Cost of cookies – is it really cheaper to make your own?

A five step method to analyzing store-bought vs. homemade

cookies
An epic smackdown battle!

I’ve often wondered whether it really saves money to make your own food, as opposed to buying the packaged version. This is especially true with cookies. I don’t know about your family, but mine can go through a batch of homemade cookies like a bulldozer (remember, I live with four boys – my husband and three sons, one of whom is a teenager. Cookies? What cookies?). And you can get a package of cookies on sale at Target or the grocery store for $2.50 – $2, if you’re lucky or have a coupon. So is it really cheaper to make your own? How much could you possibly save for all that work?

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The kitchen warrior is ready to do battle with high prices!

Well, similar to my fascinating cost of homemade vs. restaurant pizza today I’m going to break down the cost of making your own cookies vs. just throwing a package in your grocery cart. You can use this same methodology to compare store-bought anything with homemade food. Then you can see clearly whether there’s any savings to be had, and if so, how much of an “hourly wage” doing that activity yourself takes. There’s only five simple steps you need to work through and you can compare homemade vs. store-bought to each other, and decide based on your findings whether or not something is “worth it” to you.

Step 1 –What’s the recipe, and how much of each ingredient do you need?

Step 2 – What’s the cost of the package?

Step 3 – What’s the cost of the homemade item, and the cost of the store-bought item?

Step 4 – How much time does it take?

Step 5 – How much are you saving for the time you’re spending?

So how does this work? Let’s take a closer look.

Step 1 – What’s the recipe, and how much of each ingredient do you need?

Obviously, this depends on what kind of cookies you’re making. Peanut butter, chocolate chip, snickerdoodles, sugar cookies? They all have different ingredients and different ratios, and they make different amounts, so of course they’ll be different costs. And within those there are all different recipes. For the sake of this analysis I’ll use one of our favorites – Chocolate Chip Oatmeal cookies. This recipe was passed to me by my mother, so I don’t know its origin, but they are delicious.

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Cookies….

Ingredients:

  • 2 sticks of butter (Softened)
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 ½ cups oats
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups chocolate chips (or one small package)

Note – if you want to make this recipe: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix the butter with both sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla and mix until combined. Depending on the kind of oats you have and how big you want them, you can use as-is or chop them in a food processor until they’re a fine powder. Add all dry ingredients to the wet mixture and mix until combined. Then add the chocolate chips. Form into one-inch balls and place on a cookie sheet. Flatten the cookies with the palm of your hand. Bake for 13-17 minutes (usually 15) or until lightly golden brown. Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

Need to make these dairy and egg free for allergies, or for vegan friends? You’re in luck, this recipe goes vegan so easily and deliciously! Try this vegan chocolate chip cookie version: replace the butter with dairy-free margarine or coconut oil, the eggs with a mixture of 3 tablespoons water + 3 tablespoons oil + 2 teaspoons baking powder, and the chocolate chips with a dairy free version. Follow the recipe above, and you have easy, foolproof homemade vegan and allergen free chocolate chip oatmeal cookies!

All right, now we know our ingredients. But how much will this all cost? We’ll figure this out in Step 2 – the cost of the packages.

Step 2 – What’s the cost of the package?

This will be highly variable depending on a lot of factors – the cost of the ingredients in your area, where you purchase them, what brand you get (or store brand), whether the package is on sale, and any coupons you have. You’ll also need to know the serving size and number of servings for the package to figure out the cost for your recipe.

I usually shop at BJ’s for these kinds of ingredients (although I will say I used to shop at Costco, and I miss it badly! I may go back to Costco once the BJ’s membership is done), because my husband and I make a lot of things at home and like to have plenty of these around. So all my prices and sizes will be for a warehouse club. The only thing I can’t get at BJ’s is the oats, because I buy whole oats and all they have is quick oats.

Ingredient Size Serving Size Servings per container Package Cost Cost per Serving
Butter 4 pounds 1 tablespoon 128 $10 $0.08
White Sugar 10 pounds 1 teaspoon 1,134 $4 $0.01
Brown Sugar 7 pounds 1 teaspoon 794 $2.50 $0.01
Eggs 7.5 dozen 1 egg 90 $6 $0.07
Vanilla 16 fluid oz 1 teaspoon 96 $12 $0.13
Oats 2 lbs 10 ozs ½ cup 30 $3 $0.10
Flour 10 pounds ¼ Cup 151 $4 $0.03
Baking Powder 2 8.1oz containers 1/8 teaspoon 766 $3 $0.01
Baking Soda 13.5 pounds 1/8 teaspoon 10,863 $6 $0.01
Salt 4 pounds ¼ teaspoon 1,210 $2 $0.01
Chocolate Chips 4 lbs, 8 ozs 1 tablespoon 146 $10 $0.07

Now that we know the cost per package, serving size, servings per container, and how much each serving costs, we can move onto the next step where we’ll figure out how much the batch costs. Now some of the $0.01 cent items were rounded up a lot, so the total cost may still be under one cent.

Side note – this shows the ridiculousness of some serving sizes. A teaspoon of sugar? 1/8 teaspoon of baking powder and soda? A tablespoon of chocolate chips?

Step 3 – What’s the cost of the homemade item, and the cost of the store-bought item?

Now it’s time to do some fun math and convert our cost per serving into the cost for the recipe!

Ingredient Amount needed Number of Servings Total Cost
Butter 16 tablespoons 16 $1.28
White Sugar 1 cup 48 $0.17
Brown Sugar 1 cup 48 $0.15
Eggs 2 2 $0.14
Vanilla 1 teaspoon 1 $0.13
Oats 2 ½ cups 5 $0.50
Flour 2 cups 8 $0.24
Baking Powder 1 teaspoon 8 $0.03
Baking Soda 1 teaspoon 8 $0.01
Salt ½ teaspoon 2 $0.01
Chocolate Chips 2 cups 32 $2.19
Total Cost Per Batch $4.85

 

Wow! I always knew the recipe must be pretty costly just due to the butter alone, but this is surprising to me. A batch of these cookies costs almost $5!

