It is true that making your own beer can be less expensive than purchasing commercial beer from the store. I like this perk with homebrewing, but that's not the reason why I do it. There are so many ways to create different beers and then enjoy them, that the saving money is really just an added bonus.
I read an article yesterday about ways to save additional money with the homebrewing hobby. Here is a link to that article on the Mint Life blog. www.mint.com (Oh, this is a site about finances and saving money... by Intuit. Not really my normal everyday browsing.)
The article has some decent points, and I feel the need to provide some additional commentary (why not?). In a nutshell, and with a little creative license, the 7 ways are listed in the post are as follows.
1. Don't buy bottles. Reuse them.
2. Use coupons, offers, and utilize free shipping from online sites.
3. Use less hops. They are expensive
4. Buy on sale
5. Purchase in bulk
6. Do it yourself, including brewing all grain and making a yeast starter
7. Use friends and borrow items, purchase used equipment, etc.
What I've found in my own experience.
Reuse bottles: I like #1 on their list, and have never purchased a new bottle (unless it has beer in it already). I keep almost every commercial bottle, and reuse it. At first cleaning can be a real pain, until I settled on some shortcuts. If you are anal like me, you will want to remove the label, but this isn't a rule. After I open and pout a bottle, I immediately rinse it out in the sink. Rice it good, at least 7 times to get all the beer out. A bottle rack would be best, but I'm to cheap to purchase one evidently. I set it on the counter to air dry. Next time I walk by it, I dump out any remaining water drips. The third time I walk by it, i place it in an empty beer case in the closer.
On bottling day, I will rinse out the bottles again and put into the dishwasher, in which I'll run the Sanitize cycle (with no dish soap) and after that, they are ready for the new beer.
Coupons and holiday sales: We have a great local Homebrew Shop and I want them to be around for years. I purchase all my ingredients and most equipment there. I'm happy to give them money, and saving $.050 or $1 by purchasing online just isn't worth it to me. Buy local. Support your local brewing community.
Less hops: Their number three was more about experimenting with different styles. I guess they assume everyone like to brew big bold hop bomb IPAs. I'm not convinced this can save a lot of money, but it is important to point out that bigger beers will cost more, just because of the additional ingredients needed. A nice sessionable ale can be fun to brew, quick to ferment, and good to drink.
Purchase in bulk: This is a good idea that I haven't taken advantage of, and mostly because I don't have a grain mill (that costs money too). I can see the benefit mostly in this with grain.
Do it yourself: While some brewers are happy to brew with extract, the evolution of a brewer usually brings them to all grain brewing at some point. It is indeed less expensive, and I've found that it is not really any more difficult. Just more time and a few more steps. Do be afraid of all grain brewing. You will need some additional equipment (which costs money), including a mash ton, and larger boil kettle, which usually means brewing outdoors with a propane tank and burner. Kitchen stoves don't always have enough power or headroom for big boils.
Another neat thing I've learned it to reuse yeast. Yeast can be one of the most expensive ingredients...at least liquid yeast. Dry yeast is less, and you get more in a packet. I'm just not yet convinced it is as good of a strain. But I say, why buy it when you make it anyway. Of course during fermentation the yeast multiplies greatly, and once complete, the yeast cells simply settle to the bottom of the carboy and rest. After racking the beer, that yeast is great for recycling. The process isn't difficult, but it is fairly detailed (at least when compared to the reusing of bottle method mentioned above). I've had success with it (and a lot of fun). With the method I've adopted, I'll get two jars with enough yeast each to make a starter and have plenty for a batch. That is two batches out of one. It is an automatic 3 for 1 sale, if you think about it. And then, the same thing can happen after the next batch, doubling your amount. It is a really cool way to learn and experiment. I have a great post on it here.
Use Friends: My comment here is simple. You can brew better when you brew together. Getting involved in a brew club and meeting people with the same hobby makes it all the more fun and helps ease the learning process. Don't brew on an island.
This fine Dunerbrew site contains some stories and how-to's on most of these topics already. In haste to publish a new post, I'm neglecting the time necessary to find and include the links now. But rest assured, you are free to search the site, and/or browse through the tags list to the side. The post on reusing and washing yeast is great and highly recommended. I have posts on cleaning and getting the labels off bottles, as well as some all grain tips and tricks (I think). We also feature some great recipes on this site. Feel free to browse away.
And on that note...happy brewing. Cheers!