Reader Question: Homemade or Store Bought~ Which is Cheaper?

rolling dough

Mr. CBB has paid me the compliment of inviting me to help answer a reader’s question:

A question I would love to have feedback on from you and your fans is: How do you know when it’s less expensive to make homemade baked goods or buy it pre-made at the store? I’m on a tight budget and I hesitate to try recipes only to find out it’s more expensive with the ingredients and electricity amongst other things. I am sure it’s more nutritious to make my own but right now it’s financial.

The short answer is that bakery goods have among the highest mark up in the grocery store, so home baking is almost always more affordable than an equivalent purchase from the store.

In reality, though, there are some factors that need to be considered, especially if you’re on a tight budget. If you are not already a baker, you’ll need to have some basic equipment on hand to bake and you’ll also need the ingredients called for in the recipe.

My advice?

Do bake at home and make homemade. You’ll recoup your initial investment in ingredients and equipment very quickly.

Tips on getting started with home baking inexpensively

  • Keep your equipment purchases to a minimum, buying only the pans you’ll need.  If your initial plan is to make granola bars and cookies, purchase only a cookie sheet and a rectangular baking pan (if you need it for the bars).  Do spend the money to buy good quality pans.  You’ll be using them again and again. You’ll always need measuring spoons, and measuring cups so do spend money to buy them too but check inexpensive outlets like the dollar store to find them at the lowest price.
  • For the rest of the equipment, make do with what you might already have on hand. If you don’t have a large enough mixing bowl on hand, look around for another item you can use in its place. Do you have a large saucepan?  If you don’t have a wooden spoon, use a serving spoon instead.
  • Begin with a couple of recipes that you know your family will enjoy and that share several common ingredients.  For example, if you’re planning to bake granola bars then oatmeal cookies of some sort would be a good second recipe.
  • If you have no baking ingredients on hand, begin by purchasing small amounts of ingredients until you’ve figured out which recipes your family likes and which recipes you’ll be making over and over.  You can minimize the expense involved in getting started with your first recipe by taking measuring cups and spoons to the store and portioning only the exact amount of ingredients you’ll need from the bulk bins. If the ingredients you need aren’t available in bulk, purchase small packages (unless they are things you know you’ll use for purposes other than baking).
  • If a recipe calls for an expensive ingredient or one that you don’t often use, consider a substitution.  For example, I have several recipes that call for pine nuts. Pine nuts are very expensive so I use sunflower seeds instead.

TIP: If a recipe calls for an expensive ingredient and you can’t make a less expensive substitution, don’t make the recipe.

Once you’re into the swing of homemade baking and have some idea about what your family likes – and what you like to make – begin buying your ingredients in larger quantities. Once you begin stocking up on flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, spices, raisins, etc. you’ll start to see an even greater savings.

Good luck and have fun. You’ll love baking homemade in your kitchen once you get started along with saving money.

Guest Post Bio:  Aunt B’s family jokes that she started writing because she just doesn’t know when to be quiet!  In truth, her blogs grew out of a long illness and helped her to keep in touch with the world around her.  She’s interested in everything, and shares her interests at Aunt B on a BudgetA Word from Aunt BB on Balance  and B-Attitude.

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  1. Good tips. I laughed at the “only buy equipment you need.” My friend was contemplating making pumpkin pie on American Thanksgiving because she had purchased the pie plate and spices for Canadian Thanksgiving 🙂

  2. As much as I’d love to bake, in reality my heart just isn’t in it. I think it’s because I don’t really like sweets that much so it’s not really worth it to me. These tips are great though, especially the one about only buyng what you need from the bulk bin – I hate buying ingredients that I know I’ll never use again!

  3. Great post! We make home made breads all the time and I had to contemplate the very same issue when I first started baking. But like you say, the initial investment might be more expensive than buying in store at first, later it pays itself off and you can enjoy much cheaper baked goods at home. I went a bit lavish on baking and got a bread maker. We have fresh made breads once in a while in the morning and they are costing us much less than the store – and much better fresh in the morning.

  4. I certainly have not ever tried to bake bread or granola bars, but I do think any cookies we have will mostly be homemade from now on. I am learning to be a better cook, so I will certainly study the treat type things that my five year old likes to see if I can come up with cheaper and healthier alternatives. I have been trying hard lately to not pay more than $1.50 per loaf of bread, so that I don’t mind getting at the store. One of the groceries has great clearance bread section, and you can find just about anything marked way down if you don’t mind being patient. Great tips. I am devouring this type information in my quest to be a better shopper!

