Can Homemade Meals Really Save You Money?

9 Comments 19 October 2011

Author Jennifer Reese shares money saving tips on making food at home and which foods are actually cheaper to buy in a grocery storeBefore losing her job, Jennifer Reese didn’t bat an eye at store-bought peanut butter or bagels. Wondering whether homemade, D.I.Y. meals were actually cheaper, she began a series of kitchen-related experiments. In her new book, Make the Bread, Buy the Butter, some of Reese’s discoveries will surprise you—and help make your family meals easier. We spoke to her about the method to her kitchen madness.

Tips on Life & Love: What gave you the idea to write Make the Bread, Buy the Butter?
Jennifer Reese:
It used to be that every time I went to the supermarket, this irritating dialogue would start up in my head: You’re going to really buy those tacky cupcakes for your son’s birthday? You should be MAKING cupcakes. Come to think of it, you really should be making your own yogurt, growing your own carrots, canning your own pickle relish, raising chickens, etc. It really intensified a few years ago after I lost my job and started worrying more about money. Then, when I’d actually bake bread, I’d start thinking, what if it actually costs MORE to make bread? I couldn’t win. I decided to look at the subject empirically in an attempt to shut down that irksome internal conversation. And I succeeded.

What did your family make of it?
My daughter, a teenager, is mortified by the farm animals that now populate our backyard. But she became deeply involved in the cooking projects and developed the outstanding chocolate chip cookie recipe in the book. My son, who is 10, loves the animals and couldn’t care less about the cooking. As for my poor husband, he’s very patient and sweet but has forbidden me to ever cure another prosciutto.

VIDEO: Jennifer Reese shows how to make homemade bagels

Do you really have a goat?
Two goats. They’re quiet, clean, friendly and, best of all, you don’t have to walk them. I love dogs, but I do think it’s peculiar that we take for granted the presence of dogs in American suburbs and cities, but not goats. When was the last time a goat barked at the mailman? When was the last time you milked your dog?

Which foods are cheaper to make at home?
Most. But probably the most dramatic example was vanilla extract. Shop around for a reasonably priced source of vanilla beans, buy a bottle of booze, then make yourself a big batch of vanilla It will take you about 5 minutes, last a lifetime, and cost a fraction of what you’ll pay for a tiny bottle from the supermarket.

Are some foods just too hard to make at home?
I assumed that making sausage would be a breeze, but it isn’t. Hot dogs? Never again. And you can make croissants and Danish pastries but they aren’t exactly relaxing. But almost everything else was shockingly easy. Pastrami? Simple. Bagels? Simpler. Most surprising, though, had to be the cheese. You can make fantastic, really inexpensive camembert with a couple of cheap mail-order ingredients, supermarket milk, and sterilized soup cans. You feel like a wizard. I’m not saying people should stop buying camembert from the cheese counter, but there is an option.

Are you still experimenting?
Although I never figured out how to make truly great veggie burgers or granola bars, I remain convinced I can do better than store-bought. Those are two ongoing quests. Plus, I fully intend to one day make jelly donuts.

What can the ordinary home cook take away from your book?
I hope ordinary home cooks will feel liberated—in all ways. You don’t have to meekly accept what Safeway or Stop n’ Shop has to offer. Cooking is easy and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. On the other hand, don’t feel guilty when you buy something delicious that happens to come from a supermarket. Lay’s Potato Chips are better than any chips I’ve ever made by standing over a cauldron of hot oil. The perfectionist homespun/do-it-yourself/urban farming ethic some of us are susceptible to can become rather enslaving. I’m all about the middle ground. I’ve just tried to figure out exactly where that is.

For more information on homemade meals and recipes, go to her blog The Tipsy Baker, like The Tipsy Baker on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter.


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  • Angelica

    MMmmm, those look like fresh & plump Sunday morning bagels. Shockingly easier to make than I imagined too. Not to mention she has the red KitchenAid mixer I’ve had my eye on for some time now. Thank you Jennifer Reese, for making my mouth water for carbs and kitchen appliances today. :)

  • Jamie

    Well said: “The perfectionist homespun/do-it-yourself/urban farming ethic some of us are susceptible to can become rather enslaving.” I’m all about the middle ground, too, but I find that the middle ground is always moving – depending on how much time I have and what ages and stages my kids are in.

  • kojala

    It’s so true. We’re all busy and it’s hard to make time to do all the loving, homemade things you want to! Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jamie.

  • eve

    how in the world is it cheaper to make vanilla extract at home when vanilla extract costs $0.99? Go out and buy a bottle of booze and vanilla beans! Whomever decided to publish this is out of their minds! And everything else is a crack of horse sheet too!

  • Amanda

    Eve, you must be talking about fake vanilla extract. Real vanilla extract tastes wonderful and costs quite a bit more than 99 cents. Fake vanilla extract tastes…well…artificial and cheap, as you’d expect.

  • Dana


    That “vanilla extract” that you’re talking about isn’t even the real deal. It’s gross and loaded with fake flavorings. Try buying the good stuff and making a batch of cookies with it. You’ll figure out the difference.

  • Anita

    I think people miss the whole point; she was out of work and decided to try different things to see which were better as well as cost less. Each family would be different; for example, I bake cookies, cakes, etc., but bagels wouldn’t pan out for me. And I’ll have to try the vanilla thing. I’ve made some things at home that I’m sure were cheaper than buying, but the time it took me or the mess have made me decide those are things I won’t do again.

  • Joyce Boehmer

    When I started in a new relationship, I made bread as a special treat. My guy liked it so much that now he is the bread maker (haven’t needed to buy any except for a party). We start it in a bread machine (easier mixing and a warm place for rising). Then into bread pan, short rise and bake. It’s wonderful.

  • Tiffany

    A tip to anyone making homemade vanilla…it’s totally economical and worth it if you use a LARGE bottle of vodka. I used a smaller one that was the cheapest in the store (around $4), bought vanilla beans from (around $6), and went to Sam’s later to find the same size bottle I had made for only around $6. It was the real vanilla also, no artificial crap.


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