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Supermarket Savings Tip #10: Make it from scratch, provided it’s worth the time & effort

You can save so much money off your grocery bill by cooking from scratch. However, if you’re cooking from scratch solely for the purpose of saving money (not for the health benefits or because you enjoy it), make sure it’s worth the return on your investment of time.

Consider How Much You’re Saving Per Hour to Cook From Scratch

If you spend hours in the kitchen and it’s only saving you a $1 or so per hour to make things from scratch, it’s likely not worth your time. That’s why I don’t make homemade tortillas.

I have a personal policy that I must be saving at least $20 per hour to invest my time in any money-saving tactic. This helps me to focus my energy and effort on those things that are really going to make a difference in our budget, instead of exerting half a day on something that really doesn’t change our bottom line.

{Freezer-Friendly Breakfast Burritos}

Don’t Knock Something Until You’ve Tried It

It’s easy to think that cooking from scratch has to be a huge time investment, but that’s often not the case. In fact, in 10 minutes, you can easily throw a big batch of beans in the crockpot to cook and a loaf of bread in the bread machine.

You’ll never know how much time something will take you or how much you’ll enjoy making it until you’ve actually experimented with it. So go ahead, try making homemade refried beans, homemade go-gurts, freezer-friendly breakfast burritos, homemade baking mix, or homemade pizza.

Become Adept at Multi-Tasking

Constantly be looking for ways to make the best use of your time in the kitchen. If you love frozen waffles and you’re already going to be working on another project in the kitchen, go ahead and whip up a triple batch of homemade frozen waffles to be cooking while you’re working on your other project(s). When your other projects are done, you’ll also have a few bags of waffles to pop in the freezer for quick and easy breakfasts in the next few weeks.

What are your favorite time-saving tips and tricks for cooking from scratch?

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  • I agree, homemade tortillas aren’t worth it.

    But homemade granola, beans and waffles are:)

  • My favorite tip is to enlist the help of your kids (provided that they’re old enough to safely assist you) and your spouse. I have my sons help me by doing things such as grating large blocks of cheese, washing fruits and vegetables, mixing up marinades and sauces, and cleaning up the kitchen. This frees me up to attend to bigger projects.

  • KC says:

    I despise cooking but it saves so much money. So, every time I drag my pan out of the cupboard I cringe. But that at least makes me want to make more for the freezer, so that I would have more pan-less days.

  • Stacy Paul says:

    One of my favorite “made from scratch” recipes is yogurt! I never knew how easy it is to make yogurt in a crockpot, and I save so much money.

    And I love the fact that I made it. I love knowing what my family is putting into their bodies.

  • You also have to look at the health aspect of it- I would rather serve my family homemade food that has good ingredients in it even if it does not make sense in the savings per hour scenario.

    But then I need to take into account that at this moment in my life with three small children I barely have time to even use the bathroom; because of that I often finding myself willing to pay a bit more and buy the more convenient option that has ingredients that I am comfortable with.

  • I actually love making homemade tortillas because they are superior in texture and flavor–but only the corn variety with the “just add water” masa. Flour tortillas are much more time consuming, and the thought of using lard turns my stomach anyway 🙂

    As far as making things from scratch, I like to try making most things at least once. Sometimes the flavor or health benefits are so much that the cost benefit is not an issue. When I made a big batch of spaghetti sauce several weeks ago, it ended up being about the same cost as a jar of Ragu (with coupons), but because we prefer the flavor so much more, and it doesn’t have any additives or preservatives and is made with mostly organic ingredients, I will continue to make homemade spaghetti sauce even though it’s not a huge cost savings.

    But, because I’m always curious about the actual cost savings of certain recipes, I just started a series on my site about whether it’s cheaper to buy something, or make it. Often, unless I’m cooking in bulk, the cost of ingredients is often more than I can purchase pre-made in the store, but there are certain things that are pennies on the dollar. (Homemade vs canned beans, homemade vs bagged popcorn, homemade vs frozen french fries, etc.)

