Save Time. Waste Money.

Do you ever wonder how much more you’re paying for convenience food items? Individually wrapped prewashed potatoes? Microwave popcorn?

How much time do these items actually save?

According to Catheryn over at The Dollar Stretcher, not much.

On prewashed potatoes and prepeeled onions: “In both cases, I’m paying 70 cents to \$1 to save myself 30 seconds. Put another way, I’m buying time at the cost of \$84 to \$120 an hour!”

Microwave popcorn clocks in at a time savings of 10 seconds, and only costs 3.5 times as much. And wait until you hear about the chicken.

“A friend of mine, for example, bought pre-marinated, individually vacuum-packed chicken breasts for \$1.67 per four-ounce portion. It never occurred to her this is \$6.68 a pound! Boneless chicken breasts were selling for \$3.29 a pound. If it takes 5-cents worth of seasoning and one minute to season a pound’s worth (do it in the morning and leave it in the fridge to marinate), you pay \$3.34 per minute for this “convenience” or \$200 per hour!”

Moral: Lazy people have to work more hours at a job to pay for their laziness. Oh, butter-flavored irony.

1. maggie says:

Ah the joys of math designed to prove that working women (and men but really…) shouldn’t buy pre-prepared food.
First, if it ONLY took me ONE minute in the morning to marinate a pound of chicken, then perhaps I should never buy premarinated anything. But by my calculations, to open the packaging, get rid of it before it contaminates my kitchen, rinse the chicken, clean the sink before raw chicken contaminates anything else, find a container, shake the spices onto the chicken and perhaps find a liquid for it to soak in, find a lid for said container, put it in refrigerator, I am far beyond one minute. To do this activity while simultaneously making 5 breakfasts and packing 3 lunches…well, I can see why this is called convenience food at the market. Also, at 6 pm, if one is at the market or at home, it is very convenient food. And not unhealthy convenient food by a long shot….

2. Oh man, the picture of the popcorn is seriously messing with me.

I don’t understand buying shrink wrapped produce. How are you supposed to tell that bell pepper is still good if you can’t see the whole thing?

Is your freezer full of Stouffers or Lean Cuisine, at \$3-4 per single portion package? What if instead you cooked twice as much as you need on weekends, froze entree-sized portions in plastic containers and took the same three minutes to microwave it…

There could be a space problem there. How much more space do you need if you’re buying twice as much meat and sides instead of those boxes?

3. AcilletaM says:

The Dollar Stretcher is all about DIY, vinegar+water=window cleaner, buy in bulk and freeze, grow your own food, make your own clothes, type of solutions. A subscription to this was included when I was working with a debt consolidator. I liked it but it wasn’t always practical for an apartment dweller. They are big on the convenience is less about convenient and more about marketing.

And maggie, don’t you still have to do all the decontamination with premarinated? After all, premarinated is still raw but now the salmonella has more flavor.

4. misskaz says:

It all comes down to what your time is worth. I really enjoy cooking. But there are many weeknights and some weekends when I need time to relax and do nothing more than I need to cook. On those nights, I use convenience foods. You call it laziness, I call it maintaining my mental health. I know that I’m paying for it – it’s not some kind of earth-shattering revelation.

I’m not sure Ms. Dollar Stretcher is calculating all the time saved by individually wrapped pre-seasoned chicken. She counts the seasoning but not the packing time – the best part about the individually vaccuum packed meats is that they freeze well without any freezer burn and without sticking together in one big lump. To get that yourself requires careful packaging and labelling and the cost of the freezer bags and they still will get freezer burn – I know, I’ve tried. You don’t save any money if you end up having to throw stuff out because it is inedible.

(I don’t buy pre-washed potatoes or pre-peeled onions – not unions – or microwave popcorn. But I am guilty of eating boxed mac and cheese a couple times a month and there are some really yummy seasoned individually wrapped tilapia fillets that are better than any fresh ones I can get from the sketchy meat/fish counter at the grocery store. Oh, and are frozen veggies a convenience item? Cause I use them a lot too but they are cheap.)

5. MissPinkKate says:

I get buying the chicken plain, but you can pry my microwave popcorn from my cold, dead hands. I make the stuff on the stove, too, but it’s not nearly as good.

6. HawkWolf says:

don’t forget:

– I feel crappy. I’ll take this box out, microwave it, and have dinner so at least my crappiness doesn’t come from hunger.

Hard to put a price on, “I don’t want to spend an hour making an elaborate meal even though I’m home by myself, sick with a cold, and depressed.”

7. RumorsDaily says:

Microwave popcorn is much better tasting than regular popcorn AND you don’t have to clean up big pots worth of oily popcorn residue.

8. Mike_ says:

Commercial microwave popcorn is toxic. Try making your own:

Put 2 Tbsp unpopped popcorn, a splash of olive oil and a pinch of salt in a brown sandwich bag, fold over and crimp tightly to close. Put it on a plate in the microwave, and pop as you would any other microwave popcorn.

It’s cheap, convenient, easy, and won’t give you cancer.

