory soap, and you will kill two birds with one stone– you’ll have soap for you and the baby.
If you don’t have borax, you can use vinegar as a rinse. It can also help brighten clothes and make them softer.
You can use baking soda in place of carpet deodorizer.
Cleaners for kitchen, bath, windows, floor
- When it comes to cleaners, the reality is that hot soapy water cleans virtually everything. If you need the area to be sanitized, then use a few drops of Clorox in the water.
- You can use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol as a disinfectant too.
- If you are cleaning a surface that doesn’t need to be disinfected, like a window or mirror, then just plain water will work. Use a slightly dampened rag to wipe the surface and then go over it with a dry lint-free cloth.
The main thing to remember when using soap and water or any other cleaner is to always dry the area. This helps get rid of any water spots that might be left.
Sometimes when you are short of money, you have to give up conveniences, and this is a perfect example. As handy as these wipes and many others are, they are basically a paper towel or rag with a cleaner of some sort sprayed on them. In the case of Clorox wipes, just fill an 8 oz. bottle with water and 4-5 drops (truly, that is all you need) of Clorox and spray on a rag, or you can spray on the surface, let it set for a minute or two and then wipe.
Use a paper towel that has been cut down.
Vinegar works really well as a conditioner. If you need shampoo, too, you might try using a shampoo and conditioner in one. For years when we had a hard rain, I would run out to get my hair wet or put a bowl out to catch some rainwater. It makes your hair very soft.
Cotton balls and cotton squares
I have never bought a cotton ball before. I don’t use them that often. If you use them to remove nail polish, use some toilet paper instead. For taking off makeup, use toilet paper or a washcloth that you save for that purpose only. I do save the cotton that comes in some medicine bottles for those rare occasions when I need a cotton ball.
I was so glad to see that everyone’s list had deodorant and other personal hygiene products on it. I and the rest of the world thank you! HA! HA! In a bind, though, baking soda works really well.
I have used laundry detergent in place of dish soap before, although you have to be a little careful because it makes the dishes a little slippery. In a real bind, you can wash them in very hot water and then dip them in some water with a little Clorox in it.
Dish cloths for washing dishes
Use old wash rags or cut up some rags.
If your drain is just sluggish, sometimes sprinkling some baking soda down it and then pouring vinegar on top will help. Let that set for a couple of minutes and then top it all with a kettle of boiling water. I recently had a sluggish bathtub drain and as a last resort used the plunger on it. It worked. Why didn’t I think of that sooner? Duh? It even cleared up the sink drain in the kitchen at the same time.
I love using dryer sheets and fabric softener, but when things are tight, your clothes will come clean without them. If money is really tight, air dry your clothes.
Vinegar will rinse every bit of soap out and helps soften the clothes.
Baking soda or a bowl of charcoal placed in a closet will absorb the smell.
(See bathroom and kitchen cleaners above.)
Use toilet paper.
When I couldn’t get light bulbs, I would take one out of a lamp or someplace that wasn’t used very often and put it where I needed it the most.
I know paper is cheap, cheap, cheap, but I still hate to waste it. I cut up scratch paper into the size I want and staple them in the corner. This gives me several nice little note pads. If your kids are just scribbling and coloring, have them use the back of old homework papers. If they have to figure math problems, have them use old scratch papers for that too. When you are scribbling a note to other members of the family, use the back of scratch paper.
Definition of scratch paper: any paper that has been used on only one side and is no longer needed.
I got this tip from a reader and it works great. Swish your mouth with 1/2 hydrogen peroxide and 1/2 water. An added bonus is that it really whitens your teeth.
Use paper towels or small hand towels. If you use paper towels, you can often tear them in half since paper towels are often large.
Use rags instead. Cut up those old flannel pajamas, cotton T shirts, towels, and washrags.
