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How to save money on sanitary products

The monthly cost of sanitary products adds up, and bloody fast. But, with these top deals and tips, we hope your periods will start feeling – financially – a little less painful.

Sanitary products are necessities, so having to fork out for pricey pads and tampons hardly seems fair – and don’t even get us started on the tampon tax.

Women are thought to use an average of 22 products each period, despite many packs of sanitary pads including just 14 or less…

There are ways to avoid bulking up on these overpriced (and underfilled) packs, though – a few small changes could really cut down the cost. We’ve priced up five different sanitary protection methods, so no matter what you prefer to use, you’ll be able to find a way to save money.

How much do periods cost?

Different numbers often get thrown around when it comes to calculating the cost of periods.

In 2018, Labour MP Danielle Rowley stated that periods cost women as much as £500 a year. This seems like an extravagant amount, but it takes into account extra things like pain relief and new underwear, plus comforts like chocolate and magazines.

We can’t ignore the extra costs that can come with periods, but if we strip the figure down to the absolute essentials, it’s much less.

To work out the average cost of sanitary products per period, it’s worth noting that menstrual cycles are generally 28-days long, meaning women have around 13 periods a year.

It’s been estimated that the average woman spends £4,800 in her lifetime on periods, using around 10,500 products for 480 periods (if she doesn’t have any children). This works out at around £130 a year, or £10 a period.

This is still a pretty hefty amount, and a sum that many women can’t afford – but keep reading for ways to beat the average and pay a lot less.

What is the tampon tax?

Tampon tax attracted public attention when a petition calling to scrap it reached over 320,000 signatures. The petition was launched by Laura Coryton in 2014 while she studying at Goldsmiths, University of London.

We chatted to Laura to find out more.

When Laura started looking into the tampon tax, she was pretty shocked…

Following the widespread success of the petition, politicians began taking notice and making moves to change the law – so, when can we expect to see a zero-rate on sanitary products in the UK?

For the official axing of tampon tax, we need to wait for either one of these things to happen:

And in what ways could the UK’s move to end tampon tax influence other countries?

Some shops, including Tesco, Waitrose, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Co-op have slashed prices on sanitary products to combat the tampon tax – but which products are actually the cheapest?

Cheapest sanitary pads

We’ll start off with one of the most common forms of protection – sanitary pads.

If you avoid the bigger names like Always and Tampax, and stick with supermarket-own brands instead, you could save a substantial amount.

Most people can’t notice the difference when switching to own brands, but if you prefer to stick with what you know, the cheapest branded packs we’ve found are these Always Sensitive Normal Ultra Sanitary Towels for 95p (5.9p per pad) and these Bodyform Normal Sanitary Towels for £1 (6.3p per pad).

If you want the cheapest possible option, the table below ranks the top five cheapest packs we’ve found. Note that these prices don’t take into account special offers, so look out for any discounts that could get you an even better deal.

Cheapest sanitary pads

*Regular flow products
**Prices correct as of July 2019.

Cheapest tampons

Tampons often work out slightly more expensive than pads, but for some, they’re a necessity and a much more comfortable option.

However, our table reveals that if you know where to look, you can get them for pretty much the same price as pads.

Again, if you want to stick with a known brand, these Tampax Cardboard Super Tampons with Applicator come in at £1.75 (or 9p per tampon).

However, the packs listed below will get you the best deal. Just note that all of these packs contain non-applicator tampons – although the own-brand versions with applicators still work out cheaper than the big brands.

Cheapest tampons

*Regular flow products
**Prices correct as of July 2019.

Cheapest menstrual cups

Menstrual cups can be a little pricey as a single purchase but, as they’re reusable, they can save so much money in the long run. If you look after them properly and clean them regularly, they can last years.

We asked Laura Coryton for her advice on how to save money on sanitary products, and she strongly recommended menstrual cups.

At the University of Oxford, where Laura studied her master’s, they did actually provide free menstrual cups, so it’s definitely worth lobbying your SU. And at Goldsmiths, where she studied as an undergrad, they reduced the price of their period products to a not-for-profit rate.

Essentially, menstrual cups are made of soft silicone, and you insert them in a similar way to tampons. However, rather than absorbing the blood as a tampon would, they collect it instead.

They can hold twice as much blood as tampons and can be worn for over eight hours, so it’s perfectly okay to sleep and swim in them.

As plastic tampon applicators can take 100 years to degrade, reusable menstrual cups are a great way to avoid waste.

Most brands offer two different sizes, so you can choose the one that best suits your menstrual flow and body type.

We’ve picked out four of the most popular and ranked them by cost for you.

Cheapest menstrual cups

*Prices correct as of July 2019.

Cheapest reusable sanitary pads

Reusable sanitary pads are pretty straightforward. They’re just the same as sanitary pads, except you wash and rewear them.

They’re a great option if you want to save some money and help the environment, but they do take more effort. You’ll have to keep on top of your washing for a start…

Like disposable sanitary pads, different reusable pads are available for light, medium and heavy flows.

In Precious Stars‘ budget range, you can get a reusable pad for £3.50 or a pack of six mixed-sized ones for £20.25 (£3.38 per pad). You can buy pantyliners, moderate pads or overnight pads, depending on how heavy your flow is.

Cheeky Wipes are a popular supplier of reusable sanitary pads, selling them in a range of materials and for both day and night wear. You can buy the pads individually for £4.50, or buy a pack of five for £14.99 (£3 per pad) and a pack of 10 for £29.49 (£2.95 per pad).

