The Real “Cost” of Convenience Foods

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As a frugal homeschool mom, I’m not supposed to use any convenience foods. I should be growing most of my own food, right? Or I could be some sort of extreme couponer and then it would be OK to buy convenience foods since I’d have purchased them for essentially nothing.

I’m afraid that’s not the case here. I try to do most of my cooking from scratch because it is cheaper that way. But I realized something this week.

Even though a convenience food may cost more than the equivalent from scratch, it still may cost less than what you actually end up eating.


This is what I mean.

On Sunday a friend gave me a box of instant oatmeal that she wasn’t going to use. I normally don’t buy instant oatmeal because old fashioned oats are cheaper (and better for you to add your own sweetener, but I’m not talking about health benefits here.)

Guess what my kids ate for breakfast several times this week.

Instant oatmeal

Guess about how many times per week I usually make oatmeal.


Guess what they often eat instead.

Cold cereal

Guess which is more expensive (especially when you consider the price of the milk that my biggest kids drown their cereal in).

The cold cereal!

So here’s my point. By not buying “convenient” instant oatmeal because it was more expensive than old fashioned oats, I have actually been spending more money on breakfast food!

Here’s another example. (Before you read this, promise you won’t think less of me when you read what else I put in my shopping cart.)

Soft drinks are expensive. Many people save money by never buying soda. It makes sense. I’ve “quit” buying Dr. Pepper for this very reason on many different occasions.

Do you know what happens?

After about a week, I start walking slowly past vending machines and digging for loose change. When I go to the gas station, I suddenly find myself inside purchasing an ice cold Dr. Pepper for $1.59. I’ve even been know to stop at convenience stores when I didn’t need gas! That’s way more expensive than just having Dr. Pepper at home. And then there is not a temptation for me to purchase them for even higher prices when I’m out.

My friend Debra at Footprints in the Butter has mentioned that when you’re trying to live on an extremely low food budget, you need to allow yourself to purchase that one item that helps you to not feel deprived. For her I think it is coffee creamer. For me, it’s Dr. Pepper.

What convenience foods do you buy? What one food keeps you from feeling deprived?

This post is a part of The Christian Home Issue 25, posted weekly at The Legacy of Home.

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12 thoughts on “The Real “Cost” of Convenience Foods”

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more. First, I’m really starting to hate the label or image that a homeschooling family has to grow their own food and always cook from scratch to be a true (or as some say biblical) family. I am so NOT that. We do buy convenience foods a lot, it brings my stress level down a ton, and to me that’s worth a lot. 🙂 I have been on the ‘band soda’ kick for a long time, I don’t drink it. But truthfully hubby buys drinks at work a lot, and though they are way cheaper than convenience stores, I wonder if it wouldn’t be cheaper just to buy him a pack of them. I will definitely look into that. Thanks for the encouragement. 🙂

    1. So true JoAnn. With sales, it is usually cheaper to buy soft drinks in 12 packs. It could backfire though if by having them around, the family drinks enough extra sodas to offset the cost savings.

  2. Excellent post and so true. I buy a lot of snack bars and I usually have a coupon to buy them. If I don’t have snack bars my kids eat cereal for a snack, which then uses up milk. The weeks I don’t have snack bars on hand (like Nutrigrain or Chex or Granola) we go through about 7 gallons of milk instead of 4. It’s crazy.

    1. Me too! Although I don’t very often. Not that I don’t eat chocolate. I have a HUGE bag of chocolate chips that I use when I need a chocolate fix.

  3. I totally agree. My must have item is Coca Cola (NOT Pepsi, lol). Periodically, my grocery store has a buy 2 get 2 free sale on the 12-can packs. My cost per can ends up being $.25/per can – far less than the $1.00 per smallest size (same amount of soda as one can, I think) I can get at a fast food drive through.

  4. I’ve had to break and buy tortilla’s lately. I like it when I can make my own, they taste better and I don’t have the added junk, but they’re quick to pull out… especially when I’m craving something late at night (as opposed to talking my husband into going to get something at a local restaurant for me WAY MORE EXPENSIVE). So, that’s my splurge :-). Following from the crew!

    1. Well, considering I have NEVER made tortillas, I guess I always splurge on those. I wouldn’t have a clue. I have heard the homemade ones are better.

  5. You nailed it. My luxury purchase is coffee creamer. And yes, I say that often. If I try to save money by skipping my creamer, I feel deprived. I feel depressed. I feel sorry for myself. I resent everything else I am doing to save money. I resent my family.

    I have given it up when I *really* needed to, and done it willingly. But if there is any way to swing it, we make sure I get at least some.

  6. Very interesting points… I have to ponder that a bit. I tend to think that having any highly processed foods in the home encourages their consumption.

    I actually think you’re better off with the $1.50 Dr. Pepper than having 4 cans of them for the same price – why? because the one you bought for $1.50 was treated like an occasional luxury, not part of your grocery budget – or a part of your daily consumption.

    It’s like “I’m not gonna swear off cheesecake, but I don’t keep it in the fridge every day – cause if it’s there, it gets eaten.” That’s my approach toward soda.

    1. I actually have no longer buy Dr. Pepper. At all. It was a long process of breaking my addiction. I still think that from a financial standpoint, it makes sense it some cases to purchase the luxury items at a cheaper rate. Of course if you consume so much more of them that way that you spend more than the occasional treat, then no. Don’t buy them.

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