Pet food, treats, and supplies
Of course, you can’t really do without food for your pets, but here are a couple of things that might help. There may be times when you don’t have the money to buy a large bag of pet food so, even though it is a little more per pound, you can buy a smaller bag and then maybe next time you’ll have enough money to buy a larger bag where you’ll get more for your money.
There was a time when I fed my dog rice with a couple of tablespoons of hamburger in it for a week. I had tons of rice, so it was cheaper for me to do that. I knew it wouldn’t hurt my dog because over the years the vet had recommended that I feed my dog rice every once in a while to get his digestive system back on track.
Treats of course are just that and are not necessary. Remember, I’m not saying don’t ever give your dog treats. This is just an idea if you need to cut back on this particular shopping list.
You can use a small piece of toilet paper carefully rolled around a bobby pin. Or check around for good prices on generic Q-tips. Just last week I bought a bag of 1000 generic Q tips for 50 cents at Walgreens. Sometimes, you can get great buys in unexpected places.
Clorox or denture cleaner works well. Often, I just sprinkle a little Comet in the toilet and it does a great job.
Years ago, people used to wrap rags around their fingers and use baking soda or salt to brush their teeth. I don’t tell you this so you won’t buy toothbrushes but so you will know what to do in case you ever find yourselves in a pinch without a toothbrush.
Baking soda or salt
These are a few ways to save until payday.
If you would like to know Jill’s story about how she raised 2 teenagers on $500 per month, check out her book, Penny Pinching Mama.
Vinegar (I use ACV) is a great deodorant. I made my own deodorant that has arrowroot, coconut oil and baking soda in it. Low and behold, I had a reaction to the baking soda and developed a horrible rash under my armpits. I can’t wear the deodorant I made or any other deodorant. I read somewhere else about using ACV to eliminate odors in the armpit area and I tried it. Some spray it on, but I just put some ACV on a rag and let it sit in my armpit while I brush my teeth. Works GREAT! And it isn’t irritating, like I thought it would be. Been using it for a month now, and no odors, and I think it works better than the homemade deodorant I made and doesn’t leave a film like regular deodorants do.
This is a great article. It’s good to know there is always a plan B. We’re so used to running out and getting what we need that we don’t think of substitutes.
I needed a small closed&porable container for milk. I’d added it to my errands list. Then I got to thinking, I must has something in the house. As I was making my daughter’s school lunch I saw my solution, a small plastic drinking cup with a lid and staw. Voilà perfect!!!
Here’s a few I use.
Cotton swabs: I use cut up baby facecloths to remove makeup, nail polish etc.
Fabric softner: Like you vinegar in the wash or rolled up aluminum foil balls in the dryer.
Tks to your great information, I stop and think before I adding to my errands list.
years ago when the boys were young and used the carpet to play on we were in an apt. and the rug was old looked dirty and to me it stunk.
I used the baking soda for a few months until the landlord sent a cleaning company to clean it for me.
Well I got some funny looks from the guys doing it as the carpet started foaming. I just went into the bedroom and waited with the boys until they were done.
I vacumed the carpet every day so I was surprised at how much soda stayed in the rug.
Now I have a house with no rugs.
I’ve been trying to get by without buying a bunch of expensive cleaning products. I recently tried vinegar and water, as it has been recommended on this site. I love it and it is so cheap! I paid $1 for the nice, large spray bottle that I keep it mixed up in. I had been using it for counters, sinks, tubs, showers…even my stove and range hood. The other day I ran out of toilet cleaner and just tried my vinegar/water spray. It worked great!
its funny u posted that when u run out of dish detergent, use a bit of clothes detergent .. we used to do this when i was little .. and like u said, just make sure to rinse well ..
also, my sis in law, when she runs out of dish detergent she uses a bit of comet or ajax and rinses really well too ..
just like u said, in a pinch, use what u have ..
thanks for posting this again .. appreciate it .. :D
Like Rose, when we were kids we always used laundry soap to do the dishes…the dry powdered kind. I thought only rich people used liquid dish soap. Interestingly,years ago,my sister learned from some other frugal single mothers that a squirt or two of liquid dish soap will do a nice job of cleaning laundry, when you run out of regular laundry detergent. The liquid of choice seemed to be Sunlight brand, but I bet most mainstream brands would work.