  • Sharon says:

    I absolutely agree! I tried making tortillas the other day… never again! Love the idea of putting a clear value on time to help in determining what’s worthwhile or not!

  • Martina says:

    We make Homemade Flour Tortillas, all it takes its flour, water and family wont eat any other. I usually make about 40 in a batch and then just freeze the ones i don’t need. I think you save a lot of your time and energy when you make 5 or 6 things of the same at once, 6 loves of bread bake at the same amount of time as 2. 4 pies don’t make much more work then just 1. Plus you get a freezer stocked with food in no time.

    • Emily says:

      Can you share your recipe? Flour, water and salt sound do-able to me, though I’ve never tried to make homemade tortillas before. I cringe at the thought of all the extra stuff added to the ones you can buy at the grocery store. I bought some from Trader Joe’s the other day, excited to try some without a lot of extra unnecessary ingredients. I discovered this morning that they had mold on them already, just on the day of their sell-by date. I was pretty disappointed as I was really looking forward to trying them. I’m guessing it was because they lack preservatives, so they only keep fresh so long. How long do your homemade ones keep?

  • I’m trying to find good recipes for replacing lots of our canned goods and processed foods using fresh ingredients. This month I made spaghetti sauce totally from scratch ingredients and was really surprised at how easy and tasty is was.

    Here’s the post about it:

  • Dee W says:

    Home made baked goods are just so yummy! Warm chocolate cookies, brownies, birthday cakes, etc. And let’s not forget banana bread, pumpkin bread and blueberry muffins. And baking from scratch really saves money. I also do most of my cooking from scratch. For inspiration, sometimes I will glide down the frozen food aisle and see what is for sale. $12 for 6 servings of lasagna? WOW! I can make it for much less than that, and it is not all that hard. I have even started making my own white sauce( instead of using cream of mushroom soup ) for recipies and my family says it tastes a lot better. It is not really hard, just takes a little more time, but I am in the kitchen already, so it is not too hard.
    My feeling is that as a stay at home mom, it is my job to save as much money as I can, as my husband works so hard to earn it. So baking and cooking from scratch really does save $$. Think of it this way, any convience food has the added cost of preparation added to the food cost. And now that I have a child with severe food allergies, I am very concerned about what is in the food, so making it myself makes sure we are avoiding triggers.
    I have made tortillas, and we do for special occations, but not daily. I do make homemade pizza at least 1x week.

  • Lauren says:

    I disagree a bit…making things from scratch for me is primarily about avoiding things, then about saving money. It would be much cheaper for me to buy salad dressing than to use olive oil (which is pricey!) and vinegar, but it is wonderful to be avoiding the unecessary additives.

    • Crystal says:

      Actually, I don’t think we disagree! 🙂

      As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, if you’re only cooking from scratch because you want to save money, than you really need to make sure that you’re saving money. However, if you’re doing it for health reasons and/or because you enjoy it, than you’d evaluate the return on investment differently.

    • Sara says:

      I agree, my favorite salad dressing growing up was oil and vinegar, salt and pepper. Mom made it will plain vinegar and vegetable oil because that is how Grandma made it (very cheap!). As an adult I have never bought salad dressing, just different oils and vinegars to jazz things up. Definitely a savings in processed ingredients and money.

    • Lisa-panaMOM says:

      Definitely agree with you!! I make just about everything from scratch- wish I had a bread machine- and lots of time it isn’t cheaper! Since I’ve started buying only whole foods by overall budget has gone down, but certain items are more expensive homemade!!

  • Mel says:

    I really appreciated this! Sometimes we get so wrapped up in doing EVERYTHING the least expensive way possible that we get overwhelmed. I know that what’s important can be different for everyone, but you really do have to select what’s most productive for your own family and give yourself a break!

