When Should You Buy Prepackaged Or Make It At Home?

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When Should You Buy Prepackaged Or Make It At Home?

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The ChooseFI Facebook group is always full of lively conversations. Lately, a couple ChooseFI Facebook group members have brought up the topic of prepackaged snacks. Prepackaged snacks and other items are super convenient but may cost more than making the same item yourself. Should you pay more for prepackaged snacks and other goods or should you make them yourself? Here are a few things to consider.

The Arguments for Buying Prepackaged

When you’re trying to achieve financial independence on an accelerated timeline, spending more on prepackaged food may seem like a major waste of money. However, there are a few arguments to be made for buying prepackaged food and snacks rather than making them yourself.

First, many people have portion control issues. Buying smaller prepackaged snacks and other food items help people control how much food they eat. I know if I open a big bag of chips, there’s a pretty good chance I’ll eat more than I intended. However, if I eat a small snack size bag of chips, I stop eating when the bag is empty. Sometimes, the extra cost is worth it if it helps to limit your portions and keeps you healthy.

Buying prepackaged food is super convenient, too. Personally, I hate shredding a block of cheese because that means I have to clean a cheese grater. For others, buying prepackaged could save a decent amount of time in their hectic schedule, especially when you consider the time saved over the long run.

Sometimes saving some money is better than saving no money at all. If a person had to make their kid’s lunch from scratch, they might simply hand over money to buy lunch at the cafeteria. It’s so much easier to throw together a brown bag lunch for your kids when you just have to grab a few prepackaged items. If the alternative would be buying a more expensive lunch at the cafeteria, buying prepackaged could actually save you money. While completely making the lunch from scratch could save you even more, it’s better to save some money than no money at all.

The Arguments for Make It Yourself

The most obvious advantage to making items yourself, rather than buying prepackaged, is the fact that it will save you money most of the time. While this isn’t the case with all products, buying a whole item or multiple whole items in larger quantities to create smaller pre-packaged items yourself will usually save you a few bucks. That said, some products, like shredded cheese, cost about the same as an equivalent amount of a block of cheese at some stores.

Of course, the cost isn’t the only thing you should take into consideration. You should consider your health, too. Prepackaged items like cut fruit and prepackaged salads may have a higher risk of food contamination versus buying the items whole. For other items, like shredded cheese, many fillers or other additives are pumped into the product to give the product its desired attributes.

If you’ve ever shredded a block of cheddar cheese, you know it clumps up like crazy. However, the pre-shredded cheese doesn’t because they add anti-clumping agents to the package. You’re putting the anti-clumping agents in your body when you consume the cheese. Of course, these additives are all approved and safe, but you aren’t getting 100% cheese like you would with a block of cheddar cheese.

Great Snacks and Other Items You Can Make Yourself for Less

If you’ve decided you would rather make your own prepackaged items, here are a few great ideas to help you save money.

First, when you’re dividing items into smaller portions, such as chips or nuts, it’s often easier to use disposable sandwich bags. While simple and easy is key for some people, keep in mind, you could save even more money by buying quality reusable containers such as Pyrex or Tupperware or their off-brand counterparts.

Of course, if the idea of washing and storing the reusable containers would make you less likely to make prepackaged items yourself, remember that saving some money using disposable bags is better than saving no money buying prepackaged.

Here are a few of my favorite tips from the ChooseFI Facebook group.

  • Trail mix: Simply head to the bulk aisle of your grocery store and buy a few of your favorite trail mix treats. Once you get home, combine them and divide the large quantity into individual portions.
  • Hummus: Making hummus at home is pretty easy, especially if you buy canned chickpeas or have an Instant Pot.
  • Guacamole: Making guacamole at home isn’t too difficult after you master the art of picking the right avocados.
  • Precut fruits and veggies: Consider buying specialized cutting tools for particular fruits and veggies that make cutting them up a breeze. If you eat a particular fruit or veggie on a regular basis, the cost of the tool could be paid off very quickly compared to the marked up price of prepared versions.
  • Beans: Buying dried beans and cooking them at home can save you a decent amount over buying canned beans.
  • Spaghetti sauce: Making a good spaghetti sauce is an art, but with all of the recipes on Pinterest it’s a shame if you don’t try it yourself. You can even freeze leftover sauce for future spaghetti nights.
  • Lunchables: It’s super easy to make knock-off Lunchables to send to school with your child. Buy a similar type of reusable container and it will pay for itself very quickly.
  • Cheese sticks: Buy a block of your favorite cheese and cut it into sticks. This is something I would never have thought of on my own.
  • Cleaning products: Depending on what you want to clean, it’s easy to mix up cleaning products that will do the trick with common household items like vinegar and baking soda.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide if it’s worth saving the money to prepare foods and other household products yourself. Factor in the value of your time, as well as if you’ll actually continue making these prepackaged snacks yourself before buying things like Tupperware containers. If you only make a prepackaged snack a couple of times, your savings may not pay for the supplies you purchased. Another thing to consider is if the item will be used in a timely manner. Prepackaged items may be costing you or maybe their ease and convenience is worth the money in trade for your time.

