8 Things we Make at Home to Save Money, Reduce Waste, and Eat Healthier

Reader Contribution by Carrie Williams Howe
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Grocery bills can be scary.  They never stop coming, and they seem to just get bigger as kids grow older and families get bigger.  After all, we have to eat.  And no matter how much coupon clipping or thrifty shopping you do, the numbers still add up.

One of our strategies for saving money at the register is to make more things at home that we would otherwise buy.  We try to focus on the items that are more of a hit to our pocket, show up on our grocery list on a regular basis, and are not too hard to make at home.  Because I work from home part-time, I try to dedicate “Make it at home Mondays” to the task of preparing at least 2-3 of these items.  Others I know, dedicate time on Sunday to do this.

In addition to saving money, we’re also saving a ton of packaging – from bags and boxes to paper cups and plastic bottles, which makes us feel good about our choices.

Lastly, making these items at home allows us to choose our own ingredients and leave out the less healthy preservatives, sweeteners, and artificial ingredients you would find in store-bought items.

Here are 8 ideas for things you can make at home instead of buying (with links to helpful recipes and tips):

Bread – this is the biggest one for us. A nice, high quality loaf of whole grain bread at the grocery store will cost about $4-6 where we live.  Likewise, a loaf to have with dinner will run about the same.  So, three loaves of bread a week = $15.  You can make a double-sized batch of our favorite maple oat sandwich bread using the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day method for less than $5 (or $2.20 a loaf); a simple loaf without maple syrup and oats would be even cheaper.  Our cost is also lower because we buy our flour in large bulk bags and we have our own honey.  That means that our loaves cost less than $2, cutting our costs for bread by more than half and also cutting out tons of artificial ingredients and increasing the yum factor.  For more information on getting started with bread making, check out our series of articles on the topic.

Savings from making our own bread: at least $10/week.

Yogurt – we use about 2 large 32 oz containers of yogurt per week between kids’ snacks and breakfast. Because we want high quality yogurt, we usually spend about $5 per container.  Instead of buying those quarts, we can use our Instant Pot to make yogurt, 2 quarts at a time.  The ingredients are simple – just 2 quarts of milk and a packet of starter.  Once you’ve been making yogurt, you can save money on the starter by using a tablespoon or two of the previous batch of yogurt as your starter.  Making yogurt at home cuts the cost in half, plus you can sweeten to your liking with maple syrup or honey and don’t have to settle for high sugar alternatives.

Savings from making our own yogurt: $5/week

Granola Bars – our kids take a granola bar with them to school almost every day for their afternoon snack. While I can sometimes get the high quality organic granola bars on sale, they typically cost about $4-5/box and we often go through 2 boxes a week.  By making them at home with simple ingredients, I can cut that cost in half.  I can also mix and match ingredients for some fun variation and have the kids make bars with me as a way to spend time together.  I use the flexible recipe on Inspired Taste and I often cut back on the sugar just a bit to make them a little less sweet.  Likewise, while you’re buying your oats in bulk you might as well also make your own granola.  I like recipes that are low in sugar or use honey or maple syrup instead, like this one from The Kitchn

Savings from making our own granola bars: $5/week

Pancakes and other Baked Goods – ok, I know not everyone eats pancakes and waffles on a regular basis, but we eat them almost every weekend and then we save the leftovers for weekday meals. As such, it’s important to us to use high quality healthy ingredients and whole grains in our pancakes so we’re not just eating fluffy white flour all of the time.  Getting a high-quality mix would cost $5 per batch of 20-24 pancakes, plus you’d have to use your own eggs, oil, and/or milk anyway.  Instead, we make our own whole grain pancakes with our favorite nutty-tasting recipe, or we make our own mix that we can use multiple times using King Arthur Flour’s homemade whole grain pancake mix  Once again, we also know exactly what we’re putting in our pancakes and we cut down on sugar compared to most boxed options. Speaking of not using a mix, we also make our own brownies, cookies, scones, muffins, etc. without buying mixes.  You get to control the ingredients you want to add and save money without that much more work in the long run.

Savings from making our own pancakes or pancake mix (and other baked goods): $6/week

Salad Dressing – if you keep a well-stocked cupboard with decent olive oil and a few jars of vinegar (balsamic, red wine, etc.) and have dried herbs on hand, there is really no reason you need to buy salad dressing at the store. For mere pennies on the dollar, you can whip up your own salad dressing that will taste fresh, unique, and delicious.  You can use a dash of maple syrup, honey, or sugar to add a touch of sweetness and help your oil and vinegar mix.  Our favorite is a simple maple balsamic dressing but you can also get into making your own buttermilk ranch or honey dijon with a quick google search for recipes!

Savings from making our own salad dressing: $2/week (in summer salad season)

Veggie Burgers – we love a good black bean burger, and there are some decent-tasting frozen options out there, but they really can’t compare to a homemade version. Homemade veggie burgers have more depth of flavor and texture, more of a shape to them, and more options in terms of ingredients.  And by adding some simple mix-ins to a can of beans or (even cheaper) some prepared dried beans, you can create twice the number of veggies burgers you’d get in a package for about one quarter of the price.  Our favorite recipe for black bean burgers uses garlic, eggs, bread crumbs, and spices to make a delicious burger.  You can also double the recipe and stock your freezer so you have your own homemade convenience option for easy, cheap dinners.  If you want to get even more creative, we are big fans of the “Dixie Burger” from the Moosewood Restaurant Cookbook which combines black eyed peas, tofu, and sweet potato.  So delicious!  Bonus points for making your own easy rolls at home (see bread making above)! 

Savings from making our own veggie burgers: $5/week (especially during summer grilling season)

Hot drinks – if you’re a coffee drinker, you probably know how much cheaper it is to make your coffee at home instead of buying it at the coffee shop. But this option goes way beyond coffee.  Making a big batch of hot chocolate mix, or simply a single hot chocolate with cocoa powder and sugar (or maple syrup), at home can save money over buying those pre-packaged envelopes that really don’t taste as good anyway.  Likewise, if you’re a fan of a chai latte and you’re willing to invest in a simple milk frother for your counter you can make a maple chai latte at home that is just as good if not better than what you buy at the coffee shop!

Savings from making your own hot beverages: $5-10/week (depending on whether you’re a regular morning consumer and how many of you consume!)

Cold Drinks – making your own beverages at home is sooooo easy, and is a great substitution for so many of the things you might buy in big plastic bottles. Those big plastic bottles also often contain tons of sugar that really just isn’t necessary for a yummy beverage.  From lemonade to soda, you can make things at home out of simple inexpensive ingredients and with lower sugar content than you’d find at the store.   If you have access to your own honey or maple syrup, you can skip white sugar altogether and sweeten beverages to the level you desire rather than the level society tells us we should like.  You can use your own pitcher or buy a soda machine to eliminate tons of plastic bottles (and yes, you’ll find savings over the long term even with this initial investment).

Savings from making our own cold beverages: $4-6/week (especially during the hotter summer months when we’re drinking them more often)

By making some or all of these things at home instead of buying them at the store (as often as we can find the time), we save between $30 and $50 every week, which cuts our grocery bill by at least $100 a month! 

I’m sure there are so many other things we could add to this list!  What do you make at home??

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