Cheerios for $27.50 a pound?
We pay a price for convenience. But come on, folks: How hard is it to wash a potato?
Yesterday I saw two supermarket signs that reflect a popular attitude toward nourishment: "Grab & Go Meals" and "Convenience Breakfasts."
Hint: Any time you see the word "convenience," you're likely to pay a lot more.
Case in point: cereal cups. A cup of Special K from the Convenience Breakfasts section costs the equivalent of $16 a pound, vs. a box of Special K that goes for $5.33 per pound. A cup of Oatmeal Express sells for $14.33 per pound, whereas instant oatmeal in packets will set you back $4.77 per pound.
A few aisles over you can buy bulk oatmeal for $1.09 per pound. But don't get me started.
Seriously: Is a markup of 300% or more really worth it? Apparently so, or we wouldn't have such a thing as precooked rice.
Yep, little plastic containers that you stick in the microwave. Within 60 seconds you've got a half-cup of white, brown or jasmine swamp seed. The cost: $4.89 per pound. No one ever went broke underestimating the laziness of the American public.
No time to peel?
Yes, I know how busy you all are. But have we become so separated from reality that we can't even boil our own eggs?
That is not a joke: You can buy bags of peeled hard-boiled eggs in some stores. I'd seen these in the Lower 48 but didn't find them in either of the two supermarket chains here in Anchorage. If images of the prefab cackleberries didn't exist online, my roommate might think I'd made them up: She responded with, "You're kidding" when I mentioned this item. (So have other people.)
I called a Trader Joe's market in Washington and found that a 9.3-ounce bag sells for $2.69; the clerk believed that there were 8 to 10 eggs in each bag. A 2008 online review of cage-free (not organic) precooked eggs noted that 11 of them sold for $4.59. No doubt the price has gone up.
A few more examples of the "You're kidding" school of convenience food:
- Prewashed sweet potatoes. Scrubbed, wrapped in plastic and "ready to microwave," for $2. Two bins over you could buy an unwrapped sweet potato for about $1.34. (I don't eat the skins, so I'll skip the pre-bake bath and keep the extra 66 cents.)
- The Cheerios "Toddler Pack." This 1-ounce plastic container of the diaper set's preferred nosh sells for $1.89. For those of you keeping score, that works out to $27.50 per pound. In the cereal aisle, Cheerios cost as little as $1.95 per pound. (But the container is so easy for Junior to hold, you say? So is a sippy cup -- dump some cereal in it.)
- Gelatin cups. Really? A four-ounce serving works out to about 76 cents. The same amount made with a box of mix: 20 cents. Learn to boil water, already.
- Prefab PBJs. Sold in the freezer section, four for $3.99. Since each sandwich weighs just 2 ounces, I expect it would take more than one to fill up even a first-grader. (Oh, but the crusts have already been cut off! That’s "value-added"!)
It's hard to get ahead if you're paying $4.89 per pound for rice, or $3.99 for sandwiches that might make two lunches, tops, for your kids. Even a little basic planning and cooking could be a big boost to your food budget.
I know that many people buy convenience food because they're so stressed and busy. Overspending on food can certainly add to that stress, however.
I also think some people grew up in homes where no one cooked, and as a result can't even boil an egg. The thing is, none of us know how to do anything -- until we make a point of learning.
Readers: What will and won't you pay for in the name of convenience?
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I agree completely. But, In the same vein as your "Surviving and Thriving" piece in which you were glad to have the option of getting a hotel room on your trip home from Jersey, I keep a few of these convenience items on hand, knowing that if I didn't/couldn't get around to cooking or shopping for my husband's work lunches, there is still something on hand healthier and cheaper than even two items from the drive-through dollar menu. I keep a package of the same little rice cups you mentioned above, purchased with a coupon and usually on sale. Stir in a 5-oz. can of Kroger's chunk breast chicken ALWAYS bought during a dollar sale (less DH's 10% senior coupon) and there's a decent lunch or dinner that cost about $1.65. Having these price limits in mind helps in decision-making when planning/shopping. DH breakfasts in his office , so the best option of cereal and milk is out (WAY too messy). Whatever I come up with needs to fall somewhere between 25 and 35 cents on a daily average, not counting juice. When one of these truly convenient foods is on clearance or is a loss leader like recently purchased 6-count Toaster Scrambler boxes for 99 cents, I buy them all! Gotta love a bargain.
I think it is about Cheerios, amongst other items...
Seems Donna just worked out the cost for you; That do not do any comparison shopping...?
Americans have gotten extremely lazy....And then bitch about prices..??
Quick and easy is the Fare of the day....And you are going to pay for that service ...Period.
Seems many people do very little cooking, like 2-5 decades ago..?
I remember a friend, that we nicknamed "Microwave Mom" about 25-30 years ago.
Probably somewhat true about "foodstamp buyers"?
We donate to food banks also; And the people that run them, stay most want easy to cook or non-cook items...They have even had cooking classes to help them utilize better foods..
The cost of convenience foods is almost always cheaper than take out. In that regard, a heat and eat entree, frozen mashed potatoes, and bagged salad have a place on my table and in my budget. The extra cost is almost always a balm to my sanity.
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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.
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Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.
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