Giovanni has touched on an important factor: eschewing prepared food in favour of your own efforts.
In coming weeks, I will look at the economics of this in a few different domains, but for now, let’s stick to bread.
Bread is, biblically, the staff of life, lechem mateh; the Western diet depends on its support. At least one but often all the meals of my day rely on bread. And it turns out that there is a very considerable saving in money to be had if you bake your own damned staff of life.
I have blogged about this before. In fact one of those posts sparked this blog. I make all our bread, except at those times when we get caught short or really want something that can’t be done at home.
Considered purely at a cash level, there is no doubt that homemade bread is far cheaper. A 750g loaf costs almost $4 at the supermarket, while the 400g of flour required can be had for 64 cents. The extra oil, yeast and electricity are negligible. Our two-person household goes through a loaf in two days, so we could save $12 per week, or $624 per year. ($624 is not just a sum I’d be happy to find down the back of the sofa; in my usual spatter of lost coins, it wouldn’t even fit there).
Note that in my last vital.org.nz post, I said “ingredients cost less than $2”. That’s because I am scrupulously truthful when I give you these figures, and I’m afraid that I often buy organic stoneground flour. You don’t have to. The 64 cent figure is based on getting a 5kg bag of Weston for $7.99, which is less than half the price of hippy-meal.
Bread [is] by far the thing that saves us the most moola. The problem there is that while the preparations are very simple, and great for involving the kids (esp. the little vege garden and pizza/bread), they are much harder to attend to if you work a 40 hour week out of the house.
That’s very true. I have two strategies for this.
First, on the weekends, I bake “no-knead” bread, from the famous recipe from the New York Times of a year or two ago. I find it a very forgiving technique, amenable to experimentation with different flours and with sourdough. It requires about five minutes at the start, another five to shape the loaf the next day, and a free 40 minutes or so to supervise the baking, although you could do other things in that time. The drawback is that you do need to get going the day before, especially with sourdough.
Second, I bought a cheap breadmaker, and that’s what I use during the week. I did this the frugal way: I thought about it; I established for myself that we would use it; I watched for prices in various ways; and eventually I pounced at a very good price. We paid $99 for our little Breville, and it is OK. Its product is certainly the equal of the $4 supermarket bread. So as long as it lasts into next year, it will more than pay for itself. I can get a loaf on in 6 minutes.
Now, if you save $3.50 in 6 minutes, that’s like making $60 per hour before tax, assuming your average rate is around 30%. That is totally worth it. If it took you twice as long it would still be well above minimum wage.
I think that if you can’t spare 6 minutes to make bread, it could be that there is something wrong with your life. I’m sure it’s not your fault, mind, but unless you are loving the remaining 23 hours and 54 minutes maybe you would benefit from changing it. (That was the provocative statement I am hoping will prokoke a firestorm of comments. This is the meta-level observation of same that I am hoping will deflect any intemperate expressions of disagreement).
This isn’t going to work out so well if you have big eaters or lots of small eaters in the house. But for the 2-4 person household one machine should do the business.
I’m sure I’m not alone in doing these calculations, because I note that the supermarket flour shelves have more big bags, and more breadmaker yeast and premix, and fewer 1.5kg bags.
If you can’t muster $99 for a breadmaker (less on Trademe!) or buy 5kg of flour at a time: this blog is unfortunately middle class. But I will vote to achieve a country where anyone who wants to squirrel away $99 can do so in a reasonable time. If I want you to eat cake, it is because cake is nice and everyone should have some. Thank you for not shooting me when the revolution comes.
BONUS HISTORY SEMI-FACTS: actually, Marie-Antoinette was supposed to have said that the peasants could eat brioche, which is arguably a sweet eggy yeast bread rather than cake. But Wikipedia says that Rousseau came up with the story about “a princess” 20 years before she was born. In my experience brioche go stale extremely quickly and are rarely nice except when experts make them and serve them to you straight away. Anyway, Kate Beaton did a great Marie-Antoinette comic yesterday. I would credit Morgue, but I’m afraid I was already onto Kate Beaton, so there.