Finally, Earthwise Girls sell washable pads for £4.50 each. Or, you can buy a pack of three for £13.50, which includes a pad donation to an orphaned girl in Kenya.

Admittedly you’ll have to get a lot of wear out of a reusable sanitary pad for it work out the same value for money as normal pads, but the idea is that if you buy in bulk, you won’t need to replace your pads for another five years.

You could also try making your own if you know your way around a needle and thread. You’ll need to head down to a fabric shop to get the material you need (including some waterproof fabric) and Sewing Bee Fabrics have an easy-to-follow pattern you can use.

If you find you’re a dab hand at it, you could even set up your own reusable sanitary towel business.

Cheapest period pants

Yep, you can now buy underwear with period protection built in! It’s the dream.

Period pants (or menstrual underwear) contain hidden protection that stops leaks, and just like reusable sanitary pads they can be washed and worn again. However, always check the small print before you buy, as some only offer ‘added protection‘ to wear alongside other sanitary products.

This is the case with Pretty Clever Pants – they have a waterproof panel which offers extra protection, but you’ll still need to wear normal sanitary products. You can get a pack of two for £16.99.

Modibodi are one of the leading names in period underwear, and they’re a good choice if you want to ditch disposable sanitary products and just wear the pants. Their undies for heavy/overnight absorbancy cost from £21.50 and hold two tampons’ worth.

Flux Undies can be worn for up to twelve hours without tampons and pads. They’re usually a bit pricier, costing from £24.95, but some of their pants hold over four tampons’ worth. To get rid of disposable products altogether, you’d need to invest in several pairs and use fresh ones each time you change.

Top tips for saving money on sanitary products

Downshift to supermarket-own brand items

You’ve probably worked this out by now, but the number one thing you can do to save money on your period is downshifting to own brands.

Always and Bodyform might be your usual go-to brands, but most people report virtually no difference when they switch to supermarket own brands.

If you’re worried, you could even compromise by using the products you’re most comfortable with when your flow is heaviest, and use the cheaper brands when it’s lighter. You’ll still be saving yourself cash in the long run!

Check price comparison sites

woman on laptop with exposed brick walls

We’ve done a lot of the hard work for you here by pricing up the cheapest period products, but everyone has different requirements.

Perhaps you need pads with wings or tampons with applicators. Instead of going out and buying the first pack you see, have a look at price comparison sites first to find your cheapest option.

Sanitary Saver is a price comparison site specifically for period products, but we did notice a few products were missing when we tried it.

You’ll probably be better using a general grocery comparison app like MySupermarket to compare across all major retailers instead (including Boots and Superdrug!).

Use period tracking apps so you don’t get caught out

If your period isn’t too regular, or you just struggle to keep up with it, you can end up paying more to replace underwear and bedding that gets hit when you’re caught out. We’ve all been there, but you could try using a period tracking app to stay on top of your cycle.

For example, Clue not only tracks your period, but also your PMS and lets you know when you’re likely to feel a certain way – like which days you’re most likely to devour a tub of Ben & Jerry’s and cry over soppy films.

Flo is a great option for those with irregular periods, using artificial intelligence to predict your cycle. However, both Clue and Flo come with a monthly subscription fee if you want to use their extra features.

Natural Cycles is the only app which has been certified as a form of contraception, proven to be 98% effective with perfect use (i.e. all usage instructions correctly followed). However, for birth control, we’d still recommend using it with another form of contraception like condoms to be on the safe side.

For tracking your menstrual cycle, though, Natural Cycles is great. It uses an oral thermometer to track your body’s temperature (which changes throughout your menstrual cycle) and creates an accurate ovulation calendar based on its readings.

To use it, you’ll have to pay a £6.99 monthly subscription fee (or £49.99 for the year).

Ask your student union for support

student getting advice from teacher

If you’re unable to afford sanitary products at all, then try talking to your student union.

Many have committed to providing free sanitary products to students who can’t afford them. Stirling, Middlesex, UEA, Lancaster and Sunderland students’ unions are just a few who have expressed commitment to providing free products to students, but check directly with your SU for information.

Others might have also cut prices of sanitary products in SU shops, so make sure to check these yourself as they won’t appear on price comparison apps.

Laura Coryton told us:

Where to donate sanitary products

By following our advice, you could save a significant amount on your sanitary products by downshifting brands – or even more if you go for reusable products instead.

Worryingly, many women can’t afford any sanitary products at all, which impacts their daily life, health and education. Plan International UK‘s research from 2017 found that 10% of girls had been unable to afford sanitary products.

If you’re able to, you could always take the money you save and put it towards providing sanitary products to those who need them.

Bloody Good Period provide menstrual products to asylum seekers, refugees and those who can’t afford them. You can either send a cash donation or buy a product from their shop (all profits go towards their pad fund) – donate here.

You could check with your local food bank to see if they accept/need donations of sanitary products, or find out whether your SU is organising a collection.

You can also buy boxes of 10 sanitary pads from Hey Girl for £3.25, and for each pack sold they’ll donate a pack to girls and women in need.

Similarly, if you buy a menstrual cup from The Cup Effect for £24, they’ll donate two cups to women or girls living on low incomes in East Africa or the UK.

You can also find ways to save money on hair and skincare with these homemade beauty treatments.