My Weekend Projects: 5 Ways I Spend My Weekends Saving Money and Living Frugally

Most weekends, I tackle one significant project around the house, usually with the goal of saving money or learning how to make or do something myself. Usually, I think to myself “This would make a good post for The Simple Dollar” (and sometimes I go ahead and do it) but most of the time I find something more money-oriented to talk about.

Today, I had an epiphany: why not just compile a bunch of those projects into a single post, along with links to some resources to get people started? I made up a list of the projects I’d done recently and some of the ones I have planned for upcoming weekends – and here they are, five projects for five weekends. I guess you can interpret this as a peek into how I spend my spare time with my family, as they’re often involved in these projects.

Most of these save money – the rest largely break even and also educate me on how something works, so I figure it’s a wash. In any case, they provide quite a bit of entertainment over the course of a weekend.

Brewing My Own Beer

Homemade beer

One great weekend project I like to engage in is brewing my own beer, which you can see the results of above. On the left is my homemade nut brown ale, and on the right is my homemade oatmeal stout, based on this recipe.

Compared to the cost of similar craft beers, homemade beer making is a wash, but I’ll say this: it tastes better than any beer you can purchase and you can customize it to your heart’s content. All you really need is a large pot to brew stuff in, a large container and a bubbler cap to ferment it in, some tubing to siphon it out of, plenty of bottles and caps, a crimper to put the caps on the bottles, and whatever ingredients your recipe calls for. You just boil up the recipe, pour it in the container, put it in a cool place to ferment for a few weeks, then siphon it out into bottles – that’s it. We often bottle a batch on Saturday, then brew up another batch on Sunday, then leave it in the basement for several weeks to ferment and settle.

If you’re interested in trying this out yourself, I highly recommend the excellent book The Complete Joy of Homebrewing by Charlie Papazian. It’s taught me everything I know about making my own beer – and Papazian is an entertaining writer, too.

Building a Frugal Utility Shelf for the Garage

Messy shelves

Never mind the messiness on the shelves (I need to go through some of that stuff, really!). The shelves themselves are very sturdy and incredibly cheap.

All I did was collect some 1″ by 8″ boards and cinder blocks. These can be had on Craigslist or Freecycle if you’re patient or if you ask for them. Then, I just stacked them into shelving units, easy as can be. No need to spend money on utility shelving out in the garage, is there?

Of course, this leads to another project: cleaning out those shelves. There’s a lot of camping supplies that need to be put up for the winter, some tools that should be put in their place, and so on. Another weekend project!

Making My Own Wine

Homemade wine

This is actually a hobby I picked up from my father, and in fact the picture above is a bottle of his 2007 blackberry double fermented wine (which is unbelievably good). He’s got a knack for it picked up from many years of winemaking – I’m still a novice.

Winemaking requires most of the same items as beer making, but also a lot of fruit juice (preferably grape juice, but why not experiment?) and a lot of patience. The procedure is much the same, too – juice and yeast in the container, let it ferment for a long while, then siphon it off into bottles.

If you just buy your own grape varieties and crush them yourself in a strainer, it’s actually quite a bit cheaper than buying your own wine, too.

If you’re interested in getting started in making your own wine, my father and I both recommend The Way to Make Wine by Sheridan Warrick. It’s been essential for me as I learn more about this process (which I freely admit to being a novice at).

Making and Spreading Compost

My barrel composter

Pictured above is my barrel composter. It’s basically a barrel on legs that can spin in the middle – it has a lid, too, of course. My wife and I put some of our yard clippings and most of our vegetable waste (as well as egg shells) in here and occasionally spin it. It rarely smells very bad at all – the “bad smell” usually comes from meats and other things that shouldn’t be in there. Usually, it smells sweet or earthy.

Once we have it largely full, we “season” it for about a month. All that involves is putting in a few shovels full of dirt from our garden, some water, and sometimes a few earthworms, then rotating it every day and watering it again if it seems dry. Doing this allows the compost to decompose, eventually becoming much like a heavy, black soil.

