Money Saver: Switch to Cloth


I am living on paper products I bought ten or more years ago. I used to buy Christmas themed paper towels by the caseload until big box stores got wise and limited their supply.

There’s probably about three dozen rolls of paper towel left in my stockpile, yet I haven’t opened a new package in years. The reasons are threefold.

• Whenever we get takeout, there are always extra napkins in the bag.
• I have a stockpile of fancy paper napkins I bought on sale and currently using up.
• We use cloth napkins for meal time, and rags for cleaning.

I’ve been huntingnapkin1 cloth napkins at garage sales for years without much luck. Most of the time they’re way too expensive, but recently I hit on two yard sales back to back where brand new napkins were going for pennies. I don’t think I spent more than two dollars for over 20 nice cloth napkins–still new in their packages.

If you want to be even more frugal, you can make your own napkins from cloth remnants. I have a dexterity-deficit in the sewing department so I’d rather buy them pre-made.

When you consider how much you spend on paper towels/napkins in a year, it pays to consider alternatives. I haven’t priced paper towels in a long time but I’m sure they’re appreciably more expensive than the 50 cents a roll I used to pay. (And after Christmas I used to get them for 75% off that price.)

It takes a little retraining with the family, but once you start it’s easy to keep the momentum going. Here are a few tips to get started.

• Have at least four times the napkins you think you’ll use in a day so you have time to throw them in the laundry later in the week.

• Don’t get fancy. You want good, absorbent cotton in colors that won’t run in the washer, and won’t wrinkle in the dryer.

• If it’s just the two of you, you can do as you please, but with little kids, you might want to give each kid his own set of napkins in a particular color or pattern so they know it’s theirs.

• The only time I insist on paper over cloth is if the food inapkin2s greasy. You guru-cleaners out there won’t mind, but I’m too lazy to spot check every napkin.

Paper or cloth for you? Do you know what you spend on paper towels in a month? In a year?

I was going to call this post: Too Cheap for Paper, Switching to Cloth but I wasn’t sure anyone would catch the reference to the movie. Can you guess the movie?



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    • Sandra: I buy toilet paper at Costco but I’m beginning to rethink that decision. We seem to run out more quickly which might be due to how many sheets in a roll. I need to sit down and figure out if it’s cheaper to do Costco or the Amazon subscribe program.

  1. Clueless on the movie 🙂

    We go through about a roll of paper towels every 10 days. I buy the ones at Wal-Mart that seem a bit sturdy; I get 6 rolls for about $9.00, so roughly $1.50 per roll. We get the cheapest napkins and go through 400 in about 3 months; and the package usually costs about $3.50. It could be interesting to do a cost analysis between cloth and paper in our case.


    • Betty: Interesting. I still think cloth is cheaper because you throw them in with the rest of the laundry so what can that cost? A few pennies a year?

      re: movie
      I might’ve been too obscure. I’ll wait a little longer to see if anyone picks up on it.

  2. Angela Brown

    My kiddo and I tend towards paper over cloth. But that is something to think about because I’ve only ever seen cloth napkins as a restaurant thing or a home decorative thing.

    Sorry…didn’t get the movie reference 🙁

  3. I’ve used cloth for years and years. I prefer it for lots of reasons. The biggest reason is ecological, but they are also sturdier and prettier than paper. I’ve napkins for casual use and napkins for fancy dinners and parties. Well, as fancy as my dinners and parties get. I’ve napkins (and place settings too) for seasons and holidays. In fact, I guess I have to confess to a napkin fetish. I’ve stopped buying them – I’ve got enough to last the rest of my life – but I always see others I want to buy. It takes a bit a willpower to resist.

    I have a bunch of old bar towels leftover from my personal chef days, and I’ve started rolling them into tubes and layering them into small baskets that I keep in the bathrooms, especially the guest bathroom. This gives guests an individual towel to use for hand drying. I keep another empty basket on the floor for the used towels. I can just throw the used towels in with my regular laundry.

  4. Anne Gallagher

    I’ve been using real napkins for years. And I have a box of rags for cleaning. I only break out the paper towels when I clean the bathroom.

    The movie stumps me, even with a hint.

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