20 Household Items You Can Easily Make (and Not Buy)
The smell of homemade pizza dough baking in the oven — for just pennies compared with store-bought and take-out pies — makes life seem instantly better.
So does cleaning your home with inexpensive household products instead of using the costly manufactured stuff.
In fact, you can easily save heaps of money on food, cleaning products and other household goods when you take a DIY approach to these items. Read on to learn more.
1. Greeting cards
It need not be hard or time-consuming to make your own greeting cards for pennies on the dollar. We walk you through one simple method in “The 20-Cent Greeting Card.”
If it still seems like too much work for you, at least buy your greeting cards for less at a dollar store. You’ll save a couple of bucks compared with buying them elsewhere.
2. Laundry detergent
When a Money Talks News contributor tried making his own laundry detergent (see how he did it in “3 Easy Ways to Get Laundry Soap for Nearly Nothing“), he noticed no difference between how it and the commercial variety performed.
Well, he did notice one difference: It cost about 2 cents per load compared with as much as 20 cents per load for the store-bought stuff.
3. Dishwasher detergent
Here’s a way to cut the cost of dishwasher detergent to only 4 cents a load: Make the stuff yourself.
Erin Huffstetler, the blogger behind My Frugal Home, says it takes a few minutes to mix together washing soda, kosher salt, baking soda and lemon juice and then portion it into molds.
Huffstetler tells Money Talks News that it’s a simple process — and well worth a few minutes of your time.
4. Wastebasket liners
Rather than paying for teeny-tiny liners for the bathroom trash can, why not just use plastic shopping bags from the supermarket, drugstore or home center?
This not only saves money, but it also gives those bags one more shot at usefulness.
5. Paper towels or rags
Why wipe up spills with a one-time-use product like paper towels? Instead, cut up old T-shirts or other worn-out cotton clothing and keep the cloth squares in a plastic container. By doing so, I make a roll of paper towels last a year.
Most of the time, you can wash and reuse these cloth squares. If the spill is particularly nasty, go ahead and throw them away.
Cut the cloth squares bigger for shop rags. They’re great for chores like wiping greasy hands, cleaning up paint drips or washing the car.
Tip: When cutting up a worn-out collar shirt, save the buttons for future clothing repairs.
6. Fabric refresher
Pets, smokers, amateur athletes and others can leave your home smelling pretty funky. The folks who sell stuff like Febreze are happy to help, to the tune of $5 or more per bottle.
Well, that stinks. Instead of paying through the nose, so to speak, make your own spray by filling a spray bottle with a 50/50 mix of water and cheap vodka, plus a dozen or so drops of your favorite essential oil. Shake well and spritz your curtains, sofa, dog bed, rug, gym bag or anything else that smells a bit off.
Tip: Spritz the furniture and drapes before you leave in the morning. They’ll be dry — and smell much nicer — by the time you get home.
7. Swiffer WetJet refill
Face it: A mop and bucket are soooo much cheaper. But not everyone is going to use them. A close relative of mine has chronic health conditions and loves the easy-to-use Swiffer WetJet.
What doesn’t she love? The cost of the refills.
I freed her from refill tyranny, with help from an article on Lifehacker. It was pretty simple:
- Turn the bottle that holds the WetJet’s cleaning solution upside-down and immerse it in a pan of boiling water far enough to cover the cap for about 90 seconds.
- Remove the cap with a good, hard twist. Use nail clippers to snip off the locking tabs inside the cap.
- Refill the bottle with water and a small amount of your favorite cleaning agent: white vinegar, a few drops of your favorite soap, lemon juice, bleach or tea tree oil.
- Put the cap back on. You’re done.
8. Swiffer replacement pads (wet or dry)
These pads get thrown away after one use! Fortunately, reusable replacements are easy to make.
For dry sweeper pads, substitute microfiber cloths from the dollar store. Secure them on a dry Swiffer sweeper with rubber bands, or with clothespins holding the ends of the cloth together on top of the sweeper head.