Then comes the “weekend project” part: we spread it on our garden. We usually do this twice a year or so, in the spring just before planting and in the fall when the plants are done.

If you take a closer look at the compost itself (taken in late summer)…

Compost is too dry...

… you’ll see it’s very dry. It mostly just looks like dirty plant parts – and that’s what it is. Earlier in the summer, during the heavy Iowa rains, it got fairly wet in there and did some decomposition on its own. Now, in the late summer, it’s dried out. Soon, I’ll add a bit more garden dirt and some water to help the rest turn into compost.

My guide to composting has always been Rodale’s Organic Gardening, which has basically been my guide to gardening my whole life. My father has subscribed for years and I tend to read his issues thoroughly, as well as sometimes investigating them at the library.

Making My Own Cheese

Getting started with cheesemaking

My next big investigation is into making homemade cheese, mostly spurred on by Barbara Kingsolver’s eloquent description of it in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and my mother-in-law’s experience as a professional cheese maker.

Why? I’m mostly interested because I want to gain a better understanding of what goes into my body. What are the components of cheese? How is it made?

I’m starting off by making the very basic mozzarella as described in Kingsolver’s book, which you can get the recipe for at that link. The only ingredients are citric acid, rennet, and non-ultra-pasteurized milk – and two of those ingredients are in the picture above. After that’s done, I want to attempt other cheeses, including ones that have to age for a while.

I’m following Kingsolver’s suggestion and using Ricki Carroll’s Home Cheese Making as my guide. It should be fun.

If you’d like to see a more detailed post or cost analysis of any of these projects, let me know in the comments. I’ll be glad to investigate any of these in more detail if there’s interest.

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74 thoughts on “My Weekend Projects: 5 Ways I Spend My Weekends Saving Money and Living Frugally

  1. Dave says:

    Woah, making your own cheese sounds kind of cool! I’m surprised I haven’t seen more people up in my neck of the woods trying that (Wisconsin, hah).

    Let us know how it goes! Also, if it’s good, I’d probably buy some from you. :p

  2. Onaclov says:

    We NEED a HOMEBREW Rootbeer, Weekend project, I just really can’t really enjoy beer or wine (although we had a sparkling wine that we let “de-fizz” on our honeymoon, and it was amazing), definately a Rootbeer Cost analysis as well.

    I would love to make my own cheese, I know this isn’t really a Cooking website, but you could do Pizza and Beer/Rootbeer, and I’m sure you can adjust amounts of different things in Root beer to pair up with the right pizza….

  3. Jennfier says:

    I would positively love to see more details about cheese making and especially if it turns out really good cheese. We LOVE LOVE LOVE good cheese and sometimes forgo it because of the expense. If we could make it and it tastes great for less money, WOW! Thanks for the post!

    Question… did you make/build your own spinning composter? We made our own compost bin, but I’d love one that spins as it would “speed up” the process some. (I hate mixing it with a pitchfork and the lack of mixing it does make it smell sometimes)

  4. Amanda says:

    Hi Trent,
    I read an article in the NYT (magazine) on Sept. 14th that specifically mentions the disdain the upper eschelons of the publishing industry have for bloggers.
    Here is the quote, “And “the next thing,” as Publishers Weekly editor Sara Nelson notes drily, “is not bloggers writing books.”
    PW is still a very respected barometer for this industry, not to mention Sara–what do you think about this quote?
    Here is a link to the lengthy article:
    http://nymag.com/news/media/50279/

  5. Kevin says:

    Trent – that beer looks really tempting – too bad I have 7 more hours of work to get through.

    We’re going apple picking tomorrow and then to watch some St Louis Blues training camp on Sunday. Should be a fun weekend, and pretty inexpensive too.

  6. femmeknitzi says:

    I’d definitely LOVE to see more about your cheese making experiment! I love cheese and I love doing things myself. What kind of equipment do you need or where do you have to store it to age it?

    By saying that home-brewing is a wash, you mean that it’s not any cheaper than buying craft beers? I found the exact opposite–once you already have the equipment. Start up cost was about $50 for all the supplies so that’s a one time investment.

