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.
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.
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2. Hummus and Dips
Hummus is another one of the many foods that Thames and her husband make from scratch rather than buy pre-made 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 $4 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 50 cents. If you use olive oil you have on hand, you’ll only spend about $1.50 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 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.
3. Salad Dressing
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.”
4. Household Cleaners
On average, consumers spend $160 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.
5. Laundry Detergent
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 60 cents per cup — and ½ cup of an oxygen cleaning product such as OxiClean, which costs about 50 cents, for a total of about $1.70. You only need one tablespoon of the mix per-load of laundry.
6. Dishwasher Detergent
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 $12 for 150 ounces of Cascade Powder Dishwasher Detergent at Walmart.
7. Paper Towels
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.
8. Paper Napkins
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 the dollar store and use them again and again.
9. Baked Goods
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 percent to 300 percent 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.
10. Side Salads
It’s easy to pick up pre-made salads and side dishes at the supermarket — but it’s also expensive.
“You’re going to pay for convenience, usually between 40 percent to 60 percent 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.
11. Simple Syrup
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 percent 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 24 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.
13. Halloween Costumes
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 fun easy crafts.
14. Greeting Cards
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 Season 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.
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16. Weed Killer
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 four to six 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 $21.26. 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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Gabrielle Olya contributed to the reporting for this article.
Prices are current as of Oct. 9, 2018.