How to Frugalize Your Period

The feminine hygiene market really pisses me off. Why, you ask? Look at this freakin’ box:


You take a lady whose body already hurts and whose emotions are maybe not totally in control, and I have to go to the store and put one of these stupid things in my basket. It’s nice and colorful to grab consumer attention be a freakin’ neon sign screaming, “WHAT UP SUPERMARKET, GUESS WHO’S BLEEDING FROM THEIR GENITALS TODAY?! THIS GAL RIGHT HERE DING DING DING”

And “jumbo”? Are you kidding me with that nonsense? Thanks, I already feel like crap, but please remind me that there are so many bodily fluids pouring from my body that I need an elephant-sized rag to plug that up.

And then I finally get to the register and learn–this is the part that really gets me–this box costs $9.97. For several tubes of plastic with cotton and string tucked inside. That will be used once and thrown into a landfill. Because I’m a woman with basic bodily functions. And, bee tee dubs, there’s a small chance I’ll get Toxic Shock Syndrome and a subsequent ER visit.

Let’s conservatively assume this box lasts for two cycles. That’s just shy of $60 a year (before sales tax) on feminine products. The average woman is fertile for around 35 years. That means she will drop around $2,100 on feminine products in her lifetime (not accounting for inflation). If she had been able to invest it at a 7% return instead, she’d have an additional $9,500 to her name at the end of her fertile life.


The Frugal Solution

Fortunately, friends, there is a solution to basically all of the problems with the feminine hygiene market. What is this sorcery? Allow me to introduce you to the menstrual cup.


A menstrual cup is a small cup made out of medical-grade silicone or rubber that collects menstrual fluid. There are many different brands, but I use the Diva Cup. The cup is folded up (so don’t let the size scare you) and inserted into the vagina, at which point it pops open. The gentle suction it creates means the fluid goes into the cup with little or no leakage. Most users report that they don’t feel it at all when properly inserted, because it sits much lower in the vagina than a tampon. Because of the larger capacity, it only needs to emptied every 12 hours, rather than every 4-6 hours with tampons. There’s also no more sneaking crinkly packages into the bathroom. You’re already carrying your product with you… so to speak. When it needs to be “changed” you simply break the seal with your finger, dump the fluid in the toilet, re-insert the cup, and go on your merry way (after washing your hands, heathen).

But the best benefit to a menstrual cup? At very most, you replace them once a year. In my experience they last several years longer, but that is the general guideline provided by the Divacup website. The cup is kept hygienic by washing it with soap and water and boiling it before each cycle.

Let’s repeat our calculations from before, taking the one-year replacement estimate. A DivaCup costs $28 on Amazon right now. (Other brands may be slightly cheaper or more expensive.) Using our earlier assumptions regarding tampons (half a box per cycle), the menstrual cup pays for itself in about six months. That means a menstrual cup costs the average woman half of what tampons cost: roughly $1,050 over her fertile life. Calculating in inflation and investment potential, the average woman misses out on about $4750 buying menstrual cups. It would be nicer if the number was $0, but that’s a significant improvement from before (which subsequently makes me feel less stabby). And it’s better for the environment!

Other Ways to Have Your Period on the Cheap

Even if a menstrual cup is not your thing, there are plenty of frugal alternatives to other types of feminine hygiene products. A simple Etsy search will net plenty of options for cloth pads, many in cute designs. Look at these chibi Harry Potter ones! You would carry a wet bag (a zippered waterproof bag designed to temporarily store wet items) and place used pads in it until you could wash them at home. For those familiar with cloth diapers, the process is quite similar. A single cloth pad costs roughly the same as an entire box or two of disposable pads (unless you sew it yourself). I’d guess that the outlay for a a full set would be roughly equivalent to a year’s worth of disposable pad consumption. With proper care, however, cloth pads can last for many years.

Period panties are another reusable option. These are panties with a liner of varying capacity sewn inside. They are not designed to be used as standalone protection except on very light days. Instead, they are intended to be used in combination with tampons (or a cup!) as leak protection. The same pair would be worn the entire day, then they would be washed and worn again. The most heavily advertised option I have seen are Thinx, although I would not consider them a frugal option at over $34 a pair. I have seen more brands come onto the market recently, however, so hopefully the cost of these panties will come down soon.

