Things to make instead of buy

In my ongoing quest to frugally feed my family and improve the quality of our diet, I had a bit of an epiphany.

I decided to make a list of things to make instead of buy.

A lot of stuff we purchase at the grocery store (like condiments and cleaning supplies) weren’t even available to our grandmothers, or weren’t affordable. These items were made at home.  Typically, the made at home version is far superior to the store bought. It works better (usually), is healthier, and usually cheaper.

Here’s what I came up with after a little brainstorming. Some of these items I regularly make myself, but I threw them in there because I thought it might be helpful to you. If you have any more suggestions, links to recipes or tips, please comment!
Things to make instead of buy

Things To Make Instead of Buy

Salad Dressing – I love a simple olive oil, apple cider vinegar and mustard vinaigrette. Sometimes a “Ranch” style dressing is nice too. (MSG and other icky ingredients not included.)

Laundry Detergent – I haven’t bought laundry detergent in several years. I make my own. (Big Z thinks I’m some kind of genius!) It’s cheap as dirt and works great. I use this recipe for homemade laundry detergent. (Update: I no longer make my own laundry detergent. Here’s why.)

Dishwasher Detergent – I’ve made this in the past and found that it made my glasses cloudy, but after reading the recipe and comments on this site, I’m motivated to try again. Update 1/2012: After months of experimenting with various recipes, I’ve found that homemade dishwasher detergent just doesn’t work well enough for me to use full time. I buy the regular stuff and cut it 50% with homemade.

Simple All-Purpose Cleaner – A tsp of dishwashing liquid added to a spray bottle of water works well for most surfaces. Add essential oils if that floats your boat (these will cause streaks on glass though).

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Dishwashing Liquid – I make my own dishwashing liquid by the gallon and it is dirt cheap! I also like the fact that it doesn’t have a strong fragrance.

Mayonnaise – This won’t be a cost savings (due to the eggs), but that doesn’t matter. Homemade mayo is more nutritious. I avoid soy products and commercial mayo is made from soy oil (or canola, just as bad). An easy recipe for homemade lacto-fermented mayonnaise is here on cheeseslave’s blog. Because it’s lacto-fermented, it’s probiotic, lasts longer in your fridge and is a “live” food. This is one of those instances where making your own won’t save you money in the short term, but the end result is a healthier diet.

Ketchup – Since store-bought ketchup has quite a lot of sugar and I don’t eat sugar, I make my own using the easy recipe from the TrimHealthyMama cookbook.

Salsa – I love my homemade lacto-fermented salsa! Again, the homemade version is a superior product in terms of nutrition and taste.

Jelly – I’ve never tried my hand at making homemade jelly because I didn’t have a source of free berries. When my strawberries start coming up (if there are any left after the kids pick them and eat them!), I want to do this.

Coconut Milk – I had no idea you could make your own coconut milk until I got an email in my inbox with this recipe. This is especially exciting since coconut milk is super nutritious, yet very expensive – I often cannot bring myself to pay $2 a can for it but now I don’t have to go without.

Homemade Tooth Powder – I love making my own homemade tooth powder. It’s very inexpensive, and my dental hygienist approves – as long as I leave out the cinnamon. (Read the post for an explanation.) It’s great especially during pregnancy if your foamy regular toothpaste triggers gagging.

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Deodorant – I use straight up baking soda. It works better than anything I’ve used. For ease of application, some people mix it with a bit of coconut oil and store it in a jar.

Kombucha – Kombucha is very expensive store bought and costs almost nothing if made at home. The SCOBY will live forever if you take care of it, so the only challenge is getting one. Ask around amongst your crunchy friends, or order it online or from eBay (Google search will turn up sources). Or you can culture your own by buying a bottle of GT’s kombucha (around $4) and growing the “mother”. Easy instructions here.

Kefir – Another expensive item ($4 a quart!) when store bought that can be made for pennies at home, and is soooo easy. I used to make kefir regularly but my grains froze in the refrigerator once and I have not replaced them. Similar to kombucha, once you get the kefir grains you can make kefir forever with just the cost of milk. Get them from a friend or online.

Yogurt – I make yogurt from raw milk in my slow cooker.

Sauerkraut – Homemade sauerkraut is super nutritious (great for your gut!) and cabbage, even organic, is cheap. Since most of the sauerkraut you see in stores is cooked, it’s “dead” and a very poor substitute for homemade. You can Google for easy sauerkraut instructions. Here is a recipe for a “no pound” method. I have a fermented veggie maker kit that I use it to make kraut easily.

