En español | Opening windows and doors and freshening up the inside and outside of my house is a spring ritual I love — so is a shopping spree at the local home center! Loading up on supplies for cleaning, gardening and home projects can cost a fortune. But as a shopping expert, I like the challenge of getting it all done on a dime (well, maybe a bunch of dimes). Here are some of my favorite money-saving strategies.
- Do it yourself. You don't need store-bought liquids, sprays and powders for most housecleaning. Instead, brew your own cleaners from inexpensive, nontoxic ingredients you probably have around the house. For wood furniture, mix 1/2 teaspoon olive oil with 1/4 cup white vinegar. Dab with a cloth and polish, says Lisa Beres, who writes about healthy homes.
- Buy minimally. Pare down your chemical arsenal to just a couple of tried-and-true all-purpose cleaners like Ajax, Comet, Pine-Sol or Clorox Clean-Up. Reserve them for really icky jobs, and use sparingly. “If you give the product 30 seconds to a minute to dissolve dirt, they clean better and you don't need to use as much,” says Pat Slaven, a former tester at Consumer Reports and coauthor of How to Clean Practically Anything.
- Use and reuse. Instead of paper towels, buy microfiber or sponge cloths, such as E-Cloth and Skoy Cloth. Beres likes the Unpaper Towel, a roll of washable cloths that pops over your paper-towel holder. Old towels, T-shirts and clean cloth diapers also will do the trick. And keep newspapers on hand to clean windows.
- Slice your sponge budget. A 2017 study found that kitchen sponges generally are germier than toilets and are able to spread dangerous bacteria. Sanitizing a sponge doesn't kill all germs, so it's best to replace them weekly. That's expensive, but you can cut your sponge costs in half with scissors.
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- Get tools for less. On sites like Freecycle.org and Craigslist, and apps like OfferUp, Letgo and Nextdoor, you can dig up new or used gardening supplies at low cost or maybe even for free. And search the internet to see if there's a “tool library” in your area — either gratis or subscription based.
- Reap deals at garden shows. Many regions hold these in the early spring. Show up near closing time, when vendors often are willing to sell display plants at huge discounts, advises Kerry Ann Mendez, author of The Budget-Wise Gardener.
- Split and swap. April is a great time to divide and replant perennials and ornamental grasses, says Adam Dooling, a curator at the New York Botanical Garden. Collect more free plants by swapping cuttings through local garden clubs and plant societies or through Facebook groups.
- Cut your losses. In 2014, my husband promised me a rose garden — literally! Unfortunately, the plants he bought at the local home center died. So we returned all of the brown thorny sticks for store credit. You can probably do the same if your garden doesn't grow: Home Depot and Lowe's, for example, offer one-year guarantees on many varieties of plants with a receipt.
- Touch it up. Inspect your home for cracked, chipped or peeling paint. Scrape, prime and repaint those areas so you can put off really big paint jobs, says Ron Hazelton, host of the television series Ron Hazelton's HouseCalls. Another small task that can save you big is checking sealant and caulk around windows and doorways. Scrape out and reseal areas where they are breaking down to keep water from destroying wood and getting inside walls.
- Wash and seal. Save hundreds of dollars by prolonging the life of fences and decks. Start by cleaning wood with trisodium phosphate or a substitute (TSP is not permitted in all areas). Next apply a wood brightener, says Hazelton, then a sealant to minimize the wood's expansion and contraction.
- Get some gadgets. Check out some of the time- and money-saving accessories on the market. The favorite of Katie and Gene Hamilton, two coauthors of Carpentry for Dummies and Plumbing for Dummies: a $20 spinner for cleaning paint rollers and brushes. “You can reuse rollers for years,” Katie says.
- Reuse, recycle ... renovate! Hit Habitat for Humanity's ReStores and architectural salvage yards for amazing deals on surplus or used items: cabinets, lighting fixtures and more. These stores can be hit or miss; go shopping before you start a project so you can integrate your finds into your plan.
Lisa Lee Freeman, cohost of the Hot Shopping Tips podcast, was founder and editor in chief of ShopSmart magazine from Consumer Reports and an investigative reporter for The Dr Oz Show.