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Monday, December 30, 2013

Doing the math on bedsheet repair

It's back to the basics of saving money, this week.

When my dad passed away, 11 1/2 years ago, I inherited my parent's California King-sized bed, sheets not included. I bought 1 set of plain white, cotton sheets for about $60. This included the fitted sheet, the flat sheet and 2 pillow cases. California King beds are not common in my area, and neither are the sheets.

About 1 1/2 years ago, I developed a thin spot in the fitted sheet. I patched it with Heavy Duty Wonder Under and scrap fabric, and my iron. This small patch has held just fine for the past year and a half, requiring occasional re-ironing of the patch.

A few weeks ago, I put my foot through another thin spot, this time tearing the sheet. I went out shopping for a new fitted sheet, and found I couldn't just walk into a store in my area and buy a Cal. King fitted sheet. It would have to be ordered, and at the minimum, would cost about $20.

I decided to hold off on buying a new sheet, and patch this one, one more time. We keep talking about replacing this bed with a smaller, Queen-sized one. And it looks like this summer could be the time to do so. Buying a new sheet, that we'd only use for half a year, didn't seem economical.

the math

A new sheet would cost $20, and would likely last 10 years, if alternated with the other sheet set for the rest of winter (a flannel set). At $20, for 10 years, the amortized annual cost of a new fitted sheet would be about $2 per year, or 3.85 cents per week.

At the fabric store a couple of weeks ago, Heavy Duty Wonder Under was on sale, and I had a coupon applicable for sale and non-sale merchandise. I spent about 25 cents for a piece of Wonder Under large enough to patch this larger tear and thin spot.

At 25 cents for the patch job, the sheet only has to last another 6  1/2 weeks, to recover my cost. And I still have a piece of Wonder Under large enough to make another patch, if necessary, in any other thin spots.

Does all this matter? Should I have just ordered the fitted sheet, even though we may not even need it in 6 months' time?

I think it does matter. I may have spared our budget $19.75, by not buying a new sheet right now. If we do, in fact, down-size our bed to a Queen in 6 months, I would have found myself with sheets in the wrong size.

I could have saved myself the 25 cents, and patched the sheet with stitching. But my time is valuable. An iron-on patch took 10 minutes start to finish, and I was able to work this mending job into a small chunk of time over the weekend.

I recognize that not everyone would be comfortable sleeping on a sheet with a patch. I got used to it within a couple of nights, on the last patch. I'm okay with this slightly imperfect solution to a worn bed sheet.


I do the math, frequently, to see if something is worth the money. It may seem tedious to some folks, but it winds up saving us a lot of money in the long run. (We have several calculators around the house, and I keep an extra one in my purse.)

An example, is it worth the gas money to drive a few miles out of my way, for a sale? I will figure the cost of my gas and weigh it against the potential savings on the sale item. I often decide that the savings on the sale, are not great enough to warrant the extra gas expenditure. Avocados are on sale this week, for 50 cents each, at a store 10 miles from my house. That's a 20 mile round trip, just for avocados. There's a limit of 4 avocados at that price, and the store is not featuring any other sale items that I can use right now. So, I would spend about $2.75 in gas, to save $1 to $2 on avocados. Not worth it.

Another example, I can buy an LED light bulb, that will use 50 watts per hour less than an incandescent bulb, for about $10. If the fixture is in use for 6 hours per day, I can save 300 watts per day, or about 9,000 watts (or 9 KW) per month. At a rate of about 10.5 cents per KW hour, that's a savings of 94.5 cents per month, on our electricity bill. It will take about 11 months for the LED light bulb to pay for itself, then we'd see savings of almost $1 per month for the life of the LED bulb. So, in my mind, the investment into LED bulbs is worth the money.

My dad used to say, "don't sweat the small stuff, kid." But really, the sum of all the small stuff is what has allowed my husband and I to have the life of our choosing.


  1. I think it is important to pay attention to the little daily things. It keeps me in the mindset I need to stay in while watching the budget. And I personally find it fun. Over the years, it has added up to thousands of dollars!

    1. Hi Judy,
      I find it fun, too -- two peas in a pod! Doing the math on savings is a lot like a game, to me.
      Have a great day!

    2. This is hilarious..Thanks for the tip on Wonder Under.Never heard of it and just try getting sheets now for 20 dollars and lasting that long. My friend the chain smoker burned 10 holes in my sheets with cost 115 dollars on sale. Ill have to try it out ty

  2. I've never thought to patch a torn sheet. One of my kids tore a sheet a couple of months ago, while making a fort in their room, and I just pitched it. If I'd only known this then . . .

    1. Hi Kath,
      Oh well. You learn something, then you know for the future, so don't beat yourself up over not knowing/doing something.
      Kids' sheets are great for patching this way, as kids seem to tear the sheets more from play and less from wear. Or so it's been in our house. The tear spots tend to be in places where ordinary wear won't be an issue, so the patch really holds up well over time.

  3. My mother was a very thrifty woman. When elastic-cornered sheets for the mattress became the fashion (before fitted sheets, all sheets were flat), she still insisted on buying only flat sheets, just using a clip to hold each corner in place. She could rotate all her sheets this way, and they wore evenly as a result.