    We brewed about 45-50 bottles with about $30-35 worth of ingredients. We figured that it came out to less than a dollar a bottle.

    How did you figure that it came out even?

  7. Kevin says:

    Trent – one question – what do you do with the kids while you’re doing these projects? As I recall they are too young to take part aren’t they?

  8. Josh says:

    Another great resource for home cheesemaking is David Fankhauser’s site, http://biology.clc.uc.edu/fankhauser/Cheese/CHEESE.HTML

    That’s where I got my start. I haven’t done much, but I have made their neufchatel twice and it is AWESOME. I took half the batch and mixed in diced garlic, and the other half got a little sugar and cinnamon. Fantastic on bagels.

    Nice to see a fellow homebrewer, too. I’d seen you mention it before, but never saw any real details. Your two samples look great. About to kick the keg of pilsner I made in May, then it’s back to the porter I made in February. :-)

  9. Jason says:

    femmeknitzi: I agree with you 100%. The cost of store bought craft beers can be anywhere from $6-$12 a six pack. With a batch of home brew, which costs $30-$35 for ingredients, the savings can quickly offset the initial cost of equipment. And how sweet is it to invite some friends over to get a little buzz off beer you created.

  10. guillaume says:

    Woah wine and cheese you must have some French blood !

    Thank you for sharing this weekend list !

  11. Catherine says:

    Actually, I’d be interested in seeing more about all these projects. But specifically, I’d like to know more about (1) cost-analysis on making wine and (2) the compost barrel. I’ve been wanting to buy a similar barrel, and I’d like to know of any places to look for a good price. Also, how a big a barrel do you use for the size of your yard/garden?

  12. Stephen says:

    Ooh … the cheese making looks really interesting! I’ll have to pick up the book from the library today — I’d love to hear about any cost-analysis that you do.
    My wife and I eat a lot of cheese ;)
    As to the compost barrel — is there any real need for an actual barrel such as this? My wife and I don’t have a house with a yard (yet), but my grandparents have been doing a three-stage compost in their backyard without any equipment for years now.

  13. Debbie M says:

    Awesome! These are the sorts of investments I was trying to think up in my comment to your last post.

    Some projects I’ve done to save money:
    1) Experiment with pumpkin butter recipes. Pumpkin butter is expensive and hard to find but made with very affordable ingredients and equipment I already have. I also no longer have to go out to eat for pancakes that taste better than bisquick ones.

    2) Organize things. Having a place for receipts makes it more likely I’ll be able to find one when I want to return something or have warranty work done on it. Having my clothes organized means I don’t buy things I already have but keep forgetting about because I rarely use them. Having my utility bills organized means I can find discrepancies (indicating things like water leaks and like that our new showerhead uses way more water than our old one).

    3) Making lunches for the week keeps me from going out (usually).

    4) Once I had a really hard time finding a purse I liked, so I crocheted one. Next, I want to make a thing that holds my checkbook, check registers and credit cards so I can more easily record my credit card spendings in an extra check register book. I also want it to hold my ID, my cash, coupons and receipts. (I keep my frequent buyer cards in a separate change purse.)

    More ideas, anyone?

  14. BonzoGal says:

    Trent, doesn’t spinning your composter with the worms inside make the worms dizzy? ;)

  15. Kerowyn says:

    Here’s one more vote to see more on the cheese-making, that sounds cool.

    My husband and I also make our own beer and wine – but with a serious beer-brewing habit you have to look out for equipment-cravings that can definitely make it a non-frugal hobby. A mini-fridge, heating pad, and digital temperature probe/controller, an immersion chiller, not to mention all the stuff for an all-grain brew, yeesh! My husband saved up his personal allowance for it all so it didn’t affect our household budget, but brewing definitely has a “gadget-lust” component to it.

    Also, as a Californian living on a fault-line, I have to say that those frugal shelves look terrifying!

  16. planetlowe says:

    Trent,
    Any suggestions on where I could go to get a decent beer brewing starter kit without paying a fortune?

  17. Battra92 says:

    Cheese making sounds really interesting. My ancestors were cheese makers up in Vermont 100 years ago.

