Oh yes, we’re going there today. The “pink tax” refers to the fact that women often pay more for goods and services marketed to them. A 2018 study found that, “…women pay as much as 13 percent more for some categories of products (source: NPR).” Not cool, ladies, not cool at all. This insidious increase in price has been documented in everything from women’s razors to women’s clothing. In some instances, we can just buy men’s stuff instead (such as the men’s overalls I recently purchased), but there are plenty of products created for–and needed by–women alone.
While a number of states are working to repeal taxes on menstrual products, many states still have such taxes in place. Since I can’t change this sexist public policy (yet), I can convene you brilliant folks to share how you combat it. Today, thanks to the insightful readers of Frugalwoods, I’ve compiled a massive list of how to save money on the sometimes taboo, sometimes annoying, always necessary aspects of being a woman/woman-identified person.
P.S. I decided to lean in–waaaaaaaay in–to the stereotypes and cliches and went with flower photos. Enjoy this tour of my weed-ridden flower gardens and fruit trees.
Welcome to my monthly Reader Suggestions feature! Every month I post a question to our Frugalwoods Facebook group and share the best responses here. The questions are topics I’ve received multiple queries on and my hope is that by leveraging the braintrust of Frugalwoods nation, you’ll find helpful advice and insight. Join the Frugalwoods Facebook group to participate in next month’s Reader Suggestions.
How I Save Money
Before we delve into your advice, I’ll share how I try to economize on:
I have a Mirena IUD. I had a Mirena before getting pregnant with my first, in between my two kids, and after having my second. I love it and I paid a $25 co-pay (each time). I have no adverse side effects and several fabulous side effects: no periods, no cramps, and no PMS. Win!
I had terrible cramps before getting the Mirena, so the cramp abatement alone is worth it. Plus, since my husband and I have decided our family is complete with two children, we like that, “IUDs are one of the best birth control methods out there — more than 99% effective. That means fewer than 1 out of 100 people who use an IUD will get pregnant each year (source: Planned Parenthood).” I like those odds, ladies.
In terms of the insertion procedure, I found it fairly painful the first time (and felt ill for about a day afterwards), but my two post-childbirth insertions were painless. With my second baby (a VBAC), the doctor inserted the Mirena immediately after she was born–right there in the delivery room as I held my newborn! That was an ideal healthcare moment for me, let me tell you. Since I love being period (and cramp-free), the IUD is a better option for us right now than a surgical approach.
I have zero advice for you because I’m still wearing the nursing bras I received as hand-me-downs before my first daughter was born. So… yeah.
Thanks to my magical Mirena IUD, I don’t have periods! I truly bow down to the Mirena for delivering me from what used to be monthly torture in the form of debilitating cramps.
I had all hand-me-down maternity clothes (bras included), which I discuss in depth here: Maternity Clothes Are Like Christmas Trees: The Clothes-Buying Ban Continues.
For pregnancy test and ovulation test strips, we used this multi-pack from Amazon, which is dramatically cheaper than what you’ll find in a drugstore. While lots of folks have success using other ovulation tracking methods, I didn’t get pregnant (either time) until I used ovulation test strips.
I have a wildly unpredictable cycle and couldn’t get any of the other testing methods to work for us (I had a thermometer and everything!). The ovulation test strips were so effective in helping us conceive our second daughter that I was able to donate an almost-full box to my friend… who now also has a second daughter and has since passed along the nearly-full box to another friend…
No Judgement. No Rudeness. Just Helping Your Sisters Out.
This is not a political discussion. This is not a religious discussion. This is a discussion about taking care of your body in a way that’s healthy and inexpensive. There are many divergent viewpoints below and the key is that they’re all offered with respect and without judgement. Find what works for you; leave what doesn’t. There’s no room for shame or silence around things like bras and tampons. These are necessary aspects of women’s lives and worthy candidates for frugalization.
Note: I’ve included links to some of the products and services mentioned so that it’s easier for you all to find the items under discussion. Some of these links are affiliate links, some are not. Consider this your disclaimer.
How Frugalwoods Readers Fight The Pink Tax
Menstrual Products: Cups
Laura suggests, “Menstrual cups – buy once, lasts a decade, much better for your wallet and the environment. Moon Cup is the best one I’ve had.”
