4 Easy Ways to Save at Home

Affordable household products can be used in nontraditional ways.

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Listerine as mosquito repellent? Vinegar as air freshener? These ideas might sound unconventional, but some people swear they work. After my friend Cindy shared some of her best tips with me, I had the chance to try them out over the weekend. If they remind you of any creative tricks that you rely on, then please consider participating in the Alpha Consumer Challenge. Submissions will be accepted until Wednesday morning at 9, and the winner will have his or her name featured on this blog and receive a copy of Rob Walker's Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are. To participate, just describe your money-saving tip in a comment below.

Here are Cindy's secrets:

• Instead of buying expensive vitamin or flavored water, put a few slices of fresh summer fruit or mint sprigs in cool water. (I recommend cucumber slices.)

• To make your home smell good without buying pricey air fresheners, put a few drops of essential oils on a light bulb, and then turn the light on. As it warms up, the scent will spread throughout the room. (Any essential oil that you like will work; I prefer tea tree.)

• Listerine can serve as cheap but effective bug repellent; pour some into a bottle with a spray top. (Urban Legends is skeptical but acknowledges it might work.)

• Hydrogen peroxide doubles as a cleaning agent around the kitchen instead of an expensive name-brand spray. Vinegar is also effective for getting rid of kitchen smells; Martha Stewart even recommends it. Just put a small bowl out, and it will absorb odors.