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Make or buy: cost effective food staples?

I was curious after reading this article on Slate (http://www.slate.com/id/2216611) about doing a cost/benefit analysis of the effort involved to make staples at home versus purchasing at the supermarket.

She covered bagels, cream cheese, yoghurt, jam, crackers, and granola. I make my own staples at home but have never done a price estimate. Has anyone else done something like this?

I'd be interested in gathering other peoples results and opinions - perhaps even to start a compilation for reference! Many thanks!

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  1. I bake quite a lot of bread. I did a rough comparison (excluding my time) to calculate the possibility of savings on a one pound loaf. Flour (good quality bread flour) is about $1 a pound. The yeast (about 5 grams total) costs about 5 cents. The water necessary to make a loaf is about 1 cent and the salt and any other ingredients total less than 5 cents. The electric power (I have an electric range) runs about 15 cents. So if I can find a one pound loaf of bread for under $1.30 (hasn't happened yet) it's far less expensive for me to bake my own.

    1 Reply
    1. re: todao

      Well, and bearing in mind that the one pound loaf of bread YOU turn out will be of much higher quality with no preservatives or other weirdo ingredients... the comparison then becomes $1.30 for a loaf of high-quality preservative-free bread. In the store? Impossible!

    2. I just estimated that the ingredients alone cost me about $8.50 for a batch of peach jam. This does not include labor (which is enjoyable for me), or equipment (already have the canner and the jars). Add about $1.50 for the lids for one batch and that brings it to $10 for about 3 pint jars of homemade jam with locally grown, organic peaches picked by me at an orchard at the height of ripeness. I'm pretty sure that's quite a bit less than what a high-quality jam would cost at the store, but if nothing else, it makes me happy to do it. They just planted a peach tree, so I am looking forward to someday having free peaches!

      I make my own lemonade and lemon-grapefruit-ade from home grown lemons and grapefruit from my parents as well. They are inundated with fruit every year. Both my freezers are filled with juice. Making the juice is MUCH cheaper than buying lemonade. Tastier too. We also use the juice for cooking and baking throughout the year.

      I would love to make my own crusty white bread, but every time I try, it just doesn't come out right.

      1. In recent months, after reading many CH posts about how much better and cheaper soaked-and-cooked dry beans are than canned ones, I started buying dry beans. I gave in to the temptation to buy about a dozen bags of heirloom variety dry legumes online - they are SO pretty in their dry form, but virtually all of them turn sullen, solid colors after cooking. The heirlooms are at least 3 times the price of bags of dry beans at the supermarket. With a few exceptions, I do not think there's much of a difference in taste and texture between home-cooked and canned beans. So it comes down to price: most one-lb bags yield 3 cups of dry, which usually translates to 6 cups cooked. This equals the drained contents of four 15.5 oz cans. House brand canned beans, and national brand beans on sale, can be anywhere from $.50 to over $1.00 per can. So, that's about $2-4, which is twice the cost of dry beans at sale and regular prices (not counting the fuel cost of 60-90 minutes of simmering). Not a huge cost savings, unless compared to the pound price, plus shipping, for heirloom dry beans. However, not having to lug heavy cans, then rinse and recycle them, makes dry beans a better choice for me.

        2 Replies
        1. re: greygarious

          I agree for many reasons. A few years ago I learned that I could freeze already soaked beans - made a difference for me (it's just the two of us). I soak a pound bag, cook 1/3 of them, and freeze two others. Thaw and cook.

          1. re: bayoucook

            Ooh! Great idea! I freeze mine cooked but that limits the application somewhat. I'll be doing this in the future!! :)

        2. If one factors in labor costs and time, there are very few things that are cost-effective to make at home versus buying at the store.

          The reason I make certain things at home versus buying them at the store is because they are either healthier (less preservatives) or taste better. But more often than it's just for the pure intrinsic joy of making it.