  18. Kevin says:

    I am using an old metal trash can with holes in the lid for my compost. Just started it this summer from an idea in Men’s Journal, but so far it seems ok. I just mix it every once in awhile to keep things going and check it to make sure it hasn’t dried out. But with all the rain we’ve had that isn’t a problem.

  19. Awesome post. I am going to reserve all the books you recommended right now on my library website! Thanks!

  20. Trent says:

    “Trent – one question – what do you do with the kids while you’re doing these projects? As I recall they are too young to take part aren’t they?”

    Nap time for the younger one, usually, or we get her interested in banging a spoon on pots and pans.

    The older one is almost three and can often help in interesting ways. He likes to watch and get involved and feel like he’s part of it.

  21. !wanda says:

    Does anyone know how to make earthquake-proof homemade shelves?

    I know someone who puts a cup of, um, human urine in their compost every day. The web doesn’t think this is a bad idea, at least…

  22. Tana says:

    I’d like to know more about the cost analysis of the beer. When we buy a mix it is $35 for a batch, and you get about 48 bottles. That’s better than $1/bottle when you watch for stuff on sale, but it’s still more expensive than mainstream lagers.

  23. Vanessa says:

    I am addicted to composting – even if you are just a novice gardener, it is great. It has really cut down on the amount of garbage in our garbage can, we no longer have any problems attracting fruit flies in the house like we did when fruit scrapes would sit in the garbage pan, and I love the fact that I am taking something that would otherwise be trash and turning it into treasure. When I am ambitious, I try to add in shredded newspaper so there is a nice mix of greens and dries.

    If you have used all the compost you can ever imagine using, it is a great thing to give away to gardening friends, or give away/trade on Craigslist.

  24. jgood says:

    This list reads like the last 6 months of my weekends. I’ve been brewing and enjoying beer for over a year, and trying my hand at mead this year. I built a compost bin for the garden this year with pallets and it’s been a learning experience. I found the plans at another blog (This Garden is Illegal). My cheesemaking attempt was not a success, but that’s because I probably used the ultra-pasteurized milk that isn’t labeled as such. My wife and I have also taken to baking bread or rolls from scratch and our kids love it.

    Other weekend projects: Canning, researching new recipes, cooking for the week and freezing it, gardening in general, and just playing in the yard with your kids!

  25. BonzoGal says:

    !wanda asked: Does anyone know how to make earthquake-proof homemade shelves?
    ——-
    My husband and I took bookshelf-sized boards and used brackets to bolt them to the wall. (Or in one case to a wooden backing.) Then we nailed on a little front railing. Anything we have high up on a shelf either has a railing (books and CDs) or that museum-putty (decorations, toys).

    We’re hoping these are fairly earthquake resistant- we really don’t want to lose our collection of old tiki mugs!

  26. I love the idea of making things in your spare time as entertainment. I cook on the weekends. I love cooking, so it’s not a chore, and then I have a weeks’ worth of meals in the fridge and don’t have to do it all week! I would like to learn to sew, so that i could make myself clothes in my spare time. i think that would be fun :) and frugal!

  27. Frugal Dad says:

    My grandfather makes his own wine and I actually prefer it to store bought wine. In fact, most who sample it enjoy the taste.

    I’ve never got into home brewing beer, but it looks like fun, as does the cheese making. Thanks for sharing these projects. Now I just need to carve out a little time to implement a few of them.

  28. Carlos says:

    After reading this post, I bought the cheese making book from Amazon; I would be interested to read about your experiences making cheese.

  29. Kristy T. says:

    My husband and I brew our own beer and have looked into doing wine. Being from WI I would love to learn more about making your own cheese. Thanks for the motivation for starting a compost bin also…It’s something I’ve been meaning to do, but have just never gotten around to it.

  30. ~M says:

    When hubby and I went on our first trip to the Thousand Islands (NY), we found a vineyard close to the campground and tried it out. WE LVOED IT!

