Make Your Own: Economical vs. Frugal

Nothing like a pandemic and quarantine to make it more vital than ever to reduce reliance on disposable products, amirite? I admit I'm not as dedicated to the crunchy way of life as I could be; it's true I find myself slipping into the convenience of store-bought washcloths, counter wipes, paper towels, and the allure of a Bath & Body Works sale. I try to allow myself some "cheating" and indulgences. We've all experienced "green fatigue" and the hypocrisy of being human. As I'm not going completely off-grid any time soon, I'll make peace with the occasional convenience item. I consider myself more of a mash-up of my frugal, rural upbringing and resourceful urban lifestyle.

But what if you're new to making new greener habits, or want to add more to your greener home repertoire? Perhaps you just want more me-made items in your home and life? Regardless of how you got here, every little bit helps and I'm here to share some of my tried-and-true household items that you can make too. Some of these items are more frugal than others. As makers we know that homemade does not always equal more economical in every interpretation, but in a global sense, it will always be more economical and responsible to make your own household items.

knitting bowl

Now, if you're here to be frugal in regards to your own personal finances, you can make that happen in most cases. For example, knitting needles are not inexpensive, but they can be found used. Perhaps check your local freecycle or maybe you have a friend that switched from straight needles to circular, and no longer needs all their straight needles.

Another example is soap making. There are some initial investments like utensils dedicated to soap making, purchasing lye, and your choice of fat for saponification. Some of these choices will dictate your final costs. You can make soap with utensils from the thrift store or dollar store, lard, and upcycle a milk carton into a soap mold. I've done it. It works and it is your most frugal option. You can go one level up and use olive oil. Still frugal and happens to produce my favorite soap for shaving. Or you can go full hog's head and get premixed, pourable fats, fancy scented oils, and a laser thermometer. I do have all of those things too. In the end, even going all out, your price per ounce (PPO) is hard to beat, comparable product to comparable product.

spreadsheet tracking of costs

Here's an example of tracking PPO of homemade lotion, not including the equipment. Like with sewing, you can include the equipment or track separately the cost per use of the equipment if you need to know you're getting your value out of those items as well. As you can see, with initial investment, >$0.50 PPO for lotion isn't too bad considering this snapshot shows top shelf ingredients. 

homemade cosmetics

A lot of the lotion ingredients and utensils crossover into cosmetics, soap making, bath truffles & bath bombs, and even some home cleaning, so keep that in mind. These don't have to be just single-use investments if you plan your purchasing and recipes to allow for shared ingredients and utensils. You can use the same containers for a solid deodorant recipe as you can for lip balm, solid lotions, and solid perfumes. You can choose recipes that use the same ingredients such as beeswax, coconut oil, and the same scented oils. It's no mistake my lip balms match my bath truffles.

bath truffles

My favorite resources for home cleaning, soaps, cosmetics, and recipes are just three: Dr. Bronner's, Bramble Berry (including her blog Soap Queen) and Mountain Rose Herbs. I do try and find my lye locally at a farm supply store when possible, but that is not always an option. I prefer cold process soap, my favorite being the 100% Castile-Brine in the Pure Soapmaking book by the Bramble Berry owner, Anne-Marie Faiola. I like the "slip" of olive oil soap for shaving. If you want to go homestead-lite, I recommend Little House in the Suburbs. They've got all kinds of homemaking tips including good, basic cold process soap recipes. If you want to go full-blown homesteader, you can't beat Carla Emery's The Encyclopedia of Country Living. My stained and dog-eared copy is from 2003 and I will never part with it.

recommended books

Over the next few posts, I'll share more of my 'nola living makes and my favorite resources. Let me know if you have any specific questions or requests. My family's lifestyle is designed to merge urban & modern living with my rural, frugal roots. Hopefully this will help you have fun while being productive for your home while making something other than sourdough bread!

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