What would you pay for convenience?

Raquel StecherAbout Me
Blogger at Thoughtful Eating and Vintage Brand New. Please add my to your circles.

This week's grocery bill was off the charts high and I couldn't quite get around why I went over my weekly budget of $125 by quite a significant amount. In fact, I think my $125 is too high especially since I'm buying food for only Carlos and I. There was only one factor that threw things off. Carlos' birthday. I'm making Pastel de Choclo for him and since one of the main ingredients, fresh ears of corn, is out of season I had to pay a whopping $8 for only 6 ears! But where did all the other expenses come from?

The other day, I was having a Twitter conversation with Erin of the excellent blogs Films and Foodies and Things Our Mom Taught Us. I had proclaimed my confusion in a tweet about why a pack of Chicken Cutlets now cost on average $5.50 at Market Basket (a grocery store chain known for very low prices) yet a whole rotisserie chicken only costs $3.99. You get a whole cooked chicken for $1.50 less than some raw slices of a chicken breast? That made no sense to me. That is until Erin explained it.

So the labor involved in creating those thin chicken cutlets, and waste lost, makes the price go up significantly. I always knew that buying whole was cheaper but I didn't realize to what extent. Then I started thinking about what I was paying for convenience. How much was I paying for another person's labor so I can spend less time in the kitchen? Is a can of beans more expensive per pound than a bag of dry beans? Do I really want to save the money in beans but add more time to my already packed schedule? Are company profiting off of our busy lives by charging us for the labor that it takes to make convenience foods? I'm I the last one to be smacked in the face by the reality of this?

In budgeting for my family's meals, I've been doing the following
  • buying cheap cuts of meat (think ground beef and chicken and not filet mignon)
  • make a game out of looking for the least expensive pack
  • using more vegetables and fruits and less packaged goods
  • only buying what I need for the week
  • planning out the week's meals in advance so I don't buy extra crap
  • purchasing very few or no snacks
  • skipping many name brands and going for generic when I can
What I haven't been doing is looking what I'm spending on convenience. Would it have been cheaper to make 2 Oreo cookie crusts from scratch or to buy 2 already made ones for $4? Do I really need to spend $2.50 on Baker's Dipping Chocolate for one use when a $2.50 bag of Ghiradelli Chocolate Chips would give me multiple uses, including melting chocolate for dipping? Should I buy a block of cheddar cheese and shred it myself or is it worth the money already shredded?

How do you cut back on your grocery bills? What grocery buys are worth the extra money to save you time in the kitchen? Is time worth the money or is money worth the time?


Jonas Nordin said...

I try to stay out of processed food all together. I always have an eye on price per kilo/litre since that is obligatory on all items over here. Sometimes the price vary as much as 50% and if you don't pay attention you might end up being fooled by a nice package at twice the cost. Sometimes a cheaper item can be of better quality because the brand is les known or considered unhip. Certain items like bulgur can sometimes be very pricy because of the hip-factor. Crushed grains of wheat is basically the same thing at a fraction of the price. Don't be fooled by hip names, fancy packaging. Always look at the ingredients of processed food. Meat content in sausages can vary between 30-90% yet the 30% wiener can cost more. I try to avoid all kinds of additives, E-numbers or chemicals. It's not time consuming to put beans in water over night, all it takes is some planning.

Erin McGee said...

you've made such a good point! not just about meats & fruits, but bringing notice to things like cheese, dipping chocolate, & beans are all foods i never think about that i'm over spending on for their convenience. my opionion now after reading this, is maybe the money is worth more, & i could spend a little extra time. i guess i just have to plan better. :(

Jennifer said...

I buy nearly all of my meat at Costco - including filet mignon - and then repackage it and freeze it. Chicken breasts are already packaged in packets of two - then I take out what I need and the rest stays in the freezer. Shredded cheese is the biggest scam ever - yes, it's a pain in the hiney to shred it, but a brick of cheese is so much less expensive. I will buy prepared items if I'm following a recipe and I know I won't use a larger quantity of a certain item. I buy canned products (diced tomatoes, tuna) when it's on sale even though I may not need it that specific week so that I do have it on hand when I need it. I think it's about finding a balance between time spent in preparation and convenience. Sometimes you can take a little more time and sometimes you just want a meal prepared quickly and easily.

Raquelle said...

Jonas - I buy whole foods whenever I can and I am not into buying processed foods. But I'm paying extra for raw chicken?! With no chemicals added, no brand name, no seasoning, nothing? ACK! I'm anti sodium nitrates and nitrites right now. Chemicals are bad. I tried the beans in water overnight thing and it didn't work. I'll have to try again. I might need to ask my mom, the bean maniac, for her tips and tricks.

Erin - Thanks for giving me the idea for this post! You really made me think about packaging, processing and cost when it comes to food.

Jennifer - My family is too small for Costco shopping and we live in a condo and have a regular sized refrigerator. I think we could save some money if we had an extra freezer, bought stuff on sale and in bulk and froze froze froze. But we just don't have the room. And I tried buying products when they are on sale, however, I ended up spending more. I do freeze extras of things so I don't throw anything away. For example, one pack of low-sodium bacon lasts me 3 weeks. 18 strips, 6 strips a week, I freeze the other 12 in batches of 6 and defrost when I make brunch every Sunday. Thanks for stopping by!

Bev (bookyeti) said...

Awesome post! :)

I like shopping the discount produce bin. They slash prices on over-ripe or sometimes just day-old produce. This is a god-send because hubby and I eat a lot of veggies and fruit. The regular prices - sans sales - would literally rot your socks off (I'm in Nova Scotia, Canada as you know, and so we have import a lot of our produce.)

Anyway, the produce discount section is my best friend and saves us a lot of dough! Most of what I get I chop up and freeze, or eat the same day. It's awesome.

la vita รจ bella (life is beautiful) said...

Hi! I use coupons to cut down on my grocery bills. I use the ones you get in the newspaper weekly & also like buying 100 coupons for only $1 on Ebay w free shipping is a great way to save lots of money. There are also coupon websites like redplum & coupons.com. Coupons save lots of money especially when an item is already on sale & you use a coupon with it, then it's even cheaper.

Another way to save money is buy shopping at Walmart & Target for snacks, beverages,breakfast foods, frozen dinners. Even though they don't carry fruits & vegetables, you can still save money on most items & just buy fruits & vegetables at the market. They are a lot cheaper than regular grocery stores. By shopping at those stores & by using a coupon with it, you get an even better deal.

Another useful tip is instead of buying for instant a brand of chocolate chip cookies, you can buy low cost ingredients to make homemade chocolate chip cookies. Also you can compare prices by buying the cheaper meat compared to the expensive meat.

Great post!

Jennifer said...

Raquelle, I understand what you mean when you indicate that Costco packaging has large quantities. However, we are a family of two. The chicken is 12 breasts, packaged in two's. I "repackage" them, keeping them in their double containers into two 1-gallon Ziplocks. Surprisingly, it takes up little room. I think having a well-stocked pantry saves money in the longrun, though you have to get it stocked in the first place. I knew a woman once who stopped by the grocery store every day on her way home from work to get supplies for that night's dinner. For me, going to the grocery store 7 nights a week would be like a punishment, but also, she probably spent a lot more on her food bills than if she'd thought about a weekly menu.

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