Making from Scratch–And Not

Joke: “Of course I made it from scratch. Scratch is what comes in those boxes, right?”

We’ve actually never been big spenders, so when we started trying to cut back even further, one obvious place was buying fewer things in their final, more expensive form, and instead making them from cheap ingredients. Another leading factor was that we wanted to avoid certain toxins and chemicals, and organic/natural/etc. products can be a lot more expensive.

Our time, however, is not infinite, and if I wind up using my work time (that is, paid daycare time) to make things from scratch, it probably doesn’t pay off.  So we focus on the things that are most worthwhile and give the best return for our time.

So far, here’s what we used to buy but now make:

  1. Hummus. Commercial hummus often contains the preservative sodium benzoate, which we’re trying to avoid, and is often made with cheaper oils like soybean and canola instead of just olive oil. It’s also pricey. One pound of dried chickpeas will make three containers of hummus; even with the tahini, EVOO, and toasted pine nuts, it costs about a third what the store-bought stuff costs.
  2. Laundry detergent. I use a common Internet recipe for powdered detergent made from soap, borax, and washing soda. Vinegar in the final rinse helps keep the clothes from turning yellow. ( I do NOT use this on my cloth diapers as the manufacturer says not to use soap or vinegar; I buy BumGenius detergent for them.)
  3. Granola. There’s a pretty high disparity between the cost of granola ingredients and the high cost of prepared granola. This is about the cheapest cold cereal that exists, although we actually don’t eat it that way–we mostly put it in yogurt
  4. Sugar wax for my eyebrows. I never bought wax, but I used to pay to have my eyebrows done professionally.

Not exactly “made”:

  1. Hand soap. We bought containers of Method foaming hand soap and refill them with one part Dr. Bronner’s Liquid Soap to four parts boiled water (cooled). The foaming action saves a lot of soap and it’s the only way to use Dr. Bronner’s in a dispenser without clogging it.
  2. Shampoo. I’ve switched to baking soda with a vinegar rinse.

And here’s what we still buy:

  1. Yogurt. I am not convinced that the cost of milk vs. the cost of quarts of plain store brand yogurt would really make this worthwhile, as it sounds labor-intensive.
  2. Dishwasher detergent. I tried homemade, but got bad results. Unfortunately, I also didn’t get good results from natural brands, so I am back to using large boxes of Cascade, purchased at Costco. I only need to fill the compartment about half-way.
  3. Bread. I know how to make bread, but Mr. FP just prefers store bought for his sandwiches and again, I’m not sure that the cost of my time would make it worthwhile to make it from scratch. (We get Sarah Lee Soft and Smooth 100% Whole Grain Bread, which Mr. FP has selected as having a good price and fewer undesirable ingredients.)

Let me know in the comments if you want to see full recipes for any of these! Or share your own make-from-scratch money savers.

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About frugalparagon

I'm a part-time librarian and mom to two small boys. I blog about striving for the long-term goal of financial independence while running a tight ship at home.

10 responses to “Making from Scratch–And Not”

  1. David says :

    We go through way too much bread to buy store bread. Between us and the kids, we go through 6-8 loaves of homemade bread a week. Even the thinner slices of store bread usually net us 4 loaves a week.

    Between bread, pizza, pancakes, etc we go through 40-50 pounds of flour a month.

  2. Rachael says :

    I make our bread, bagels, pizza, granola, saltines, yoghurt, jams, chutneys, sauce, soap etc but it really is hugely time consuming. And it can get boringly repetitive. The savings are great though and mostly the end result is superior to store bought. Right now, while I’m not working, I treat it as my job and I realise that if I don’t save money this way I’d either have to get a part time job which I don’t want to do (I’m studying full time), or go without. That straighens out any reluctance!

    • frugalparagon says :

      Wow, you guys are impressive! I will revisit the bread issue once we stop having dining hall access–for one loaf a week, it hasn’t been worthwhile, but if it was more…

  3. plantingourpennies says :

    We buy hand soap (but in the big liquid refill size from Target), but am on board with pretty much everything else. Actually in 2014, I’ve started making our own yogurt and bread, too. The yogurt is super easy in my new Instant Pot pressure cooker (has a built in yogurt setting), and the yogurt is sooo tasty. I strain it so it’s thick like greek yogurt, but without any of the sugars or bitterness of the over-processed store-bought kind. Each serving costs as much as 1 cup of milk (~$0.25 for us these days), not too bad. Plus I’m saving the whey that gets strained off and when I get enough I’m going to try and make homemade ricotta!

    • frugalparagon says :

      Maybe after Little Brother turns 2, when we can all eat the same low-fat yogurt, I’ll try making it. (Right now we buy two different kinds.) Let me know how the homemade ricotta comes out!

      The next time your hand soap dispensers get yucky and need to be thrown out, you might try getting the foaming kind. You can refill those with ANY liquid soap diluted 4:1 with water. I think the foaming soap is a bigger savings if you have children who otherwise tend to pump out too much, but even for adults I think it helps you use less soap (plus takes less time to lather and rinse!).

  4. frugalveganmom says :

    Hi! Saw your comment on the MMM board, thanks for the encouraging words. We also make homemade hummus (omg so easy and sooo much cheaper/better than store bought) and more recently have tried out home fermenting sauerkraut and kombucha, both which save a ton and have the health benefits of raw probiotics. Yogurt is next on my list to try because non-dairy yogurt is so expensive and usually has tons of sugar.

    About the bread – I’m too lazy to make homemade, but there is a place near us (I have never been, my grandma stops weekly for us and just calls it “the bread store”) that gives away free “expired” bread. But, it is mostly from Trader Joe’s and has expired that same day – we throw it in the freezer and it lasts forever! We always get sprouted grain and artisanal loaves, those sell for a lot! Worth checking out to see if there’s a similar service in your area.

    • frugalparagon says :

      You’re welcome, and thanks for the tip–we are moving to a big city soon and I’ll look for an “expired bread” store :-). I’ve never tried sprouted bread but my sister swears by Ezekiel bread.

  5. WilliamB says :

    IRecently I ran the numbers re homemade laundry detergent. With average of 4 loads a week, homemade saves me 90% over Tide (not on sale, no coupons). Which, as it turns out, is about $20/year.

    That is not nearly as much as I thought it would be. But because it’s so easy to make and I hate comparing coupons, sales, loads per bottle, etc., I’m going to keep making it anyway.

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