With such busy lives, it often seems easier to buy the things we need rather than make them. But some of the things you regularly use or consume can be made from scratch relatively quickly — and for a fraction of the cost of the store-bought versions.
GOBankingRates asked money-saving experts the top things you should stop buying because you can make them on your own — without a big time commitment — for much less. Take advantage of these tips and begin saving on everyday items.
Last updated: Jan. 21, 2020
If bread is a staple in your house, you can dramatically reduce the cost by making your own.
“My family likes to eat healthy, organic foods, and I was spending close to $5 per loaf at the grocery store on fancy, pre-made whole wheat bread with no high-fructose corn syrup,” said Elizabeth Willard Thames, who writes about frugal living at Frugalwoods.com. “Now, I make my own bread for pennies per loaf.”
Using a hand-me-down bread machine, she makes whole wheat bread using a King Arthur Flour recipe. None of it goes to waste because it freezes well, she added.
Hummus is another one of the many foods that Thames and her husband make from scratch rather than buy premade from the supermarket.
“We are hummus fiends — especially our toddler who requests ‘hummah’ at almost every meal — and pre-made hummus is pricey,” Thames said. It can cost about $3 for a 10-ounce container when not on sale.
They combine garbanzo beans, olive oil, lemon zest, squeezed lemon and water in the food processor. A can of garbanzo beans costs about $1, and a lemon costs about 80 cents. If you use olive oil you have on hand, you’ll only spend about $1.80 to make hummus.
“No need for expensive ingredients such as tahini,” she said. “This lemony hummus tastes wonderful for a fraction of the price.”
You can also save money by making other simple dips. For example, you can pick up an inexpensive container of sour cream — whatever is on sale — and combine it with a powdered mix such as onion soup mix, said money-saving expert Andrea Woroch. “You will get much more for your money,” she said.
Rather than buying bottles of salad dressing — like Newman’s Own dressing, which can cost $2.98 at Walmart — you likely can make a vinaigrette for next to nothing with ingredients you already have on hand. You can combine olive oil, vinegar and spices to make your own dressing, Woroch said.
“Search online to find a recipe using the ingredients you already have at home and you can make it for cheap,” she said. “Not only will it cost less, but it will oftentimes be a lot healthier.”
On average, consumers spend $184 per year on household cleaning and laundry supplies, according to Statista. Rather than buy pricey household cleaners, Thames makes her own cleaning solution of water and white vinegar.
“This solution works to clean everything from the toilet to the kitchen counter and, again, costs me pennies,” she said. “A 1.32-gallon jug of white vinegar costs me $4.49. That single jug provides me with enough cleaning solution for at least a year, since I cut it in half with tap water.”
Making this DIY household cleaner saves you money, and it’s an environmentally friendly cleaning solution. “With both a toddler and a septic system to consider, not having dangerous chemicals and fumes around is a priority for me,” Thames said.
Cherie Lowe, the creator of the blog Queen of Free, started creating her own DIY laundry detergent because her family was having allergic reactions to store-bought detergents. It has saved her hundreds of dollars over the years, she said.
To make your own detergent, mix one cup of Borax, one cup of washing soda — which each cost about 95 cents per cup — and 1/2 cup of an oxygen cleaning product such as OxiClean, which costs about 70 cents, for a total of about $1.65. You only need 1 tablespoon of the mix per load of laundry.
If you make your own laundry detergent, you can use a lot of the same ingredients to also make dishwasher detergent. Lowe recommended combining one box of Borax, one box of washing soda, three cups of Epsom salt and 24 packets of unsweetened lemonade mix in an air-tight container.
She uses just a teaspoon of the mix per load. It costs less than $10 to make enough dishwasher detergent, 144 ounces or so, to last a year, she said. By comparison, it costs about $9.50 for 125 ounces of Cascade Powder Dishwasher Detergent at Walmart.
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Even if you buy paper towels on sale with coupons, you’re still paying more than you have to for this disposable product. You’ll spend a lot less using washable dishcloths rather than paper towels that get tossed after one use, said Erin Chase, a frugal expert and founder of $5 Dinners.
Chase said she hasn’t used paper towels in nine years. Instead, she spends about $12 per year buying eight-packs of washable dishcloths instead of $11 per month on an eight-pack of paper towels. She estimated that she saves about $100 per year by opting for reusable dishcloths.
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Napkins are another paper product that penny pinchers never buy, Chase said. Rather than spend several dollars every month on a package of paper napkins that you’ll toss after one use, you can buy cloth napkins at a dollar store and use them again and again.
If you have a sweet tooth, keep down the cost of sweet treats by making dessert yourself rather than buying it at the store or high-end bakery.
“The bakery section at the grocery store has the highest markups,” Woroch said. “You’re looking at paying 100% to 300% more for cakes, cupcakes and cookies than if you just made them yourself.”