Cny Nicola votes, “Sckoon menstrual cup.. I wish I’d had one years ago! I also bought water wipes, a cup wash & a collapsable silicone cup for on-the-go changing & cleaning options.”
Pamela wrote, “I have only tried and used Diva cup. I put it in my Amazon cart for a couple months before I purchased because I was on the fence on whether to try it- it went down by $10 so I went ahead and bought it. Cups are not one size fits all though and it could be expensive to buy one that doesn’t work… Here is a quiz that can help.”
Kristin said, “YES this…. I use a Lunette cup. I feel so much cleaner, I no longer get headaches from tampons absorbing too much moisture, it’s very budget friendly, easy to use, never have to worry about running out or being out of the house without a tampon. The best!!!”
Wendy said, “I use a Lunette Menstrual Cup and LOVE IT. I save so much money and so much trash from using it.”
Carly wrote, “I use Diva Cup as well! I find it much more comfortable then tampons, on top of all the other positives others have mentioned.”
Larissa shared, “I’ve been using the Diva Cup since 2006! I did need to size up as I got older, just as they suggest.”
Laura relayed, “I originally had the Mooncup when I was 18, then I got a different one about 10 years later – a Divacup I think as it was on sale. But the original Mooncup was more comfortable tbh, so I’m going to get the bigger size Mooncup once I’ve given birth and periods are once more a thing!”
Jennifer explained, “I have found mine [menstrual cups] are only good for a few years, after that they move and leak. It’s still worth it. They are a huge life saver when I am working offshore.”
Kristine uses, “Diva cup– bought at Bed Bath and Beyond with a coupon.”
Lisa said, “I bought my Diva Cup back in 2013, and we’re still going strong! I agree with the woman who suggested investigating the different brands. It is not a one size fits all situation, and each period-having person needs to know their own physiology before making the purchase.”
Leah wrote, “I’ve got a Diva. I’ve had mine for 11 years now, and I didn’t have any problem using the small size even post-childbirth. Cups are so ‘your mileage may vary.’ You really have to read about them and be willing to try different ones if one cup doesn’t work for you. It is hands down my best purchase ever. I also like to pair it with reusable cloth liners in case I have any leaks. I’ve been debating buying a pair or two of Thinx as well.”
Noa shared, “I have tried multiple menstrual cups (both with and without the Mirena birth control) and finally settled on the Ruby Cup. Mine was $43 and it even came with a cup cleaner and a bag to store all of it in. I liked that each time you buy one, they donate one to someone in need. And they have a 120 days no-questions-asked money back guarantee which was nice although I didn’t need to use this feature so I can’t speak of how true it is. I can say though that this particular brand has been absolutely wonderful and much better than the Diva cup. I didn’t like how the Diva easily stained and a definite perk the Ruby one was I was able to purchase a black one. I bought mine online off their site. ”
Jana said, “I use the tulip cup! I got a pretty good deal. It came with 2 cups, container that accordions down for storage- use container to sanitize in microwave or travel with. I also got a set of cloth reusable pads for a just in case backup! This was around 70 dollars, but with all the extras, feel it was worth it! They have 2 sizes to choose last I knew. There are some tricks and little things to make the cup work best for you, but I seriously love it! ”
Luann concurs, “Definitely! I bought mine [menstrual cup] about 8 years ago for about $30, and haven’t purchased anything disposable since. Also environmentally friendly!”
Naomi wrote, “I love my moon cup. As well as all the eco benefits I don’t freak out when I forget about it during a long shift at work!”
Jennifer said, “I used a menstrual cup – I liked Lunette best – plus reusable pads that I could throw in the washer machine each month. Not only were they much cheaper in the long run but I felt better using these products compared to typical pads and tampons. For birth control, I’ve had several friends get and really love their IUDs.”
Menstrual Products: Reusable
Rebecca wrote, “Reusable menstrual pads are also great and you can get some very cute designs via Etsy or sew them yourself if you know how..”
Margaret said, “Seconding the menstrual cup with the addition of washable pads/pantyliners. I find them to be so much more comfortable and I basically have a 4 piece set of two different sizes.”
Stephanie divulged, “The Thinx menstrual underwear are terrible quality, my waist band unravelled so they sent me replacements and an apology which was nice, but the ones they sent were the same terrible quality. I now use Modibodi and have had no problems.”