    For our 1 year dating anniversary, I found a place to make our own wine (from a box). We made it at the location (stir it up, and let them hold onto it for 45 days). We came back to bottle the wine, print & apply labels. The cost was about double versus what you could make it for yourself at home ($3.50/bottle of the “good stuff” which they sell for $21.99 at the store : 18% alcohol and alot of flavor).

    For my birthday, my mother bought all the equipment needed to make wine (approximately $200 total). We bought the box wine we liked the most (Island Mist : Black Raspberry Merlot $60.00 with no tax because it’s just juice) and just followed the instructions. 1 month later, we’ve got 33 bottles of fruity wine (12% alcohol) or $1.82/bottle.

    We received all of our bottles from Freecycle. We also found a winery in our area that gives them away for free.

    This batch will last us 4-6 months. It would take 2 years to pay off the equipment if we had to purchase it (but because it was a gift, we are already ahead of the game).

    I dont feel nearly as guilty drinking 2 bottles of wine a week at $1.81/bottle versus $9.99+/bottle for an equivalent taste that we enjoy from the local vineyards.

    Plus, they make great gifts!

  31. ~M says:

    PS – I know we are going to get a lot of negative posts about the “boxed wine,” but we like it just the same. If this is a new hobby for you (wine tasting and making), then I really recommend the box kits to get started.

  32. Ryan says:

    I’d love to see more detail on the homebrewing and home wine making, Trent.

    The cinder block shelving is something I’ve employed, too. Actually, my current desk is a few cinder blocks with a large sturdy top resting on them (like your shelves, only deeper). Works fine, was rather inexpensive, and looks kinda cool, too!

  33. Anna says:

    BonzoGal #10 — It is a scientific fact that dizzy worms make better compost ;-)

  34. Anna says:

    Oops, I meant #18, sorry.

  35. Anna says:

    Oops again, that actually was to #10. (BonzoGal, maybe you post too often — just like me…)

  36. Lisa says:

    Composting can be a very fulfilling hobby. I sometimes think I garden just to have an excuse to compost more. Gardweb has a nice compost forum. The FAQ there can be helpful to novice composters.

    http://forums2.gardenweb.com/forums/soil/

  37. lemniskate67 says:

    I’m really interested in the cheese making, I may have to try that.

    one thing I’m trying is making mead – I’m not desperately fond of regular wine, and if I want some I’ll just get a bottle of three buck chuck from Trader Joe’s. But the recipe here:

    http://www.stormthecastle.com/mead/fast-cheap-mead-making.htm

    is not as expensive as buying mead, it’s simple, and I’ve got four gallons of it aging on my kitchen counter right now. It’ll be ready to drink around Christmas.

  38. Michelle says:

    Homemade cheese making is great-I started making homemade mozzerella and ricotta cheese after reading Kingsolver’s book, and found it to be very easy and cost-effective -a gallon of whole milk produces a pound of fresh cheese. The fresh cheese tastes wonderful-much better than what you buy in the store. I am now teaching classes in how to make homemade cheese at a local gourmet food and cookware shop.

  39. Jessica says:

    The cheese making facinates me… My husband and I LOVE cheese so if we could make it at home, we’d probably save a lot of money. The wine is also tempting, but there are a lot of vineyards just a short drive from my town that offer great deals so idk if I’d try that or not… I think I’m too afraid that it would taste bad. lol Who knows tho.. I may get brave some day. :P

  40. Matt says:

    Trent,

    Thanks for the info on your beer and wine making hobbies. Where do you get your wine grapes (and other fruit) from? Just the grocery store or a local vineyard?

  41. Karen Taylor says:

    Trent,

    I also would love to see a post about the cheese making. Might have to try the wine making cuz I love mine wine.

    Laughted out loud about the post on the dizzy worms. Thanks for that – I live in Houston and just went thru Hurricane Ike. Finally have power back but still have family without it. Lots of folks from Galveston and surrounding areas without power, water and even homes.

  42. Andy says:

    Regarding the price of homebrew beer, I think of it as making craft-quality beer for about the price of mainstream American beer (Bud, Coors, etc). Depending on the ingredients, you can make 5 gallons of beer (640 oz, or about 50 12-oz bottles) for around $30-35.