    I do patch sheets, but by needle and thread. What's your method for using Wonder Under?

    1. Yes, I'd like to know how you do this, too, Lili.
      xx Jill

    2. Hi Delores,
      I bet your mother knew many tricks for extending the household budget! I have very vague recollections of an elastic strap with clips at each end, used on the corners of sheets, from my grandmother's house. I wonder if those were the same sort of clip that your mother used?

      Jillian and Delores, I use Heavy Duty Wonder Under (there's regular WU and heavy duty), and make two patches, one for each side of the tear or thin spot.

      To make a patch, simply iron the WU onto scrap fabric, remove the paper backing of the WU, and iron this new patch onto the fabric needing to be mended.

      Patching both sides of the sheet helps prolong the life of the patch job, as no loose threads are pulled on.

      Wonder Under is sold by the yard, in fabric stores, often alongside the interfacing. It comes with instructions as to heat settings, etc (I believe they recommend "cotton" -- that's what I use anyway).


  4. Lili- If you did choose the $20 replacement, I imagine you could turn a Cal-King into a queen size with little effort.
    I found queen sized sheets I like at a thrift store but I sleep in a full sized bed. The top sheet was no problem I just have extra sheet to tuck in. It was pretty easy to make new corners for the fitted sheet.

    1. Hi Frugal spinster,
      I had a similar thought. Making fitted sheets is actually pretty easy. I made crib sheets from flat sheets, for my kids when they were babies. Downsizing a ready-made sheet would be even simpler than starting from scratch.
      Thanks for your input!

  5. i do sweat the small stuff. if we don't, then we're in huge trouble. every penny counts at our house.

    1. Hi small town girl,
      now, as much as ever, I "get" every penny counting. I often feel like one false move and we're sunk. Even so, reminding myself of how well we're doing with our reduced budget lifts my spirits. I can see in dollars and cents that we're doing well.

      Just keep reminding yourself of your goals, and take a look at the numbers. See for yourself that you ARE doing a great job. I know that always helps me.

      Best of wishes on your finances, for the new year!

  6. Oh my gosh... you totally crack me up! Your logic is sound I'm just amazed that you take the time and effort to do all those calculations.

    My experience with sheets is that the 100% cotton ones don't last nearly as long as the ones that are part polyester. I have a California king sized waterbed and I use flat sheets for both top and bottom and just tuck them in on all sides - they seem to stay put better than the fitted ones. Anyhow, I bought one set of new 100% cotton sheets and they fell apart much quicker than my thrift store ones that were part polyester. I guess the cotton ones are a bit softer, but it's not something I notice.

    Anyhow, I have finally come to a conclusion regarding mending. If the thing needing mending is a hem or a seam that is coming un-done, then it's totally worth it. But if the fabric itself is starting to go, it sorta becomes an exercise in frustration. I mean, in your situation it totally makes sense since it doesn't have to last very long, but when it comes to things like jeans where the fabric is starting to go in the rear or something, it seems like my patches don't last more than a few weeks before it falls apart somewhere else, and I'm better off spending $5 to get a new pair at the thrift store.

    1. Hi Cat,
      You've heard of mad scientists, well I'm sort of a mad mathematician! I've got this half-crazed mind when it comes to math. I love math, so long as there are dollar signs attached. Other people are much more sensible about figuring whether or not it's worth the effort or money.

      I think you're right on the part polyester sheets lasting longer. I had sheets from my childhood bed that lasted decades (back when part polyester sheets were the norm). They're not easy to find. Most of what I've seen online is all-cotton.

      It sounds like you've come to a sensible conclusion for yourself, on whether or not to mend.

  7. As Amy d always said, the small stuff is where you will find the majority of your savings. After all, how many big ticket items do we buy in our lifetimes. Not very many.

    I like your figuring on the avocados. So many things just are not worth it like you've pointed out. I wouldn't want to spend $2.75 on gas for such a small savings.

    1. Hi Belinda,
      So true. I can find a dozen ways, each day, to save anywhere from pennies to dollars. But only once every several months will I be able to find a way to save several dollars or more. And more rarely will I be able to find a way to save hundreds of dollars or more.

  8. I'm kind of like the Princess and the Pea when it comes to sheets. I am very sensitive to the feeling of them and have never patched because I am sure it would irritate me. That is, if the patch is in the middle of the bed where they usually wear out. A side mending would be fine.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      I understand your princess status with sheets. I feel the same way about socks. My socks HAVE to have a certain fit or else I'm uncomfortable all day. And I can't just tell myself that it's all in my head and to get over it.

      When it comes to tears in the side, that's where my kids have always managed to tear holes, oddly enough.

  9. We have a CA king & have difficulty finding sheets as well. My husband found two sets at TJ Maxx a couple of years ago for $25 a set (fitted, flat & 2 pillow cases). They are microfiber & they have worn really well. I've also seen them at Tuesday Morning. I rarely go to either of those stores (too expensive, in my opinion) but they might be a resource for you. For groceries, I do a lot of price matching @ Walmart which helps a lot, both time & gas expense wise.

  10. Oh that is so good to know about where to find Cal King sheets! Thank you. I'll check both TJMaxx and Tuesday Morning, the next time I'm in those areas.


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