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When Should You Buy Prepackaged Or Make It At Home?

 

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4 thoughts on “When Should You Buy Prepackaged Or Make It At Home?

  1. I bet we could save 30% of what we spend on groceries by buying ingredients and preparing the meals at home. That would do wonders for our net worth – and it would be healthier than pre-made stuff. We are already doing this, but irregularly. I hope early retirement will give us the extra time we need to do it consistently!

  2. More advantages of making it yourself:
    * You can customize it to your tastes (I leave out raw celery)
    * You can customize it to make it healthier and allergen-free for you (I sub white whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour for all-purpose flour)
    * You can customize it to fit your preferred diet (vegetarian, etc.) (I am using more organic and fair-trade ingredients)
    * You don’t have to rely on a particular company to stay in business once you have your own recipe you like
    * You may need to keep fewer items on hand (if several recipes share the same ingredients) or use less refrigerator or freezer space (maybe only the meat and veggies need to be kept cold, but the rest can stay in the pantry)
    And, your self-grated cheese may clump, but it will actually melt, too.

    More advantages of buying it prepackaged
    * Maybe you still don’t have a good recipe (La Sierra refried black beans!)
    * Your kids might not be good at saving re-usable packages
    * Sometimes they are on super-sale and/or have coupons
    * Better packaging (it’s easier for me to find organic spaghetti sauce in glass jars than organic tomato sauce/puree/paste)

    There’s a whole spectrum of money-saving ways to have food; wherever you are on the spectrum, you can save money by moving along in the frugal direction; For example:
    * eat out at every meal (most expensive)
    * eat out only at some meals
    * eat out only at cheaper meals
    * buy prepared foods
    * buy pre-packaged foods
    * buy some ingredients pre-made
    * make everything from scratch
    * make everything from scratch using only the most affordable ingredients
    Generally, the more processing you can do yourself, the more money you may save. At first, it’s good to specialize in your favorite things, then work your way up to more things.

    But then there are psychological (as well as time) considerations. It’s good to keep learning about ideal strategies, but also it’s good not to fight your weaknesses. For example:
    * Frozen pizzas may help you resist the temptation to order out
    * Premade salads may help you resist quick junk foods
    * Some healthy things may squick you out when you have to deal with the process (I used to hate the smell of egg whites and I don’t like processing my own meat)
    * Start with the kinds of processing you like (my mom likes baking bread; now that I have a manual-powered, fairly easy-to-clean mini food processor–with a rip cord–chopping onions is easy and fun), then add things you don’t hate (grating cheese is okay–just wash the grater right away) and don’t worry about stuff you really don’t like doing. This is all about making life more enjoyable, after all.

    One more note: Sometimes it’s cheaper to invite a few friends over and feed them all than to go out to eat an pay for only yourself.

    • Appreciate the mention of food allergies. This was our gateway into making food 99% of the time.

      Our oldest daughter has a severe allergy to milk and anything with milk protein. What many people may not realize is the danger of cross contamination when foods are processed. Sadly, there aren’t any regulations mandating allergy warnings. We therefore took it upon ourselves to make food at home.

      We don’t have to worry if she’ll go into anaphalaxsis and it benefits our budget as well. It can be time consuming but we’re constantly looking for ways to optimize to improve.

  3. I am really surprised ypu didn’t mention adding to your skills…. I was sort of thrown into preparing most everything as tthe home when told I needed to cut out gluten from my diet, and that is really when I started learning how to cook.

    If you are chopping veggies regularly you get better at it. If you learn about prepping meals ahead you learn about the optimal ways to store items so they keep longer. And you are more likely to learn about different techniques or ways of using your tools… Assuming you don’t just jump on every kitchen gadget available I guess. Food for thought- I work in a professional kitchen now, and we don’t have a food processor. Anything you can do with one can be done with a knife or other tool.

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