Do you know of other frugal feminine hygiene solutions to aid in my quest to destroy the current feminine hygiene market? Have or would you ever try a menstrual cup?

9 Replies to “How to Frugalize Your Period”

  1. Leigh

    I bought my menstrual cup back in 2013 and it is still working great! In addition to being more frugal, it also makes my period way less stressful. I do still keep a stash of liners but those are much cheaper and I don’t need to replenish my supply very often.

    • Ms. Steward

      Same for me. I have gone through three cups. I got my first in 2006, and kept it until probably 2010, when I lost it and had to do an emergency order for a new one. I had the new one until 2014, when I had to upgrade because I had a baby. So that gives me an average lifespan of about four years, but in no case yet did I make the active choice to get rid of it.

      I also keep a stash of liners, but think I will move to cloth on those, moreso for principle’s sake than because liners are expensive. I’ve had the same box now for over a year, and still have probably half a box to go.

  2. Abby Koop

    I feel like you were speaking DIRECTLY TO ME this time. However, I mostly don’t have a period right now because of my IUD. It was pretty expensive, but it came out of my HSA, and it does cause overall a substantially greater amount of cramping, but it’s great for peace of mind. So… pros and cons. There are many of each. I am glad I did it, but I wouldn’t go through the insertion process again, so in 4-5 years, I’ll be looking for a new strategy… which I guess could technically be to have a baby so I get another 9 months.

    On Thu, Feb 2, 2017 at 11:17 PM, How We Do Money wrote:

    > Ms. Steward posted: “The feminine hygiene market really pisses me off. > Why, you ask? Look at this freakin’ box: You take a lady whose body already > hurts and whose emotions are maybe not totally in control, and I have to go > to the store and put one of these stupid things in” >

    • Ms. Steward

      I think that’s the intensity of my rage coming through to grab you directly through the screen. 😉

      I think IUDs are awesome, but have always been too scared to get one for both the cramp factor and my fear it would only half-work or something. They seem an elegant solution in theory, but I guess I am afraid of how it would function in practice. Good on you for going for it (especially with the HSA)! I think if you have an IUD, you’re supposed to talk to your doctor before you use a cup or any other insertable device anyway. I know cups are preferable to tampons because they sit lower, but better safe than sorry!

      One thing I thought about adding similar to what you mention, is that some women do skip their periods using birth control pills, which would lower the cost. That’s up to the individual and their medical professional to decide if that’s safe and an acceptable option, though…

        • the Budget Epicurean

          I debated an IUD for a long time (years), but when I eventually bit the bullet and went for it, BEST DECISION EVER. Sure, the actual insertion process was horrid (intense pain and near fainting/vomiting, no one warned me at all) but totally worth it once you get past the first 2 days. I had a light/spotty period for maybe 2 months, and then NOT A ONE since maybe March 2014?

          No more worrying about leaking/ruining undies, no more buying products, no cramps at all, no hormonal issues/mood changes… everyone’s body responds differently but this was the best decision I’ve ever made, I’m sad I waited so long. Oh, and I got mine through Planned Parenthood, so it was 100% FREE. Now I’m starting to worry about the upcoming removal though… not sure I want to go through it again… though I’d be better prepared this time. We will see!

          • Ms. Steward

            The whole excruciating pain part has kept me away from an IUD, despite the appeal of them in theory. I have heard from a lot of people that they love them, though. My fear is that I’d be one of the people that just constantly bleeds, since I had that problem with low-dose birth control.

            A recent episode of the Why Oh Why podcast (#49 — Birth Control Via Stapler) has me thinking that the arm insert, Nexplanon, might be a good option. Really similar pros to the IUD, but minus the excruciating pain part. You might check out the episode for one woman’s experience with it.

  3. Jax

    My birth control leaves me with fairly light periods after the first day or so. So, I free bleed. I might use a tampon for the first day, and definitely if I am spending the night somewhere that isn’t my own house, but I regularly don’t use any “feminine products” and just have to do a little more laundry that week. Not a solution for everyone, for sure, but it has worked for me for the past few years.

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