  5. Good tip about substituting cheaper ingredients for expensive ones. I always laugh at recipes that call for Andioulle sausage and then mixing it in with so many other flavors that you’ll never taste the difference between it and country sausage.

  6. I find that it helps to figure out how much it costs you to make something at home – that way you can know if sale prices are beating your at home costs. For me – homemade granola runs about $1.80 per batch, so when it’s on a BOGO sale and I get 2 boxes for $4 and I’m running low on time, I know that it’s only about $0.20 for the time that I’m putting in to make it. It’s a balance. But on the other hand, my homemade tastes more “real” than store bought, so that weighs in, too!

  7. Great post! I try not to bake too much because unfortunately I have a habit of eating too much if it’s in the house! But you’re right that it is more expensive to buy premade bakery items for sure.

  8. So ironic that you just posted this since I was thinking about this today. I made cookies and the chocolate chips were on sale for 2.75/300gm bag which I can bake about 30 cookies with (plus the cost of sugar/eggs/flour)…a box of Christie’s chocolate chip cookies were on sale for 2.50/box…not cheaper to make BUT better for you (in terms of preservative) and actually taste like a cookie should. I have found baking supplies have gone up tremendously in the last 2-3years.

    • I didn’t realize chocolate chips were that expensive! I chop up baking chocolate squares and use them for all my “chocolate chip” needs. They taste better than chocolate chips too. A box of Baker’s squares will run about $2.99, sometimes less on sale and you only need half a box per cookie recipe.

    • I didn’t realize chocolate chips were that expensive! I chop up baking chocolate squares and use them for all my “chocolate chip” needs. They taste better than chocolate chips too. A box of Baker’s squares will run about $2.99, sometimes less on sale and you only need half a box per cookie recipe.

  9. Christine Weadick says:

    Loved the article!! I try to make most of our baking as well. I found Canadian Tire to be a great place to get the pans and such….just watch the sales, they do have some good ones. I got my daughter a muffin pan a couple of years ago for Christmas half price!!! It’s what she wanted…. I get cookbooks from the library for recipes and copy some out if they look good. Once I’ve made something ‘by the book’ I know where and how I can change it up for something better/different. When we have a family potluck get-together I’m always getting asked to bring desserts!!!! Lol!!

  10. In general, I’ve always found that making it at home is cheaper. Everything from lasagna to cookies to cinnamon buns is cheaper is you put the work in to do it yourself. Even bread, which I always feared would be too time consuming, is not too much work and very delicious when it comes out of the oven.

  11. We bake daily at our house. From bread ( when I have the time) to making candy. With seven kids, ops and Dearest! We go through a batch of cookies in less then a day. If I bought the amount that the family eats in baked goods, it would consume my whole grocery budget. This does however mean having the supplies in the house. I stock-up on sales and stash away in the cold cellar in plastic containers. Also love when Bulk Barn has $3./off coupons when purchasing $10 of goods. I go in for the $10 worth and hand over the coupon. Have found them to be the least ezxpensive on icing and brown sugars and oatmeal.

  12. John S @ Frugal Rules says:

    Great tips. We almost always make things at home as it can be so much cheaper and a bit healthier. The only time we really don’t is when we’re pressed for time, but that’s few and far between.

  13. I can make two huge loaves of Foccacia bread at home for about 80 cents. It makes the house smell wonderful and they don’t require kneading. Super easy, super cheap, and delicious. And like Mary F Campbell, I find baking to be quite relaxing as well.

  14. As we’ve tried to eat healthier, we rarely bake. I love cookies and cakes and everything of that nature, but I avoid them whenever I can. 🙂

  15. Mary F Campbell says:

    Great answer Beth Anne! I love to bake and find it really relaxing…not to mention it makes the house smell terrific!!

  16. I have come to think that if I can by bread for $1 or less its worth it to buy. as the time it takes to make is also important t me. at RCSS I can grab a 4 loaf pack for under $4 and sometimes I can find it for 50% off

    • You’re quite right: Your time is valuable too, Tori, and if you feel it’s a better bargain to buy your bread by all means do so. 🙂 Personally, though, I prefer to bake my own. It doesn’t take long to mix up and I don’t have to stand over it every minute. I go about the day’s business while it’s rising and baking. I get to control the quality of the ingredients that go into my bread, it makes the house smell heavenly, and I think it tastes better than store bought.

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