Cookies, for example, are easy DIYs if you have basic ingredients such as flour, sugar and eggs. “You don’t have to be a pastry chef to save money baking your own sweets,” Woroch said.
It’s easy to pick up premade salads and side dishes at the supermarket — but it’s also expensive.
“You’re going to pay for convenience, usually between 40% to 60% more for prepared foods in the deli section,” Woroch said. “Side salads like potato salad, macaroni salad or even tuna salad are so easy to make at home.” In addition to saving money, you can control what goes in the side salads you make.
If you like hosting cocktail parties, you can cut down on the cost of mixers by making your own simple syrup.
“Perfect for the bar aficionado, this DIY method for simple syrup can save you up to 90% of the price of a store-bought bottle,” said Carson Yarbrough, shopping and savings expert for deal website Offers.com.
Simply heat two cups of water and stir in two cups of sugar, which costs about 80 cents, until the sugar dissolves. Then, let the mixture cool.
“This is a great method for those looking to save money on their monthly entertainment and alcohol budget, and you can store your homemade simple syrup for up to a month in the refrigerator,” Yarbrough said.
If you work in an office, you should stop mindlessly burning through your paycheck by going out to lunch every day.
“Most folks know that restaurant meals can often be expensive, but working people can’t simply skip lunch,” said Timothy Wiedman, retired associate professor of management and human resources at Doane University. “Still, how many people realize the cost difference between a reasonably priced restaurant meal and a brown-bag lunch made at home?”
For example, Applebee’s least expensive lunch combo plus a drink, tax and tip totals about $11.50, he said. So you’d spend $57.50 a week if you ate lunch at this restaurant chain every work day, Wiedman said. However, a sandwich made at home with low-fat lunch meat on whole-grain bread, a dozen baby carrots, a small individually sized box of raisins for dessert and a can of diet soda can be assembled for about $2.80 per day, he said.
Rather than shell out $30 or more on a Halloween costume, you can make your own for a fraction of the cost.
“Use apparel and supplies you have at home, or head over to a consignment store to look for any key pieces and inexpensive accessories that will complete your look — like a witch’s hat, princess wand or clown wig,” Woroch said.
You can even make DIY Halloween costumes for kids for less than $10 with a little creativity. If you have a glue gun, you likely won’t even need to sew these easy crafts.
Before you spend $5 for a store-bought greeting card, consider following Woroch’s recommendation and making your own. “It’s a smart way to save money, plus you can be creative and have fun with it,” she said.
Think of greeting cards as DIY art projects. You can print pictures to attach to cards and personalize them. Or, “if you have children, have them draw a cute picture to make it extra special,” Woroch said.
It will cost about $75 to buy a centerpiece from a florist, but you can make your own for a fraction of the cost, said Cynthia O’Hara, author of the book “Cooking, Baking, and Making: 100 Recipes and DIY Ideas for All Seasons and Reasons.” To create an autumn centerpiece, cut a hole in the top of a pumpkin and clean out the seeds and pulp. Place a jar in the pumpkin and fill it with fall foliage and wildflowers.
Instead of spending money on harsh chemicals to kill pesky weeds in your yard, you can make your own weed killer solution for much less money. The easy home project requires mixing equal parts vinegar and water. Then add 4 to 6 ounces of dish soap per gallon of water and vinegar mixture, said Jonathan Steele, a wellness educator at Water Cures, a natural remedies organization.
Put the solution in a spray bottle or garden sprayer to target the weeds you want to kill. Steele estimated that you could save $20 creating as much weed killer on your own as you would get with a store-bought product that can cause irritation if it comes into contact with your skin.
You don’t have to spend a lot buying expensive fertilizers. You can help your garden grow with compost. You can buy compost at lawn and garden stores, such as Dr. Earth 803 Compost 1.5 cubic feet from Walmart for about $35. Or “you can make your own compost by combining kitchen and garden scraps,” said Gena Lorainne, a horticulturist and planting expert at U.K.-based Fantastic Gardeners.
Diverting food scraps to a compost bin can help reduce the amount of trash you’ll throw away, which also means you won’t go through trash bags as quickly, saving you even more money.
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Store-bought body scrubs are not only expensive, but they can also be full of harmful chemicals, said Pratibha Vuppuluri, chief blogger at She Started It!, an online resource guide for working moms. Body scrubs sell for anywhere from $6 to $30-plus, but you can make your own from things you likely already have in your pantry.
“With sugar and honey, you can exfoliate,” Vuppuluri said. “This is definitely cheaper compared to the [scrubs you can buy] in stores. More so, it’s all-natural and healthy for the skin.”
Liquid Dish Soap
“Buying dish soap can be quite expensive when you have a large family because you run out of the stuff so quickly,” said Joe Bailey, business development consultant at My Trading Skills. “We make our own using castile soap, water, vegetable glycerin and sometimes some essential oils. You can save at least $10 by making your own dish soap at home.”
