Is Store Bought Ever Cheaper Than Homemade? - Live Like a Mensch
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Is Store Bought Ever Cheaper Than Homemade?


Photo courtesy of Marilyn Roxie


About two years ago, when I had just begun my career as a personal finance blogger, I wrote a post about how to save money on Valentine's day with kids. I had already been shaking my head in disgust at the expensive packs of licensed character Valentine's cards they were marketing to our children at every department store, supermarket, and pharmacy across the country. I couldn't wait to advise people to do the perennial classroom Valentine card exchange the old-fashioned way--by making the cards at home.

Then I took a good look at the licensed character pre-packaged 30-packs of Valentine's cards

They were surprisingly cheap. Like, way cheaper than the raw materials necessary for making 30 Valentines for each of your kids to share at school. (I recognize that a single pack of construction paper will probably cost less than the box of pre-made cards, but considering the relative dearth of Valentine's appropriate colors in any particular pack, I am assuming you will need to purchase multiple packs or the more expensive color specific packs). 

The cost comparison doesn't even take into account the amount of time it will take to make 30 cards per kid, considering the fact that many classrooms require Valentines for each child in the class, and the fact that it's likely your kids' enthusiasm for making cards will wane after completing half of one card.

I was musing on this paradox the other day as I walked the aisles of our local Walgreen's, where I can purchase WWE themed Valentine's cards. Apparently, sometime mass production really does pass the savings along.

Unfortunately, other than the Valentine card example, I'm having trouble thinking of any other store bought items that are actually cheaper than their homemade counterparts. (I did find this crazy person who attempted to make cream cheese at home and found that it's actually cheaper to just buy the Philly, but creating dairy products at home is just plain insane).

So, I thought I would turn it to my fellow Dollar Stretcher community members. What have you found is actually cheaper to buy? (Not just worth your time to buy, but actually cheaper.) I'd be interested to know what all we really can stop beating ourselves up over purchasing instead of making.



haverwench said:

Amy Dacyczyn of the Tightwad Gazette came to the same conclusion about store-bought valentine cards, saying that "figuring out a way to make a lot cheaply and easily, and trying to do something that's at least as good as store bought" is "a pretty tall order."

I, too, have tried making cheese at home--though mostly just for the fun of it--and found that the packaged blocks of mozzarella, when bought on sale, are both cheaper and tastier.

I think that it's generally cheaper to buy things that are much more inexpensive to mass produce than to make by hand. You know, the kind of things you're always reading about hardy pioneers making themselves, like candles and soap and sausage. If you have to pay retail for the ingredients (as opposed to using what you produce yourself on your little homestead), it doesn't save you any money to make them yourself. This is also true of a lot of grocery items that can be bought very cheaply on sale, like noodles or baked beans or salsa. Homemade will be *better*, but not necessarily cheaper.

January 15, 2013 9:44 AM

DixieVicki said:

Homemade brownies are quite a bit more to make by scratch, ever since cocoa powder got so expensive.  And I actually like the $1.19 per box mix at Aldi's.  

January 15, 2013 1:46 PM

Emily Guy Birken said:

From some friends on Facebook:

Fellow quilter Erin S said "One thing that is less expensive in the store? Quilts! Think of how much money it costs to buy (good) fabric, batting, thread, rotary cutter, mat, run your sewing machine. And, then, get ready to spend a huge number of hours making it. Or, you can go to Walmart and buy one for $30 that looks like someone took the time to make it. (I still won't stop quilting.) And, nice scarves. To buy the yarn to make a long, warm scarf seems to cost well into the $20-40 range, but you can buy one at H&M for about $4. <Sigh>

My friend Tara D added, "Lasagna. I still make my own, because it's better, but ingredients are expensive!"

January 15, 2013 2:15 PM

frugal_fun said:

It's no longer cost effective to make clothes either, mostly because of the volume discount factories can get on fabric. The cheapest way to acquire high quality clothes is go to thrift stores or garage sales on a regular basis. There's just no way to beat $5 per pair of high quality pants. If you want very high quality clothes but can't handle used, sewing does make economic sense, but the skills needed fall into the realm of tailor/seamstress rather than casual crafter.

It doesn't make sense to have chickens when you can buy organic eggs.

As haverwench, it usually makes no sense economically for most people to do themselves if it can be mass produced. The most frugal things people can do now fall squarely into services. Actually cooking meals from bought ingredients at home, doing their own lawns etc, house cleaning etc.

The greatest bucks saved for the time spent for us: homeschool (as opposed to private school), cooking meals at home, DIY home repair and DIY furniture (all the economic advantage of factories is eaten up by the ridiculous mark up at retail). I t'ain't ahead by trying to grow food, make soap, sew, or make Valentine's day cards.

January 15, 2013 4:52 PM

haverwench said:

I just thought of another way to make frugal Valentines: go to the store and buy a big package of leftover Christmas candies, which are now marked down to a dollar or less. Package up the red and white ones (setting the green ones aside for St. Patrick's Day) in little envelopes, each with a name and a heart on it in crayon.

January 18, 2013 1:39 PM

haverwench said:

P.S. To Emily Guy Birkin: Yarn and fabric are good things to find on Freecycle. It only shows up from time to time, but often there's a lot of it at once (from someone who's giving up the hobby).

January 18, 2013 1:42 PM

Spendwise Mom said:

It really depends on what the item is.  When it comes to food, I like to know what I am eating even if it costs a little more to make it myself.  The cheapest stuff isn't always the best deal in the end.  

January 23, 2013 10:02 AM

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