Once the floor has been swept, attach DIY replacements for the wet pads to the Swiffer WetJet that you’ve filled with DIY cleaning solution (see the previous slide). Make pads for wet floor wiping from worn washcloths or pieces cut from old towels. You’ll need to cut an “X” in the fabric near the spray head so it can do its job.
Count on making a half-dozen or more, because these cloths need to be taken off as they become wet and dirty, just like the throwaway kind. The difference is that you’ll be washing and reusing these until they fall apart.
9. Foaming bathroom cleaner
Scrubbing Bubbles-type products are great. They melt the soap scum off in minutes!
Here’s a frugal clone: Mix one part white vinegar to one part blue Dawn dish detergent in a spray bottle and shake well. Spray it on, wait a few minutes and rinse clean.
Does it stink? Oh, yes. But like the smell of commercially produced cleaners, the aroma does disappear. (Bonus for me: The homemade cleaner doesn’t trigger my asthma like the commercial products do.)
10. All-purpose cleaner
This one is sooo easy: Mix equal parts vinegar and water in a spray bottle.
The mixture will take care of bacon spatters on the stovetop, jelly drips on the kitchen counter, toothpaste smears on bathroom fixtures, and the streaks on windows and mirrors.
My partner calls vinegar “nature’s Clorox.” He’s right.
11. Litter box deodorizer
Sometimes you walk into someone’s home and know immediately that a cat also lives there.
Other times you can’t tell, which has a lot to do with how well the owner cares for the kitty toilet. Clumping litter is a marvel, but it’s not the be-all and end-all for litter-box smells. Here’s what a site called The Nest suggests:
- Every few weeks, empty the box entirely and scrape off any dried litter. Scrub the box with hot water, then fill with a mixture of 1 teaspoon chlorine bleach to 1 gallon of hot water. Empty and rinse after five minutes, then dry thoroughly with paper towels.
- Cover the bottom of the box with a thin layer of baking soda before refilling with litter.
12. Hard-water stain remover
Mineral-saturated water can make some really ugly stains on bathroom porcelain. Once again, it’s white vinegar to the rescue.
The process is super simple: Apply vinegar, let it sit for a few minutes, scrub and then rinse. If it’s a toilet, turn off the water supply and flush until the bowl is mostly drained, then pour in a lot of vinegar and start scrubbing after a few minutes.
I performed this chore for my chronically ill relative. She was delighted, going so far as to say that the newly sparkling porcelain provided “a great sense of peace.”
Making this healthy probiotic is pretty simple. Here’s my process:
- Heat 2 quarts of milk to 185 degrees, then cool it to between 105 and 110 degrees. You can use the half-price “manager’s special” (close-dated) milk.
- Put half a cup of plain, active-culture yogurt into a ceramic or glass dish, then gently stir in a couple of cups of the cooled milk.
- Set the dish on a heating pad set on “low” or some other heat source. I use an electric warming tray.
- Carefully stir in the remaining milk, put a lid on the dish and cover it with a heavy towel. Let it sit there on the heat source for eight to 13 hours.
- For a Greek-style product, put the yogurt into a colander lined with a cloth napkin to drain while in the fridge. When it’s reached the consistency you prefer, transfer it to a container with a tight-fitting lid.
Oh, and set aside a half-cup of the undrained yogurt to use as a starter next time.
14. Iced tea
Even the plainest store-brand teas generally cost at least several bucks a gallon. When you want lemon or other varieties, you’ll often pay even more — but you don’t have to.
Black tea is one of the cheapest cold drinks out there, and it’s so easy to make.
I pour almost-boiling water over eight tea bags and let them steep for 17 minutes. Then I add enough water to make a gallon.
If you want sweet tea, stir in sugar while the water is still piping hot.
Use store-brand tagless tea bags, and you’ll pay as little as a penny per bag if they’re on sale, and 2 to 3 cents each otherwise — about 8 to 24 cents per gallon for basic brew.
