Five things you should be making (and not buying)

Last updated 05/9/2020 | |

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“Why?” My husband asks for the eight zillionth time. “They sell _________ (insert item here) at the store. WHY are you making it yourself?”

I give him a cheezy grin and say, “Because I can.”

Why would you make something that you could just run out and buy? Lots of reasons. Homemade food tastes better. Natural cleaners are safer and cheaper. And making stuff with your kids is just plain fun!

I’ve been “making instead of buying” for a while. Some of my attempts work and some don’t. With the exception of a few flops, we’ve had good eats and made great memories.

Here are some tried-and-true recipes that we use all the time in the BrownThumb household. Don’t be afraid! These are easy—if you can make cookies, you can make these.

Taco seasoning mix

No MSG, no fillers, and you can make a huge batch for very little money. Get your spices from the ethnic food aisle for maximum savings.

scoop of taco seasoning mix

Granola bars

A giant pan of these barely lasts a week around here. We would go broke if we bought that many of the prepackaged bars, and Jackjack and I have fun making these together.

closeup of a homemade chocolate chip granola bar on white plate


I mix up the rice, pasta, and spices ahead of time and keep it in the pantry. Just measure out one cup of dry mix and two cups of chicken stock and you’re ready to go. This can even blurble along in the rice cooker while you make the rest of dinner.

homemade chicken rice-a-roni in a bowl

Glass cleaner

Jackjack had a great time mixing this up and using it. He calls it “cleaning with science.” I call it “a big win for Mama.”

Chocolate syrup

The ability to manufacture chocolatey goodness needs no explanation.

jar of Homemade chocolate syrup

There's more!
Read 5 MORE Things You Should Make (Not Buy).

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  1. Jarrod on October 16, 2014 at 8:31 am

    I cant get to the Rice-a-Roni recipe and seasonings. I would love to try this. Does anyone know where to get it?

  2. Greta on January 1, 2014 at 7:44 am

    I’ve been making my own Taco Seasoning for years. Another I make, and it may be mentioned already, but I make my own Pumpkin Pie Spice! There are lots of recipes on-line.

  3. CTY on November 7, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    I make my own Stove Top Stuffing Mix. I use an empty large spice container to store my pre-mix of spices. I use these spices for Rice-a-Roni or stuffing Mix.. It all started when I made a Garlic Pull Apart Bread; the bread was great when hot, but awful once cooled. I cubed it up, and dried it on a cookie sheet in my oven (no need to heat, just wait a few days). Now I cube all breads that hang around more than a day or so. Just be sure to cube them small (1/2″).

  4. Shellie on October 4, 2013 at 8:07 am

    Because I can! LOVE THIS!!! Thank you for the recipes. we have been making quite a bit around here lately, including dishwasher detergent, laundry detergent, deodorant, on top of the things you listed. except rice-a-roni. i had just let that one go. Now i have a recipe. thank you 🙂

  5. Arthur in the Garden! on August 13, 2013 at 12:28 pm


  6. shell on August 8, 2013 at 12:02 am

    Love the ideas. For windows all u need is dish soap with water and a sqeegy

  7. tina on June 7, 2013 at 11:03 pm

    Homemade is so much better! I just usually throw some spices in my hamburger meat for tacos, but a recipe and a jar full of it? I’m in! I make a lot of from scratch items like breads, jams, pancake syrup, cleaners, decorations, sewn items, etc….Yay for homemade!!!

  8. Natalie on April 11, 2013 at 4:08 am

    I couldn’t agree wit you more:-) 🙂 we make ricotta, tortillas, hummus, sometimes nut butter, chicken stock, granola bars, tomato soup, cream soup, and thinking about pasta and yogurt!

  9. sewbeit on March 16, 2013 at 12:58 am

    I think this list should start with mayo and salad dressings we are consuming GMO canola oil, and cottonseed oil and soy through these products

  10. Becky Elmuccio on February 28, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    I wouldn’t have thought of doing the chocolate syrup. Thanks for sharing these on Tuesday Greens!