          6 Replies
          1. re: ipsedixit

            Some condiments that are simple combinations of common ingeredients are no-brainers for a lower unit cost with little time invested. Cocktail sauce, tartar sauce, mustard sauce for stone crabs, and honey butter come to mind; I'm sure there are many more.

            1. re: Veggo

              Hmm, I'm not so sure about that.

              Let's take one of your examples: cocktail sauce.

              Average retail price for a bottle of cocktail sauce (5 to 7.5 oz) is probably somewhere around 4 to 6 dollars, depending on the brand. (And you can probably get it for cheaper if it's on sale, or with a coupon -- but then we digress)

              If I'm making a basic cocktail sauce, I'm going to need at least some or all of the following:

              ketchup
              horseradish
              lemon juice
              salt, or celery salt
              tabasco sauce

              I'm no so sure I can make cocktail sauce using the above ingredients for under $4, esp.if you factor in things like labor, the cost of the jar or storage container, and time.

              1. re: ipsedixit

                It's folly to factor in your labor unless you would otherwise be being paid for the time you spend in the kitchen and supermarket, Containers - you have them already and I hope you're not going to charge for your dishwashing.

                1. re: greygarious

                  I don't think discounting labor is the right way to think about it.

                  Because, at least for me, I value my free time -- even if I don't get paid for it. It's the opportunity cost of making cocktail sauce. If I wasn't making cocktail sauce, I could be taking a siesta or posting on Chowhound -- and I place a good deal of value (e.g. I derive alot of pleasure) in both of those activities.

                  But it's like I said above -- I make alot of things at home not necessarily because I think its cost-effective to do so. I make them at home because I find intrinsic value and pleasure in doing so.

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    I agree with you BOTH, ipsedixit and greygarious! I value my free time SO I cook. Therefore the "price" of my labor (not bloody much, I can tell you) is not a factor in my price comparisons. I'm already going to do something I enjoy (like cooking) in my spare time, so I might as well save myself some scratch at the same time.

                2. re: ipsedixit

                  I always have all those ingredients on hand, so to mix up enough for that particular meal takes just a minute and no added outlay to me. It's not necessary to make a pint of it to hang around when you only need a bit and it's so easy to stir together.

            2. I really think you can save a lot of$$$ by making your own staples at home. I think the trick is that you have to have a large enough family to consume them to make it cost effective. Also a lot of times I find that I really enjoy doing it at home. Another trick is having enough space to store what you make. Here are a few examples that I do at home on a regular basis.

              1. Homemade salad dressing ( so much cheaper)
              2. Bread crumbs
              3.Soup stocks
              4.truffles (thats a staple right)
              5.Enchilada sauce
              6.croutons
              7.spice blends
              8. I grow my own herbs
              9.lemoncello
              10. pie crust
              11, Pizza dough
              12. chutneys and relish

              4 Replies
              1. re: Analisas mom

                I make many of these items at home- bread crumbs, salad dressing, croutons, spice blends/rubs, pizza dough. I just started growing some herbs. Homemade versions of these products taste better to me- wasn't thinking of the cost. Croutons and breadcrumbs are made from day old or stale bread. Salad dressings I prefer to make because I don't like the gummy, fake texture of storebought dressings.

                1. re: cheesecake17

                  Analisas list is exactly like mine, and like cheesecake, I do it for the taste. I admit I've turned into such a salad dressing snob that I can't stand the store bought varieties anymore. I also make bagels, yogurt, and granola, which are consumed in amazingly large quantities in our house, and that DEFINITELY save me money...even with the cost of maple syrup.

                  1. re: RosemaryHoney

                    There's one restaurant that has the most amazing salad dressing. They sell a pint of it for $5. It's the only dressing I'll buy- and I don't want to try to duplicate it at home b/c god knows that's in it!

                2. re: Analisas mom

                  I got all excited when I saw "truffles" on your list -- I pictured some sort of truffle log, LOL. But no, you mean CHOCOLATES. And, while I do love chocolates, I'd give an eye-tooth to be able to produce my own delicious truffles, the fungi kind, I mean. Now THAT would save money!