  • For the most part, I agree. Making fresh whole wheat bread, homemade yogurt, soaking your own beans, making whole wheat muffins, easy snacks, etc saves lots of money compared purchasing them pre-made.

    However, some things I make because they are more healthy, not because they save lots of money (like salad dressings.)

    And I do make my own tortillas most of the time because they’re healthier and yummier…. but mainly because I think it’s fun! (Thanks to a tortilla press we were given.)

  • Jennifer says:

    Just wanted to say “Thanks” for linking to the go-gurt recipe! I was just wondering if there was a recipe out there to make homemade ones. Store-bought go-gurt is no longer in our budget or health plan 🙁

  • Katie says:

    Thanks for this! We love tortillas and have been going without because I couldn’t find the time to make them myself. Finally this week I bought some on sale and we enjoyed them so much! We have integrated baking bread, making homemade ice cream, granola bars, and shredding cheese into our daily lives so much that we don’t even notice the work anymore. I don’t coupon – I just stock up on store brands when they are on sale and base our meal plans on what is available, and that with the few homemade staples has cut our food budget by over half from a year ago – and I was couponing then, and we were eating way too many processed foods!

  • Sara says:

    Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day (and all the spin-offs) changed my life. We already used a bread machine to bake our bread but the artisan loaves are really easy to make and so fancy and delicious. I love seeing how expensive they are at the grocery store and at the bakery and how much I am saving. An investment in a baking stone and pizza peel were well worth it. We started making pizza their way too and there is no going back. Way more time than throwing a frozen one in the oven, but if we keep the toppings simple we do save money. Definitely more than a pizza like that could cost delivered!

    • Margaret says:

      I agree! I have made homemade pizza for awhile, but the 5 minute recipe dough and baking stone changed everything! What a wonderful crust. My husband insists we have that over his old favorite! And it can be in the fridge, ready to go when you are. Love it 🙂

  • Andrea says:

    I’m curious, what are some of the things you do that save $20 per hour? I feel that I do some things that are quite frugal, but I’m at a loss to think of many things that save $20/hour.

    Combining trips/efficient gasoline use, simply not shopping and accepting/using hand-me-downs are the only things that really come to mind.

    • Crystal says:

      Most all of the things I make from scratch some me $20 per hour.

      For instance, when I make a loaf of bread in three minutes, that saves us around $2 over buying it at the health food store–and that works out to be more than my $20/hour rate. Or, when I use coupons or shop at multiple stores, I’m always saving $20/hour. When I take 30 seconds to whip up homemade foaming hand soap and thus saving a $1 or so, that’s saving more than $20/hour.

      It’s not that every time I do each of these things I’m actually saving $20, but that if I were to do each of these things for a full hour, it would save me $20 or more. Make sense?

      When you start calculating how many minutes it takes and how much it’s saving, you might find that you’re saving well over $20 per hour with many of the things you’re doing, too.

  • I agree with the time savings. I also take the cost of the ingredients into account. Sometimes buying certain prepared foods are cheaper than having to make it yourself.

  • Emily says:

    My husband started making homemade tortillas a few weeks ago. He loves doing it, now. Our recipe uses a little oil not lard. It is a big treat for him. We’re in Texas and he was snobby about tortillas already. His favorite was the heb made in store variety but it was $3+ per 20. Too much for our budget to get them more than once a month. Now he can make 24 on the weekend and he’s happy, kids are happy (such a great toddler food!), mommy is happy. We finally bought the big bag of flour at SAMs because of making tortillas and bread machine items (bread, bagels and dinner rolls). I have a goal to make multiple batches of rolls and bagels now and freeze them before summer when I won’t use the oven (it’s gas and really heats up the place).

  • Charlene says:

    Freezing is great! Make a whole pan of Lasagna or other large portion meal and freeze servings for another time when you don’t have time….

