How to Shrink Your Paper Products Costs

If you took stock of all the paper products you use in a year and then tallied the cost of those items, you might be surprised by the figure -- maybe even shocked.

Americans use 71 million tons of paper products per year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. These items can be expensive and aren't usually reusable, so saving on them simply requires reducing your reliance.

By reducing your paper products use, you'll not only save money you can sock away in your savings account, but you'll also keep additional trash out of the nation's landfills and help preserve more of the world's trees, making this a win-win for you and the environment.

Simple changes to make

Here are some alternatives to paper products to consider:

Paper napkins and towels: Replace these with long-lasting, reusable cloth napkins, dish cloths and cloth kitchen towels. Simply toss them in the washing machine to clean.

Paper coffee filters: Instead, invest in a permanent mesh coffee filter (most of which cost under $10). With one of these, you'll also never have a corner of the filter cave in, spilling grounds in your coffee cup.

Paper plates: Use ceramic or plastic plates that you can clean in the dishwasher and reuse. Get these in colors and patterns you like so you'll use them more often.

Paper tablecloths and place-mats: Invest in cloth or plastic ones, which are sturdier, either machine or hand washable and don't tear or disintegrate when they get wet.

Printing/copy paper: Whenever possible, print or write on scratch paper. Collect it from incoming mail, unneeded faxes and printing mistakes. Keep a stack of it next to your printer. Also consider using used envelopes and receipts as scratch paper for lists and notes.

Wrapping paper: Instead, get creative and use cloth items, material scraps and containers, such as baskets, cookie tins, planters, jars, bottles and cloth gift bags -- whatever you have around the house and yard. Or make the wrapping part of the gift itself by using a scarf, chamois, bandanna, towel, pillow case and other cloth item.

Greeting cards: Reuse old cards you've received, especially holiday ones. Detach the covers, write on the reverse side and mail them as postcard greetings. Or send e-cards (many are free) and avoid paper, envelopes and stamps altogether.

Paper checks: Checks can be costly and very few transactions require them today, so why not rely on online bill pay and your debit card instead?

Initial output required

To go the paper-reduction route, you'll have to make the initial investment of purchasing the alternatives, but you can buy many of these items cheaply at second-hand or thrift shops, or even garage sales. Consider shopping for unique containers at these places or at affordable antique stores.

These non-paper, reusable options require washing, which takes a bit more effort than throwing paper products away. But most can be washed with your laundry or in the dishwasher, which is quick and convenient.

If you can make these small adjustments -- even just one or two to start with -- you'll likely feel good from the reduced wear-and-tear on both your pocketbook and the earth.

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