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What convenience foods really cost

How much are you paying for the convenience of someone else washing your lettuce?

By Karen Datko Mar 18, 2010 10:35AM

This post comes from Trent Hamm at partner blog The Simple Dollar.


Every time I visit the grocery store, I’m amazed to see how much of the produce section is taken up with prepackaged fresh foods. You know what I’m talking about -- bags of prewashed lettuce, precut apples, precut celery, precut pineapple.


I understand why such items are for sale: They’re convenient. It’s easier to just grab a bag of prewashed romaine lettuce than it is to grab a head of romaine and deal with it when you get home.


Yet, when you look at the prices, you’re actually paying a significant markup. Two bags of romaine lettuce at my local grocer provides about the same amount as a single head of romaine. Two bags cost about $4.50, while the head costs about $1.60 (with some variance, of course). By buying the head, you save $2.90 -- or, from a different perspective, you’re paying $2.90 for the convenience of someone else washing your lettuce.

Is that really worth it? I bought a head of romaine lettuce, put it in one of those handy bags they provide, and took it home. At home, I set a stopwatch, then chopped the leaves off the head of lettuce, rinsed them thoroughly, rinsed the bag a bit (leaving some moisture inside), then put the leaves back in the bag and tied it. I tossed the knife in the dishwasher and stopped the stopwatch.


Total time? Three minutes. Actually, it was just a bit shy of that.


Let’s say over the course of the next year, I repeat the same action 20 times. Over the course of a year, I spend an hour chopping up the lettuce and save myself a total of $58.


The same holds true for all of those convenience foods.

Celery sticks? I can buy a bag of celery for $1.49 or I can buy about three containers of pre-sliced sticks for $1.99 each. I spend about four minutes cutting the sticks and it saves me $4.48 -- or about $67 over the course of a full hour.


I can go on and on with these items, but in each case the central idea is true: The convenience has a really, really high cost, much more than it might seem at first glance.


This type of convenience food is a perfect example of how the little things really add up when it comes to personal finance. There are so many little conveniences that we pay for in life, whether it’s pre-sliced apples or take-out food or a lawn care service. When you actually calculate the hourly rate that these things are costing you, it’s truly astounding. Yet people fill their lives with these conveniences and question those who skip them, then wonder why it’s challenging to make ends meet.


Take a stand today. Slice your own vegetables. Then put that saved money aside for something for yourself.


Related reading at The Simple Dollar:

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