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12 everyday essentials you can make

If money is an issue, try a little DIY. You'd be surprised how easy it is to make baby wipes or taco shells.

By Donna_Freedman Feb 14, 2013 11:42AM
Want to trim your household budget, reduce waste and be a little nicer to the environment? Stop letting other people do all the work for you.

In a recent article I noted that a "toddler pack" of Cheerios is something a busy parent might grab on the fly. But I did the math: Those Os cost $27.50 per pound when someone puts them in an easy-to-hold container for you.

Far better to pour some from the  box in your cupboard into a sippy cup or some other toddler-friendly container. Bonus frugal points if you bought the cereal on sale with a coupon, or in bulk at a warehouse club.

Any time a manufacturer prepares a sauce, a cleaner, a snack or an entrée for you, the cost will be considerably higher than if you did it yourself. While not everyone has the time or inclination to make everything from scratch, the Convenience Tax can take a pretty big bite from your budget.
If money is an issue for you, spending even an hour a week preparing a few basics could prop up your finances. You'd also wind up using fewer chemicals and creating less trash.

Here are a dozen examples of necessities and nice-to-haves that are simple and cheap to make. Try one a week and note the impact on your financial bottom line. And yeah, enjoy that sense of DIY pride.

Cleaning products

1. All-purpose cleaner.
I can't remember the last time I bought this product commercially. A far better (and cheaper!) alternative exists in my kitchen cupboard: white vinegar. Some people use it straight, but I dilute it 50/50 with water into a spray bottle from the dollar store. It works wonders on greasy stovetops. And yes, the smell does go away.

2. Soap scum cleaner. Shampoo, conditioner, body wash and ordinary bar soap produce quite the stubborn film. This post on the Bargain Babe blog offers a secret weapon: a 50/50 mix of Dawn dish detergent and white vinegar.

3. Laundry soap.
Don't want to grate up and simmer a bar of Fels-Naptha? I don't blame you. Try this version from the One Good Thing By Jillee blog: It's made with our old friend Dawn dish detergent plus borax, washing soda and boiling water.

Personal care items

4. Hand sanitizer.
The Thrifting Denver website offers a recipe for a spray-on sanitizer made with witch hazel, rubbing alcohol, distilled water and a little peppermint extract for fragrance. Hint: Use generic witch hazel and rubbing alcohol from the drugstore (alcohol is a fairly common loss leader), and skip the peppermint if you like; since the water where I live is very good, I'd probably forgo the distilled kind.

5. Baby wipes.
Some people make these from soft cloth (e.g., fleece or old T-shirts) and launder them along with cloth diapers. Others use a roll of thick paper towels that's been cut in half. "How to make baby wipes at home" on offers a super-simple cleansing solution -- water mixed with small amounts of baby shampoo and baby oil -- and suggests a couple of specific containers for storage.
Logo: Soap dispenser (Medioimages/Photodisc/Getty Images)
6. Foam soap.
Super-popular but fairly pricey -- unless you read "Foam soap for under $4 a year" at a blog called Adventures of a DIY Mom. It is very, very simple to make refills.

7. Deodorant.
Some people swear by lemon juice, a natural salt crystal or cider vinegar. Some of us want an actual recipe. This one, from Marla Walters at Wise Bread, is a mix of baking soda, cornstarch, coconut oil and essential oil. Use a price comparison website like PriceGrabber or Nextag to find the oils cheaply.

Pantry goods
8. Barbecue sauce.
The commercial stuff can be pretty salty, and pretty expensive. Mix your own with ketchup or tomato sauce plus one or more of the following ingredients: Worcestershire sauce, cayenne, garlic, lemon juice, ginger, soy sauce, melted butter, cider vinegar and brown sugar. A really simple sauce is just cayenne and dill weed stirred into ketchup (very tasty on roast chicken). Bonus: No half-used bottles mouldering in the fridge because you mix only as much as you need.

9. Iced tea.
This costs as much as $1.10 per quart when bought by the jug (and even more purchased as single-serve). Teabags cost from 1 to 5 cents apiece, which translates to as little as 2 cents per quart. Even after you add sweeteners and/or fruit flavorings, you're saving a bundle (and avoiding preservatives). Look online for recipes.

10. Taco shells.
How many come out of the box chipped or broken in half? According to this post on, you can make your own shells in 5 to 10 minutes with corn tortillas, a bit of oil and a couple of forks. I've seen corn tortillas as cheaply as 40 cents per dozen -- and you'll definitely be able to use them all if you make . . .

11. Homemade corn chips.
Again, incredibly easy: Cut the tortillas into quarters and fry in a little oil until crisp. Sprinkle on a bit of salt, set them out with salsa (and maybe some cold beer) and prepare to receive compliments.

12. Pickles.
When you finish your next jar of sweets or dills, buy an English cucumber ($1 to $1.50) and slice it into the jar of brine. Within a couple of days you'll have new pickles. I've done this with carrot sticks and hard-boiled eggs, too. Note: Over time the pickle juice will lose some of its potency because of the water it draws from the vegetables. Empty the jar and look online for "easy pickle recipes." Most of them start with -- you guessed it -- white vinegar.

Got any DIY housewares tips?

