We live in a world where we outsource many things that used to be done in the home. After all, if people are working jobs away from home and commuting great distances, who has the time, let alone the skills and the equipment to do a lot of those things.
This article is going to focus on how to “insource”. This is my word for taking care of some things at home and saving some money rather than paying others high rates to do it for you. I am going to focus on things that could be accomplished in an apartment or small house. A few things may be more useful if you have a larger yard.
Advantages Of Producing and Value Adding At Home
- Better quality products that contain materials and items you choose.
- You gain a sense of accomplishment and valuable skills that will be a big help during a short or long emergency.
- Doing things yourself often results in you spending less money. Even if the cost of materials is equal to buying the product, what you make yourself will probably last a lot longer so you won’t have to rebuy things as quickly.
- Fills in time with something useful. While watching TV or staring at Facebook may seem like fun, how much of your free time are you filling with activities that may not be making you as happy as you think?
- It allows you to prepare in the free moments you have. It may be hard to plan out or fit in a 1-2 night camping trip but you can probably carve out 20 minutes or a few hours here and there to do something from this article at home.
- The money you save can go towards something else, including more preps.
- People tend to be more conscientious and treat things differently when it is something that they know took a bit of work and skill. Would you treat a $4 Dollar Store hat the same way as a hat you knitted yourself? Chances are you will take a lot better care of it.
At the same time, remember that outsourcing is sometimes the best choice
There are things that if you could do at home, would definitely save a lot of time and money but you would need a lot of specialized tools and skills to do them. Car repairs are a good example. Doing things beyond changing your own oil or a few other basic maintenance tasks are probably best left to a pro or at least a buddy with a good garage.
At some point in your life or possibly even now, you may find that your time is worth enough that you are better off hiring someone to take care of certain things. If you can make $50 per hour doing something while you pay someone $20 per hour for another task like mowing your yard then you are better off outsourcing. Do the math and balance out what is right for your own situation.
There are also times when you just might need some extra help for any number of reasons. Hiring some help is not always a bad thing and in plenty of cases, it is necessary. At the same time, if you outsource a lot more tasks than you should, it can result in much higher expenses and you and your family not having as many skills as you could.
Learn how to cut hair
I have got maybe 4 haircuts at a salon in the last 15 years and one time was because I was getting married. Matt has had even fewer. We cut out own hair at home rather than spend the money and time. Last time I checked you were lucky if you could get a basic haircut for $20 without any styling involved. That can really add up in a household. Oh, and the cost is always higher for women, especially if you want anything beyond the basics. Let’s just say that you have 4 people getting their hair cut every 4 months at a cost of $25 each. That is $300 per year. Even if you can just reduce the visits by giving a little touch-up trim at home you can cut your cost in half.
We buy a set of hair clippers and keep a razor comb with replacement blades. With these tools, you can create even fancy textured and layered cuts if you want to. Cheap clippers won’t last as long but even a $10-$25 set will get you through a year’s worth of haircuts.
Creating your own meals and food products at home instead of buying prepackaged ones teaches how to make meals from scratch and saves money compared to the expensive and salty versions in the frozen section.
Making your own convenience food ahead of time is actually not that inconvenient.
Make slow cooker meals or stir fry mixes in gallon size freezer bags. Use vacuum seal bags and seal well if you want your meals to last even longer in the freezer and avoid freezer burn.
The basics are meat and vegetables. Some good ones to start with are beef or chicken stew. Cut up vegetables and meat and seal in bags. These meals can be defrosted and put in a slow cooker for easy and filling meals when you are busy. During a power outage or just on a cold day when you have the woodstove really cranking out the heat, you can put a meal like this is a Dutch Oven and have a great meal and a cozy day without dirtying a ton of dishes.
Consider the fact that you can take an afternoon and create 30 dinners for the freezer and only dirty your kitchen once. Think about how much time it takes to clean up kitchen prep dishes 30 times! I find myself often chopping up veggies and meats for two dinners in the evening so I can reduce my clean up times. This saves hot water and soap too.
How to avoid the high cost of deli and sandwich meats
Buying a beef roast, whole chicken, turkey, or some turkey breasts and cooking them is a lot cheaper than buying individual small cuts. You can eat a good meal and then slice up the leftovers for sandwich meats throughout the week or vacuum seal and freeze leftovers for 3 months and unthaw for sandwich or stir fry meat when needed. Meat will last longer than 3 months in the freezer but the quality goes down so I just recommend 3 months. A lot of the meat you buy at the grocery store has already been frozen once for transport so when you freeze it, it is the second time and that reduces quality in storage the more times you do it.
Your cost savings will vary based on what sandwich meat you normally buy. At our grocery store deli, the price is usually in the $8-$11 per lb range. If you buy chicken or turkey at that price you are going to save a ton by cooking your own.
Roast your own coffee
I wrote a detailed article about roasting your own coffee and saving a lot of money while getting better quality coffee. You can get a small specially designed roaster for home use but we just use a cast iron frying pan. Here is a link to the article.
