Three DIY, Natural Products that Save Money

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When we first switched to shopping at our co-op, certain products suddenly became incredibly expensive. Household products, cleaning materials, detergent – buying natural suddenly doubled or tripled the prices we’d paid at the grocery store up the street. We only had so much to spend on a first year’s teacher salary and a (then) bartender-server salary, so even putting dryer sheets into our cart stung at checkout.

I started attacking Pinterest for ideas to substitute or prolong the life of my purchases. I dug out my 3 favorites and wanted to share them with you!

1. Make-Up Remover

This make-up remover is natural and easily removes even waterproof makeup with the aid of a damp washcloth, made with only witch hazel, your choice of oil (I like jojoba or almond), and filtered water. The blog this recipe comes from encourages you to use a preservative of some kind and to be careful of any bacterial growth – I’ve been using this mixture for months and have not had any issues with bacterial growth, thanks to the witch hazel (or eye issues, for that matter).

Price: A 6 ounce bottle of this make-up remover costs $3.54. 2 ounces of the chemical-laden leading brand can cost upwards of $5! 

Witch hazel – $8 for 16 oz (Certified organic, I purchased mine from our co-op, but it’s also sold through MountainRoseHerbs.com)

Almond oil – $11 for 16 oz (available from Amazon)

Water – It’s not the same as filtered, but I use water from our PUR water filter 

$19 for 32 oz of supplies, which means you are paying around 60 cents per ounce.

For the recipe and details, visit Adrienne’s article on Whole New Mom.

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2. Reusable Dryer Sheets

Not only were the natural sheets starting to feel expensive, but all those sheets getting trashed was wasteful! Thanks to Stacy Barr from “Six Dollar Family”, I made these reusable dryer sheets for free.

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Choose a fabric – I took an old, beat-up tea towel and cut it into rectangles – and add vinegar, water, and essential oils. I know what you’re thinking – vinegar in the dryer? Believe it or not, your laundry won’t smell like vinegar – just the essential oils you add to the jar.

Visit here to get the recipe and the details:

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3. Homemade Laundry Detergent

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What a steal! This homemade laundry detergent cuts the costs of natural detergent in half. Instead of around 20 cents per load, this costs only around 10 cents per load. This recipe calls for Borax, Washing Soda, a bar of soap (grated), and baking soda. You’ll need to pick up the ingredients from your supermarket – I couldn’t find Borax or Washing Soda at the natural grocery stores.

I found this detergent to work just as well as our normal detergents – no issues with stains or bubbling. I spilled red wine on my sheets the other night – trying to read in bed with a glass of wine resulted in me just falling asleep and knocking over the glass (I’m a brilliant person sometimes) – and with the addition of some vinegar to the load of laundry and this soap, it all washed out. 

Check out Sarah Mueller on her blog, Early Bird Mom, for the recipe and more details!

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I love finding new ways to save here and there on our grocery budget – plus, it’s a proud feeling to know how to make staple products for my household that I can recreate with little effort. Do you have any favorite DIY products for your home?


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Why Homestead?

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Tonight, we’re visiting the third house on our house hunt. No, not our house hunt – our homestead hunt. We’re finally getting close to being able to declare our hunt as officially in season, but with that comes the question of what we’re looking for – a homestead. But with that comes the question of, “Why?”

Although society is starting to relax and open up in so many ways, there are still these stereotypes about life and your success in life depending on getting that college degree, getting a well-paying job that provides you with retirement accounts and 401(k)s, settling down and having two kids in a nice neighborhood, and spending your weekends at a furniture mart shopping for bedroom sets. Your food and supplies come from big mart stores that provide convenience and ease, your social media provides inspiration and social status. Your backyard is perfectly groomed and has the occasional flower garden and there’s no point in creating items when you can buy them at a store on sale.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting this or even wanting this – it’s just not for us.

For me, my journey started three years ago when Evan and I first moved in to our current rental home. We were in the middle of the zombie apocalypse craze – with the TV series and movies chronicling the events of a small group of people following some kind of world collapse, there was suddenly this thought:

“Wait, what if this ACTUALLY happened? How WOULD we live?”

It was unsettling to say the least. I can’t even cut firewood (thank goodness I chose a partner significantly more skilled in that arena), much less know how to build shelter that would keep me alive for the night, not even thinking about a zombie attack. It started us thinking about not having the life skills that our grandparents had – keeping livestock, growing and tending crops, using resources on the land, creating the items you need for your survival or day-to-day happiness.

