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Does homemade food cost less?

Let's see whether it's cheaper to make or buy basic foods like bread, yogurt, granola and cake.

By MSN Money Partner Jul 19, 2012 7:03PM

This post comes from Sarah Greesonbach at partner site Get Rich Slowly.


Get Rich Slowly on MSN MoneyAt Get Rich Slowly, we briefly covered different daily tasks that are cheaper to do yourself, but sometimes the frugal-minded want some dollars and cents to tie to these decisions.


Image: Close up of fresh sliced loaf of bread (© Adam Gault/OJO Images/Getty Images)Today, I'm going to take a look inside the heart of the frugal home -- the kitchen -- and at a few delicious staples for the average foodie. I'm going to compare prices for making food yourself with buying it in the store. Unless otherwise noted, these average prices were retrieved from the website of Vons, a West Coast grocery chain, so prices may vary in your part of the world.


Homemade vs. store-bought bread
For those of us raised on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made with sliced white  bread, discovering the world of thick, crusty baguettes and pungent ryes might have been something of a life-changing experience.


Since there are literally hundreds of different types of bread, both to buy and to make, our recipe is for your average simple yeasted white bread. It also does not take into account extra purchases, like bread-making machines, that might lessen the time burden but increase the base cost.


Store-bought loaf 

  • Safeway Butter Top Wheat Bread (22 ounces) -- $1.99.
  • Nature's Own 12 Whole Grain Bread (24 ounces) -- $4.99.
  • Open Nature 100% Whole Wheat Bread (24 ounces) -- $1.99.

Homemade bread

  • Milk (2 ounces) -- 16 cents.
  • Butter (2ounces) -- 48 cents.
  • Sugar (1 ounces) -- 7 cents. 
  • Flour (24 ounces) -- $1.44.
  • Salt (½ ounce) -- 2 cents. 
  • Dry yeast -- $2.19.
  • Total cost -- $4.36.

Winner: Store-bought, though, as you can see, the price ranges wildly. Your bakery might have better specials, so price it for yourself and gauge the final cost according to how much free time you like spending in the kitchen. If you have a few hours and some yeast on hand, make yourself some delicious cheap bread. I guarantee it will improve your sandwiches.

Post continues below.

Homemade vs. store-bought yogurt
Yogurt is an incredibly versatile food that is palate-pleasing for breakfast, a snack, and -- in a pinch -- a creamy sour cream replacement that can do wonders on tacos and in mashed potatoes in its unsweetened plain form.


So imagine how exciting it would be to be able to make gallons of it at a time that, in its cultured state, will last for weeks in the fridge. Yum!


Store-bought yogurt

  • Dannon Light N Fit Vanilla Yogurt (32 ounces) -- $4.99.
  • Chobani Greek Yogurt Plain 2% Fat (32 ounces) -- $5.99.
  • Mountain High Plain Yogurt (32 ounces) -- $4.19.

Homemade yogurt

  • Milk (32 ounces) -- $2.49.
  • Starter yogurt (6 ounces) -- 80 cents. 
  • Total cost (32 ounces) -- $3.29.

Winner: Homemade yogurt, especially if you consider the ease with which you can double or quadruple your recipe without an extensive cost increase. If yogurt is a snack or breakfast staple, you can greatly reduce your costs by preparing it at home by the gallon. Find a recipe that works for you and get cooking.


Scratch cake vs. store-bought cake
Queen of birthday parties and weddings, the traditional cake might not be a daily or weekly treat, but for the sake of your emotional happiness you might want to incorporate one into your diet at least quarterly.


For the purpose of keeping it simple, our homemade scratch cake is a simple white cake with white icing.


Store-bought bakery cake

  • 8-inch, two-layer white cake -- $15.99.
  • 8-inch, two-layer carrot cake -- $9.99.

Homemade cake

The cake:

  • Sugar (8 ounces) -- 56 cents.
  • Butter (4 ounces) -- 96 cents. 
  • Eggs (two) -- 55 cents.
  • Vanilla extract (½ ounce) -- $1.43.
  • Flour (12 ounces) -- 72 cents. 
  • Baking powder (¼ ounce) -- 6 cents. 
  • Milk (4 ounces) -- 32 cents.

The icing:

  • Butter (8 ounces) -- $1.92.
  • Powdered sugar (32 ounces) -- $2.79.

Total cost -- $9.31.


Winner: Scratch cake. But even without doing the math, I think we all know the cheapest method of all: boxed cake mix. That said, if you like control of the ingredients and want to get a lot of compliments, making a cake from scratch might be the way to go.


Homemade vs. store-bought granola

The basics of granola are simple, but the magic that happens when combined in a bowl with milk or yogurt is far from ordinary. So, you'd think that lightly sweetened baked oats plus a combination of fruit or nuts would be the cheapest thing around, right? 


Store-bought granola

  • Bear Naked Fruit And Nut All Natural Granola (12 ounces) -- $3.99.
  • Open Nature Granola Cranberry Nut Goodness (12 ounces) -- $3.
  • Cascadian Farm Organic Granola Fruit And Nut (13.5 ounces) -- $3.99.

Homemade granola

  • Honey (2 ounces) -- 41 cents.
  • Coconut oil (1 ounces) -- 74 cents.
  • Vanilla extract (¼ ounce) -- 72 cents.
  • Dried apricots (2 ounces) -- $1.26.
  • Butter (1 ounces) -- 24 cents.
  • Quaker Oatmeal (10 ounces) -- $1.30.
  • Total cost (13 ounces) -- $4.67.

This one is a coin toss. As you can see, a batch of homemade granola falls right within the range of purchasing it in the store. But much as with yogurt, it is easy to exponentially increase the prepared granola, especially if you have a simple homemade granola recipe to follow.