  11. Lisa Lynn on February 27, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    Congrats on being featured on Wildcrafting WEdnesday! I’m sharing this on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest!

  12. Mind Body and Sole on February 27, 2013 at 5:33 am

    Love your post! Self-sufficiency makes me smile. 🙂 Thank you for sharing this on Wildcrafting Wednesday, and congratulations on being this week’s Featured Blogger. 🙂

  13. Susan Godfrey on February 25, 2013 at 9:12 pm

    We also love making our own “stuff”. We do taco seasoning, laundry detergent, fabric softener, etc, etc. Making from scratch is so much healthier and frugal.

    Thank you for linking up to Wildcrafting
    over at Real
    Food Real Frugal

  14. Katie B. of on February 21, 2013 at 8:59 pm

    I’m big on making things myself, too: granola, taco seasoning, Mrs. Dash, Old Bay, seasoned salt, bagels, tortillas, bread, crackers, laundry detergent, body scrub… wow, the list gets so long when I think about it. No wonder I’m always tired. LOL

    I’d love if you’d come join my How To Tuesday link party, too.

  15. livesimplenatural on February 20, 2013 at 6:15 pm

    We make homemade granola, yogurt, tortillas,bread, face wash, laundry detergent, deodorant, tooth powder. Making at home is so much more cost effective and healthier! I can’t wait to try making those granola bars- they look so good! That would be a great snack for hubby to take to work.

  16. Cheryl on February 20, 2013 at 5:35 pm

    We make our own ranch seasoning (for dressing and dip), taco seasoning, and fresh salsa (we don’t buy anything pre-packaged). We also make our own baking soda shampoo, “conditioner”, glass cleaner, bathroom cleaner, laundry detergent and stain remover. I like the idea of making homemade granola. We used to do that a LONG time ago.

  17. Hannah White on February 19, 2013 at 8:08 pm

    Thanks for sharing your post with us at Eco-Kids Tuesday. Hope to see you back today!

  18. Lea H @ Nourishing Treasures on February 17, 2013 at 4:44 pm

    Thank you for your submission on Nourishing Treasures’ Make Your Own! Monday link-up.

    Check back tomorrow when the new link-up is running to see if you were one of the top 3 featured posts! 🙂

  19. on February 16, 2013 at 8:27 pm

    Oh, I like the sound of homemade chocolate syrup! Also have been wanting to make our own granola bars… on my way to check out your recipes!
    Thanks for sharing on Natural Living Monday!

  20. Hannah White on February 12, 2013 at 6:40 pm

    Detergent, cleaners, deodorant, clothes…. Please come share your post with us at Eco-Kids Tuesday!

  21. Kathy Shea Mormino on February 12, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    I really like your ideas……Thank you for sharing with the Clever Chicks Blog Hop this week; I hope you’ll join us again!

    Kathy Shea Mormino

    The Chicken Chick

  22. Alison P. on February 12, 2013 at 12:11 am

    I am working on making more things from scratch. I have been making bread, bread crumbs, chicken broth, enchilada sauce, and pizza dough the longest. I try to add a few new things to my list like biscuit mix and homemade Shake n Bake. I have also started keeping ball jars with the mixes for corn bread and scones in the cupboard so that they are super easy to grab and make quickly (like a box mix). I am still working on getting the perfect recipe for some of my not so perfect recipes like taco seasoning… not a total flop because I use it in my sloppy joes 🙂 I am going to have to check out your recipes and see what I can add to the list!!!

  23. Judith on February 11, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    Over the years I have made a lot of stuff instead of buying from bread to bread crumbs, mostly in the food department. We don’t buy napkins as I made them years ago and once in awhile make another batch when they wear out. Thanks for this post as it is a good reminder to save money.

    I linked right after you on The Alabaster Jar.

  24. Barb @ A Life in Balance on February 10, 2013 at 8:18 pm

    We make a lot of stuff from scratch. I’d much rather have the individual ingredients at home to make things up than buy the stuff at the store.

    Thanks for linking up at Fabulously Frugal Thursday.