Create your own tea blends with bulk loose tea or just buy bulk tea and use a tea ball.
You are paying a factory a lot of money to blend teas and put them in disposable tea bags for you. I can buy organic green or black tea and the herbs required to make blends for a tiny fraction of the cost. Davidson’s Bulk Tea is a popular brand on Amazon. Their organic green tea is under $10 an lb normally. Consider that the average box of 20 tea bags only 40-60 grams of tea. That means you are getting 2 oz of tea if you are lucky for that $4 a box. This comes out to $32 per lb for the premade bags. That sure is a lot more than the $10 per lb I pay. Some additions for blends, such as hibiscus flowers or peppermint may cost slightly more but an lb will last for years. If you like to make tea in larger quantities than by the cup you can use multiple tea balls or get a teapot that has a strainer in it for brewing whole pots.
Learn how to make your own soda and fizzy water.
There are several methods for making soda. I covered it in a post in much greater detail. My Dad and I used to make our own root beer and let it naturally carbonate. This is really tasty and fun but it takes weeks to naturally carbonate. You can use bottled CO2 to experiment and learn during good times. It is still fun to do. I recommend trying it the old fashioned way sometimes just so you know how to do it and experience how good traditional root beer really is.
People drink a lot of sugary stuff now and it is not a good thing. It used to be a real treat for kids years ago. During hard times knowing how to produce a treat or something that lends a sense of normality can be a really big help.
Bake your own bread and crackers
I learned to bake bread from Matt’s mom more than 15 years ago but I had to learn all over again in many ways about 3 years ago because I had to stop eating wheat. I have since learned that I can eat Einkorn wheat that is not genetically modified or sprayed with Roundup. Since it is so darn expensive to eat gluten-free if you just buy things at the store, we make our own bread and sometimes are own crackers. Bread dough can be kept in a large Tupperware container in your fridge for a week so you can mix at the beginning and then take a hunk of dough, mix in whatever additions, top as desired, let it rise, and pop in the oven. You can also bake bread and freeze it so that you always have some on hand for sandwiches and meals.
Here are a few articles from Backdoor Survival over the years on making your own bread. My gluten-free post will show you how to reduce the cost of gluten-free bread dramatically. I can make if for less than $3 per loaf and the loaves are bigger than the $5-$7 loaves sold at the store.
If you are wheat sensitive but do not have Celiac Disease, you may want to try out Einkorn wheat flour. It is not less expensive than some gluten-free flours but it offers a wheat flour option for some that are sensitive to modern wheat products. Here is a link to my article, Einkorn Wheat: An Alternative For Those That Are Sensitive To Commercial Wheats.“
Make your own yogurt
Since I have to eat cultured dairy products rather than regular liquid milk, we use a lot of yogurt at our house. With a quart of organic yogurt costing $4 and regular costing $3, it would get expensive fast if we didn’t make our own. I buy a gallon of organic milk for $6 and make close to 4 quarts of yogurt. It doesn’t take a lot of work to do and we get to eat organic yogurt with our homemade jelly without taking a big chunk out of the grocery budget.
Here is a link to my article “How To Make Yogurt and Yogurt Cheese” that goes into more detail.
Laundry soap is really inexpensive and very easy to make at home.
It has been a long time since I bought commercially produced laundry soap. Making my own at home is a lot more cost-effective and I never run out. I will mix up a 6 month or more supply at a time for regular use and I have a bucket put back for hard times.
Here is a link to my post on how to do this at home. I also include instructions for how to make your own liquid if you prefer it. For putting back, it is best to use just the powder. You can always mix up a liquid version later.
Learn how to do some basic household repairs and maintenance.
Installing basic things like soap dishes, hanging pictures, tightening up a loose doorknob, etc.
I read the other day where a woman paid someone $50 to drill two holes into the tile to install a $14 soap dish. That seems a little ridiculous. She would have learned how to do something useful and better off spending that $50 on a plug-in drill to accomplish tasks around the home or borrowing a drill from someone else. If the person was older or had some condition where they could not do this themselves, that is different but it was not the case.
We do our own painting even if it is painting the whole house. If you want a room painted, then why not do it yourself? Painter’s tape and drop cloths will prevent a lot of mistakes and drips. It is important to take your time but you will get faster and better at it. If you know how to do something like this yourself, you are less likely to put off doing it.
Learn how to find drafts and cracks and seal them
A caulk gun, caulk, and canned foam are the tools you need to seal cracks and gaps that can lead to intrusion by insects, rodents, and heat loss. Sometimes on a breezy day, you can feel a draft. Some people also carefully use a stick of lit incense and walk around, making a note of any drafts made apparent by the smoke. If you pay a professional to do this it will cost a lot. You can seal up a lot of places for very little and enjoy the savings and comfort of a more efficient home that is less likely to get a rodent issue.
Sewing skills are your friend
Knowing how to mend items is a great skill in itself. Sewing a new button on a pair of jeans takes little time and is far better than throwing out a pair that is still in good shape.