Tortillas – Homemade tortillas are so delicious and don’t compare to store bought. I don’t have a cast iron tortilla press but it’s on my list of things to buy. You can get them from a mercado or

Bread – My oldest son is our resident bread baker.  He loves to knead dough by hand and says it’s great for stress relief (from an 11 year old!). I want to challenge him to try his hand at homemade sourdough.

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Gluten Free Baking and Pancake Mix – These are very pricey in the store but a necessity for me and my youngest, who are wheat allergic. I think I’ll just stop buying these at all now that I’ve discovered using coconut flour for pancakes, breads and muffins. It’s nutritionally superior to rice flour, corn and potato starch (common ingredients in GF baking mixes), and a little of it goes a looong way (a typical recipe calls for just 1/4 cup coconut flour). To save money, I buy it in bulk online.

Gluten Free Cookies – Ditto. These are outrageously priced in the stores, and I admit to the occasional impulse buy. Making cookies for my wheat-allergic family members at home is cheap and easy enough.

Cream Soups – So many recipes I have that are convenient (slow cooker recipes for instance) call for cream soups. I don’t buy these because they all contain wheat, MSG and other ingredients I want to avoid. I found that cream soup can be replaced by a simple white sauce. The cream soup serves as a thickener. So if the recipe calls for “cream of mushroom soup”, you add diced mushrooms, “cream of celery”, celery.

Pickles – My kids LOVE pickles, but I don’t buy them because commercially available pickles usually contain food dyes, HFCS and other ingredients I avoid. Homemade pickles (using a cold method) are more nutritious since they’re raw, lacto-fermented, not cooked. I planted cucumbers this year just so the kids could make pickles homemade. Can’t wait!

What things do you make instead of buy?

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About Carrie

Happy wife, homeschooling mom of many, autodidact, best-selling Amazon author, blogger, head chef and barefoot walker. Residing just outside Atlanta, usually found reading a book while sipping a hot beverage.


  1. Yum! I make a lot of the food items you listed from scratch. We’ve started making our own bread, pancakes, cookies (unless I can get the boxed variety for free – I know that’s not always good for you, but occasionally you can pick up an organic or natural variety for pennies with coupons & sales). I just made some Strawberry Preserves this week that are to die for! I’ve got an easy vinaigrette recipe that me and the kids prefer over bottled any time. And we’re going to try our hand at pickles this year. I’ve never tried to make my own mayo…but I’ll have to try it one day just to say I’ve done it 🙂

  2. Ah, pickles! Can’t believe I forgot! I have never made those but hope I get a bumper crop of cucumbers to make my own. I’ll add that to the post. This would be a fun project for the kids to do. Our kids LOVE pickles.

  3. I make kefir, sourdough bread, sauerkraut and salad dressing from scratch. Ditto on ketchup–when I have enough tomatoes, I want to make that from scratch, too.

    Tried cukes once–they got moldy. Maybe will try again when I have cukes from garden later this summer.

    IMHO I can’t do better than Ezekiel 4:9 tortillas, so I’ll keep buying those. 😉

    I’ve noticed the castile soap doesn’t do well on greasy dishes. Let me know if your recipe works for you, Carrie, and I might try it.

    I also make my own “deodorant” from baking soda and cornstarch, and all my household cleaning formulas are homemade as well.

    BTW homemade yogurt, although it takes a lot longer to make than kefir, is easy to do. The main thing is to keep it well-insulated for a long enough period.

  4. Thanks Emily, I keep forgetting things I make too, like homemade tooth powder. And my Dad swears by baking soda as a deodorant as well. What’s your recipe?

  5. I’ve been using homemade deodorant for over a year now, since I finally found a simple recipe that works better than anything I ever bought from the store!
    We just mix equal parts cornstarch and baking soda, then stir in a tiny bit of tea tree oil. I’ve heard you can also add coconut oil in larger amounts to make a firm paste that looks and acts like traditional deodorant, but we just dust the powder under our arms.
    The powder is also good for stinky shoes. 😀

  6. Thanks Kim, that recipe looks easy. I’ll surely put it to the test with my pregnant self in the Georgia heat this summer. LOL

  7. Carrie, thanks for stopping by the Cellulite Investigation. After checking out your site, I am equally fascinated! I love reading child psychology type books (even though I don’t yet have kids) and learning new ways to keep things simple (and natural).

  8. Wendy McKenzie says:

    You need to visit Passionate I have tried, and recommend, her recipes for homemade toothpaste, soaked bread and tortillas, and want to try her deodorant recipe. While you’re there try the Healthy Delicious Fudge recipe – Cocoa powder, honey and coconut oil- excellent!! I also add chopped dried cherries and pecans.

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