All the time I was growing up, my mom saved the paper from “junk mail” that was printed on one side only. That’s what we used when we needed to write a note, or draw/color, etc.
What you are advocating is plain old common sense. Probably, old fashioned values in today’s instant gratification life. People don’t want to do without. We moved to the country about 6 years ago. It’s amazing what you can do without when you have to travel to the next house let alone next town. We have to be plowed out when the snow comes so you are stranded. We have emergency supplies and have yet to use them this winter,even with the intense weather we have had here in Canada. Thank you for your good advice.
I think this article really highlights why I love this site- it’s the common sense attitude! Some of the best money saving ways are make do and mend ones. Sorry for the brief comment- I am allegedly on holiday but I’ve not had time to introduce myself to the sofa yet!!!
Best wishes from the spring is around the corner-yay!! shores of England,xxxx
Hey Shabana. Hope you are enjoying your vacation. : )
I use a light colored dish liquid (a cheap one works fine) as a way to remove food stains, especially grease ones) to remove stains on clothes. Just use enough to cover the stain (usually a drop or two will do it), rub it in, let it sit for about 5 minutes, then throw the item in the wash with warmish water. The stain should come out. If it doesn’t, hang the item of clothing up, DO NOT dry the item in the dryer!! The heat can “set” the stain. If the stain is still there, repeat the process again.
I must admit though, I have missed a stain or two and after drying (using my dryer), I found the stain while folding my item. Then I apply the dish liquid, let it sit overnight, then wash the item in the morning. The stain usually comes out. Be sure to ALWAYS use a light colored dish liquid. A dark one, like the color blue, may stain the item the same color as the liquid.
This article reminded me of my aunt telling me that her little granddaughter went in the kitchen and washed the dishes one day. My aunt knew she was out of dish liquid so she asked her what she used. “Mop & Glo” she replied! My aunt thought it was so funny. Her little granddaughter used what she had. I am good about this, but not my husband sometimes. He can be funny about some things. If we have a pot of lima beans, we must have rice with it. Tacos require refried beans as a side. Sometimes I have to change my dinner plans just because I don’t want to go to the store for one thing. I prefer soymilk in my coffee, but will use real milk if I’m out of soy. I like to come up with alternatives, I like to be creative.
Also, Jill, I have your book Penny Pinchin Mama. I enjoyed reading it, but I wonder if you have ever thought of writing your story more as a biography. I would love to read it!
I have been asked that before and I probably should try to. Penny Pinchin Mama is a highlight version of it but guess I should do the whole thing one day. It is funny too that you should ask that. I had a doctor and author about 35 years ago ask me the same question and said I really should write my biography. What was so funny about that was when he said that I just laughed and said there is no way I would ever write a book. I didn’t know the first thing about being an author. Fast forward all these years and what am I? An author. I have learned never to say never about anything. I always think about that and get a laugh. : )
That doctor saw something you didn’t. People often do see our gifts and strengths more than we do. Maybe you will give the biography a try one day. I would buy a copy!
Well thank you Rachel. I haven’t totally ruled it out.
Eau de Cologne makes a good deodorant and a bottle lasts for ages decanted into a small spray. It’s probably a good idea to rinse when you use vinegar for cleaning anything metal as it can cause rust.
Yes thank you for the heads up Magdalen. We need to remember that vinegar and lemon juice is acid and like any acid it eats things away. That is why it works good on mineral deposits – it eats them away.
If you are out of fabric softener,use 1/4 of a cup of hair conditioner mixed with 1/4 cup of water. Works as good as the real thing.
This is a great idea for those of you who are going poo free to use up your stock pile of hair conditioner. Thanks Mary.