    Two of the more relatively-expensive ingredients are hops (due to current shortages) and yeast. So two ways to reduce the cost of homebrew beer are growing your own hops in your garden (an interesting project in its own right, see http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Grow-Hops/), and harvesting the yeast after brewing in order to reuse it next time (see http://www.howtobrew.com/section1/chapter6-8.html).

    Another option is kegging your finished beer, which doesn’t necessarily reduce cost but does reduce the effort. You don’t need a lot of additional equipment to do this (basically an empty soda keg, a refrigerator that’s large enough to hold it, and a CO2 tank), but you then get to skip most of the work of the bottling step (clean/sterilize/fill/cap 30-50 bottles).

  43. Kelly says:

    We want cheese! More posts about cheese, please. Is it really cost effective, or possibly cheaper? And does your mozzarella taste fabulous? (I am so addicted to fresh mozzarella!) And also the compost bin; did you make it, or where did you get it?

    This weekend, our free entertainment plans include a concert at the local university, and a Harvest Festival at the Arboretum- my 2year old should love both!

  44. Bree says:

    Thanks for the rec on the winemaking book! I have all of the equipment and I’ve made 2 batches so far, but it was from a kit and quite expensive, although it seems buying that much fruit juice is also expensive!

    I’ve made paneer before, which is indian cheese, it’s even easier because all you need is milk and lime or lemon juice (http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Paneer-(Indian-Cheese))

    I’d also love to hear more about cheese making.

  45. Kandace says:

    I’ve made the mozzarella cheese in Barbara Kingsolver’s recipe “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” twice and it’s okay. Don’t think fresh mozarella you would use for a caprese salad. Think more like a brick (or ball form, as the recipe uses) to grate of slice. I think it is best eaten right after making, so it’s a project more about the experience than having something to have in the fridge for a while.

    My start up costs for the first batch were a bit expensive: rennet, cheese salt (could probably have not bought that), citric acid, a large slotted spoon, and a thermometer. And then there is the cost of the milk. So about $27 for less than a pound of cheese. It was fun to make!

    However, I do have a batch of Kingsolver’s tomatoe sauce, recipe from the same book, cooking down on the stove right now. Cost was basically almost because of the abundance of tomatoes in the garden.

  46. Kevin says:

    Very cool post. I love that you’re making cheese.
    Again….very interesting post.

  47. I LOVE these ideas. One of my sweetest childhood memories is making wine with my neighborhood friend Price. Price also taught me to play guitar. I was only eleven but my dear friend and I had such fun picking muscadines and making wine. I couldn’t DRINK it but the making was a blast.
    I love everyone’s ideas of frugal weekends.For my own weekend, I have a couple of movies from the library, and I’m making a batch of oven dried tomatoes (think sun dried only in the oven) and roasted red peppers. Such luxuries! Sweet and savory! I also am drying herbs for winter storage.
    I am so enjoying this site!

  48. BonzoGal says:

    Anna, @27 said: BonzoGal, maybe you post too often — just like me…
    ——————
    What makes you think commenting twice in one posting is too often? Oops, make that three times… ;-)

  49. Sarah Beam says:

    I am very interested in hearing about your cheese-making adventure. I too read about it in Kingsolver’s book a year or so ago, but had completely forgotten since then. We have begun buying raw (read: unpasteurized) milk from a local dairy and with the cost of good cheese being so substantial, I think making my own cheese might be the only way to go. Of course, I’d still prefer for you to work the kinks out first…

  50. Ryan McLean says:

    In some places it can be illegal to brew your own alcohol. So be careful because if this is the case it can be a bad bad financial move

  51. Rick says:

    I’d be interested in seeing more of the cheese making.

  52. GT says:

    Cheese, please!

  53. Kate says:

    I compost almost everything now down to take-out pizza boxes, toilet paper tubes, and the identifying parts of junk mail. I just use a plastic trash can that has the bottom cut off and some holes in the side. When I need to add to it I pull the trash can off, mix up the pile, move the can over, put in the new stuff, and add the old back on top. I know that I am a confirmed composter when I am eating out and want to take the compostable items home with me. :o) I do take them home when I am at work–apple cores, etc.