  • Crystal says:

    No, our routine changes at least every few months. 🙂 I actually don’t spend that much time cooking–usually no more than 30-45 minutes per day all combined (including breakfasts, lunches, and dinners). Since I usually do bulk cooking and stick a lot of things in the freezer, it saves me a lot of time. And I also try to multi-task a lot, too.

  • Jen says:

    If time is an issue, I recommend picking your favorite from-scratch items and concentrating on those rather than trying to make everything from scratch. I work full time and sometimes I get into this feeling like I need to make everything possible from scratch, but then I kill myself trying to do it all and usually end up giving up. But when I stick to the 2 or 3 things we like best from scratch, it’s more manageable and I actually accomplish it!

  • I’m so glad you mentioned opportunity cost. I am by no means an economics expert but this is a concept that is so important that it should be at the forefront of our planning process.

    One of the big money and TIME saving things I do is to cook a main entree ingredient and then mix it up for the next few days. This way I cook for real only once and then always have food ready to go.

    I recently cooked lentils for the first time, made a taco-meat filling, and since then have had lentil-taco salad, lentil tacos, and just a bowl of lentils with cheese for a quick snack. I bought the “expensive” organic kind from Whole Foods for a whopping $3 and one cup (half of the bag) has lasted me 3 days in feeding me and my son and I still have some left for tonight. I’m a vegetarian, so I don’t do ground beef, but this amount of ground beef taco meat would have cost me at least $5 and I only spent $1.50. (And I could have spent even less if I hadn’t splurged on the Whole Foods kind).

    • I love opportunity cost posts! Cooking one main ingredient and spreading it out over multiple meals lowers the transaction costs on each meal (as does bulk cooking). We make hamburgers Sunday nights and then I serve the meat in spaghetti sauce at some point in the next few days.

  • susie says:

    I loved the taste of grilled meat and so I always grill a bunch then put it in the fridge… it is so yummy to add to salad and other makes making other meals a snap!

  • Emilie says:

    I love to bake and so I do it whether or not it is cheaper. My family loves my chocolate chip cookies so I make them as a treat. Part of me also likes that I know the ingrediants.

    I make my own granola and then turn part into bars for a quick breakfast on the way out the door.

    I also always make a double or triple batch of taco meat, spaghetti sauce, lasagna, hamburger wrap meat, etc and put the rest in the freezer for another night. I cook many batches on a weekend if ground beef was on sale.

  • Stacy says:

    Thanks for your post! Can you give examples of what might save $20 per hour?

  • Laura says:

    One of the easiest ways I save time on cooking, is to make double the marinade or soup and freeze it. Frozen soup can be ready to eat in about 10 minutes, so it is a great “oh no” dinner night. For the marinade, I use what I need and then pour the rest over frozen chicken or pork chops. Another meal planned and prepped.
    Also, I freeze our meat in the portions we need so that I just have to grab a bag from the freezer. I don’t have to plan how to use up the rest of the pkg that week, or anything, just grab and go.

  • Heidi says:

    My bread machine is my favorite “make it from scratch” tool I own. Best Christmas present ever! It takes about 60 seconds to pour everything in and set it to the dough setting.

  • Emily says:

    I especially like the point about multi-tasking. I used to think that I had to “block out” a specific time for cooking ahead or baking. It was so hard to find that kind of time since I am homeschooling 3 kids… but I am getting better at using other times to cook- like when I am on the phone, or while the kids are doing seatwork that doesn’t require my help.

  • Nancy says:

    I’m a vegetarian and 2 things I make a lot of are brown rice and just about any kind of bean. But neither takes any time at all.

    I put whatever beans I’m cooking in a crock pot, cover with water and turn onto high for about 3 hours and then turn down to low till I’m ready to use them. Usually I make enough for 2 menus. For the rice you can put 2 cups uncooked rice in 4 cups of water, don’t cover and stick in the microwave for 25 mins. When it’s done stir into your recipe or stir your other ingredients into it.

    I can do either of these and go back to work in my home office and forget about them until shortly before dinner time.


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