Blankets and quilts
I used to do a bit of quilting but I found that after the house was done that I needed to dedicate my time to other things. We still make a few blankets though. Matt came up with the best idea for a lightweight blanket that is high quality. You sew a thick sheet together with cotton fabric as a backing. This makes a reversible blanket that is lightweight and ideal for layering in our cabin.
We watch out for sales on Queen size LL Bean flannel sheets and then I get good cotton fabric and sew a few pieces of it together for the other side. You sew up the edges and you have a good blanket. Yes, it bunches a little because it is just sewn on the sides but it is warm and cozy. With modern insulation and easy heating, the traditional quilts with cotton batting in the middle are way too warm for us to use so our method is what works best for us. If you want to get a little fancy and take a bit more time, you could sew 4 squares together for each side of the blanket. With a sewing machine that would not take much time.
Even if you plan on doing fancier blankets and quilts later, starting out with a simple project you can do in a day is nice.
Nice clothes that last and fit well seem like finding a unicorn sometimes. Matt has made me some clothing that is really nice. If you are like me and it is hard to find clothes that fit well, then occasionally having a custom piece can be nice. Plus there are no annoying clerks making comments. There is an amazing online resource called Vintage Patterns Wiki that has over 85,000 free patterns that are at least 25 years old. Just remember to look closely at sizing because it has changed a lot over the years. A size 12 in the 50s is about what a size 4 is now in a lot of cases.
Do your own major cleaning, including carpets and heating ducts.
Some of you may be wondering why I am even talking about this in a prepping article. The fact is that there are a lot of people that hire cleaning services for everything from weekly maid service to cleaning their carpets. It might surprise you who these people are too. It is not always just the folks that live in the mansion down the road.
Carpet cleaners are no fun to use. I have used the rental that you get at the grocery store or home improvement store. They are not hard to use but they are gross because you get to see what nasty stuff is in carpets. Even people that keep a pretty clean house will be shocked. Renting a machine is a fraction of the cost and well worth it regardless of the grossness.
Heating ducts get dirty and should be vacuumed out every so often. Matt and I use a shop vacuum with a long hose to clean ours. This is usually done at the beginning and end of the heating season just to be safe. Sometimes I forget to close all the vents up at the end of the year after vacuuming so I will just vacuum again. Some heating systems may require pros occasionally but most will do just fine if you use a shop vac.
Gardening and Food Supply
Grow some of your own food. Every little bit helps.
When you are first starting out as a homesteader, prepper, or hobby gardener it is easy to get overwhelmed looking at all the beautiful gardens and landscaping that people have in magazines and on websites. Well, those folks just didn’t start out with all that. You have to allow yourself time to learn and expand your gardening projects as you gain skills and sometimes as you gain space. There are a lot of things you can grow in boxes and pots. Container gardening can be very rewarding and it is a great way to learn and get started without investing a lot of money. If you start out trying to grow too much or growing things that are hard to grow, then it can be really disappointing.
Here are a few things to try out growing first that will save you money and help you and your family eat better.
- Salad greens
- Green Onions
- Cherry Tomatoes
Many towns allow people to keep a set number of chickens. The rules will vary based on the town. For example, you may have to keep their coop so many feet from the property line or neighbors. Most places have strict rules against roosters due to how much noise they make. Keeping chickens in a chicken tractor (a bottomless pen that can be moved easily) allows them to graze and keeps them from getting into trouble. Some people use chicken tractors to fertilize a spot before they plant a garden. They also help clear it out so tilling is easier. Chickens are a good way to get started with farm animals even if you have zero experience.
Grow Quail for meat and eggs
While growing quail in an apartment is not possible, those with a small backyard can probably grow a few. Quail are very quiet and they get to a decent size in a short amount of time. The eggs are small but they are very good hardboiled and put in salads or even pickled. Check out this article on raising quail for more information.
While I would not want to do it, there are people that keep rabbits in their basement. Rabbits can be raised in a small space and they reproduce rapidly. For a long emergency, they would be a good source of protein. While rabbit food in a bag is commonly available, rabbits can be raised on food that you forage for them if times are tough and commercial feeds are not available.
Some people use movable outdoor cages that have wire bottoms that allow rabbits to graze but do not allow them to dig out or escape.
Solar panels have become much more affordable. Even those that live in apartments may have a balcony or other space they can use for some small level of power production. For example, you could have a small power center like the Jackery 240 or 500 and a folding solar panel. This allows you to have some backup power or use your power center within your home for some energy needs.
If you live somewhere with steady winds, a small turbine system may be a good idea. Wind can be a good supplement for some people. Most are better off with solar.
Remember that you don’t have to do it all, even doing a couple of the things on this list will help out a lot.
I could make this article a lot longer with all the neat things you can do to bring production back into the household. Of course,, no one is going to be able to “do it all”. There is a big tendency for people in the preparedness and homesteader realm to strive for self-sufficiency that actually does not exist and rarely ever did even in the distant past. Everyone bought things they could not produce or they traded for them.
Strive towards being more self-sufficient not entirely self-sufficient and you will be better off and not feel disappointed about meeting an entirely unrealistic goal.