Save big bucks on other delicious drinks: Read “9 Homemade Cold Beverages That Beat The Heat.”
15. Pizza dough
For just $1.23, Jennifer Schreiner can make enough pizza dough to feed her family of four. By comparison, a tube of store-bought pizza dough costs $3 to $7.
The dough needs to rise for just one hour, and it freezes well. Homemade pizza is a good way to use up leftover spaghetti sauce.
Homemade pizza night happens at least once a week for Schreiner, who runs the blog Inspiring Savings. Her kids look forward to creating their own personal pizzas, with no arguments about too much cheese or not liking pepperoni. She tells Money Talks News that pizza night is “joyous.”
Here’s another joy: Not paying $12 to $20 — or more — for takeout pizza.
16. Taco seasoning
Amanda Brackney’s family loves tacos and taco salads whipped up with her homemade seasoning. She also uses the spicy blend for other dishes, such as Beef and Black Bean Tortilla Stack, Turkey Taco Penne and Slow Cooker Taco Soup.
“It helps me limit the amount of processed food items in my pantry, saves money…and allows me to adjust each spice according to my family’s tastes,” she tells Money Talks News.
It’s a simple process: Stir together 10 common spices. You’ll find the recipe on Brackney’s blog, Stewardship at Home.
Brackney uses spices bought at a warehouse club or on sale at Amazon, bringing the price to as little as 17 cents for the equivalent of a store-bought package that can cost 99 cents or more.
17. Baking mix
Products like Bisquick and Jiffy Mix are undeniably handy, as they let you quickly put together biscuits, cobblers, pancakes and more. But they often contain some ingredients that most of us wouldn’t recognize or can’t pronounce.
By comparison, Kristie Sawicki’s copycat Bisquick recipe requires just five items: flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and shortening.
She’s never done the math, so she can’t say for sure whether she saves a ton of money. What she can say is that she can “make a lot for just a few dollars.”
Sawicki, who runs the blog Saving Dollars & Sense, stores it in the fridge to make pancakes, waffles or strawberry shortcake at a moment’s notice.
18. Enchilada sauce
An essential ingredient for so many Mexican-themed recipes, this stuff can be pricey: 13 to 24 cents per ounce.
Luckily, the blog Budget Bytes has a ridiculously cheap and easy alternative.
In 10 minutes, I can turn out 4 cups of this addictive sauce for the cost of a 6-ounce can of tomato paste, a little oil and flour, and a few basic spices. It gripes me to pay so much for the canned stuff, and the homemade version lets me eliminate salt.
I’ve found tomato paste on sale for as little as 39 cents a can. Even accounting for the spices, oil and flour, we’re probably talking less than 2 cents per ounce.
Bonus: Enchilada sauce freezes well. Make a double batch.
19. Peanut butter
Generally, it isn’t cheaper to make your own peanut butter. That is, unless you use so little that a store-bought jar would become rancid before you could finish it.
If that’s the case, then Kristie Sawicki’s recipe couldn’t be simpler: Pulse some peanuts — with a bit of salt, if you like — in a food processor until you get the consistency you want. She sometimes adds honey to make a sweet, super-spreadable version.
There you have it: a supremely fresh product in a quantity you’ll use up.
Making your own also lets you control the sodium and also avoid ingredients like hydrogenated vegetable oils included in some commercial peanut butters.
What do you mean cake isn’t a staple? In our house it is!
Why bake from scratch when cake mixes make it so easy and cheap, you ask? Well, for starters, they aren’t necessarily simpler: You have to go out and buy a mix, and you wind up needing to measure oil and water and crack eggs anyway.
My partner and his 6-year-old granddaughter favor the Lightning Cake recipe from the blog Choosing Voluntary Simplicity. It takes mere minutes to stir up and uses things most households have on hand.
Note: We use cooking spray on the pan and don’t bother sifting the dry ingredients — and it’s still delicious.
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