Before the holidays I saw a clip on “Good Morning America,” about a mother who spent a year figuring out what foods are cheaper to make at home. Intrigued, I received a copy of her book and began to read it through.
Author Jennifer Reese is an accomplished journalist who decided, after being laid off, to figure out what food makes the most sense (not just cents) to make at home. Like so many American’s she lost her job and didn’t know what to do. Here’s how she describes the time after she got let go:
“Then I lost my job. Instantly, I was stabbed with the predictable financial anxiety, which I attended to by taking an overdue video back to the video store and calling my husband to make sure that he still had his job. It was 2008 and a lot of people were losing their jobs. I made myself a cup of tea and walked out the back door of our house … A few end-of-the-season red apples weighted down the branches of our tree. I thought, I should really pick those … I can make applesauce. I can make apple butter. I can make chutney. Who needs a job when you have an apple tree?”
Sometimes I think that when we work, we miss opportunities to make things that are right in front of our faces. We say “time is money,” and pay extra for those frozen PB&Js. But the reality is, those extra cents we spend on convenience foods add up. They hit right into our wallet, yet we wonder where all our money went.
So it begs the questions for busy moms, what is worth it to make and what is worth the extra money to buy. Reese answers the questions on over 120 recipes. Is it worth it to drive to the store to buy hot dog buns, or should you just whip up a batch at home? Reese had the same questions that we do, but now she tells us the answers, from her year of experimentation.
She breaks down food items we are likely to purchase and walks us through how to make them at home. She breaks down each recipe into three simple summary points:
- Make it or buy it?
- Hassle (this may just say “easy,” or “a 4-year-old could do it”)
- Cost comparison
Then, if it’s better to make it, she includes a recipe. Can’t get better than that.
The experiments get more difficult at the book goes along. At first, it’s all about simple things like making a loaf of bread or making hummus in a blender. Later she mentions that her “bee-keeping experiment was an expensive catastrophe.” She writes about buying a couple of turkeys and her son Owen making a connection with the animals and not wanting to see them killed. “Buy it,” is Reeese’s summation of the turkeys.
A few of the items that I would never think of making are English muffins (“a lot more hassle than going to the store”), bacon (“try it”), vermouth (“are you nuts? If so, make it.”), beef jerky (“make it”), and lard (“acquiring the pork fat is the hardest part.”)
One that got my attention, due to my love of baking, is making your own vanilla. I blow through vanilla like some people blow through Diet Coke. It can be $7.00 a bottle and it kills me each time I go to buy it. Reese makes different versions with variations of alcohol. I’m going to have to try one.
A while back I did my own buy or make experiment with pickles. I involved my kids and we made sweet pickles: they were delicious and we were so excited to have something that we made with our own hands. The cost break down didn’t warrant me to make pickles from scratch all the time, but it taught me a valuable lesson that you should try things you think might not be worth the effort. The experience in making something together — and the flavors you can get from making things from scratch might be worth the extra effort.
I don’t think I’ll try making my own bacon, Reese has inspired me to make my pickles again and to try, every now and then, something new that I never thought of before.
Watch the GMA clip below to see a great interview with Reese.