9. srah says:

Stovetop popcorn may take 10 seconds more to pop, but it takes a lot more time and elbow grease to get all the bits of charred popcorn off the side of the pot when I burn it. At least microwave popcorn is pretty consistent in its timing, and if I walk away and get distracted it won’t burst into flames. I’m willing to pay more for that.

10. Commercial microwave popcorn is toxic.

They’re only studying this now?!?!

[insert many swear words and hyphenated vulgarities that would surely get me banned]

Why do they test the safety of products after they’ve been on the markert for forever? Why not before?

11. RandomHookup says:

It’s cheap, convenient, easy, and won’t give you cancer.

I’m kinda hoping for that in my next date.

12. Note that the linked article refers only to butter flavoured microwave popcorn being, possibly, more bad for you than is obvious. Given the phenomenal house-penetrating power of the artificial butter flavour, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if it turned one out of a million consumers into a superhero and killed the rest.

“Natural” flavour microwave popcorn is, basically, just popcorn kernels embedded in a block of solidified vegetable oil. The olive-oil -and-lunch-bag variant is almost certainly more healthy than that as well, of course.

(It’s only any good if it actually works, of course. I tried something like that once some time ago. Emphasis on the once. )

13. drsmith says:

maggie, it sounds like you’re a little obsessive about cleanliness. I don’t like getting sick any more than the next guy, but I also don’t waste time washing my hands and counter numerous times during the preparation. I don’t mean to sound rude, but your post does make it sound as though you wash everything excessively.

Oh – and buying a whole raw chicken at the market is significantly cheaper than buying just chicken breasts. Processing costs money – lots of money.

Disclaimer: I also buy preprepared foods for convenience since I have no desire to emulate Martha Stewart. In my defense, I do know how much I’m paying for that convenience.

14. Mike_ says:

It’s not just the butter. The grease-repelling coating on the inside of the bag will give you cancer, too (Google: popcorn and PFOA). Try the paper bag trick. It works.

15. AcilletaM says:

One caveat to reading the Dollar Stretcher is there is the assumption you have time. It really is about squeezing every bit of savings out of everything you do. To them saving a \$1 is more important than saving 15 minutes.

16. acambras says:

Martha Stewart can do all this stuff with ease and grace. I too could do all this stuff with ease and grace if I had a STAFF of underlings to do the work.

17. Magister says:

I would think the ability to microwave pop-corn and not have to use any external objects beyond the oven itself would make it worth while. Do you really want to clean up after making it yourself?

And that paper bag you just cooked your homemade popcorn will be soaked with oil. Gotta poor that into a bowl. Will it have any taste? The carcinigens(SP) in the buttery-flavoring make it so good.

18. trixare4kids says:

When I use it, convenience food is worth every penny to me. If I spend and average of \$2 on a Lean Cuisine to eat for lunch at work, it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than spending \$8-\$10 eating out every day.

It’s also a matter of what is important to each individual. I don’t think it’s just a matter of laziness. I would rather spend my weekend having a life than wasting precious hours making up a bunch of meals for the following week and doing all the clean up.

When it comes to time versus money, I’ll take time every time.

I love microwave popcorn. Where does she get this 10 second calculation? It takes 1 minute, 40 seconds on my microwave, plus I don’t have to melt butter and if I’m at work I don’t have to find and wash a bowl. Personally, I sneak microwave popcorn into the movie theatre. (Shhh!) I spend 50 cents on my bag of microwave popcorn versus \$6 for just that amount (or less) in the theatre; I certainly make up whatever I would have “saved” by making it myself. Plus it’s not nearly as portable. Also, hello? Everything gives you cancer. I’ll eat my 1-2 bags a month of microwave popcorn and take my chances.

I love pre-cut and pre-washed carrots and celery to take for lunches too. So sue me.

19. trixare4kids says:

(I may be lame and posting this twice – apologies in advance if that turns out to be the case..)

When I use it, convenience food is worth every penny to me. If I spend and average of \$2 on a Lean Cuisine to eat for lunch at work, it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than spending \$8-\$10 eating out every day.

It’s also a matter of what is important to each individual. I don’t think it’s just a matter of laziness. I would rather spend my weekend having a life than wasting precious hours making up a bunch of meals for the following week and doing all the clean up.

When it comes to time versus money, I’ll take time every time.

I love microwave popcorn. Where does she get this 10 second calculation? It takes 1 minute, 40 seconds on my microwave, plus I don’t have to melt butter and if I’m at work I don’t have to find and wash a bowl. Personally, I sneak microwave popcorn into the movie theatre. (Shhh!) I spend 50 cents on my bag of microwave popcorn versus \$6 for just that amount (or less) in the theatre; I certainly make up whatever I would have “saved” by making it myself. Plus it’s not nearly as portable. Also, hello? Everything gives you cancer. I’ll eat my 1-2 bags a month of microwave popcorn and take my chances.

I love pre-cut and pre-washed carrots and celery to take for lunches too. So sue me.

