Cutting Food Costs: Saving Time Versus Money


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When I first started consciously cutting back on my household expenses, reducing my grocery bill was one of my highest priorities. After I got married and started juggling my career, my marriage, and the responsibilities of being a parent, however, I had to rethink some of my ways of doing things.

You may think that if you make everything from scratch that you will save a lot of money at the grocery store every month. In a lot of cases, this may be true. When you prepare your own meals you will often see an immediate cost savings per portion, and perhaps an overall increase in nutritional value as an added bonus. So what if you don't have the time to cook?

That's a good question, and one that cannot easily be answered. If you only buy prepackaged foods to save you time in the kitchen you're definitely going to end up spending more money than necessary. I would suggest that you might be able to find a happy medium.

Every week I think to myself that it would sure be nice to make some homemade cookies for my daughter to have for snacks during the next week. About once every 2 months or so I might actually make them, but most of the time I choose not to because it would take up a Sunday afternoon that I'd like to use to do other things. Would it save me money to make the cookies myself? Sure, if the alternative would be to buy a $4 package of Oreos. However, when Oreos go on sale for $1.99 or less a package, I'll stock up on a few and know that my money was wisely spent, while also freeing up my time for other things. Better yet, once a month or so we might go to Walmart and stock up on Little Debbie snacks that average about $1 a box. You could hardly make a batch of cookies for $1. Now don't get me wrong, I love to bake and enjoy a homemade cookie as much as anyone else. It's just not always the best use of my time and/or money.

Recently my mother-in-law and I were discussing the price of chili. We had found some on sale for .99 a can and thought that was a pretty good deal. For that price I probably wouldn't take the time to make it. The regular price was $1.30 - $1.50 a can, and I just couldn't justify paying that much for it. I'd just do without or make a pot of chili myself and freeze some for later. My husband's aunt overheard our conversation and commented that she had bought a case of chili on sale for .59 a can! I sure wouldn't have passed that deal up.

You just have to watch prices on your favorite items and purchase them when they go on sale. You have to be somewhat flexible, however, and be willing to purchase alternate items or do more cooking when prices are high.

It's all a matter of priorities. If you have the time and enjoy spending time in the kitchen, then by all means cook from scratch whenever you can. I sure do. On the other hand, if you have days like me where you come home from a long day at work wondering what to fix quick for dinner, you might consider balancing the amount you're spending on groceries with the time you will save yourself in the kitchen by stocking up on a few convenience items, like Tuna Helper or prepared spaghetti sauce. I've found that I'm saving even more money than ever before by buying these convenience foods when on they're on sale, while also making things from scratch when I have the time. Just keep your options open and you will find what works best for you.

Originally published at Suite 101. Rachel Paxton is a freelance writer and mom who is the author of What's for Dinner?, an e-cookbook containing more than 250 quick easy dinner ideas. For recipes, tips to organize your home, home decorating, crafts, holiday hints, and more, visit Creative Homemaking at


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