Final thoughts
Homemade food items have the benefit of being fresher, (usually) more delicious, and full of ingredients you know and love. Plus, you can tweak any recipe to be cheaper or more expensive depending on where you source your ingredients.


But, if cooking is not a fun recreational activity for you, you might also factor in how much money your time is worth.

Overall, it would appear that store-bought food is right on trend with the cost of homemade. But if you take into account production costs, packaging and advertising, it becomes clear that the price of food in the package covers much more than the ingredients.


The choice is yours in the kitchen: homemade or pre-made. Especially if you use items that are on sale, both appear to be frugal options.


More from Get Rich Slowly and MSN Money

Jul 20, 2012 9:18AM

Not sure what recipe you're using for bread or where you're shopping.  The recipe I use costs less than $2.00 for two loaves.  The cost you list for yeast is way out of proportion. 

Jul 19, 2012 11:04PM
I think I see the problem. In one example milk is over $10 a gallon and $5 in another but it is $1.69 at the store. Butter is not $5 either. I cook every day and I buy the family packs and break them down to serving sizes. We spend about $1.5-3 per person and we eat well. 

I feed a family of 4 on about $75-100 a week. We have store (some are better to me) and national brands. Beef,pork,fish,shrimp. Buy all dry or storable goods in mass and perishables in season when strawberries are $.99 instead of $3. One trip out with just food and drinks (soda/tea) is about $70 for one meal. Do that math
Jul 20, 2012 10:38AM
These prices are ridiculous.  Even if you don't buy in bulk to bring the cost of yeast, bread, honey, apricots, sugar (and so on and so on), who in their right mind would pay that much for vanilla extract??  Find a canning jar, fill it with vodka or rum, and stick a sliced vanilla bean inside.  3 months later you have vanilla extract for life - just top off the alcohol when it starts getting low.
Jul 24, 2012 6:56PM

The whole point is lost: When you control the additives, the preservatives, the sodium, the fats, the sugars, the quality of the ingredients, the cleanliness of the preparation space.... Homemade food is better for you. Period.

Jul 20, 2012 1:46AM
Cardboard is cheap too, but I wouldn't want to eat it.  Even if the prices for the homemade bread were accurate, I would still make my own.  The flavor is worth the extra cost and it's made with ingredients that don't require fine print and a legal opinion.  Try getting ice cream (or chocolate sauce) with real sugar. Nope.  Corn starch is the sweetener in 90% of the brands.  (Although most Americans now prefer corn starch to sugar.)  I never thought I would see the day that I would be a health nut, but that is before they started listing saw dust as fiber and insecticides as artificial sweeteners.
Jul 20, 2012 8:47AM

Home-made bread is always a better bargain, despite time. Apparently this author is clueless about the dough enhancer made from human hair in most commercial breads. I have actually taken an expensive brand back to the store and contacted its corporate office because of noticeable hair in it - before I read about ths. When I bought a related brand by the same company, I found hair again. This time I am notifying the company, the local and state health departments AND the USDA.

   Here is an anecdote about my late grandparents (all born in the late 19th century). My maternal Grandfather hated "borrowers" of a cup of flour, etc. My maternal Grandmother was more generous. My paternal Grandfather never sanctioned striking a female - even daughters. He did instruct my very harsh paternal Grandmother to beat my aunts if they did not want to learn how to bake bread. The messages here are to have the fruit and resources of your own labour, thus always knowing the quality of what you have. After reading about the imported hair dough enhancer, I appreciate the time and money that home made fare requires.  L-cycsteine often is made of human hair.

P.S. I also worked in an upscale deli during college that received a shipment of bread with dirty mop strings in it. The older woman owner called the baker, removed the strings and sold the bread in sandwiches anyway. 

Jul 24, 2012 2:56PM
I've been making bread for years. One day my sister asked about it price wise, I did the math. The cost of making my own bread, 64 cents a loaf if I use sugar, 72 cents a loaf is I use honey.
Jul 19, 2012 9:57PM
This would have been more helpful for me if you'd included the retail cost of items like flour. You generally can't buy 24 oz! My guess is home made bread is quite expensive if you buy flour 5 lbs at a time, probably pretty cheap if you buy flour and yeast in bulk (but I'm not about to do the math!).
Jul 24, 2012 12:16PM
Are you stoned or stupid? The unit price you used for milk in the bread and cake recipe was 8 cents per ounce. This is $10.24 a gallon.
Jul 24, 2012 10:41AM
The price given for yeast would get you about a pound weight of same.  How big a loaf was she baking?.  For most recipes a teaspoon, i.e. a fraction of a pound, is all thats required.  Subtract incorrect cost for yeast from cost of homemade loaf and its on a par with m****duced product.

Jul 24, 2012 1:50AM
Meh. Grow your own food.

Perennial climbing spinach: cost for a hundred seeds-like $25, yields into perpetuity. (grows like a weed)

6 strawberry plants multiplied in 3 years into over a hundred: this years yield: 23 pints.

Most of the cost of the homemade bread was yeast. One does not need to keep buying yeast.
Jul 24, 2012 9:33AM
They forgot the cost of electricity/gas... Therefore the calculations are incorrect..
Jul 24, 2012 9:38AM

The author chose unlikely examples. Try comparing the cost of meals made from bagged beans, rice, and green vegetables against their typical processed/frozen equivalents or worse, take-outs and fast food. And whole poultry - while it's been pricier lately - is still a better buy than than parts and patties.



Jul 20, 2012 9:34AM
You compared the cost of wheat bread from the store with white bread ingredients! I can buy a loaf of white bread at Price Chopper, a very expensive store to shop at for 1.00. Sounds like you wanted to write an article to get noticed but didn't really do your homework. 
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