  25. *Michelle* on February 8, 2013 at 1:21 am

    Oh… and brown sugar. And granola… and yogurt. 🙂

  26. *Michelle* on February 8, 2013 at 1:10 am

    Great list! I too make my own taco seasoning for meat. I also spice my own Italian Sausage! 🙂 Here:

  27. Melinda Collazo on February 7, 2013 at 9:12 pm

    Great ideas! We make peanut butter, ghee (wayyy cheaper than store-bought), granola bars, and I prepackage spruced up oatmeal instead of buying a box of those little packets.

  28. Janet on February 6, 2013 at 4:52 pm

    Thanks for the list. I’ve been making the taco seasoning and glass cleaner on my own and have tried granola bars a couple of times. I’ve been using vinegar & water for the glass. Going to add the alcohol as well. I assume that helps with streaks?

  29. Sue Boyer on January 17, 2013 at 4:31 pm

    I make a lot of things homemade. I want to start making my own condiments, mayo, ketchup, etc. I make taco sauce and cleaning products.

    We may have met by chance…but we become friends by choice.

  30. Matt Zumwalt on January 14, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    Our youngest is a “Ketchup snob.” I FINALY found and tweeked a ketchup recipe that he hasn’t figured out is home made yet. Of course it may help that we put it in a Heinz bottle.

  31. Lisa Lynn on January 12, 2013 at 11:30 pm

    I make a bunch of stuff from scratch, no mixes around here, and I do all my spice mixes myself too. There are a ton of ideas online.Thanks for sharing this on The HomeAcre Hop! So glad to have you join me 🙂 Can’t wait to see what you have to share next week!

  32. Alison Bayne on January 12, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    Fabulous, this fits really well with my determination to spend less in 2013. Found you on the HomeAcre Hope – thanks for sharing such great ideas.

  33. Lisa Lynn on January 10, 2013 at 8:24 pm

    You go girl! I would love to have you share this on The HomeAcre Hop!

  34. Dawn on October 11, 2012 at 6:28 am

    Hi! This was a really great list and my readers thought so too! You will be featured at this Fridays’s Small Footprint Friday Link-Up. I really hope you will join us again with your green living posts!

  35. Sarah @ Natures Nurture on October 6, 2012 at 11:38 pm

    Great list, Brown Thumb Mama! I make homemade cleaners and bath products and would never go back! I just love the rice a roni idea, definitely have to try that soon! Thanks for sharing at Tiny Tip Tuesday – I’m sharing this on my Facebook page 🙂

  36. Kathy Mormino on October 3, 2012 at 9:24 pm

    Hello, new follower here! I would love to have you link up with my Clever Chicks Blog Hop this week!

    I hope to see you there!
    The Chicken Chick

  37. Miranda & Pocket on September 26, 2012 at 3:39 pm

    Thanks for linking up with Eat Make Grow!
    This is a fun post. I also make my own…. which is only a pain when you skip goign to the store and literally have “nothing to eat” when the fridge empties. 😉 i have GOT to start canning my own beans. 😉

    Consider adding things like deodorant, tooth powder, carpet freshener and homemade dog cookies! Check out my blog for more ideas. 🙂

  38. Laura @ Frugal Follies on September 24, 2012 at 2:37 am

    I definitely need to try the chocolate syrup recipe. My kids are always asking for some, so it would be handy to just be able to make some!

    Thanks for linking up with Frugal Food Thursday at Frugal Follies!

  39. nestra on September 21, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    Do you toast the rice a roni mix at all? Do you think it would work if I toasted it ahead of tome?

    • Brown Thumb Mama on September 24, 2012 at 4:44 am

      You can toast it when you cook it–that works best. With a little butter…mmm!

  40. Nancy Claeys on September 21, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    Love this post — all great DIY’s. So glad you shared with us at Rural Thursdays!

  41. Barb @ A Life in Balance on September 20, 2012 at 6:24 pm

    Yes! I make a lot, and there’s some flops in there which my kids like to remind me about. I’m almost forbidden to make ketchup ever again.