More on MSN Money:

Feb 17, 2013 10:45AM
Deodorant? Really? I use it every day and go through maybe three a year. Even if I used name brand (which I don't) I hardly think it will break the bank. Some of these are good and I will try them, but lets not go loco here.
Feb 15, 2013 5:29PM
I make a BBQ sauce I get compliments about on pork or chicken that is so good I don't like the bottled stuff anymore.  It's called "Mississippi BBQ Sauce" and I found it in a book I read on grilling.  The original recipe features six ingredients that go in pairs of 4-2-1 tablespoon portion sizes:  4 tbsp each of ketchup and brown sugar, 2 tbsp each of vinegar and Worcestershire sauce, 1 tbsp each of minced garlic and dry Italian seasoning.  The original also calls for cayenne pepper, but I don't like hot sauces so I add just a pea's size of cayenne pepper to kick-it up a notch.  Add more as you like.  Simply mix it together until all the sugar dissolves.  Personally, I cut the sugar in half and it's still great and if I want it thicker, I cut 1/2 tbsp each. off the vinegar and Worcestershire sauce.  This is enough to drown 2 lbs of ribs.  I coat the ribs (or chops or chicken) with some the last 5 minutes of grilling or baking so it dries a little and sticks to the meat but isn't there long enough to burn. I serve a bowl of the sauce for extras at the table.
Feb 26, 2013 5:44PM

For the baby wipes a little vinegar 1/4 teaspoon is needed to maintain ph balance and reduce bacteria.


Feb 26, 2013 7:10PM
I use White Vinegar in my last rinse cycle instead of fabric softener, spell doesn't stay & clothes come out soft.
Feb 26, 2013 7:44PM
Dandruff Shampoo - REALLY expensive and mostly toxic (carcinogens). MUCH cheaper solution... Apple Cider Vinegar. My local vitamin store sells a 1 gallon jug of the organic stuff for $17. I pour it straight into a hair dye applicator bottle (the little plastic bottles with the pointed tip) so that I can apply it under my hair directly to my scalp. You don't use so much that your hair gets too wet, you just want to make sure that your scalp is covered. Let it sit on your scalp few a few minutes (I usually take care of the body soap while I'm waiting), and then follow it with your regular good smelling shampoo as needed. The acidic pH of the Apple Cider Vinegar balances out your scalp's pH back to normal and gets rid of the itch and flakes. I have a pretty bad case of dandruff, so I have to use it every day, but I have known others with lighter conditions to be able to use it once or twice a week! That will make the bottle last and last. Just be sure you can cap the applicator bottle so it doesn't lose potency too quickly.
Feb 26, 2013 9:06PM
the point of some of this may not be related to being frugal...the more important factor is that you are using natural components.. i am a cancer survivor and a firm believer that all of these products we buy in the store contain chemicals that eventually lead to cancer!
Feb 26, 2013 8:19PM

I cannot vouch enough for white vinegar! I use it for almost all my cleaning: the hard water build up dissolves within seconds from kitchen sinks (just let it sit for a few minutes and then brush/wipe off); the ring left by water in toilet bowls takes a few brushes to disappear; the faucets are sparkling clean with it; the grease on the range is much easier to clean with white vinegar. Since I started using white vinegar 5 years ago I have not bought any cleaning products.  I used to spend so much time scrubbing hard water stains with cleaning products I used to buy and the feeling that this is nontoxic adds to my happiness! (The only other cleaning products I use are Murphy's oil for tile floors and generic ammonia for mirrors, windows.)

Feb 26, 2013 9:49PM
i use white vinegar and a couple of tablespoons of ivory dishwashing in a spray bottle to use as fly spray on my horses...lot better than commercial flyspray which costs a fortune.
Feb 26, 2013 9:22PM
Try denatured alcohol with purified water mixed 50/50 on your mirrors and windows. I'm an ex-auto detailer and my customers never complained about their windows.
Feb 26, 2013 11:15PM
Borax sprinkled on my bathroom floor and cleaned up with a wet rag is the only non-smelly, non-toxic cleaner I've ever found that will remove the non-aerosol hairspray film that settles on the floor.  This is important, because my bathroom is windowless so I will not use anything toxic or smelly in there.
Feb 26, 2013 10:10PM
Use baking soda to clean microwave and fridge. Mak a paste with a little water to about a half cup of powder, wipe it onto the walls, floor and 'ceiling' of microwave; wallsand shelves of fridge. Smear it on fairly thick and let it dry. Then wipe off the haze with a soft wet cloth or paper and you're done. Easy!
Feb 26, 2013 10:37PM
I hate the pop up crap these advertizers use on an add to get you to read an article on the coputer nowdays. I think that there should be better web or internet sites than we can get,
Feb 26, 2013 11:20PM

This may sound a little crazy, but for those clothes stains that you think will never come out of something, like grease and other tough substances. Take the clothing item outdoors, and spray the target area with either, or commonly found as "starter fluid" for a carburetor. Once you’re done, immediately place the clothes in the washing machine as the smell is strong and will linger if you leave the clothes lying around or tossed into a hamper. You need to go from the spray process (outdoors only) straight to the washing machine. It works miracles

Feb 26, 2013 11:58PM

Is an "English" cucumber different from what we usually find in the produce section?


Feb 27, 2013 7:30PM
I have used baking soda on vehicle windshields to help remove stubborn bugs.  Just sprinkle it on the windshield, scrub with a wet cloth, then rinse with the garden hose.  In the upper midwest, every body of water has tons of mosquitos nearby, and if you drive by your windshields get messy very quickly.
Feb 26, 2013 11:06PM
Only one problem - vinegar smells absolutely vile.
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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.