Monday, September 20, 2010

From Scratch- Always Worthwhile?

I'm a big "make-it-from-scratch"-er, and sometimes you wonder... is making things from scratch always worthwhile?
As always, the answer to this question is- it depends.

Depends on what?
What would make something be worthwhile? There are many factors at play in determining if making things from scratch is worthwhile.

Why does Penny the Penny Pincher make things from scratch?
  • It's usually cheaper.
  • It's healthier.
  • It's fun.
  • It's empowering to learn these skills.
  • You can make things to suit your tastes and needs.
  • It's often morally better.
I have a beautiful brocade duvet cover adorning my bed. I had wanted to buy a beautiful bed set because a beautiful bedroom was important to me, but buying one new was out of the picture financially. Instead, I went to the fabric store, picked out some beautiful maroon and gold brocade material, and sewed a terrific duvet cover that is used winter, summer, spring and fall and makes our sleep heavenly because it is so comfortable. To be honest, the fabric was not very cheap, but it still overall was less expensive than if I had bought a ready made set. With all that, I get a surge of satisfaction and proudness every time I see that blanket cover, knowing that I sewed it with my own two hands.

When From Scratch Doesn't Save Money
I've considered going to the fabric store to pick out some material with which to sew myself some clothes, but have realized that it would not afford me any savings.  I can buy ready made clothes from the thrift store at a fraction of the price of what the material would cost me, and that isn't taking into consideration my time and effort in sewing. Even if I wanted new, I could buy cheaper clothing at places like Walmart or the like.

I will be catering an event for a family member next week and was going to make everything from scratch to help save them money. 
Because of the insane heat a month ago, the prices of vegetables all over the region have risen dramatically. Where I would usually spend 10 cents a pound on vegetables like tomatoes and cucumbers on sale and 20 cents a pound regularly, now the prices are approximately a dollar per pound for those same veggies, no matter which store you shop at.
Making certain foods from scratch with those dollar a pound tomatoes would end up costing more than buying those foods ready made from a deli. Financially, right now, making things from scratch from fresh vegetables is not worth it for the cost benefits.

Non Money Benefits of Making From Scratch
But there still are other numerous benefits that you get when you make things from scratch that you don't need to write off the possibility of making things at home when the money savings aren't there.

In the aforementioned clothing example, making clothing from scratch usually ends up costing more than buying second hand or new cheap things. Sometimes, though, you can't find what you need second hand and you end up with a choice between making something from scratch or buying new clothing from a cheap store like Walmart.
Then you have to make the moral decision, whether it is worth it to pay less money and buy the cheap products, thereby helping finance unethical business practices like forced child labor in third world countries who work for nothing or next to nothing, which is the only way that these stores are able to afford to sell you the clothes for that cheap. You may decide that you don't care about the ethics and will go with what is cheaper, or you may make a stand and refuse to buy the cheaper, "made in China" products on moral grounds, and instead make your clothes from scratch, even if they come out more expensive.

On another note, I catered a party not long ago and made everything from scratch, including various candies. People asked me how much money exactly I saved by making those candies by hand, but quite frankly, I have no idea and don't even care. The biggest benefits for me in making those candies from scratch is knowing exactly what was in them and being able to verify that there were no crude oil by-products or known carcinogens in those sweets. (I ate a bought candy today and felt sick to my stomach after reading the ingredients and discovering that there was mineral oil listed in the ingredients! I don't want to be eating Vaseline!)

When making things from scratch, you're able to cater what you're making to the needs, whims, and desires of the people you're making it for. If the people for whom the food is intended have a peanut and soy allergy, you don't need to scan labels making sure that a food contains no traces of those harmful allergens because you're cooking the food in a peanut and soy free environment. If you happen to not like cumin, are sensitive to msg, or enjoy particularly spicy foods, from scratch cooking allows you to leave out the ingredients you chose to and add other ingredients to taste.

I, personally, have lots of fun making foods from scratch and futzing around in the kitchen. Every time I learn how to make another food from scratch, I feel so empowered that I feel like shouting "I'm a woman- hear me roar!" Making food from scratch, even if it had no other benefits, would be worth it for me because it is a relatively cheap form of entertainment on a 0 dollar entertainment budget.

So for me, almost always, making food from scratch is worth it.

When From Scratch Isn't Worth It
If you hate cooking, you don't need to go overboard making everything from scratch like I do. Even if making foods from scratch will save you money, if you're making yourself miserable in an attempt to save money, you've missed the point.

If you are too wiped out to make things from scratch, don't force yourself. Find a different way to save money that doesn't tire you out.

If spending the time making things from scratch will take away from the time you can make more money via working, making from scratch may not be worth it.

If you're not picky with tastes, don't care about health concerns or moral concerns, and/or the last few things apply to you, then go ahead, don't make things from scratch.

As for me, I'll take making things from scratch any day. Just please, can the vegetable prices be lowered already? I'm drowning here in these high prices here!

What about you? How do you feel about making things from scratch? What are the benefits for you in making things from scratch? When would making things from scratch not be worthwhile for you? Do you chose, usually, to make things from scratch?

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