At first, our journey was about being stocked with emergency supplies – stockpiling rope, freeze-dried food, duct tape, portable cookware, propane lanterns, a hatchet, and desalinization straws. I began looking into how to prepare food for long-term storage – dried noodles can only go so far in survival packs. One of my family members joked with us that we were becoming doomsday preppers. As we were growing our stores, I still had a feeling that this wasn’t the right direction – we were missing something. Then, I came across this eye-opening read:

The Prepper’s Cookbook: 300 Recipes to Turn Your Emergency Food into Nutritious, Delicious, Life-Saving Meals

“The Prepper’s Cookbook” by Tess Pennington introduced me to a whole new direction – while you should be preparing for the worst, the worst may not be a zombie apocalypse but a staggering veterinary bill or major car repair. What will you do next week when you’re suddenly at the emergency vet’s office facing the possibility of a $900 bill for an overnight stay to monitor your diabetic cat? (This was us three weeks ago – thankfully, Cattigan is now home and happy.) Suddenly your grocery money goes out the window – so you should be growing, harvesting, and storing the food that you will eat every week rather than bags and bags of cheap noodles and salty flavor packets or cheap, overly-sugared cans of baked beans that no one would want to touch on a good day.

This book helped us count and calculate which foods and how much of them to grow, preserve, and/or purchase for the house. We started keeping bulk dry beans and pasta as well as cans of pickles and diced tomatoes to pull from when we cook. Just last week, we cracked open a can of sauerkraut I made last summer when we were grilling bratwurst during a freak February warm spell. The idea is to be able to sustain your own lives and lifestyle despite any type of emergency – from wrecking your car to a zombie in the garden.

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A harvest of black beans and a stash of peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers from last year’s garden.

I finally had the right plan.

I was canning from our garden and stocking up on bulk rice and nuts or jars of peanut butter when it went on sale at our co-op. We’d buy bags of potatoes or peppers when they were put in the price-reduced bin and slice and freeze them for later use. I up-cycled this beautiful book shelf and now stock it with supplies like pasta and sugar or boxes of onions – it stays cool and dark in our basement and provides us with a pantry supply of food. Plus, now I don’t have to worry about staring at bare cupboards while planning dinner – I have so many options for soups, chilis, Mexican, roasted vegetables – you name it.

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A few of our ‘pantry’ items – we’re running low this time of year, but this is how we get started at sustaining ourselves with our own pantry and goods. (And yes, there is still a package or two of noodles for a true emergency.)

But that wasn’t the end of it – the next step became whether or not we can continue to produce that kind of food on a regular basis and provide for ourselves every day, and not just during times of shortage.

It was time to think big picture and long-term, and this is where we’re doing most of our learning – what did our grandparents do to keep their plants alive during sudden freezes? How did they keep chickens alive while roaming pastures to avoid buying feed all the time (which makes them more expensive than just buying organic eggs at the store)? Before power or even during power outages, how did they keep their house cool in the summer or warm in the winter? While we want to live with the modern conveniences of air conditioning and internet (we are very much a Netflix/Hulu household), we want to reduce our carbon footprint and our dependency on the grid to heat and cool our house or power our cars. Especially in light of recent political events, I want to control where my money is going and how my money is buying my energy if the government won’t protect our environment. This can be a whole conversation on its own – but, for example, we believe whole-heartedly in the sustainability of solar – so let’s invest in solar panels and get our money out of coal power plants.

What’s wonderful is that anyone can do this – my husband has been pouring over this book about finding self-sufficiency on 1/4 acre. It’s been essential to us as we do calculations and come up with ideas for maximizing space and the power of our dollar, and is jam-packed with everything from gardening to canning and dehydrating to soil health and composting, and more.

 Mini Farming: Self-Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre

Rather than 1/4 acre, however, are aiming for 2-3 acres for our future homestead. A homestead of this size gives us the breathing room and space to do so much, from keeping a goat or two to including a cottage for my mother-in-law. I want the space to sew more t-shirt quilts for family or floor cushions (that my cats steal – thanks, guys…) when we’re not outside tending patches of tomatoes or harvesting black beans (Let me digress for a second – black beans are one of the easiest plants to grow and take care of – you literally water it all summer and wait for it to die in the fall before you know you’re ready to harvest – I love ’em!). We can work with a local energy company to at least lease solar panels to power our property and maybe even invest in an electric car. I dream of free-range chickens that provide us with fresh eggs, pest control, and soil maintenance (small amounts of manure but lots of scratching and stirring soil). Over the years we can use crops and crop rotations to improve the soil health of our land so that every vegetable or fruit we grow is bursting with nutrients that are missing from commercial and mass-produced foods – plus, doesn’t farm-fresh just taste better?

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My husband left me a note last fall when I came home from work – better than any box of chocolates or vase of flowers, in my mind!