Tanja said, “I love love love my reusable pads. I’ve tried a few of the commercial brands (Luna, Hannah, Oko) but the best made and most comfortable one is from a gal at the farmers market who makes them by hand. I find they don’t smell after a few hours like pads tend to do. I’m not throwing anything away so they’re earth friendly and they last for many many years. Of course my teens are quietly horrified to see them drying on the line but I figure it’s also normalizing a bodily function and bringing it out of hiding. Cloth pads are so comfortable too. I feel like I’m treating myself. One pad is about $8 CAD but will last probably 10 years”
Menstrual Products: Disposable
Rachel shared, “I routinely go on the websites for the major feminine product companies. They are usually offering a link to free samples. I use these as emergency items in my purse.”
Bras: Maternity, Nursing, and Pumping
Rebecca wrote, “For maternity and nursing bras, swap with friends – body changes happen so quickly that it’s surprising how you change sizes in cup and back.”
Kate shared, “I wear an unusual size that Walmart and Target don’t carry, so I went to a Nordstrom Rack and got a high quality bra on clearance for $12. It fit perfectly. I followed a YouTube tutorial and added nursing clips myself. It’s been awesome!”
Laura said, “I buy all my bras at Wal-Mart or Target, and they usually run $15-$20, but I am just a standard size, some people are differently shaped or have bigger cup sizes, this option might not work for them.”
Kelly shared, “For bras, I don’t think you can skimp on quality or fit. My approach is to buy only a few, well-made bras (my favorite brand is Natori). A great bra makes all your clothes look better. I go get a free fitting to make sure its going to fit perfectly and then wait for a major sale to buy. I always buy nude because I can wear that color generally under everything and it means I need fewer bras. So I guess my overall approach is one of high quality minimalism. I hand wash and hang dry to make them last!”
Beth Anne noted, “The part of my bras that seems to stretch out of shape the most is the section at the back where the hook fasteners are. Replacements are available at most fabric stores and by using them I significantly extend the life of my bras at far less expense than the cost of buying new bras.”
Sharon wrote, “I used to shop sales for bras. I’m in my 50s and am a C cup. A few years ago I had invasive surgery that makes it painful to wear a bra. I wear cheap tank tops as undershirts. Muscles have gotten strong enough to support me.”
Allison said, “I get sized at a department store for bras and then look at TJ Maxx or Marshall’s for the department store brands for less. At 38B it can be hit or miss, but they tend to be $10-15 for ‘last years’ model vs $35-40 for the newest one.”
Megan shared, “Bras- I buy them every year or every other year during Black Friday- for some reason they always have the best prices on these at Kohls or JCPenny.”
Elizabeth said, “I really love my two sport bras. I can wear them around and if I feel fancy that’s when I wear the nicer non sport bra I got at Walmart.”
Kate wrote, “Nordstrom Rack has great bras on their clearance rack for a fraction of the price! I got a $70 bra for $12.”
Sussanne shared, “As far as bras – quality over quantity. I am not small chested so they aren’t cheap. I buy 2 sports bras from Victoria secret when they go on sale. The key with bras is to hand wash or wash on delicate and HANG to dry. The dryer destroys the elasticity.”
Katherine recommends, “The brand Smart + Sexy on Amazon. Their signature lace bra is almost indistinguishable from the ones I used to get at Victoria’s Secret but 1/4 the price and in a wider variety of sizes.”
Birth Control: Pills
Andrea said, “My prescription BC ran out before I could get a doctor visit so I signed up for The Pill Club. It asked a few health questions and required a recent blood pressure reading but so far I’m loving it! Switched to menstrual cups this year too, there’s no way I’m going back to tampons ever, I love that you can go up to 12 hours and there’s so much less waste. I did have a small learning curve though but all is good now.”
Hope shared, “I use Nurx for my birth control prescription. Saved me from having to pay out of pocket for an unnecessary office visit, totally free with health insurance (and very cheap without), a doctor answered any questions I had, and my birth control pills show up each month in my mailbox without me having to physically go to a pharmacy.”
Amy wrote, “I’m on continuous hormonal birth control for my endometriosis. It’s free under the ACA, and I don’t have to buy menstrual products since I skip the placebo pills and just start a new pack. At least one benefit of a very unpleasant disease.”
