Do Paper Plates Really Save You Money?

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By the author of What School Should Have Taught Youand The Faithful Prepper.

There are times – such as when guests come over – that it’s nice to use paper plates. They’re relatively cheap, and more importantly, you don’t end up with a mound of dishes to wash after everybody goes home. Even if you have a functioning dishwasher in your house, you could still end up having to rush through several loads if everybody is using legitimate dishware while they’re in your house.

But for the Frugalite, this may raise the question: is it cheaper to use paper plates on a daily basis throughout the year?

Let’s take a look at the math to see if we can’t come to some conclusions here.

We’re going to start off by making a few assumptions. 

We’re going to assume that you need four paper plates per day for both you and your spouse. For breakfast, you both mainly eat cereal, which I’ve never been successful at eating off of a plate. Lunch and dinner are where you both need an actual plate to eat so that you can eat your lunchtime sandwiches (you both work from home) and your dinnertime pasta dishes.

This means that over the course of a week, you would need 28 paper plates (7×4=28). There are 52 weeks in a year, so that would mean you would need 1456 paper plates to make it through the year, provided you eat all those meals at your house, don’t go out, don’t have people over to your house, etc. That wouldn’t be the case in reality, of course, but we’ll stick with the 1456 number for the sake of simplicity here.

How much do paper plates cost for a year?

You can get 204 paper plates for $24 on Amazon. That’s a fairly standard price for name-brand paper plates. There are even cheaper ones out there, but I’ve found they only cause you to waste money by dropping your food all over the floor. I’m willing to spend a few extra dollars so that I get to eat my dinner rather than my dog.

If we need 1456 plates to make it through the year, that would mean we would need to buy eight of those packs, spending roughly $192/year on paper plates.

If you go to the dollar store, you can pick up plates for about $1.25 each (dang inflation).

How much does running the dishwasher cost per year?

Running a load of dishes in the dishwasher typically costs around 20 cents. Let’s say that since there are only two of you, you only have to run the dishwasher every two days. Since there are 365 days in the year, that means there are 183 times you need to run the dishwasher.

That would mean you would spend roughly $36/year on electricity to keep your dishwasher running.

You have to have soap to run a dishwasher, too, however.

Running through three bottles of Cascade per year sounds fairly reasonable for a couple. They run about $18/bottle, meaning that per year you would spend roughly $54 on soap.

So the cost of electricity plus the cost of soap would mean that running a dishwasher would cost you $90/year.

Obviously, there are a lot of other variables that we could throw into here (e.g., cheaper plates, cheaper soap, more family members, etc.), but I think that this helps to give you a fairly good idea that buying paper plates all the time isn’t going to be the most economical choice for your family.

Even if you have to run the dishwasher much more in your household, I still think that you save money by using actual dishes and plates.

And if you don’t have a dishwasher?

You could save even more by doing dishes by hand.

I hate doing dishes by hand as well, but it is a possibility if things are incredibly tight at your house at the moment – which, given inflation, very well may be the case.

The only potential wild card here is the value of your time. 

For some people, it is well worth their time every year to be able to move on to the next project – taking care of kids/elderly parents, working in the garden, spending time with family – than it is to stand behind a sink washing dishes by hand.

Nobody ever seems to have enough time on their hands, and everybody is busy. I get that.

But if you find yourself in a tight spot taking a microscope to your personal finances so that you can figure out just how you’re going to make ends meet this month, the above math will hopefully be of some value to you.

But what are your thoughts on the subject? Are there other factors to take into consideration here? Have you found paper plates to be overpriced and the convenience to seldom be worth it? Or do you find them more valuable than discovered in this article? Tell me what you’re thinking in the comment section below.

About Aden

Aden Tate is a regular contributor to TheOrganicPrepper.com and TheFrugalite.com. Aden runs a micro-farm where he raises dairy goats, a pig, honeybees, meat chickens, laying chickens, tomatoes, mushrooms, and greens. Aden has four published books, What School Should Have Taught You, The Faithful Prepper An Arm and a Leg, The Prepper’s Guide to Post-Disaster Communications, and Zombie Choices. You can find his podcast The Last American on Preppers’ Broadcasting Network.

Do Paper Plates Really Save You Money?
Aden Tate

Aden Tate

About the Author Aden Tate has a master’s in public health and is a regular contributor to PewPewTactical.com, SurvivalBlog.com, SHTFBlog.com, ApartmentPrepper.com, HomesteadAndPrepper.com, and PrepperPress.com. Along with being a freelance writer he also works part-time as a locksmith. Aden has an LLC for his micro-farm where he raises dairy goats, a pig, honeybees, meat chickens, laying chickens, tomatoes, mushrooms, and greens. Aden has two published books, The Faithful Prepper and Zombie Choices. You can find his podcast The Last American at Preppers’ Broadcasting Network.

4 thoughts on “Do Paper Plates Really Save You Money?”

  1. There are a lot more things in my dishwasher on a daily basis than just plates: glasses, cups, silverware, bowls, pot and pans, cutting boards, coffee presses, etc. It would be prohibitively expensive to buy disposables for all of those things.

    We rarely (and I mean not even once a year) use paper plates. However, I did buy a big bag of the cheap ones at Sam’s. I can serve my food at the table and won’t have to carry it around to spill. I know they’re terrible plates, but I’m cheap and I really dislike paying a lot of money for something to throw away (like trash bags).

  2. Interesting breakdown. I don’t use paper plates for anything except maybe at one point when I went to potlucks. We do all our washing by hand but we do have a trick! My spouse and I only keep out enough dishes for us to each eat once. When the dishes get dirty, I’ve gotten into the habit of quickly cleaning them at the end of every meal. If I do that, gunk doesn’t get dried on and they are much faster to clean. I don’t need that much water or soap and there are always clean dishes. We also enjoy using chopsticks and each maintain one cup for drinking so we reduce our dish cleaning effort even more!

  3. Using paper plates would be advantageous for those that have a limited supply of clean water. Wasting drinking water on washing dishes would be foolish and if dishes are not properly cleaned it will lead to severe health issues which creates a whole different set of issues.

  4. If in future there’s an issue with water availability or grid down-that’s when the majority of paper plate usage will occur at my house. Obviously parties and BBQs are big paper goods use time too.

    One can burn the plates if there’s no garbage pick up ( can use in fire pit or rip yo use in rocket stove?) the ultimate in recycling

    Nice breakdown in terms of cost though
    I did notice that price of paper goods is markedly higher now

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