  42. Buttons on September 20, 2012 at 6:03 pm

    Thank you for the ideas and pointers from your post as well as your commenters ideas I am going to try some of these maybe all of them:) B

  43. Becca on September 20, 2012 at 5:00 pm

    Nice list! One thing we make ourselves that I’m surprised so many people buy is shredded cheese. We buy a 2-pound block of cheese, cut off about 1/2 pound to be eaten in chunks or slices, then grate the rest all at once and freeze in 2-cup bags. This way we only have to clean the grater or food processor once, and we have handy shredded cheese to thaw when we plan to make burritos or something. Unlike cheese frozen in a block, it doesn’t change texture. We think it tastes a lot better than store-bought shredded cheese, which usually is coated with something.

    Some other things we make are spaghetti sauce, electrolyte replenisher, this facial scrub and/or bathtub cleanser, and soft spreadable butter. We also found an easy way to make baby food.

  44. Johnny Morgan on September 8, 2012 at 4:16 am

    Making your own stuff has always been a favorite in my family. The times with all of the grandparents and other extended family member are memories well cherished. Canning in the fall was always the best of times.

  45. Tani@Tagana Rose on August 30, 2012 at 4:41 am

    I definitely love making our own cheese, breads and cakes!!

  46. Tiffany Did... on August 26, 2012 at 11:46 pm

    Do you put the chicken bullion in the rice-a-roni when you mix it up to store? Or do you leave that out since you are using the chicken stock to cook it with it?


    • Brown Thumb Mama on August 27, 2012 at 10:55 pm

      I use homemade stock, so I haven’t tried storing it with the other dry ingredients. I bet it would work, though!

  47. Anonymous on August 16, 2012 at 5:04 pm

    My husband is the same as yours. He just asked me yesterday why I spent all day canning pickles. I ran down the same list you gave, plus, I like canning!

  48. Anonymous on July 19, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    My husband is the opposite, he always says, I’ll bet we could make this! Homemade yogurt is SOOOOOOO much more delicious than store bought. Also, I don’t buy cans of beans and things, I put a large batch in the crockpot and then freeze in small serving containers. Garbanzo beans come out perfectly soft and delicious and that’s not always the case with the canned variety.

  49. Amanda on July 4, 2012 at 2:01 am

    Love love love, she has lots of make it yourself stuff too. Thanks for these as well!awesome!

  50. Katie Adams on June 14, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    Great tips! Thanks so much for sharing on Blog Stalking Thursday. You have been featured with this week’s party! Please stop by to grab a featured button and wear it proudly!

  51. Diann on June 13, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    I have bought very few cleaners in the past 12 years. I try to make my own any chance I can come up with a good recipe. Good post. thank you for sharing at Thrifty Things Friday. Have a wonderful day!

  52. Krissy on June 11, 2012 at 6:52 pm

    I’d really love to start making my own stuff. Especially laundry detergent and other cleaners. Between the expense and the words that I can’t even begin to pronounce, it’s almost a no-brainer. I should stop being so lazy >.<

  53. Motivated Mommy of two on June 10, 2012 at 5:45 am

    Great ideas will have to try some of them out. Stopping by from Motivate Me Monday link party

  54. Amy @ Pounds4Pennies on June 8, 2012 at 10:32 am

    I just made Homemade Lara Bars. YUM very delicious.
    I make a lot of those things too!

  55. Kelly on June 7, 2012 at 9:38 pm

    Great Ideas! Thanks for posting!

  56. Andrea @ The Greenbacks Gal on June 7, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    Loved it! Thanks for linking to Your Green Resource. Sure would be great if you had provided a link back to one of the hostesses. You got a lot of traffic off linking it. I did go ahead and feature it this week – because I’ll be making the chocolate syrup today. Andrea

  57. Paige on June 7, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    Challenging! I want to make my own deodorant. Do you have a recipe that works?


  58. Christy on June 7, 2012 at 4:46 am

    Taco seasoning, ranch dressing, french dressing, ketchup, bbq sauce, strawberry jam, raspberry jam, pizza dough, teriaki sauce and more! Great list, I will be making the chocolate syrup tomorrow!

