03 June 2005

Time v. Money

Julie had a good point in one of the comments below. The basic point was that there are times when the money saved is not worth the time spent. I definitely agree. But, as Julie implied, the equation changes when there is more value gained than just saving money.

When I make something from scratch, I'm often saving myself a trip to the grocery store. I hate to shop. So if we don't have it, I figure out how to make it. It almost always takes less time and money to do it myself than to go to the store.

Now, you could argue that if you were very organized that you could just go to the store once a week and always have what you needed on hand and not have to cook from scratch. This is a fair argument, but I'd love to hear from someone who actually can do this. Is there anyone who doesn't ever run out of or forget something? I'd love to know your secret if you don't.

I also place a high value on being home. This isn't something a lot of people value, I know. But I like it. I'd much prefer to keep track of my boys at home than at the store. I feel much more independent at home. It's where I belong.

As a result of combination of these little quirks of mine (liking to be home, hating to shop, a flair for cooking creativity), we've been able to go without a second car since we've been married. That has been our real savings- easily $10,000 or more over the last 7 years. Even though it doesn't really save a lot to make tortillas, or applesauce, or refried beans, it's the way it all comes together that saves us the money.

There are some things I don't do. Making my own bulgur was way too labor-intensive. I didn't do cloth diapers. I don't have a cow. There are a lot of things that really aren't worth it to me.

But in the end, beyond saving money, I just like homemade food. I like homemade tortillas and the 20 minutes that I spend rolling them out while chatting with my sister on the phone is worth it. I like that I can make healthier bread. I like fresh yogurt. I guess it all comes down to flavor.


  1. My parents fit in the category of only shopping once a week (they only spend $40 on groceries every two weeks now that there aren't any kids home)and very rarely making in-between trips... they do it by a combination of making menus (and sticking to them) and having a substantial food storage.

    I've been trying to work up to that level my entire marriage and I'm still not there. We do menus --which is really useful, all I have to decide is which pre-planned meal to fix for dinner. Part of our problem is the lack of food storage space; we have some, but not nearly a years supply of anything. The other problem is that I give into mid-week cravings which usually require a trip to the store. I'm trying to be better about that, though. :)

  2. I'm not sure why, but we don't run out of things. I can't explain it. I go shopping once per week, and that works for us. Maybe we are just pretty consistent in what we eat from week to week and other families aren't (note: not a moral judgement.)

    Your point about being home interests me. I don't like to take my boys shopping, either. All stores are designed to make children want things, so this is generally not a successful set-up for them to behave well. I usually shop while they are at a friends' house. If I have to take them, we have a deal: no being difficult and they get to pick something (I pick category: box of cereal, kind of fruit, kind of popsicle, 3 year old will often pick a box of bandaids because he is weird, etc.) when we are done.

    I am glad to live in a time when we have options. My dinner rule is thus: it cannot take more then 15 minutes of my time, and that time must be in the morning (we are rarely home in the late afternoon). So, it is crock-pot city around here. This works well for us. I'm glad what you do works well for you.

  3. I would rather cook than go to the store, anytime.

    You did a fine job of explaining the intrisinc value of homemaking Amira. That's where today's consumer falls down on the job. Everything has a dollar cost, however, not everything gets factored into the cost. For example; I pay a gardener to come to our house once a week to mow the lawns. It is a job I love doing. However, I have developed an allergy to fresh mown grass. So I have to factor in not only the time saving but the costs of the allergy medicine, and doctor visit when I decide I could do as good a job as the gardener. It's very frustrating because I love mowing lawns.

    Another thing that usually gets exempted from the calculation is frustration level. If you can sew, but hate it, and by hating it I mean you get in a bad mood, yell at everyone around you and feel miserable and stressed each time you sew, it's probably not worth the cost savings. it is a good thing to barter for however.

    Oh my I have tsken this far off the course of cooking. Sorry. it's just my homemakeing economics thing getting in the way again.

  4. chronicler, I think the frustration level is *very* important, but often overlooked. And that's why no one system works for everyone.

    I've not met many people who ike mowing the lawn. When I was growing up I'd always trade jobs with my sisters so I could be the one mowing the lawn. I'm sorry you can't do that anymore.

    Julie, do you trade babysitting a lot? It seems like you've mentioned that fairly often. For me it's more frustrating (like chronicler was saying) that it's worth to trade babysitting. I'd rather just take care of my own children all the time instead of having a break sometimes and having twice as many children around at other times. I like to take care of other people's children in nursery when I can hand off any problem children, but when they're at my house, I have to be totally in charge of them. Drives me nuts. :)

    And what crockpot meals do you do? I have trouble finding ones that work well for our family because we eat little meat and the boys don't like beans much. Most of my meals take about 15-30 minutes of prep time, but it has to be done about an hour before we eat.

  5. I trade babysitting a ton. While it varies from time to time, I'd say that on average, maybe 13 hours per week we either have additional children in our house or my kids are somewhere else.

    I think the key to this is that you find kids who get along well with yours. If you have to spend all of your time playing referee, it is not worth it. I have 'tested' and 'discarded' potential swappers many times because their kids didn't get along with my kids. But it seems like we can always find 2-3 families that we can trade with.

    Crock-pot. Everything I do has meat, but not a lot. I save money on meat by taking competitor's ads to Wal-Mart, where they price match. My geneal guideline is to buy whatever I can that's less than 2$/pound, so this week I was able to get chicken breast tenderloins and a pork tenderloin. So I start meal planning by seeing what meat is cheap and working aroung that.

    Here are my three favorite summer crock-pot meals:

    (1) Chicken burritos: put three chicken breats (still frozen OK) in along with a jar of salsa and a drained can of pinto beans. Cook on low all day. Before serving, shred the chicken (this is really fast because it is so mushy) and lightly mash the beans and recombine chicken and beans. (My kids don't like beans but will eat this because they don't notice them.) This makes great chicken burritos: just put in a tortilla along with whatever toppings you like. (I also do virtually the same thing with beef--any roast type beef will work.)

    (2) Pizza. In a pan, brown one pound italian sausage. Add to crock pot with your favorite spaghetti sauce and cook all day on low. Cut a loaf of French bread in half, spray with pan and coat with Italian spices and bake at 425 for about 5 minutes. Then spoon sauce and sausage on and cover with shredded mozzerella (which will melt on its own).

    (3) Put a roast in the crock pot along with two cans of the dreaded cream of mushroom soup, a cup of water, and a package of lipton onion soup. Cook on low all day. You can serve this as a roast or as roast beef sandwiches.