A really good cleaner for real kitchen dirt (stubborn, greasy, been there forever) is the chemical tri sodium phosphate, or TSP. You can find it in any hardware or paint store. A very small amount (like a tbsp.. or two) is all you use to a bucket of water. It is what you wash walls with before you re-paint. You must use rubber gloves when you use it. It is very inexpensive where I live…a carton of the granules comes in a 2 quart size, and costs about 8 dollars. The granules are dry, and have an indefinite shelf life. They do sell a liquefied version in a spray bottle for much more, but the results are less than satisfactory, and the cost is enormous by comparison. You must rinse this cleaning solution with plain water after the initial cleaning, but it is well worth it. Cleans ovens, anything greasy and anything really dirty. Read and follow directions.
Love the tips, great advice/ideas! I never buy kleenex, it seems like such a waste when you can use toilet paper. I actually use a lot of the tips you gave, day to day. Dog treats are cheap to make, you can google it and find lots of recipes, and use ingredients you most likely already have on hand. I reuse every bit of paper I can get. I work at a grocery store and my boss never uses the backsides of old info (not private info of course), so I take the paper home and use it in my printer. I hardly ever have to buy paper (I keep 1 pack of “new” paper on hand in case my daughter needs it for a school report). When my drain is sluggish, but still draining slowly, I will boil a pot of water and then dump it down the drain. I may do this 2-3 times and it’s worked pretty much every single time! And baking soda is so much better to use on your carpets, the scented kind has a bunch of chemicals and makes my family, myself and my animals sneeze like crazy! Thanks for all you do! Jana
Just a reminder to all. Please dont flush any wipes down the toilet. They clog up pumps and pipes in waste water collection collection systems and treatment plants. Even if they say they are “flushable” they aren’t.
Most of these tips I use however it is not because I run out of things it’s because that is what I use! I use vinegar instead of conditioner every time I shampoo my hair. It comes out clean and soft. I use baking soda as a facial twice a week. I use it to brush my teeth and I use it mixed with cornstarch as a deodorant. It works better than store bought and I have not had any odor problems at all. I use hydrogen peroxide with baking soda to brush my teeth. My mouth is clean and my teeth are white. I also have great check ups. I use a ball of tin foil in my dryer and it can be used several times rather than spend money on expensive dryer sheets. They work great! I also use vinegar in my wash which makes the clothes come out clean and it is a natural rinse. I also use it in my dishwater it kills germs and gets my dishes squeaky clean. I also use it to wash my floors with and walls with. I clean my windows with plain water and use newspaper to wipe it with. Works great and my windows are clear no streaks. I use left over water that I have boiled potatoes in to get my whites white! YUP potato water. Just throw it in the washer after you take out the cooked potatoes(just make sure you don’t have hunks of potato in with it) and voila your whites will gleam! Also you will have some starch in your clothes. I use this on my husbands uniforms for work and his whites are gleaming! I brush my teeth with strawberries at least once a week and again it gets your teeth white. I save seeds from my veggies and fruits. I have tomatoes growing in containers right now. I do whatever I can NOT to spend money after all that is the whole idea of frugal living!
LAC I too do all of these ……. but I had never heard of using the potato water for whites. Thank you so much for this tip. I’ll give it a try
Mom did f;or a time but grandma always told me to use Baking Soda followed Vinegar to bubble out the drain. I use it monthly and it avoids the costly Drain cleaning methods.
My Love always does lthis but one time in particular time between paydays, I showed him this method. Doubting me, he left and forgetting about it, re returned and noticed the sweet smelling drain that ran well. He is sold on it now!
For note pads, I also cut up various sizes and staple them. My Love loves this small size! Check with your local copier place or use some paper cement to glue the top together. Personally I go to the copier place and they make them into note pads or sometimes they have their own stock.
I have a couple of dogs. We get Milk Bone style treats. I break them in HALF and give part to each dog. They don’t know the difference! But your POCKET BOOK sure will!
Now the treats last TWICE as long!