  54. womanofthehouse says:

    I agree with femmeknitzi about homebrew being cheaper than craft beers you buy at the store. My husband has been brewing for years, and his most extravagant recipe is less than a dollar a bottle. Most of his recipes are 75 cents a bottle or even less depending on a variety of factors.

  55. Catherine says:

    Is the rennet used an animal product? If yes, can there be a vegetable alternative?

  56. Dean Lund says:

    I don’t know how you could get time to read all these comments. Some 30 years ago a series of books came out, entitled “Foxfire”. There were at least 8 volumes (paperback) full of all of the old self sufficiency skills—-soap making, brewing, fabric making, butchering,—anything one can think of. Perhaps you might be able to find some volumes in used book stores, etc. I know you’d be delighted.

  57. Penny Squeaker says:

    Dear Trent,

    I love those weekend Project. Either one particular project & it’s accomplished,or over the course of four weekends.

    Tackling a new section in our organic garden, orchard etc…

  58. Angela says:

    Fun projects, Trent. I’d love to hear more about your cheese making experiences and your composting. If the commenter who makes pumpkin butter wants to post more about that – that would be great too. Here are some other suggestions for your list (which I’d love to hear more about if you do them) 1) canning and/or drying foods, 2) making granola, 3) systems for organizing photos (both physical and digital), 4) herb gardens…

    I would also suggest trying worm-composting, especially since you have little ones. I was a worm-composter for about a year, then we moved out of state and I haven’t gotten back to it yet. It is quite fun, especially if you like to get your hands dirty. With little ones, it might be fascinating for them to see all the worms and watch the food waste become “black gold” as its often called. Its a GREAT way to get rid of food scraps (not meat, dairy, etc) and turn it into compost quickly.

    Along the idea of projects…my grandma and I have always been close (she is also my frugal role-model and always had projects for us as kids – many, many projects were making Christmas presents for our friends (think yarn octopuses)). I moved away and haven’t been able to see her but a couple times a year (used to be every other weekend or so). We hit upon this fun idea to write a book together – just one that we appreciate, not for publishing. So I write a page or so and mail it to her; she writes a page or so and mails it back to me. We will be putting the bulk of it on a personal website, so that we don’t have to spend the money sending the whole thing back and forth, but we can still re-read what we’ve written so far. We will continue, however, to handwrite because we feel closer that way; however, this could be a completely free project if the writers used email.

  59. gr8whyte says:

    In my younger days, I’d accidently left out a carafe of pineapple juice after breakfast. When I got home in the late afternoon, it was slightly bubbly, smelled fine and tasted even better than the original. Hmmm. My inner scientist voted to continue the experiment. Here are the results: The bubbling rate increased to a max in ~2-3 days accompanied with decreasing sweetness but excellent taste. After ~3 days, it didn’t taste as good and the bubbling rate began falling off, and it was flat in another ~2 days. At no point did it taste bad and I never got sick from it. Dumped the batch and started a new one. After 2 days, I had a bubbly alcoholic brew that could be extended indefinitely by adding some fresh juice daily (after first pouring off a desired amount for consumption) but quit after a few days as I couldn’t keep up with production. Back to juice for breakfast. I’ve since tasted palm wine (naturally fermentated and considered the poor man’s champagne) and it’s yummy at the right sugar/alcohol balance. If only someone can figure out how to stabilize and bottle it …

  60. thanks for the interesting list.

    like the others have commented – the cheese making idea does look really great. It’s nice to find different ideas for doing things around the house. It give you something to look forward to instead of the same old thing that only reminds you that you are trying to save money.

    Sometimes it’s the simple things in life that are the most fun!

  61. Kate says:

    I’ve made cheese in the past (a friend had a goat and I bought two gallons of milk twice a month.) But I’m interested in plans for that barrel composter. I don’t have a garden, in part because the soil here is lousy. But it BUGS me to throw good organic waste (dead lettuce leaves, coffee grounds, peelings, apple cores, etc.) into the trash, since all local trash has to be bagged in plastic bags, and is then taken to a landfill and buried. WASTE, pure and simple!