  59. Morgan on June 4, 2012 at 12:53 am

    I never buy rice-a-roni but always wish my rice had more zing – here’s the solution! I do make the rest though, I will never go back on the taco seasoning, so delish. Do you have a co-op or health food store nearby? I get my spices there, and they are CHEAP. Technically buying in bulk but you can buy just an ounce or two. Also much better quality than the groc store.

  60. Megan@Whimsically Homemade on June 3, 2012 at 5:43 pm

    Wow, like we use all of these all the time and my house. I guess I need to try making this stuff instead of buying it. I bet it would save me a ton on money! Thanks for sharing! Following you through FB. Love from Whimsically Homemade

  61. Patricia Purcell on June 3, 2012 at 12:17 am

    I get the same questions from my husband…until he sees how much money we’re saving. I make my own bread, yogurt, cocoa mix, etc. I actually enjoy it, and I like knowing what my family is eating. I can’t wait to try your recipe for chocolate syrup!

  62. Morgan on June 2, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    Such good tips, I’m defintely going to have to try some of these!

  63. Paula J on June 1, 2012 at 11:45 pm

    Those are great choices for things to make yourself instead of buying. I should try to start doing that more often with things I use often.


  64. Brandi Lee on June 1, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    Great post! I need to make more homemade granola bars (I keep giving in to convenience). I love the tightwad gazette by the way, super handy!

  65. Evelyn on June 1, 2012 at 4:03 am

    I live so many miles out of town and it’s faster and easier to make certain things myself but I love your choices (I haven’t made them). This just sucked me in from The Crafty Blog Stalker Blog Hop. I would love for you to share this or any of your great posts at Freedom Fridays. So hoping to see you there.

    • Evelyn on June 1, 2012 at 4:04 am

      PS I am following via email:)

  66. DC Angel House Pemb Pines, FL on May 31, 2012 at 11:41 pm

    Hi, this is my first visit here, great blog/site! OK, I take care of elderly people, in a house, a small Assisted Living Facility in FL. They’re incontinent, mostly, so the laundry can be a smelly process. (urine, they do wear pullups but sometimes leak around the legs) But I would love to make it both more cost effective and more Healthy for them…. Suggestions?

    • Anonymous on June 7, 2012 at 6:45 pm

      I use vinegar with all my laundry, instead of fabric softener. It works miracles on that kind of smell and helps the close to rinse cleanly as well.

      • Janet on August 11, 2013 at 11:35 pm

        So do you put the vinegar in the drawer where the conditioner goes? How much per washload?

    • Heather on May 20, 2014 at 6:27 am

      A cup of baking soda added to the load with the detergent (I use homemade) works wonders on our potty training accidents.

  67. Annnightflyer on May 31, 2012 at 9:09 am

    great stuff here always looking for a different way of doing things!

  68. Jennifer Arbach on May 30, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    I make my own mayo (safflower oil instead of the soy oil used in commercial brands) flaxseed English muffins, whole wheat and spelt bread, salad adressings, dried tomato tapenade, ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese…….. and pizza every Saturday night!

  69. Laura @ Laura Williams Musings on May 30, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    I make convenience things as well to save money and to know what is in the things. Muffin Mix, Pancake Mix, taco seasoning, herbs de provence, za’atar, Italian Seasoning, chocolate syrup, and more.

  70. Bama Girl on May 30, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    Hi Brown Thumb Momma! I love your site! I make a lot of things myself, too! One of my favorites is this homemade deodorant recipe: There are many other recipes on the web as well; this one works for me. Blessings from Bama!

  71. Leslie A on May 30, 2012 at 9:41 am

    Love your ideas! Can’t wait to try some of them. I have always thought it seems silly to spend so much money on a packet of taco seasoning. I would add All-purpose antibacterial spray and laundry detergent to your list, as well. I have been making both of these for awhile now and they are so much better than what I can buy! 🙂

  72. Amy McPherson Sirk on March 29, 2012 at 10:00 am

    I can make chocolate syrup?! Bless you. You can also make your own deodorant and avoid the aluminum. I make my own moisturizers, lip gloss, shampoo, laundry soap, etc. It’s amazing how the budget stretches when you stop buying stuff you can make yourself.

