Is It Worth It? Comparing the Prices of Store-Bought and Homemade Foods

As I was making my homemade chicken stock last week, I was imagining all the money I was saving instead of buying stock from the store. Sure, I did have to buy a chicken to make that homemade stock, but it was still cheaper … right?

Of course, there are many reasons besides price why I like making foods myself: It’s satisfying, rewarding and fun, and I like knowing exactly what is going into the food I’m eating. I set a goal a few months ago of never buying bread from the store. Since then I’ve always skipped the bread isle at the grocery store, and I think I’m better for it.

But am I saving money? I’m certainly not saving time. It took more than 6 hours to have a complete chicken stock. Granted, most of that time was unattended waiting, but it was still a big project. I was curious to see if I was even saving money. I decided to take a look at four items I’ve made from scratch recently: tortillas, bread, chicken stock and chicken soup.

All the calculations in this story come from full-price listings at my local grocery store. There is undoubtedly price fluctuation between stores and across the country.

Tortillas: A 30-pack of Mission white corn tortillas costs $2.09. Thirty homemade tortillas cost 68 cents (a 2-kilogram bag of masa harina costs $2.99). Total savings? $1.41, or a reduction in price of 67 percent.

Bread: Combining all breads into one category is silly, I know. There’s a huge fluctuation in price and quality. I compared a 100 percent whole wheat sandwich loaf from Oroweat to the equivalent whole wheat loaf I would make myself. The Oroweat bread costs $4.89. A homemade loaf costs $2.57 (in this recipe, the honey cost more than the flour. I’m sure I could come up with a different recipe that would cost even less.) Total savings? $2.32, or a reduction in price of 47 percent.

Chicken stock: A 28-ounce carton of Swanson Chicken Cooking Stock costs $3.49. (Even though this Swanson’s stock is expensive, it is also the best.) Making 4 quarts of homemade stock costs $6.37. To buy the equivalent amount of cooking stock would cost $15.95. Total savings? $9.58, or a reduction in price of 60 percent.

Chicken soup: Four cans of Campbell’s Chunky Chicken Noodle Soup cost $11.96. To make the equivalent soup at home costs $10.58, but that’s using homemade stock. Total savings? $1.38, or a reduction in price of 11.5 percent. Switch to using store-bought stock and the equation changes. We’re up to $15.37, or an increase in price of 28.5 percent.

What did I learn from this exercise? Homemade tortillas are cheap, and store-bought broth is expensive. Overall, I think this analysis proves that there are real cost savings from making food – savings that help balance out the increase in time spent cooking.

I was dismayed to see the small difference in price between store-bought and homemade soup. My parents are notorious store-bought soup eaters, and I’ve vowed never to purchase cans of soup myself, just on principle. But now they’ll see that making soup is a lot of work for not much return.

Of course, homemade soup tastes better, as do homemade tortillas, homemade bread, and homemade broth. But that will never convince them …

  • Mom

    You are right that I’m not going to stop buying and eating prepared soup, (it’s so quick and easy) but I’ll eat your homemade your soup any time.

  • MAFK

    You’ve got a book in the making, Mr. Manly H.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the cost comparisons! You’re right about the chicken stock and soup, but the price comparison can’t reflect the nutrition benefit of homemade over store-bought, especially the sodium levels. And there is no comparison in taste! Homemade chicken soup is wonderful comfort food. Same goes for homemade bread. Can’t say the same for soup from a can or bread from a bag.

    I used to use honey in my bread recipes, but like you mentioned, it’s expensive. I usually substitute brown sugar to keep my costs down. I notice the taste difference and the slight end-result difference, but my family doesn’t. And in my busy-ness, I’ve gotten lazy about chicken stock — I do whatever’s fastest even if it doesn’t pass the Martha Stewart quality test. Sometimes I cheat and use bouillon cubes or powder. Sometimes I just jazz up the water I boiled the chicken and bay leaf in….. just add onions, carrots, celery, a bit of garlic…. Again, my family’s none the wiser. No matter what, though, it’s better than canned soup!

    • http://themanlyhousekeeper.com Mark Evitt

      I completely agree! The sodium levels in store-bought stock creep up on you … even the reduced sodium stocks are way too salty.

      Using brown sugar instead of honey is a great substitute. I’ve also found that maple syrup works well – adds a little flavor, and can be cheaper than honey.

  • Rsattin

    My husband buys a whole chicken on Sunday, grills the chicken breast and divides it into portions for me to take to work for lunch during the week, bakes the thighs, wings and drumsticks to produce four more meals and then makes chicken soup from the remainder. When you consider the number of meals for the cost of one chicken, the savings are astounding!

    • http://themanlyhousekeeper.com Mark Evitt

      That’s very thorough – I love it! It’s great to be in a habit like that.

  • TR

    the thing about all the store bought stuff is that it has  much higher levels of salt. that’s one reason to make it yourself.

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