    So if I could get some sort of compost going, I could start building the soil *and* keep the stuff from just filling the landfill. OTOH, my back won’t allow such things as “turning” a compost pile with a pitchfork. This sounds like a reasonable alternative. So, details, please?!?

  62. erin says:

    CHEESE!
    I too was inspired by Kingsolver’s book. The 30-minute mozzarella is great, but even better if you add lipase powder for a stronger taste.

    But, honestly the ABSOLUTE BEST cheese in the book is the chevre, and it’s the easiest too. sooooo much easier than the mozzarella. makes a ton from goat’s milk and still cheaper than buying it in the store. tastes much better too.

  63. Reem says:

    Well I make my own yogurt and butter milk and it’s cost effective plus it’s a piece of cake.
    I also make pickles at home.

    But the cheese making ! I guess no it’s not cost effective,guess those factories buy milk in huge quantities that’s why they get it much more cheaper than we do so it’s gonna cost even more to make cheese at home,Am I right?

  64. gr8whyte says:

    Good grief! “fermentated?” What the H was I thinking?

  65. reulte says:

    Catherine (#39) Yes, rennet is an animal product. I understand there are cheeses made with no animal product – that the rennet/rennin substitute comes from either plant or microbial/fungal source. Unfortunately, I don’t know what these are. (I do know that casein – an alternate rennet – is made of milk protein.) Try a good vegan/vetetarian info site.

  66. reulte says:

    Oh — on the homemade shelves, over time the wood will bow downward in the center. I’d suggest placing heavier objects towards the cinderblocks as well as placing the cinderblocks inward – with a 6-8 inch overhand on the sides with heavier objects on the outsides of the blocks We had a cinderblock shelf that lasted for years – even with the noticable bowing. We covered the shelves with cloth (staplegun!) painted the cinderblocks a color that blended with the wall and used the cinderblock with two holes for small objects, rolled magazines and the daily mail.

  67. Matt says:

    Ryan McLean, IIRC in the US it is legal for a private citizen to brew up to 500 gallons of his or her own wine or beer per year. Distillation to produce hard alcohol is generally illegal though. It’s also illegal to sell your home brewed beer or wine, but you can share it with friends or give it away, though you may want to check with your local and state laws before you do that.

  68. Samantha says:

    Wine and cheese!! I never thought those were things you could do at home. I’d love to hear more. Thanks!!

  69. Talitha says:

    I’ll put in my two cents and request detailed posts on the cheese-making and wine-making. Both would be excellent gifts too!

  70. threadbndr says:

    #55 Yes, rennett is an animal product, but there are herbal alternatives made from thistle will cause cheese to curd. I don’t know if those are available commercially, though.

    http://cheese.about.com/od/howcheeseismade/f/rennet_faq.htm has some details.

    Gosh, it’s been just ages since I made cheese and yohgurt at home. I may have to do that again.

    I’m a knitter and stitcher, so those projects absorb my weekends. I also want to do some painting around the house before it gets too cold this fall. And getting the yard/garden ready for winter will take up some time.

  71. Oscar says:

    You’ve posted about your compost before, I finally got motivated to start one up myself. Thanks for sharing the other tips too, I calculated that my compost would save me 40-80 per year.

  72. Denise says:

    I want to thank you for your post!
    I literally was searching on the internet for “how to make cheese/beer/wine”…and then I found your post! I would love to read some of the other ways you save money…as living frugally is my lifestyle :)

  73. I wish I had the nerve to do the yogurt. I spend a ton of money on yogurt!

    Thanks, Great post!

  74. John Carrier says:

    If the polls are still open, I’ll throw in for more “beer” articles. I’ve been brewing at home for just over a year now, and I’d love to read (and share) tips on cost reduction.

    As you’ve said before, don’t brew your own beer to just to save money, but if you do it because you love it and love beer, you will wind up saving a lot, incidentally, eventually.

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