Trim the Fat Tuesday: The Daily Bread

One aspect of the budget that I have been reluctant to deal with during our experiment in frugality is the  grocery budget. Our grocery budget is kind of complicated. Sure, we have a basic amount we spend weekly, like anyone else, but we also consider many other items to be groceries as well: vegetable seeds, chicken feed, and row cover fabric, for example. After all, these materials are required to make the garden grow, and that's where about half of our groceries come from.

It all makes sense, but those garden expenses don't occur as regularly as the weekly trip to Market Basket, and that makes trimming the grocery budget more difficult than just deciding to cut a certain amount each week. It might be easier to make a lifestyle change instead of just picking a dollar amount to cut. The big change?

Bake the week's loaf of bread at home instead of buying it.

This is yet another change courtesy of Kirk's new job: His new schedule is only four work days instead of five, so he can easily spend a few hours during that extra day off making bread for the week. And because he likes baking, this is an easy change.

How much money will this actually save? To figure it out, I had to do do some research at the grocery store, and I had to do a whole bunch of math. (If you hate math, here's where you skip to the bottom line, I guess.)

First, I needed the recipe to know the required amounts of each ingredient. The recipe Kirk uses for a regular loaf of (partially) whole wheat sandwich bread is from our very old copy of Fleischmann's Bake-It-Easy Yeast Book. Yes, that's one of those old recipe books published (in 1973!) by a food company to trick you into buying their stuff, but its recipes are actually pretty great.

3 cups white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 Tbs. sugar
2 tsp. salt
2 1/4 tsp. yeast (1 packet)
1 cup milk
6 Tbs. water
4 Tbs. vegetable oil

Next, I needed the price (and package weight) of each ingredient. I shop at the best grocery store ever; your prices may vary.

white flour: $4.29 for 5 lbs.
whole wheat flour: $2.99 for 5 lbs.
sugar: $2.50 for 5 lbs.
salt: $1.79 for 3 lbs.
yeast: $4.99 for 4 oz. (or 16 packets)
milk (organic): $3.49 for 1/2 gallon
water: free from the tap!
vegetable oil: $2.19 for 32 oz. bottle

Back at home, I had to figure out how those prices translated to the much smaller amounts used in a single loaf of bread. To do this, I hit Google (and found this great website for culinary conversions) to figure out how many cups, teaspoons, etc. of a given ingredient are in a package of that ingredient. (For things like flour and sugar, this is an estimate, since they have different densities and we're converting weight to volume and blah blah blah. For this purpose, the internet answer is good enough.) After getting the amounts, I used some elementary-school division to get a usable price per unit.

white flour: 18 cups per 5 lb. bag; $4.29 / 18 cups = $.24 per cup
whole wheat flour: 17.5 cups per 5 lb. bag; $2.99 / 17.5 cups = $.17 per cup
sugar: 180 Tbs. per 5 lb. bag; $2.50 / 180 Tbs. = $.01 per Tbs.
salt: 238.5 tsp. salt per 3 lb. bag; $1.79 / 238.5 tsp. = $.01 per tsp.
yeast: $4.99 / 16 packets  = $.31 per packet (or the equivalent of a packet--we buy it in a jar)
milk: 8 cups per 1/2 gallon; $3.49 / 8 cups = $.70 per cup
vegetable oil: 64 Tbs. per 32 oz. bottle; $2.19 / 64 Tbs. = $.03 per Tbs.

Now that I have prices in the units I need, I just need to multiply each price by the amount of each ingredient that Kirk will actually use in the recipe.

white flour: $.24 per cup x 3 cups = $.72
whole wheat flour: $.17 per cup x 1 cup = $.17
sugar: $.01 per Tbs. x 1 1/2 Tbs. = $.02
salt: $.01 per tsp. x 2 tsp. = $.02
yeast: $.31 per packet x 1 packet = $.31
milk: $.70 per cup x 1 cup = $.70
vegetable oil: $.03 per Tbs. x 4 Tbs. = $.12

Finally, add up the cost per ingredient (above), and you get our price per loaf. It turns out to be $2.07.


So how much does a regular loaf of bread cost? Well, the local, all-natural ingredient bread that is comparable in quality to a homemade loaf is $4.69, which is a savings of $2.62 per loaf. We buy about four loaves per month, so the monthly savings would be $10.48.

But here's the thing. We don't usually buy the fancy bread. We usually get a loaf that has some cheaper, less-easily-pronounceable ingredients. It costs only $2.99 per loaf. So our real savings is just 92 cents per loaf, or $3.68 per month.

Although our actual savings in this case is a little disappointing, we are also experiencing a doubling of the quality of bread we are eating, since we're ditching the weird ingredients and getting it fresh from the oven.

And the house will smell really, really good on Kirk's day off.

Savings per month: $4


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