Saving Pennies or Dollars is a new semi-regular series on Money360, inspired by a great discussion on Money360’s Facebook page concerning frugal tactics that might not really save that much money. I’m going to take some of the scenarios described by the readers there and try to break down the numbers to see if the savings is really worth the time invested.
Calista writes in: Does making your own baby food purees save pennies or dollars?
As always, it depends on the source of the food you use to make the puree. If you’re using excess produce from your garden, it’s going to be cheaper, of course.
However, where Calista raises an interesting point is with fresh fruits and vegetables that you can buy at a very low price at the grocery store. How do you decide when it’s worth it to make it yourself versus simply buying those convenient Gerber baby food containers?
I’ll use bananas as an example. I can frequently buy bananas at my local grocery store for $0.49 a pound – and, often, they’re on sale for less than that. If I peel out a pound of bananas, I’m left with about eleven ounces of fruit, based on my weighings on my kitchen scale. To this, I would add roughly five ounces of water, milk, or formula to create a smooth texture, then puree it in a blender. After that, I’ll have to individually package it in some method, usually by filling up an ice cube tray with the puree and freezing it. Boom – a pound of “banana baby food” for about $0.50.
On the other hand, I can buy a 3.5 ounce tub of pureed bananas from Gerber for $0.57 per container (16 containers for $9.13). A pound of these containers would be about the same as four and a half of these containers, or $2.28.
In other words, I’m saving about $1.78 per pound of bananas that I turn into baby food. This requires the time to peel a few bananas, put them in the blender, add some liquid, hit the puree button, then pour the liquid into the ice cube tray and pop it in the freezer. That’s about five minutes of work for a pound of baby banana puree.
So, in the case of straight-up bananas, you’re saving dollars and not cents making the baby food yourself.
So, what’s the cutoff for value? I’d be willing to make my own baby food if I were saving about $8 per hour. I would estimate that I could convert a pound of raw foods (like bananas) into baby food in about five minutes, and a pound of food I’d have to cook (like broccoli) into baby food in about ten minutes. Thus, I’d have to spend an hour to convert twelve pounds of raw food into baby food or six pounds of cooked food into baby food.
It costs roughly $2.28 to buy a pound of processed baby food, or $13.68 for six pounds of processed baby food or $27.36 for twelve pounds of processed baby food.
To make cooked baby food worthwhile, I’d have to find a source of the food at $5.68 ($13.68 minus $8) for six pounds of the food, or about $0.95 per pound for the raw food. So, if you can find, say, broccoli at $0.95 a pound or less, it’s probably worth your time to turn it into cooked baby food.
To make raw baby food worthwhile, I’d have to find a source of the food at $19.36 ($27.36 minus $8) for twelve pounds of the food, or about $1.61 per pound for the food. So, if you can find, say, bananas at $1.61 per pound or less, it’s probably worth your time to turn it into cooked baby food.
In the end, you can certainly save dollars by turning some foods, like bananas, into baby food. It gets trickier when you look at out-of-season fruits and vegetables, though, as the cost for a pound of those foods tends to make the savings quite small (and can even result in a loss).