Birth Control: Natural Family Planning
Linda shared, “NFP [natural family planning] is free after the cost of a class (and can be learnt from a book for free esp. if your cycles are fairly simple – more complicated would benefit from a teacher). Menstrual cups – I use the Keeper and have for a long time. You can make reusable pads from flannel – if you’re already washing diapers, it’s easy to throw pads in also. Aldi has good prices on disposable pads though. Bras….I wish I had a frugal answer for those.”
Loni said, “NFP, once learned, is so helpful! Take the time to take the classes. SO worth it!”
Nicki wrote, “The book ‘Managing Your Fertility’ is a good resource!”
Margaret explained that, “…the symptoms of fertility are not subtle at all if you are trained to look for them. The sympto-thermal method teaches you to cross check three indicators which are easily measured/observed for most women… Modern day Fertility Awareness is much more scientific than anything our mothers and grandmothers had. They really cannot be compared. Just as modern hormonal birth control is much improved. Also the topic as a whole is less taboo in our current culture so women can learn and discuss much more openly than our predecessors.”
Laura shared, “I believe understanding your own body is the best birth control. There are so many ways to do this (basal body temp, mucus, etc). There are even phone apps you can get now to help. On some of the “off days” you could use a barrier method such as a condom or spermicide.”
Birth Control: IUDs
Allison votes for the, “Mirena! I’m in a research study to keep it in for 8 years (currently at 6.5 years). So for the last 18 months I have been paid $30/month to answer a daily question on a phone they provided and keep the Mirena. I also get $60/dr visit every 6 months. AND I have no real period so no need for supplies. AND my annuals are covered and I get a free Mirena at the end.”
Tabitha recommends, “Diva Cup! Or any menstrual cups. Also the IUD. I have a copper one that will last for 12 years and my insurance (health partners) covered it since it’s considered preventive care.”
Anne said that for, “Birth control, I got a Paraguard, which is non-hormonal IUD. Good for 12 years. Got it put in at Planned Parenthood for a $50 donation when I had two small ones and no insurance.”
Susie said, “…the Mirena IUD has taken away my period (which used to be super heavy), so no more pads/tampons!”
Helen has the, “Mirena coil fitted free on the NHS in the UK. Provides 5 years of birth control and I don’t have periods when on it so no costs there either. Had one for 12 years now and no additional cost to me for being female 😁”
Margaret shared, “IUD was magic for me while it lasted (I have a very weird body that expelled them two different times after about two years of successful use) but I would get another one today if I could. Insurance paid for everything but the $40 co-pay.”
Danielle said, “I got an IUD and don’t need to buy any menstrual products at all. My insurance didn’t pay for all of it so it costs $300 every 6 years.”
Sydney wrote, “My IUD was completely covered by insurance, lasts for 6 years, and has eliminated my periods except for a day of spotting a few times a year. No co-pays for birth control pills, no emptying my menstrual cup in shared bathrooms during work, no plastic waste, no incapacitating cramps. 👌”
Sylvia shared, “I had very very heavy periods all my life but toward my 40s it got worse. I only bought night time maxi pads sometimes used 2 at a time so I bought a big box at Costco. Last October I had a hysterectomy and had saved on the pain and suffering. Lesson is surgery may be best option for women like me. No more menstrual migraines and days spent in bed.”
Nancy wrote, “I had my fallopian tubes removed (they don’t usually tie them anymore – they remove them. It also reduces the risk of ovarian cancer) as birth control. My health insurance covered every penny because it was considered preventive care. It doesn’t mess with hormones (or menstrual cycle) at all, and it is the most successful non-abstinence birth control there is. It was an outpatient surgery and I felt fine afterward.”
Rose votes for, “Vasectomy. Third love bras. Expensive but last years esp if you hang to dry.
Emily wrote, “My husband got a vasectomy last week and it was a $50 copay :).”
The Last Word
I have to give the last word to Carolyn, who sagely advised, “Use whatever birth control is best for your body, but don’t worry about price as much as you think. The priciest birth control is still cheaper than raising a child birth to college!”
Carolyn said it best: Figure out what works for you and do what makes you comfortable and happy. I love the advice for reusable products that eliminate recurring expenses and also lessen the environmental impact of disposables.
Anytime you can get a two for one, I’m all in favor. It also hasn’t escaped my notice that this is not a standard personal finance topic. But it is a standard, repeated expense for many people. I hope this list is helpful and I hope you all will offer even more ideas in the comments section!