The Cost of Convenience

I was walking through the grocery store with my husband the other day.  We were walking down the aisle with all the pretty drinks, and I said, “I can’t believe people buy those big jugs of iced tea.  How hard is it to make a jug of tea?!”  Then I started thinking about how much people pay for something they could make at home with a minimum amount of effort and no special equipment.

Let’s just use, for example, a jug of Arizona Iced Tea with Lemon.  Peapod sells them for $3.79 per gallon.

If you splurge and buy “expensive” Lipton Cold-Brew tea bags, you will use 4 bags to make a gallon of tea.  The cost?  $.20.  That’s right: Twenty Cents.

Let’s say a family of four drinks 2 gallons of iced tea every week.  That would be almost $400 for the year if they bought the prepared tea in a jug.  If they slave over a pot of boiling water, they will spend just under $19 for the year.

The hard-working family who boils water gets to keep $381 more than the family who drives to the store to get their tea.  That’s about $30/month.  Cut out your ready-made tea consumption, and you can afford that data plan you wish you had on your phone.

This same principle applies to a multitude of other convenience items.  When I’m in a hurry, I am just as guilty of grabbing things on a whim without giving it much thought.  The Number One convenience item I’m most likely to buy?  Bagged salads.  I’m not especially proud of this, and I don’t buy them as much as I used to.  When I’m feeling rushed, though, I don’t even hesitate.  I wonder what I’ve sacrificed for what seemed like a big convenience at the time (prices are again from Peapod) …

Dole Hearts of Romaine All Natural (10-oz bag) = $3.79

A Head of Romaine Lettuce = $1.99

The bag of lettuce says it contains 3.5 2-cup servings.  For every full head of romaine that you buy, you get almost twice that at 6.5 2-cup servings!  So, a family of four who is willing to buckle down and chop some lettuce will save a whopping $562.35 per year if they eat salad three times every week.

Seriously?!  That’s a car payment!

Think about it:  Spending 15 minutes per week cutting up lettuce instead of buying the processed equivalent is kind of like making $43/hour.  I bet you feel pretty important now, don’t you?!

I don’t mean to sound all self-righteous about this.  I buy convenience foods, too, but when I look at it like this, it really makes me take pause.  Everybody has those days when it’s almost impossible to find the time to put together a meal, and certainly, convenience foods are going to be cheaper than eating take-out.  I just wonder if it’s really worth it.  Generally, convenience foods are going to involve a lot more packaging, and usually there will be more preservatives involved.  If you want to think globally, you have to consider the additional energy costs, too.  Somewhere there’s a machine that chops up the lettuce and washes it.

On top of all that, if we’re not preparing our meals together, then we’re missing another valuable opportunity:  Time with our families.  I love it when my kids come and help me in the kitchen.  We always end up having fun, and they feel pretty good about contributing even if they do start out complaining.

Most importantly, let’s not forget about the benefit this will have in the long run.  If you teach your kids how to handle themselves in the kitchen, they won’t be as likely to perpetuate the purchase of convenience foods when they’re off on their own.  Chopping lettuce or  making a tasty sauce to go on the chicken won’t seem like such a big deal.  They’ll be eating healthier foods, and they won’t be wasting their hard-earned money!

What sorts of convenience foods do you indulge in?  Have you ever taken the time to figure out whether or not it’s really worth it?  What would you rather spend that money on?  What do you do to avoid buying convenience foods?

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4 Responses to The Cost of Convenience

  1. Stiney says:

    Honestly, I’m willing to give anyone a pass on convenience foods that are whole foods (like bagged salads/salad mixes). Yeah, they’re more expensive, but at least it’s the base of a salad.

    Also, shredded cheese is my biggest convenience food sin. Since usually I’m cooking for one, it’s hard to motivate myself to buy a block of cheese and shred it. You have just as much to wash up when cooking for one as four.

    • Julie says:

      I buy shredded cheese, too, but I generally buy the big giant bags at Costco, split it up & freeze it. Shredding cheese is a whole lot more work than chopping lettuce! 😉

  2. Anna says:

    Husband bought a Keurig without considering how much those coffee cups are. They are at least $.50 a piece. While this may be inexpensive for the daily Starbucks purchaser, this is way too expensive for me. Plus the waste involved with the individual plastic/filter/foil. The day he unpacked it I went out and bought a reusable filter to use my own ground coffee.

    • Julie says:

      Ahh, yes! Those machines are really cool, but we go through an entire pot of coffee every day. I can see where it might be nice for someone who only has time for one cup in the morning, and I like that they have the reusable filters.

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