Frugal NationFrugal Nation

Toothpaste for $1.44 an ounce?

'Sized right for flight' shampoos and toothpastes are pretty pricey. These tactics cut the cost of travel toiletries.

By Donna_Freedman Sep 11, 2012 1:01PM

Image: Man pulling suitcase in airport © Keith Brofsky/UpperCut Images/Getty ImagesWhat used to be called "trial size" toiletries are now marketed as "travel size" or "sized right for flight" in department and drug stores. They seem like a good idea -- until you do the math and realize you're paying $1.44 an ounce for toothpaste.

A quick look at shows that an 8.2-ounce of Colgate goes for about 39 cents an ounce. Thanks to manufacturer coupons, it's been years since I paid more than 50 cents for a big tube of toothpaste -- and I often get it for free.

Travel-sized toothpaste bugs me. You can pay big bucks for this small product -- or you could just refill the little tube, a 15-second process described in "Refilling a toothpaste tube for fun and convenience" on the Five Cent Nickel blog.

You can refill quite a few other items, too.


I'm in Denver right now, after speaking at the Financial Blogger Conference, and my carry-on bag held several kinds of containers:

  • Small plastic vial once used for mixing a periodontal solution (now holding Cetaphil).
  • One-ounce jam jar (now holding conditioner).
  • One-ounce plastic lotion sample bottle (now holding hair gel).

The bag also contained a .75-ounce toothpaste tube that I got as a free sample. (More on that in a minute.) It's made of metal and I don't think I can refill it the way Nickel describes. If I can't find another free toothpaste sample, I'll squirt some dentifrice into a well-washed pill bottle.

More frugal options

Free samples. Lots of freebies are available through social media; in fact, that's how I got the toothpaste I mentioned above. For specific strategies, see “Like freebies? Find 'em online.” (Post continues below video.)

More free samples.
When May Chang orders from online drugstore and cosmetics sites, small-sized lotions, sunscreens, shampoos and other toiletries are often thrown in for free. "If you are going to spend the money anyway on beauty supplies, might as well get free samples for travel at the same time," says Chang, who lives in Aurora, Colo.

Even more free samples. Isra Hashmi of asks for product samples at department store beauty counters. She also emails companies to say how much she'd like to try their products. "I have deodorant, shaving cream, lotion and shampoo all free because of just sending a quick appreciative email," Hashmi says.

Almost-free samples. Check toiletries coupons for the phrase "not valid on trial sizes." According to Gina Lincicum of the website Moneywise Moms, Target sells a lot of travel-sized products and often puts out matching coupons on its website; "stacking" these coupons makes the travel sizes free or nearly free.

More alternate containers

Small amounts. For short trips, Donna Maurillo uses an old contact-lens soaking container. Each side is "just enough for a squirt or two of my (facial) scrub -- you can try it for toothpaste, too," says Maurillo, of Scotts Valley, Calif.

Bag it. Kaitlin Crawford uses snack-sized Ziploc bags for liquid products, squirting in as much product as needed for a particular trip. (I'd suggest re-using these bags vs. throwing them away immediately.)

Reduce liquids. Reena Ganga, founder of the Wanderplex travel site, suggests swapping solids for liquids: lotion or shampoo in bar form, tooth powder, solid perfume. "You may find you can actually travel without any liquids at all," Ganga says. 

Readers: Got any tips for reducing the cost of carry-on toiletries?

More from MSN Money:

Sep 11, 2012 8:37PM
That suggestion about using contact lens containers for small amounts is perfect! I've been trying to think of a way to tote my hair creme in a carry-on, and this is the best suggestion yet.

I also focus on snagging free sample sizes. For instance, my CVS recently has stocked my regular-sized contact solution in a box with a sample size bonus. If I am taking a longer trip where I'm checking a bag anyway, I always grab the hotel toiletries on the last day so I have a nice supply of lotion, shampoo, and conditioner. My dentist gives me a goodie bag after each checkup with a small toothpaste, toothbrush, and dental floss (and sometimes a listerine)

Nov 11, 2012 12:50PM
I started bringing back home more of the toiletries provided at hotels and I now stockpile lotions, shampoos, shower gels/soaps and conditioners.
Sep 13, 2012 12:05PM
I don't bother packing Lotion, Shampoo, or Conditioner because I know There will be some waiting in my room at the Marriott.

Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.


Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.