What is the Savings Potential?
We use about one napkin per person, per meal. Sometimes more, sometimes less, so it evens out. If we each use three disposable napkins every day, for 365 days per year, we end up spending about $5.46 per person, per year on napkins.
Savings for a family of 2: $10.92
Family of 4: $21.84
Family of 6: $32.76
Family of 8: $43.68
Family of 10: $54.60
Because the savings are so small, there is no room for monetary investment in this project. Spending ANY money at all on new cloth napkins (or fabric to make them) will cancel out the potential savings.
Making the Napkins
I chose a very easy way to make napkins- tearing an old bed sheet into paper napkin-sized squares, and then finishing the edges* with a pair of pinking shears. I found two free pillowcases at a garage sale to use for my napkins. It took me exactly 30 minutes to finish 12 napkins made from the pillowcases. I spent two minutes per napkin pinking the edges, and the other six minutes were spent dissembling the pillowcases and tearing them into squares.
ROI & Hourly Wage
It took me 30 minutes to make a one-person supply of cloth napkins. If I use my napkins instead of disposables for a year, I'll save $5.46. Therefore, an hour's worth of making cloth napkins (say, if I would have made some for Hubs at the same time), would yield a $10.92 savings; that is, a $10.92 hourly wage.
If we caculate the ROI based on your time investment (because there is no monetary investment), at a generic "housewife wage" of $4.00/hr., we find the following:
$4/hr. x 1 hr. = $4.00 investment
$10.92 savings - $4.00 investment = $6.92 return (173% ROI)
In My Opinion...
Is this project worth your time? If you look at the ROI and hourly wage only, it is. However, I'm not too keen on washing and folding 42 napkins each week for a savings of $0.21. I really think there are easier ways to earn/save that much every week (for example... recycling aluminum cans!). We'll probably use the napkins I already made, but for us the savings are too insignificant to completely stop buying paper napkins. Plus, we will still buy and use paper napkins for guests/cookouts/etc.
I think this would be a good idea for larger families, however. Because there are more people eating but still only one or two adults earning an income, larger families will need to stretch that income farther than small families. Plus, making (and folding) cloth napkins is a nice project for kids.
Ultimately, I don't think there is anything to LOSE by making and using cloth napkins. As I sometimes tell Hubs, "Every penny counts!" The question is just whether or not there is enough pennies to gain for it to be worth the hassle.
What do you think? Are cloth napkins in your future?
*I realize now that it would have been faster to just surge the edges of each napkin. However, my surger was broken and I know that most ladies don't have a serger sewing machine in the spare room. Pinking shears are available at Walmart, I think for around $10. And you can use them for more than just making napkins.