Our children have several small tubs of playdough, both the name brand Play-Doh and other brands of similar material, that they’ve received as gifts over the years. The contents of those tubs have been played with, sculpted, mashed, combined, and used in countless different ways.
It’s actually a toy that Sarah and I quite like as it encourages our children to make whatever they want from it. It’s an incredibly open-ended toy (as long as you avoid the various plastic “factories” that channel the playdough into some specific style of play).
Our kids make sculptures of people, make checker sets, make pretend sandwiches, mix the different colors together to see what new colors are created, find ways to make perfect (or close to it) spheres and cubes, and so on.
Eventually, though, the playdough gets old. It dries out. It gets contaminated with something due to dropping on the floor. An overzealous child throws some away during cleanup. It gets mixed together until you have an ugly brown lump.
Going out to the store to buy new batches of playdough would add up in cost. Instead, we make our own. It’s pretty easy, it’s quite fun for the children to help when making it, and it’s pretty cheap, too.
The only supplies you need are two cups of flour, one cup of salt, two tablespoons of vegetable oil, and one tablespoon of cream of tartar.
Based on my own calculations, that’s about $0.30 in supplies ($0.10 for two cups of flour, $0.10 for one cup of salt, $0.03 for the vegetable oil, and $0.07 for the cream of tartar). This makes enough playdough to fill roughly two large playdough containers with the stuff. You may also want a few drops of food coloring for your preferred colors.
Put all of those ingredients (except the food coloring) into a saucepan over very low heat. Add two cups of tap water and stir it. It will eventually thicken to the point that it has a playdough-like consistency.
When it seems pretty consistent and very hard to stir (which shouldn’t take long at all), take it off of the heat, hold it in your hands, and knead it. Massage it until it has a very standard consistency throughout. What you’ll have is playdough.
Storing it is easy. We usually separate these batches into two or three or four separate small balls and store them in unused playdough containers. If you don’t have those around, pretty much any reusable sealable container will work for storing the stuff.
If you want colors, just get a set of food colorings. Add a drop or two to each ball of it and knead until it’s consistent in color. If you want brighter color, add another drop.
It’s incredibly easy to make, our children have a blast playing with it and making it, and it’s roughly 75% cheaper than buying playdough at the store.
This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “,” which is available and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of , the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.