Sunday, October 16, 2011

Cost Per Serving or Cost Per Meal... Or Not.

One of the things often found on the typical frugal blog that contain recipes is something that either tells you the total cost per serving or total cost per meal.
My blog never lists that. For various reasons. Number one because prices vary all over the world, and even within the same city and state, and sales make it even more erratic. But even more than that, its not just that I don't post the total cost per serving or per meal, its that I never calculate it. Ever. (I think.) I think doing such a thing is both silly and counterproductive.

Why is that?

Some people like to calculate the cost per serving or per meal because it makes them feel good about what they're cooking, because they know that it "only cost them x per serving". They'll only try out recipes that come out under a certain amount per serving, and feel satisfied that they're doing their part.

Why don't I?
Well, I like to eat well. I'm also not afraid of exploring new foods and tastes. And I stick to a tight budget and have yummy foods at the same time. I also don't see the point in wasting time and effort on things I find unnecessary. On top of all that, I think its important to not do things that would encourage food "issues".

What do I mean by that?

The main reason I don't figure out cost per serving is because it goes against how I run my life and my pocketbook, not to mention being too much work and not providing any benefit for me.

I believe in having nice foods, and I believe in also being frugal. The way I do that is by setting myself a grocery budget each month and sticking to it, and trying to come out under the budget. Sometimes I make dirt cheap foods using only the cheapest ingredients, meals that cost me pennies per serving (if even), and sometimes I make foods that contain ingredients that may not necessarily be so cheap. By making very frugal meals most days, on other days I can afford to "splurge" and make more expensive meals and still stick to our tight budget.
If I'd figure out cost per serving for those meals, there's a chance I'd feel bad about spending that much money on the food, and would limit the frequency of or cut out those meals entirely. That's a bad idea, because it is precisely because of these "little luxuries" that I am able to handle living the type of lifestyle that I do. Deprivation causes people to go on spending binges or just resent their lot in life. By spending small amounts of money here and there on nice things, I'm able to really enjoy my life even with its seeming "austerity".

Additionally, because of not wanting to feel deprived, if I figured out how much each meal or more specifically, how much each serving cost me to make, I'd feel uncomfortable about eating my fill, and feel like I'm "wasting money" by eating food till satiation, and would probably end up depriving myself of food that I should be eating. I think that this knowledge of "Oh my gosh! Each time I fill up my plate it costs me 2 dollars!" can very easily lead to guilty feelings regarding food, and could possibly lead to someone developing eating disorders (in my thoroughly uneducated opinion), or at least having a generally unhealthy attitude regarding food and eating.

In another vein, if someone was just calculating cost per meal, they may decide that as long as the meal costs less than x, its totally fine, and might even try to make the meal just a penny below that magical number, so long as it is "officially cheap enough". If you don't calculate cost per meal or per serving, but are still frugal oriented, you are likely to explore cheaper food preparation methods than you would if you were just trying "to make the meals cheaper than x". Sort of because by trying to make all meals cost less than x, you've set yourself a finite goal and once you've achieved it, you see no point in making a further effort to be more frugal, but without those spcific numbers, with a non finite goal, and just the goal to make foods as frugally as possible, you're likely to be more willing to explore new ways of saving money in the kitchen.

But honestly, the biggest reason I don't try to figure out the cost of a serving or of a meal is because its generally highly inconvenient, and pointless. I highly doubt it would save me any more money to know exactly how much tonight's supper of brown rice, lentils, roasted eggplant and zucchini cost me. I bought what was cheap and stuck to my budget, and therefore, calculating cost per meal or per serving seems just like a big waste of time.
The time spent weighing, measuring, and calculating cost of individual ingredients, especially with things like condiments (all the more so if you make those at home) and spices... all for nothing... could be spent instead doing other activities that actually save money instead of just making you feel like you're doing something valuable that doesn't actually make a difference.
Additionally, how exactly do you figure out the size of a serving to be able to calculate the cost per serving? My husband, children, and I each eat different amounts at a time; who's serving size is the "official size" with which to calculate cost per serving?
And when you buy a whole chicken, and use the meat for one dish and the bones for making broth, how exactly do you calculate how much the bones cost per pound vs how much the meat cost per pound? If you use your spoiled milk in a recipe, do you calculate how much the milk cost when fresh, or do you consider the cost to be zero, because if you hadn't used that milk it would end up in the trash? If I make coconut milk and coconut flour from the same dried coconut, what percentage of the cost of dried coconut is the cost of your coconut milk, and what percentage is the cost of the coconut flour?
If you salvage foods that otherwise wouldn't be eaten, or if you use foods in a creative way, how exactly do you figure out the cost of the item? Especially if you live an extremely frugal lifestyle, and cook in creative frugal ways, figuring out the cost of a meal is a complication that can easily be avoided.

I don't believe in figuring out cost per serving or per meal. I find it totally pointless, a waste of time, and even somewhat problematic.
That's why you'll never see me list the cost per serving for a dish. I see no reason to.

How do you feel about calculating cost per serving or per meal? Do you do it? Why or why not? Do you agree with the points I made?
If you do calculate cost per meal or per serving, how do you calculate the cost of a bone broth? How would you calculate with spoiled milk or homemade coconut milk, etc? How do you figure out the size of your servings? And how much time do you think you actually spend on calculating costs of the meal?
Do you feel that knowing exactly how much your meals cost is beneficial and helps you save money? If so, why?

Linking up to Frugal Friday, Food on Friday

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you! As long as I stick to my budget then I don't need the details of a specific meal. Oh, every now and then one of my sons will ask me, "How much would this meal cost at a restaurant?" and I will do some quick math in my head to get an approximate number. But he only asks that if he thinks the meal is really great *and* if it is something that we could get in a restaurant. Last week he asked about the cinnamon rolls I made, so I did the math and blogged about it. He's just becoming really aware of how much things cost :) Also, I figured out the cost of smoothies because DH didn't want to give them up and I needed to know how to set my budget (after not following one for awhile), and I figured out how much a loaf of bread costs to make but that is because I want to get it lower without compromising taste or nutrition (I'm going to try your jaggery syrup instead of honey). But day in day out, it can't possibly matter as long as I am under budget overall.


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