Back in the day, no one would say that it was cheaper to buy your necessities than to make them. However, times have changed. Homemade items will not always save you money.
Take the classic hand knit wool sweater, whose costs can easily spiral out of control. You’re better off hitting Old Navy if your goal is to spend as little as possible.
Luckily, there are still things that are financially worth making from scratch. Here are some of the big ones…
Don’t pay too much money for these things you can make or do on your own
1. Spice mixes
Compared to $1 an ounce, making your own taco seasoning is a straight-up frugal win. This is especially true if you can source your spices from a scoop-your-own bulk section, which allows you to precisely buy the amount you need. Unsure where to start? Try out this recipe.
Priced at $1.99 per 2.3 ounces, Trader Joe’s Everything But The Bagel is a big seller, and no wonder, as it’s yummy on eggs, roasted veggies and poultry. However, locate the bulk spice aisle at your local grocery store and you can mix up your own jars at substantial savings.
Bonus tip: Use empty spice jars, small canning jars or even baby food jars to store your spice mixes.
2. Baby food
Those little pouches or jars of baby food are a great convenience to frazzled parents, but they come at a much higher cost than homemade or even simply spooning from a larger container.
If you’re feeling ambitious and want to make your own baby food, you might want to follow Mindy Kaling’s lead and create tiny gourmet meals, which she makes from inexpensive ingredients.
Better yet, take a 19 cent ripe Trader Joe’s banana and smash it with a fork!
Bonus tip: You can buy refillable baby food pouches to decrease your garbage output.
3. Bagged salad
Pre-chopped bags of lettuce are a huge convenience, but their cost is much higher than if you’d chosen a single head of lettuce and took 10 minutes to wash and chop it on your own. The bagged versions usually contain a mere 12 ounces, while an entire head of lettuce can easily provide two to four times as much food.
Bonus tip: Wash and dry your chopped lettuce in a salad spinner and then store it as-is in the refrigerator. The inner basket allows any fluid to drain off the lettuce, which helps to extend the freshness.
Yogurt prices have climbed over the past decade, yet making your own is easier than ever. Why? Many of us own countertop pressure cookers like the Instant Pot, which simplify the yogurt-making process. Recipes like this one from Epicurious break down the process, although similar recipes abound across the internet.
Don’t own a pressure cooker? Worry not, as you can try this easy stovetop method from The Frugal Girl.
Bonus tip: Wide mouth canning jars work great for yogurt storage, as they’re easiest to scoop from. Plus, they can be reused almost indefinitely.
5. Cleaning supplies
Homemade window cleaner couldn’t be cheaper than the 1:1 mixture of vinegar and water. Heck, even Martha Stewart recommends it! Pick up a jug of vinegar from your local dollar store and let the light shine through.
There’s a deep divide on whether homemade detergent is an amazing frugal hack or is to be avoided at all costs. The issue is that the homemade recipes use soap instead of a detergent, which fails to clean properly and may actually be harmful to your washing machine. I used to make my own detergent, but felt that my clothing became consistently dingy, so I switched back to the Costco detergent bucket and haven’t looked back.
Bonus tip: Swap out the standard big laundry scoop for a smaller one, which saves you from mindlessly using too much product.
If you buy your compost from a garden center, you’re likely to spend around $5 per bag. But what is compost other than decomposed organic matter? If you have a yard, you probably already have everything you need. Tutorials on composting can make it seem complicated, but this how-to page from the Environmental Protection Agency will walk you through the details.
Once you set up your bin, you’ll have free compost for the rest of your life!
Bonus tip: Check with your local government’s extension service to see if they offer free or low-cost composting bins.
7. Dry cleaning
Nothing’s scarier than a “Dry Clean Only” tag. Add in that you’re more likely to see it on expensive garments and the costs start to stack up. Luckily, others have questioned these rules, and there are budget-friendly options to keep your wardrobe clean and respectable.
Home dry cleaning kits offer consumers the option to safely launder their clothing at a reasonable price. But if you’re the more adventurous type, you can watch YouTube videos on how to clean your high-end clothing using nothing more than what you already have on hand.
Bonus tip: Hang garments up between wearings to air them out, and spot clean dirty areas using a slightly dampened cloth.
Of course, there are countless other ways to save money by making things at home. However, it depends on what you have access to. Your neighbor drops off a box of plums or you come across a rich thicket of blackberries? It makes financial sense to whip up some homemade jam. Buy the same fruit from a pricey farmer’s market and the project no longer decreases your grocery bill.
None of these suggested frugal hacks involve a lengthy time commitment, as it makes zero sense to spend hours on an unpleasant project in the name of saving a couple of bucks. The British would describe that as “penny wise and pound foolish.”
Want to further explore what items are worth making from scratch versus buying? Then check out Jennifer Reese’s great book Make The Bread, Buy The Butter.