I've found it simply doesn’t make sense to make some foods yourself, even if they cost a little less to make them from scratch. Bagels would be at the top of that list for me. The time it takes to make them, along with the fact that many local bakeries do an infinitely better job than I can, makes it worth it to spend the extra money for bagels.
On the other hand, buying packaged taco seasoning seems like a ridiculous waste of money to me. When I use the spices I already have in my kitchen, it's almost as if the taco seasoning is free.
Each home cook will feel differently about what makes sense to make from scratch and what makes sense to purchase pre-made (even if it costs a little more), depending on how much time they have and their cooking skills. With that said, here are some of the foods I think are perfect candidates to make from scratch to save money.
Why buy a packet of taco seasoning mix when there's a good possibility you already have the seasonings you need on your spice shelf? Instead of letting those spices lose their flavor by sitting around too long, put them to good use in a taco seasoning mix that uses chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, crushed red pepper, paprika, cumin, salt and pepper — which are very likely already in your kitchen.
Bakery pies can be really expensive. Making your own will save you money, especially if you use in-season fruits like sour cherries in the summer or apples in the fall. Make your own pie crust, and you'll save even more money, but even if you use a pre-made pie crust, you'll be saving some dough. (Making your own savory pies will save you money, too. Turkey Pot Pie after Thanksgiving is a fabulous way to use up leftovers and make an inexpensive, soul-soothing meal.)
Sure, sometimes pre-packaged granola bars go on sale, but even if they end up being inexpensive one week every few months, they often are full of processed sugar and artificial preservatives. When I was packing school lunches on a daily basis, homemade Peanut Butter Granola Bars, sweetened with agave or honey, were always a hit with my boys.
I'll be honest. I've never made my own yogurt. This is one of the things I prefer to buy. But I have friends who make their own, and they boast about how inexpensive yogurt is to make and how much better it tastes than store-bought. There are yogurt making devices that make the job even easier, but you don't really need a special appliance. This Greek yogurt recipe calls for canning jars, a candy thermometer, and a large pot, as well as the simple ingredients of whole milk and a yogurt culture starter.
Really good pancakes are pretty simple to make, and the mixes that allow you to "just add water" are sub-par when it comes to taste. My favorite from-scratch pancake recipe comes from Mark Bittman and it includes ingredients you most likely already have on hand.
If you want to get a bit fancier (yet still simple), Prosecco Pancakes — made from a $10 bottle of Prosecco with plenty left over for brunch Mimosas — are pretty much the best pancakes I've ever had. You'll weep at the sight of boxed pancakes after you've had these.