  73. Mandy on March 28, 2012 at 8:32 pm

    What about your own laundry soap?? We’ve been making that for two years now and it’s AMAZING and so easy to make!!!

    We have a bunch of cleaning recipes (and that laundry one too) here if you want to check it out (and use on your blog if you want!):

    • Brown Thumb Mama on March 29, 2012 at 4:17 pm

      Thanks, Mandy! I have made my own laundry soap, but recently took advantage of the $10 Vitacost credit and got a free bottle of JR Watkins. Can’t beat free!

    • Anonymous on December 11, 2012 at 5:05 am

      chickenroost didn’t work so could you post the make your own laundry detergent? Of course I can’t find anything cheaper than the 64 oz for one dollar at dollar tree online. Shipped to my local store free. Bleach is also one dollar a gallon and I find no difference between that and the stuff that sells for $3 plus

      • Kristen Nicole Potter on February 21, 2014 at 9:31 pm

        I love the $1 bleach but the $1 detergents make my daughter and I break out in a really bad itchy rash! 🙁

  74. Anonymous on March 28, 2012 at 5:55 pm

    I make my own facials out of honey and an aspirin. It works wonders on pimples!

  75. El Gaucho on March 28, 2012 at 2:16 pm

    This is great. I believe that we’ll be making some homemade chocolate syrup this weekend. We like our chocolate milk since it’s a great recovery drink for post athletic endeavors, plus it tastes pretty good too!!

  76. ToscaSac on March 28, 2012 at 6:26 am

    What I decided to stop buying is chili spice mixes.

    Coffee gets brewed with cinnamon, cloves and a pinch of ginger. I can buy it plain but have that extra pop of flavor in the travel mug sans grit.

    Apple Cider Vinegar & Baking soda in place of shampoos and conditioners.

    I use cloth pads but can’t convince my teen to go that natural.

    Not microwaving led to popping pop corn on the stove. It gets sea salt and pepper. YUM!

    Speaking of salt we have used ordinary table salt in place of laundry detergent. I like it better than trying any of the more complex homemade mixtures.

    • Unknown on August 28, 2012 at 2:54 am

      salt instead of laundry detergent?? It really works?

    • Dcypress on December 20, 2013 at 7:30 pm

      Seriously.. COMPLEX HOMEMADE MIXTURES?? Ok how complex is mixing say 3 cups each baking soda, super washing soda and borax.. and 1 grated (like with a cheese grater) bar of Felsnaptha (or even ivory) soap, then put into a container and shake it to mix it up??? My 1 gallon sized jug lasts me months using 1/4 cup per load. And you don’t even have to use all 3 of the powders. Remove the Borax and just use the sodas.. or just use 1 soda and borax. Or heck just use either of the soda by themselves. I use a 1/4 cup of peroxide in the rince cycle for my whites instead of bleach.

    • Freedom1Man on February 11, 2014 at 6:57 pm

      Why pads and not a cup?

      I thought that the cups were not hygienic

      • Freedom1Man on February 11, 2014 at 6:58 pm

        I thought PADS were not hygienic. Sorry this is a man asking an honest question

  77. Anonymous on March 28, 2012 at 5:26 am

    I make all of the above, except the rice-a-roni! (Which will be next on my list!) Thanks for posting practical tips for busy moms! As a mom of 3yr old twins, practicality and health is a must!

  78. Gabrielle Gamboa on March 28, 2012 at 3:46 am

    I stopped buying bottled salad dressing and started making my own this year. A million times better!

    • June on September 28, 2014 at 12:01 pm

      Could I ask for recipes please for dressings.

  79. Gerb on March 28, 2012 at 3:35 am

    Love this round-up! We make granola instead of buying cereal. I feel so much better about feeding it to my family when I know exactly what’s in it.

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