Probably not realizing that I would go straight for the lowbrow joke, Laura writes:
I love your site! I’m hoping you can help me figure out a small house-hold quandry.
Right now, I buy just about the cheapest paper towels available, in large-ish quantities, so as to save money. We go through a roll about every week and a half, but I know that we’ll be using a lot more once I have my baby.
I’m wondering if maybe buying the more expensive brand with “Select-a-size” gimmickry might actually save money in the long run. As it is now, I use at least one whole cheapo paper towel for any job, but it’s pretty rare that I actually need that much towel. Given the higher quality and increased absorbency of say, the Bounty paper towels, maybe it would be worth it.
What do you think?
As always, there are a few questions in here, which we’ll look at individually.
A roll of paper towels every week and a half? Laura, what are you doing with them? No, wait; I don’t want to know. Seriously? A roll and a half?? Wow.
Okay, so the first issue is usage. Clearly. Do you need to use paper towels for everything you’re currently using them for? Once you have that baby, I promise you that cotton spit-cloths will start breeding around your house. Before you know it, you’ll be using those cloths for random cleaning because, well, they’re there, and you’re doing laundry pretty much every day, anyway. It’s possible that as you move into this new phase of your life—the one where you’re too tired to clean, anyway—you’ll be using fewer paper towels. So that’s one thing.
Next issue: The select-a-size option. It used to be that you could only get premium paper towels with the smaller sheets. This is no longer the case. You don’t have to cash in the kids’ college account to afford select-a-size paper towels, because lots of manufacturers make them. Marcal comes to mind as a cheaper option, for example. But even some supermarket brands are now available in select-a-size.
(Keep in mind—you may prefer a premium paper towel, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t. I’m just saying that “premium” and “select-a-size” don’t necessarily go hand in hand. Depending on what you use them for—and here we are again, Laura, wondering what in the heck you’re doing with them—a cheaper quality towel may be sufficient for your needs.)
Do you want the smaller size option? I’d argue yes, if you’re using the paper towels for anything other than hardcore cleaning. We use them as napkins, sometimes. Or to kill bugs. Or for any of the thousand other things my children deem necessary. And rather than argue with them that “you don’t need a paper towel for that,” I buy select-a-size and comfort myself with the knowledge that yes, they’re being wasteful… but only half as wasteful as if the paper towels were regular-size!
Lastly, it all comes down to price. Doesn’t it always? Once you know what you want, you want to find it as cheaply as possible, of course. All of the standard ideas apply: Use coupons, stock up on sale, buy in bulk to save money. The additional trick I’ll suggest is to keep office supply stores in mind. No lie—I am still using paper towels from a case I purchased at Office Depot several years ago. They were on sale and I found an online code and I bought enough to sop up the entire Atlantic. Places that tend to offer free shipping (Amazon, and office supply stores usually do this over a certain purchase amount) can wind up being a great deal if you don’t mind buying a lot at once.
My trick is to do a shopping for paper products, when I’m trying to get up to a certain spending point to use a coupon. So, $50 in paper towels sounds insane, I’m sure, but it’s not hard to get up to $50 with paper towels and toilet paper and tissues.
But don’t get me started on toilet paper. Cheap toilet paper is a crime against humanity.