We’re big dreamers – I often happily imagine a snowy, Kansas Christmas around a fireplace with our family out on our glowing homestead – but we’re ready to be realistic. We know that to get a piece of heaven so close to our city means that we’ll probably be sacrificing on the quality of house we’ll find to stay in our price range – no 5 bedroom mansion with a 4-car garage and heated barn for us. (We will likely be stuck with a cramped ranch-style home with a scary basement and overgrown property that screams “RUN AWAY” rather than “Future Garden of Eden”.) We’ll be starting small, and our first garden will probably be terrible with very little production on this nasty northeast Kansas clay soil. But every year we’ll plow a few more garden beds by hand, search the internet for second-hand chicken coops, and maybe even save up for a pressure cooker to help with canning or a new patio table to fit more than 3 people out back.

The idea of the American dream is to pull yourself up by your bootstraps – that hard work pays off and gives you the life of which you have always dreamed. We’re unlucky compared to most farmers – we’ve inherited no land and we haven’t hit rich with any lottery ticket to give us a head start. We’re going to be moving forward with the love and support of our family and it’s going to take time, and we’re okay with that. We’re building the Epperson Homestead from scratch – and every little thing I learn how to fix or make means I am that much more proud and invested in my home. We’re getting back to our roots – valuing the work our hands can do, cherishing the seedlings that sprout in the plant tray on my bookshelf, reading and expanding our knowledge and imagination, putting the importance back on happy animals and happy soil that, in turn, only make us healthier and stronger.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with this quote to ruminate over as we all dream of spring and greener things:

“The single greatest lesson the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world. ” -Michael Pollan, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”


I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Fire & Fuel

We’re one day in to the latest icepocalypse – Winter Storm Jupiter hit the Midwest yesterday (Friday) and we’re all battening down the hatches. Fortunately, we’ve only seen a couple hours of freezing drizzle in the past twenty-four hours and it’s just made the driveways and sidewalks a tad slick, but they say we’re in for it tonight and tomorrow.

The predictions about this storm were getting worse and worse on Wednesday and Thursday, and most of northeast Kansas schools closed to brace for impact on Friday. My school district didn’t close, and the past couple days have made me really worried for our preparedness, despite a cache of disaster and readiness supplies and food in our basement. Our rental has electric heat and we have no backup generator, like the other 99.9% of Americans (or so it feels). The news stations said we should be preparing for days without power – we’re forecasted to get around a half inch of ice (which apparently adds 280 pounds of weight to power lines). I’m not concerned about the first several hours or even day without power, but what if this does stretch to days? Kansas in January is miserably cold – my birthday is never without layers of coats and scarves and hats – so the worry really started kicking in on Thursday and Friday.

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A view from our front room before Christmas – Kansas swings from subzero temperatures in winter to over 100 degrees in the summer.

Beginning around two years ago, my now-husband and I started collecting preparedness and prepping supplies. Evan’s approach has been one inspired by the idea that someday we might have to start over as a species, and my approach has been more natural disaster-centered. (Believe it or not, I won an award as a 6-year-old for my county’s emergency preparedness contest – 1st place for my crayon drawing of my basement during a tornado.) Together, those ideas have created quite the stash of emergency blankets, seed starter kits, compasses, toilet paper, an ax, batteries, tools, matches, water purification tablets, you name it. We’re by no means ready, but we have plenty of materials to keep us relatively safe, full-bellied, and able to piece together life in a tent.

…except for if that emergency is in a Kansas winter.

I have blankets, two emergency blankets (which you can apparently tape up on your walls to reflect your heat throughout the room if you lose power), a sleeping bag, and a few assorted candles and flashlights. If we lose power for days at a time, we have no heat besides sitting in our cars – no fireplace, no propane heat (not safe for indoors anyway), no wood stove.

Three years ago, at our old rental house, a terrible thunderstorm split a tree and ripped down our electricity line to the house. We were without power for close to 72 hours in middle of a sweltering July – the house stayed at 85 degrees at night. We kept the wood from that accursed tree for use in our firepit. So now, faced with the prospect of no power for a couple of days, the only way we can generate our own heat, cook food, or heat water would be to start a fire with the wood from that darn tree – outside on the firepit, unfortunately.

Being the brilliant people we are, we realized that this was our only option at 7pm on Thursday before the storm was supposed to arrive at noon the next day. So here we went to the backyard, bundled up with long underwear and boots and coats, to chop firewood in the dark, 25-degree night. (I told you that we are brilliant.) While Evan chopped, I started a fire and worked on grating some soap for our laundry soap, and it was surprisingly warm!

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Two hours later, we (Evan) had chopped up a trashcan’s worth of kindling and logs, happily drank down two coffees and two beers, grated a full bar of soap, and experienced how warm a fire can keep you even in the dead of winter.

Now, that being said, we’ve definitely put a fireplace (or space to have a wood stove installed) on our house shopping list, because if something does happen in the future I don’t want to be caught without heat or a fuel source of some kind. Prepping and being ready for an emergency or natural disaster only goes so far when you can’t keep your house warm – and if being warm and safe isn’t essential to survival and a good homestead, then what is?