Another money saver:
Old toothbrushes. Clean them out and disinfect them FIRST. Then use them for the nasty gunky jobs that require something that will get into a small space. (Such as cleaning around bathroom faucet fixtures, scrubbing shower heads, etc. Use a Q-TIP to dry REALLY small spaces (Like around the back of the bathroom faucet where your fingers won’t reach).
To remove nail polish use an old rag. Works amazing and you just need to wash it every few months. You will never use paper towels, toilet paper, cotton balls (or pads) or q-tips again!
I recycle envelopes that come in the mail. Generally the ones that come with a “window’. I keep them together with a clip and never have a need to buy small pads of paper. I use the empty side to make lists or jot down notes.
I use the envelopes to hold my coupons in my purse when shopping with a grocery list written on the outside. So I don’t forget anything.
And I use white(only)washcloths in the kitchen for cleanup or dishes when I have no sponge. They are rinseable,reusable and easy to bleach and last a long time. I used colored wash cloths for showering so they don’t ever get mixed up.
I use bar soap in the shower but Hubby insists on having shower gel so thrifty woman that I am, I decided to figure out how to make it.Simplest way is to put a bar of soap in a old container with a lid,add 3/4 of a shower gel bottle of water,put a lid on it and leave it for a couple of days. The soap melts and then I use a whisk to mix it well and pour it into the shower gel bottle.I buy the 10 packs of Ivory soap when they are on sale and he has no idea that his must have is actually homemade.Ten bars are usually 2.50 on sale,so it comes out to about .25cents per bottle instead of 3.50 or more.
You can also do this with those small slivers of bar soap that are too small to handle in the shower. Save them in a container and then when you have a few add the water and all like you said. It works too if you have a bunch of those small soaps you get at hotels.
I am a month into a pantry challenge and ran out of eggs pretty quickly. I wanted to bake cookies, so instead of eggs, I used chia seeds mixed with a little water. Works with flax seeds too. They act as a binder. Of course flax and chia are much much more expensive than eggs, but I already had them on hand.
Also wanted to bake muffins and had no eggs to make them rise, so did the old baking soda + vinegar combo and they came out beautifully.
I also bake my own bread and have experimented with different things added in to stretch the dough or if I just run out of flour – like bran, wheat germ, bran flakes, shredded wheat, couscous, mashed potatoes, potato flakes, pancake mix, oatmeal and farina. Sounds kind of odd, but it always comes out just fine.
Have also substituted plain yogurt for sour cream in recipes.
At one point I was out of salt so used soy sauce – this would obviously not be so great in baked treats, but I think I was making rice, so it made sense.
Oh and here is a substitution NOT to make. If you run out of dishwasher soap, do NOT use liquid dish soap. Most people know this, due to the sudsing, but I apparently thought I could get away with it if I just use a little tiny bit. I remember the bubbles foaming out of the bottom of the dishwasher and flowing across the kitchen floor as if it were yesterday.
If one does make this mistake, one must get the suds out of the dishwasher. Just put in a bit of hand cream and run a cycles – that will counteract the suds.
Yes it would be just much better to wash the dishes by hand if you run out of dishwasher detergent. Since I almost never used a dish washer I have to chuckle because sometimes people forget the can actually wash the dishes by hand for a few days until they can get more detergent.
It’s very important to learn to do this.
I make sure that I find a use for items that didn’t work for me. I use unwanted shampoo to wash combs, brushes and lingerie. I also use it to refill my soap dispensers.
I would like to see an article about how you find uses for items that didn’t work well for you. I am always looking for new ideas.
Kim I am not sure there is an answer for you that you would like because you all ready have it so it you use it it will go into the water table or if you throw it out it will go into the water table. If you are worried about it touching your skin that much then give it to someone who isn’t worried about the chemicals touching your skin.
I use an all purpose liquid soap like Dr brauner. Use it for laundry, dishes, and hand soap. Sometime buy Wal Mart version of the castel soap.