20. Huh. I just spent \$10 bucks on a tin of pepper. It is from India after all.

21. segfault, registered cat offender says:

The Orville Reddenbacher Sweet ‘n’ Buttery microwave popcorn is great. The cinnamon flavored popcorn is pretty good as well. The cinnamon popcorn could be easily duplicated, but I think the Sweet ‘n’ Buttery stuff would be hard to clone.

22. AcidReign says:

…..I occasionally buy pre-sliced swiss, or pre-grated sharp cheddar, but the price isn’t much more than the block. Stouffer’s lasagne is an occasional lapse for me, too. But it’s SO GOOD! I do get the commercial-sized one, which is slightly less expensive per pound! Cooking is theraputic for me. I enjoy pressing my own garlic and chopping my own onions!

…..Whole chickens are the way to go. You’re talking meat for less than a buck a pound! I soak a couple in a big pot full of soy sauce , brown sugar and water for 24 hours, then apply a garlic/pepper rub. I then lay them on the grill in a bed of yellow onion quarters and celery, and slow smoke them for several hours with a charcoal and hickory fire.

…..This stuff re-heats real well on low power in the microwave, even if frozen. Do all the raw chicken handling outside, in the big pot, on the driveway. Once you’re cooking, the pot goes straight in the dishwasher, along with the spice container you contaminated with your chicken-hands; and you wash your hands good. No salmonela on the counter! And your raw chicken packaging is already in the can outside, not turning your kitchen into a charnel-smelling stink-cave!

23. WindowSeat says:

Whoever came up with the concept that cooking was a chore instead of an enjoyable family activity was a genius, an evil genius.

24. etinterrapax says:

You can make very good microwave popcorn out of regular with a microwave air popper also. I like butter better than butter flavoring, so this is a good compromise–no babysitting, and no carcinogens.

I haven’t read the Dollar Stretcher before, but it reminds me of the now-defunct Tightwad Gazette, which was fun to read if only to see how ridiculously far some people will go to save a penny. I’m talking turning envelopes inside-out to reuse them. My policy is never to compromise my sanity for the sake of a principle, and fortunately we’re doing well enough that I can say, okay, that’s frugal enough, the hell with it. But one thing that I think some penny-pinching sites overlook is that there is a certain luxury in frugality. They usually suggest that your time is free and your money is short. But if you’re short of both money and time, you’re really up a creek, because actively saving money takes an investment of time.

I will say this, though: it’d be a lot easier to run a frugal household if people were actually taught how to do it. Like most things, it is made easier through habit and practice. When you don’t know how, it always seems impractical, if not impossible.

25. Re: microwave popcorn alternatives – AIR POPPER! No muss, no fuss.

RP: “Why do they test the safety of products after they’ve been on the markert for forever? Why not before?”

Because the US attitude towards consumer products is basically “saleable until proven lethal.” The EU is much more “must be proven safe before sale.” I only buy cosmetics that have the same formula in the EU and the US now, because the crap that US companies can put in cosmetics is absolutely terrifying.

26. GenXCub says:

Quantifying a value on time is a slippery slope, and I feel like it is disingenuous to practice that on a site to guilt people into “saving money.” There are far too many factors by going “convenient” that one is unable to quantify.

I could spend \$10.00 to watch a 2 hour movie in a movie theater. my time just cost me \$5 per hour, or I could rent the movie on DVD for \$4, and do some work from home at \$30 per hour while I watch it and make a net gain of \$56. See what I did there? They’re using the same concept.

27. You know, I wanted to buy a jar of popcorn instead of the microwavable stuff when I went shopping yesterday but they only had one size of one brand (Orville Red.). I didn’t look like it was more popcorn than what was in the boxes and it cost more. Did I miss something?

28. robdew says:

This comparison does not take into account opportunity cost, or the efficiencies mass production vs. individual meals. When you make meals for the week and freeze them instead of buying stouffers, are you taking into account the cost to cool and refrigerate the food, (which is done at the store), the electricity, water and time necessary to clean up?

In addition, pre-packaged meals have a much longer freezer and shelf life than home-prepared meals.

29. maggie says:

OK, just in my defense, I am NOT an obsessive cleaner in the kitchen! Only with raw meat am I obsessive because I once read an article where a food scientist investigated a kitchen after the home cook had made fried chicken and cleaned up. Using some special substance (like that red dye children put on their teeth after brushing to show all the places they missed?) and found raw chicken germs all over! In any event, with premarinated, yes I would have to toss the packaging but the meat would go into the cooking pot ie I am not washing or cutting it or finding a bowl for it to soak in (or bag in my marinading technique) so there isn’t really raw chicken in the sink, cutting board etc.
Generally I do buy whole chickens for value, choice, taste, etc. But it takes more than one minute to do anything to it! And thanks for that great whole chicken recipe!

30. scottso says:

One other secret the supermarket doesn’t want you to know about the pre-marinated chicken — especially where the store will marinate your fresh meat for you — you are paying for added water! Part of the commercial marination process adds water to your meat, therefore making it cost even *more* per “real” pound of meat than the hypothetical \$6.68/lb noted above.