I’m all for finding new and innovative ways to save money. In fact, that’s a major focus of this blog. And preparing food yourself instead of buying pre-made food can be a big part of that. But there are certain types of foods that make more sense to prepare for yourself than others.
I’ve been trying a new low-carb, high-protein style of eating. It’s called the slow-carb diet, in case anyone is interested. Basically, it consists of eating a protein, a vegetable, and a legume in every meal. I’m allowed to have one “cheat” day per week.
Anyway, since I don’t eat much pork or red meat, this diet involves a lot of eggs for me. That’s good, because I love eggs. They’re cheap, filling, and tasty. As I’ve mentioned before, I like them poached, scrambled, or fried. But I also like them hard-boiled, as hard-boiled eggs are easy to take to work or add to a salad.
I can buy them pre-boiled and peeled from the supermarket. The deli section sells 6-packs of eggs, and I can also find a bag of 6 Eggland’s Best by the cartons of eggs. Yet in the past, I’ve felt guilty about buying eggs that were already boiled and peeled. They seemed too expensive, considering I could easily do the work myself.
But was I right to feel guilty? Let’s run the numbers.
A 6-pack of boiled eggs sells for about $2.79. That’s around the same price I would spend on a dozen un-boiled eggs. So, if I wanted to buy a dozen boiled eggs, it would cost $5.58, which is twice what the un-boiled eggs cost. So, if I boil the eggs myself, I’ll save $2.79.
But what about the time it takes me to boil and peel a dozen eggs? My time does have a value, and it shouldn’t be discounted.
Being the math geek that I am, I decided to time everything out. It takes me about 3 minutes of prep work to boil the eggs, drain them, run cold water on them, and clean the pan. I’m not counting the actual boiling time, because I can do other things while that’s going on.
Then, it takes me about 1 minute to peel each egg. So, my total time investment for boiling and peeling 1 dozen eggs is 15 minutes. There are 4 15-minute chunks in an hour. So if I value my time at more than $11.16 (4*$2.79) per hour, I should buy my eggs pre-boiled.
You may like to boil your eggs for other reasons than just saving money. Maybe you think yours come out better than the ones that are pre-boiled. Maybe you just want to buy a large container of eggs at a time, and not worry about buying separate eggs that are already boiled. I’m just saying that it doesn’t always make financial sense to prepare all your food yourself.
The Chicken or the Egg?
Another good example is rotisserie chickens. I can buy a decent-size rotisserie chicken from Costco for $4.99. Their cooked weight is about 2 and a half pounds. You can’t really buy an un-cooked chicken for much cheaper than that. And you’ll have to invest at least 10-15 minutes into prepping a chicken that you roast yourself. Once again, it’s possible you think your own chicken tastes a lot better than Costco’s. In that case, you might want to prepare it yourself, regardless of whether you’re saving money. But you shouldn’t assume you’ll always save money by making your own food.
On the other hand, I do care what goes into my food. Sometimes, I’ll cook something that would be cheaper if I bought the prepared version. I don’t want to eat a bunch of chemicals and additives I can’t pronounce. Boiled eggs and rotisserie chickens just don’t happen to fall into this category. The ingredients used to prepare these foods are minimal and seem harmless to me.
So, I guess the moral is that you shouldn’t take anything for granted when it comes to food. Sometimes it’s much cheaper to make something yourself. But sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s better to spend a little more money for the sake of your health. But sometimes spending more money won’t get you any further health benefits. Try to take each decision as it comes and really analyze some of the things you are doing or buying out of habit.