01 June 2015

Your DIY guide to life

At one time mankind had no choice but to be self-sufficient. Before we lived in larger communities and traded with others, we needed the capacity to make everything we needed for ourselves.

Even today, in a very different world, we value homemade things a lot more than the equivalent items we buy in the shops, and it makes us feel good when we have greater autonomy over what we make, use and consume. The benefits aren’t only psychological. Forking out less in the supermarket, cinema or shopping centre can result in real savings too.

Here are 5 ideas you can try to be more self-sufficient in your home and garden. And when your self-sufficient lifestyle leaves you with more in your account at the end of the month, check out Nationwide’s range of savings accounts to help you do more with the money.

Grow your own

Producing food is not as hard as you might think. You can find herbs, fruits and vegetables to fit in any space from allotment plots to patio pots - and you can guarantee they’ll be fresh and tasty when you pick them. Growing your own also tends to reduce food waste: you take what you need when you need it and anything left remains in the ground, not rotting at the back of the fridge.

Because you make fewer visits to the supermarket, there’s less temptation to splash out on impulse buys – and plucking beans from the garden beats queuing at a checkout any day. Here are 10 ideas to get you growing, from seed specialist Thompson & Morgan.


Beds made from pallets, coat racks from banisters, shelves from old surfboards: before you make that trip to the tip, look again at what you’re throwing out – and think about what it could become.

‘Upcycling’ old furniture and fittings can save a pretty penny and kindle your creative side, whether it’s painting an old sideboard or trying something more adventurous like turning a telephone into a feature lamp. You could even turn your talents to an entire room. If your kitchen is looking tired, try taking a paintbrush to the cupboard doors or using old wallpaper to line the back of a dresser. 

There are plenty of websites that will give you the inspiration and the instructions to help bring a new lease of life to your home. Here’s some handy inspiration from House & Garden Magazine.

Learn to sew and knit

It’s been claimed that some women spend £1,200 on clothes, shoes and accessories every month. If that’s true, then it’s surely no wonder that sales of sewing machines soared 500% after the global downturn hit. 

Making your own clothes is a great way to keep a fresh-looking wardrobe without paying high street prices. And, thanks to shows like The Great British Sewing Bee, sewing and knitting is as much a bold, independent fashion choice as a way of saving money.

Once you have the knack, ‘SIY’ (Sew-it-Yourself) gives the freedom to create unique, bespoke designs from fabrics only you have thought of, plus a way to repurpose old favourites into on-trend styles. And it’s not just dresses and shirts. Curtains, kids’ clothes, cushions, toys, bags – there’s a world of opportunity for those that can wield needle and thread creatively. And there’s a very close-knit community of crafters to join too. You can find ideas and tutorials at The Sewing Directory or The Thrifty Stitcher.

Cook from scratch

Self-sufficiency in the kitchen means deconstructing your cooking and learning to create great dishes from scratch. How about swapping your Friday night curry from the local take-away for one put together at home by mixing your own herbs and spices; or turning mince into your own homemade burgers for the barbecue?

Cooking from scratch lets you control sugar and salt content and enjoy preservative-free food – and it can lead to a healthier bank balance too. Preparing those burgers in batches and freezing them can save you money through buying ingredients in bulk; so could buying a whole chicken and deboning it yourself so you can make a curry with the leftovers. You’ll find inspiration and recipe ideas at sites like Simply Scratch.

Go old school with entertainment

Playing traditional games and making your own entertainment doesn’t just save on overpriced popcorn and video games, it can be a great source of mental stimulation – no matter how old you are.

For kids, try getting creative with a cardboard box, paints and loo roll tubes, and turn them into a puppet theatre, make your own board games at home or start competitive I-Spy battles when you travel. But age shouldn’t be a barrier to self-sufficient entertainment. Any dinner party will descend into uproarious laughter with simple guessing games like Celebrity, when you draw names from a hat and must play the character of your chosen celeb whilst answering questions.

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