Comparing to store bought – so the closest store bought version would probably be Chips A’Hoy. Usually I find those on sale for 2/$6, although sometimes for less (or less with a coupon). If you picked up the store brand version, they would likely be even less. So at first glance it looks like it’s much cheaper to buy cookies at the store rather than make them yourself.

But wait! Is a batch of these cookies the same size as a bag of cookies from the store?  I haven’t bought cookies in a while, but I know that one of these cookies is the size of two or three store cookies. If you made them smaller then you’d have about 96 cookies (as an experiment, I made a batch of smaller ones. They made 109 cookies. They also baked only 10 minutes). There are apparently 34 cookies in a bag of Chips A’Hoy. So you’d need to pick up 2-3 packages of storebought cookies to equal the number this batch makes – or you could make a half batch of cookies. Either way, once you start looking at the volume you get you can see that homemade is still less expensive, but not by very much. Even less so if you pick up store brand cookies.

Step 4 – How much time does it take?

OK, so this can be tricky to measure. If you go by duration, making a batch of cookies takes over an hour (about 15 minutes to make the dough and shape the balls, 15 minutes per batch, and you need 3 or 4 batches to finish the recipe). But if you go by active time actually doing something, it’s closer to 20 minutes total. You still need the 15 minutes to make the dough and shape the balls, but it only takes seconds to put trays into/take trays out of the oven. And under a minute to take the cookies off the trays once cooled. Don’t count time eating the cookies, that doesn’t count.

Now we know how much time this takes – so next let’s look at what kind of “hourly wage” doing this yourself pays.

Step 5 – How much are you saving for the time you’re spending?

First, let’s assume the batch of homemade cookies equals 2.5 bags of Chips A’Hoy,. With that assumption, a batch of homemade cookies that’s equal to the store-bought version costs $1.94. So you’re saving $1.06 for 20 minutes of work, which gives you an “hourly wage” of $3.18.

“Wow,” you’re thinking, “that’s pretty terrible! Why on earth would you spend your time making cookies then, when you can buy them for not much more!” This actually reminds me a lot of all the times I’ve heard Greg McFarlane on the Stacking Benjamins show teasing Trent from The Simple Dollar for doing activities that take an hour but only save two cents.

Now that you know the cost and the savings, as well as your “hourly wage”, you can look at that in combination with other factors to decide whether or not this is worth it to you.

  • Does making cookies with your kids promote other values to you besides saving money? One of my goals for my children is that when they grow up and go off to college, they will know how to cook and bake. They may not use those skills for years, but I want them equipped with the tools they’ll need to cook for themselves. So in my family, making cookies helps with this goal
  • Are you worried about some of the ingredients found in processed foods? If so, you may want to make your own not for the money, but for the ingredients. You can see from the recipe all the ingredients are real food that you can pronounce (butter, eggs, etc.). The ingredients for Chips Ahoy include such yummy sounding items as high fructose corn syrup, natural and artificial flavors, partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil, whey, and caramel color. Yum
  • Does someone in your family have a dietary restriction or a food allergy? If so, you may want to make your own food. When my oldest son was a baby, he was allergic to dairy, eggs, and peanuts. It was very hard to find processed food that was free of those ingredients. Most either contained those foods or were “produced on equipment that also produces…”. Heck he was so sensitive that once he reacted to soy yogurt because it was produced on dairy yogurt equipment. If you’re trying to avoid certain ingredients due to allergies, or just dietary preference, making your own is the best way to do so. It also saves even more money- in my experience, buying allergy-safe or vegan mixes can be very expensive.
  • How’s the taste? I compared buying Chips Ahoy with homemade cookies only because that’s my real choice. If I were to purchase a dozen scratch-baked cookies they would likely cost $4-$6 at a bakery – and I’d never pay that much, they’d be gone in one meal. But taste-wise, homemade cookies and store-bought cookies are miles and miles apart. Nothing smells or tastes better than homemade. So if taste is important to you, go ahead and make your own.
  • Will doing this keep you from doing a different activity that will save you more money? Say you have a limited amount of time, and you are deciding between making cookies and getting takeout pizza, or making pizza and buying cookies. Well, you know that making your own pizza [link] will save you even more money and pays a much higher “hourly wage” than making cookies, so you’re financially better off by making the pizza and buying the cookies. One note on this one – often you’ll hear an argument that if you’re paid a certain wage (say you earn $50k per year, or $24 per hour) you shouldn’t do activities that “pay” less than this amount. That argument only works if you could actually spend the time earning money rather than doing the activity. If you’re home from work anyway, and your choice is between watching TV and making cookies, you will certainly save more by making the cookies. Watching TV doesn’t pay you $24 an hour, so don’t use this as an excuse.
  • Are you in dire financial straits? As Amy Dacyczyn of The Tightwad Gazette [link to review} once said, if you’re in a bad situation you need to employ as many money saving strategies as possible. So if you’ve pulled the trigger on your emergency plan [link] and you need every penny, then buying cookies goes out the window and you’re making your own until the situation improves.

Cookie Conclusion

So it turns out that despite the expensive ingredients, it is, indeed, cheaper to make your own cookies than buy them from the store. But not by very much. So if you’re in a hurry, you won’t damage your finances too much by swinging by the store to pick up a pack of cookies for that Cub Scout meeting instead of making your own. There are times, though, that due to other values or needs you’ll want to make your own instead.

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