Does living a ‘gastronomic lifestyle’ save money?

One of the knocks on organic food is that it is more expensive. Similarly, farmers’ markets are thought more expensive, as is buying meat from butchers, fish from fishmongers, and bread from bakers. Supermarkets have thrived because of economies of scale, being able to build consistent supply lines to produce groceries at a lower cost, as well as the convenience of being able to do a weekly shop there (or even have it delivered).

But what you also get in supermarkets is pre-prepared food, and you have to pay extra for that, as somebody has to prepare it (see my post on Sandwich Ham for example). So on the one hand, you have convenience, and on the other, quality and effort. And the effort part of it is not to be understated- when you do buy food that isn’t pre-prepared, you do have to spend extra time and effort making the dish. I know there are evenings when I don’t feel like cooking, and evenings where we just grab a pizza from Tesco and the only cooking that is involved is putting it in the oven. It’s a balance, and you want to figure out where on the gastronomic scale you want to be.

Here, though, I want to look at the financial side of things. What motivated me to look at this was a justification I made for buying an expensive stand mixer: “if I made bread in it for the next three years it will pay for itself”. Perhaps an overconfident justification (but so far so good), it does raise the further questions of how this effort/convenience balance works out for other foods, from a financial perspective. So, I decided to work it out.

To look at the costs associated with gastronomy in more detail, I’ve suggested three strategies: the regular stategy (RS), the effort strategy (ES), and the lazy strategy (LS). The RS consumer likes good food- buying quality products- but will buy basic, regular ingredients sometimes, and pre-prepared food sometimes. The ES consumer will buy the ingredients from Tesco, but make almost everything themselves. The LS consumer picks mostly based on convenience. I would imagine that each of us is a mix of these things, depending on what it is they are cooking. I’ve tried as hard to be fair to each one as possible, but there isn’t really enough room to show how I did these calculations (nor would you want to read about them), so if you think I’ve gone wrong somewhere let me know. Cost is over a year, to feed two people, and all prices come from Tesco. Here are ten examples:

1. Bread/Sandwiches
RS: Buys bread and meat, makes sandwiches. Cost: £620.36
ES: Makes bread, makes meat, makes sandwiches. Cost: £459.16
LS: Buys a sandwich for lunch each day. Cost: £819.00

2. Breakfast Cereal
RS: Buys good cereal. Cost: £234.00
ES: Makes own breakfast like granola/muesli. Cost: £140.40
LS: Buys reasonable cereal. Cost: £156.00

3. Cakes/Biscuits
RS: Makes 50% of cakes and biscuits. Cost: £274.82
ES: Makes all cakes and biscuits. Cost: £357.24
LS: Buys all cakes and biscuits. Cost: £192.40

4. Lasagne
RS: Buys red and white sauce, makes otherwise. Cost: £423.28
ES: Makes all except lasagne sheets. Cost: £340.08
LS: Buys all ready made. Cost: £156

5. Pizza
RS: Buys good pizza. Cost: £208
ES: Homemade pizza. Cost: £102.96
LS: Buys reasonable pizza. Cost: £104

6. Roast Dinner
RS: Makes dinner except stuffing and gravy, medium joint. Cost: £179.66
ES: Makes all, good joint. Cost: £248.38
LS: Buys frozen roast dinner. Cost: £114.40

7. Soup
RS: Buys fresh soup. Cost: £119.60
ES: Makes soup from scratch. Cost: £62.40
LS: Buys tinned soup. Cost: £41.60

8. Stocking up the storecupboard
RS: Some to buy here. Cost: £208
ES: Lots to buy here. Cost: £312
LS: Not much to buy here. Sauces perhaps. Cost: £78

9. Vegetables
RS: Buys selection of vegetables. Cost: £520
ES: Buys Abel and Cole veg box. Cost: £624
LS: Buys pre-prepared vegetables. Cost: £364

10. Wine
RS: Buys 2 bottles/week at £5. Cost: £520
ES: Buys 2 bottles/week at £7. Cost: £728
LS: Buys 2 bottles/week at £4. Cost: £416

If you add up the totals for the different strategies, the clear winner is the LS, with £2441.40. In some sense this is not surprising, as you can easily use economies of scale to your advantage. But it was clear when looking at the products bought just how inferior they were from a taste perspective. More interesting, though, was the RS and ES totals- £3324.72 and £3374.62 respectively- as near as makes no difference. The extra quality and cost you were getting in the wine, meat cuts, and vegetables was offset by cheaper sandwiches, pizza, and home-made meals. So that extra quality for extra effort, but no extra cost.

So of course, the model is flawed in many ways, not taking into account cooking equipment, meals eaten out, and the costs are massive estimates, therefore you can’t put too much stock in the conclusions. But the idea that there is a good amount of money to be saved by making the “basic” meals- breakfast and lunch- youself, I think that’s still valid. Similarly, buying sauces and other simple ingredients often puts the cost noticeably higher than making them from scratch. And that all frees up money for the more exciting things- wine, good fresh fruit and vegetables, and quality meat and fish. A change in strategy in one of these areas could make a significant difference. Who knows, I might be able to afford that expensive stand mixer after all.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Two Can Dine for £10 « oxfood

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