Denise Preis never needs to buy sanitary pads or tampons. And since first using a silicone menstrual cup more than five years ago, she has saved over £350. “A friend recommended it,” the 41-year-old says. “I’d always used organic tampons and pads, and wasn’t sure I’d like inserting a cup, but I got used to it quite quickly.” The stay-at-home mother says she feels less period pain with the cup and welcomes the ecological benefits, as there is no waste.
Her savings are a welcome respite from the monthly cost of other sanitary products (Preis’s Enna cups cost just under £25 for a pack of two). Current prices range from as little as 4p for a Tesco and Morrisons own-brand items to as much as 21p for an Always night pad and 16p for a Tampax Pearl tampon. If you opt for these familiar brands and use the typical number of 22 products per cycle, that puts the cost of a period at over £3.50 – more than 10 times that of a menstrual cup per cycle. The cost to the environment may be far higher: plastic tampon applicators can take up to 100 years to degrade and thousands are found in oceans and on beaches around the world.
Reusable sanitary towels and menstrual sponges (also known as sea sponge tampons) can also cut the cost of periods and reduce plastic waste. “You need to do some research to figure out what will suit you best,” says Christine McRitchie, founder of Earthwisegirls.co.uk, which sells environmentally friendly sanitary products. “It will depend on how heavy your flow is, whether you’ve had tears or surgery after childbirth and the strength of your pelvic floor.”
Menstrual sponges, which are made from natural sponge with the grit and sand removed and sell for around £10, work out at about 77p per cycle. Reusable sanitary pads work similarly to washable nappies. They are made from ultra-absorbent fleece, or bamboo terry cloth, and cost around £4.50 each, although you can reduce costs by around 10% by buying in bulk. The price can work out at 63p per cycle but you must pay at least £41 upfront.
“The initial outlay with pads is higher than with the other products, so it takes longer to see a saving,” says McRitchie. “But there are reusable pads for all budgets and saving money is certainly possible.”
How do these costs compare with traditional towels and tampons? In 2015, the Conservatives promised to scrap the 5% VAT on these products and last year Tesco, Waitrose and Morrisons cut prices on them to stop this unpopular levy being passed on to consumers. However, EU rules mean the tampon tax will not be abolished until 2022.
Faith Archer, money blogger at Much More with Less, is scathing about the mark-up that premium brands charge over supermarket own brands. “Many users report being unable to tell the difference,” she says.
So simply switching to a cheaper brand could potentially save you more than £30 a year. Savvy shoppers can figure out which supermarkets offer the best deals via comparison sites Sanitarysaver.co.uk and Mysupermarket.com.
At the luxury end, subscription boxes from Pink Parcel for £12.99 a month include packs of Kotex, Lil-lets, Tampax, Always or Bodyform products, plus beauty items. The box typically includes five panty liners, five night pads and five days’ worth of your chosen branded towels or tampons. You will also be sent a sachet of tea, artisan chocolate and an unspecified number of beauty items, either cosmetics, skincare or haircare.
“The beauty products offer good value for money,” says Claire Kelly, beauty vlogger at Diaryofa40something. “The downside is you may receive items you already have or won’t use.”
In a recent survey by Plan International UK, one in 10 girls and women aged 14 to 21 in the UK said they could not afford to buy towels or tampons. The social enterprise Hey Girls seeks to resolve that by selling packets of environmentally friendly pads at £3.25 for 10. For every packet sold, one is donated to a girl or young woman in the UK. Similarly, for every Ruby menstrual cup sold for £22 online via The Cup Effect, another is donated to a schoolgirl in East Africa.
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