A pack of Bounce dryer sheets costs about $9 at Walmart, but this is another household item you could DIY.
“You can save $8 by learning to make dryer sheets at home,” Bailey said. “All you need is a bunch of old fabric or old towels, some vinegar and some essential oil if you would like.”
Microwave popcorn is an easy snack to make, but you’re paying extra for the convenience of having it prepackaged for you.
“There’s a very simple way you can make your own microwave popcorn for just pennies on the dollar,” said Cyrus Vanover, personal finance expert and founder of Frugal Budgeter. “Purchase a pack of brown paper lunch bags. They can be as little as $1 a pack, depending on where you shop. Also, purchase a bag of regular popcorn, the kind you pop in a skillet or a popcorn popper.”
Place about 1/4 cup of popcorn kernels in a bag and fold the top of the bag to keep the contents in. Place the bag in your microwave and set it for the usual time you pop prepackaged bags of microwave popcorn.
“It pops exactly the same and tastes great,” Vanover said. “It’s possible that one or two bags of popcorn could last a year or more, resulting in huge savings over regular packs of microwave popcorn.”
A 12-pack of Orville Redenbacher’s microwave popcorn costs about $5 at Walmart, while a jar of kernels that makes 32 servings sells for the same price.
“Smoothies are one food item that is much cheaper to DIY than to buy at any restaurant or store,” said Stacy Caprio of Deals Scoop. “You can buy basic smoothie ingredients that will last you an entire week for $6.70, meaning the cost of one smoothie comes out to less than a dollar each day.”
Caprio said that a $2 carton of milk, a $4 pack of blueberries and seven bananas, which cost about 10 cents each, should be enough to make seven smoothies.
“When you go out to buy a smoothie, it costs anywhere from $4 to $7, depending on the restaurant. This means you’re paying 400% more for a smoothie when you buy it out than when you make it yourself, making it a much more cost-effective option to do yourself at home,” she said.
“When you DIY granola bars, you are saving money while cutting out the added sugar and preservatives,” said Logan Allec, CPA, personal finance expert and owner of personal finance blog Money Done Right.
Allec recommends following this granola bar recipe from Minimalist Baker that only uses five ingredients: dates, peanut butter, almonds, oats and a liquid sweetener.
“You’ll have enough to last all week for the price of a couple of store-bought bars,” he said.
Pancake mix is another pantry item that’s easy enough to whip up yourself. Allec recommends Spend With Pennies’ DIY pancake mix recipe made with 4 cups of all-purpose flour, 3 tablespoons of baking powder, 2 teaspoons of baking soda, 1 teaspoon of salt and 3 tablespoons of sugar.
“With just 10 minutes at home putting together the ingredients, you will have enough pancake mix to quickly cater to future pancake cravings,” he said. “Your DIY pancake mix will be just as fast without wasting your hard-earned dough on the prepackaged mix.”
Your Daily Coffee
“Regular trips to Starbucks are convenient, but cost many of my clients upwards of $200 a month, which adds up quickly over time,” said Steve Sexton, financial consultant and CEO of Sexton Advisory Group. “Brewing your own coffee at home — or even keeping a French press at your desk at work — can eliminate an expense that may seem insignificant on a daily basis, but can make a big dent in your wallet over time. A 12-ounce bag of high-quality coffee beans costs about $10 to $12 and brews about 62 cups of coffee — that’s just under 20 cents per cup, versus $5-plus at Starbucks or other coffee shops.”
Subscription Meal Kits
“Services like Blue Apron and HelloFresh are incredibly convenient and great for recipe inspiration, but these services are expensive at $100 to $200 per month for just a handful of meals — not to mention wasteful when it comes to transportation and packaging,” Sexton said. “If you’re looking to save money, download a free recipe app for inspiration and do the grocery shopping yourself.”
As Sexton notes, the average home-cooked meal costs about $4 per person, whereas meal kits can cost at least $10 per person.
“That’s more than a 200% markup,” he said.
As an alternative to meal kits, Sexton recommends meal-prepping one or two nights a week.
It’s always tempting to buy the precut vegetables at the grocery store, but you’re paying a premium price for work that you could easily do yourself.
“If you buy the whole produce and chop it yourself, you can save several dollars,” said Becky Beach, money-saving expert and blogger at MomBeach.com. “When I was at Albertsons, chopped celery was $4 and the whole celery was only $1.39. Never buy chopped produce if you want to save money.”
Beach said she makes homemade pizzas to save on the huge mark-ups you pay when you order delivery.
“The ones I make taste much better and cost less than ordering delivery from Pizza Hut,” she said. “Delivered pizzas can run up to $20 sometimes. I can make several pizzas for my family for under $5 and freeze the [leftovers].”
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Gabrielle Olya contributed to the reporting for this article.
Prices are current as of Jan. 9, 2020.
This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: Stop Buying These 28 Things and Make Them Yourself