Is it cheaper to bake your own bread or buy it at the store?

For some reason, yesterday I got going on breadmachines. Amazon.com has a pretty nifty Sunbeam 5891 automatic bread maker for $42.24 (with free shipping!) I got to thinking, gee whiz - how much does bread really cost to make? I hardly know ANYONE that makes their own bread anymore.



So I went looking. I found the simplest possible bread recipe using hardly any expensive components like dried milk, butter, etc.

BASIC FORMULA FOR A ONE-POUND LOAF
(Serves 12)

This simple recipe can easily be modified to suit your taste.

1 cup liquid (water, soy milk, or apple juice for example)
1 Tablespoon sweetener
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups flour (a combination of any two or more white, oat, rye, or
whole wheat bread flour)
1-1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast

Total Calories Per Serving: 107
Fat: less than 1 gram
I figure it can't get much less complicated than that, right?

Then I went to the store and looked at the price of various components. Note that it MAY be cheaper where you live - I happen to live in an expensive area. These aren't warehouse prices in huge bulk either. Here's what I found:

  • Sugar: $1.99/5lbs
  • Bread flour: $1.89/5lbs
  • Fast acting dry yeast: $9.39/4 ounces
  • Salt: $1.40 / 4.75 ounces

    Converting into the units of the recipe, I found the following:

    Sugar: $0.0130 per tablespoon
    Bread flour: $0.1972 per cup
    Yeast: $0.4081 per teaspoon (OUCH!)
    Salt: $0.0512 per teaspoon

    The total recipe cost of components is as follows:

    Sugar $0.0130
    Flour $0.5915
    Yeast $0.6122
    Salt $0.0256

    Subtotal: $1.2423

    Then you have the cost of electricity and the wear and tear on the equipment. Since it has a one year warranty, I figure it could be used 365 times. $42.24 / 365 = $0.1157. The machine peaks at 600 watts and it takes three hours to bake. Figuring at $0.10 per kilowatt hours, that's 1.8 kilowatt hours or $0.18.

    Total cost: $1.5380
    Total calories: 12 x 107 = 1,284
    Calories per dollar: 834.83

    At the very same store, they had a loaf of "value" bread for $0.89 with 22 slices at 120 calories per 2 slices. 11 x 120 = 1320 calories, or 1483.15 calories per dollar. Much cheaper.

    "But wait!" you say. "What if I just used the oven instead?"

    Well, I believe an electric oven OR a gas oven would cost more to operate than the bread machine. This site says it costs $0.20 per hour to operate an electric oven and $0.18 per hour to operate a gas oven. Even if the oven lasts 20 years, it costs $350 for a cheap one, or 4.8 cents per day. You would also need a bread pan, and more tools to make the bread since you would have to mix it yourself.

    Figure:
    - $0.048 per day (cost of oven over 20 years)
    - $0.180 per hour (cost to operate gas oven, 1 hour)
    - $0.010 per use (cost of a bread pan over a 3 year life)
    - $0.040 per use (other tools - bowls, spoons, etc)

    Total cost: $0.278

    Which may slightly edge out the breadmaker at $0.2957 per use, but ONLY over the very long term. This also ignores the connection fee that might actually make gas more expensive than an electric oven.

    So assuming the breadmaker is the most efficient way, how can you reduce the costs further?

    1) Make your own yeast. It's easy if you like sourdough bread. Instructions. This would save $0.6122 per loaf.
    2) Buy the flour in huge bulk at a warehouse store. I'm sure it's much cheaper than $0.1972 per cup if you buy a 50lb bag at costco. But where do you store it?
    3) Buy the salt and sugar in huge bulk. Actually, since it's in a 5 lb bag already, you have a 153 day supply of sugar. The salt is expensive "real salt" which I'm sure you can completely crush if you bought a big bag of generic salt somewhere.

    So let's assume the following:

    Flour: $0.10 per cup
    Sugar: $0.013 per tablespoon
    Salt: Free, or darned close to it
    Yeast: Free

    New total:

    Flour: $0.3000
    Sugar: $0.0130
    Yeast: $0.0000
    Salt: $0.0000
    Machine: $0.1157
    Electricity: $0.1800

    Total: $0.6087

    Or 2,109 calories per dollar. I suppose, given your willingness to work harder and make more of the components, bread CAN be cheaper than store bought. But just barely. It's pretty damned hard to compete at home with the giant production line and enormous buying power of a large bakery.

    Better bread typically runs $2.29 per loaf. The problem here is that in order to make a similar product at home, you need far more components like honey, dried milk, butter, etc - which are very expensive. Unless you want to make a very specialized recipe that you can't buy at the store, it makes more sense to just buy the bakery made bread.

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