Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Why I Bought a Grain Grinder- Does it Save Money?

My family is gluten free and has been, pretty much, for the past year and a half. Gluten free in general isn't so expensive per se, after all, how much cheaper is wheat (and the rest of the glutinous grains) than other grains?
The most staggering price differences between gluten free and regular cooking is that of prepared/processed foods- locally a loaf of wheat bread costs 1 dollar, and gluten free bread costs 7- followed by the crazy difference in price between gluten free flour and wheat flour. 
Locally, white flour costs 45 cents a pound, but gluten free flours cost anywhere between $1.70 and $2.25 per pound- a difference of $1.25-$1.80 per pound! Seriously crazy.
Now rice, on the other hand, I can get for 45 cents a pound or less and millet for 79 cents a pound. Why exactly do gluten free flours cost so much more than regular wheat flour, when those grains aren't so expensive?

Supply and demand. The less of a demand there is for something, the more it becomes a "specialty item", which get sold at a much higher price. And what the market will bear. Because there is less demand for it, there are fewer companies producing it, which makes there be less competition, and everyone knows that competition is what brings down prices.

There is, however, more demand for gluten free grains than there is for gluten free flours, which is why the cheapest way to live gluten free is to just avoid using gluten free flour. While it is a nice idea and cheaper to just avoid things needing flour, and just use grains instead, life gets awfully boring just having rice and potatoes and rice and potatoes and rice and potatoes, with no noodle type thing, no pizza type thing, no bread type thing, no pie type thing, no cookies, no cakes, etc... And you can bet that if you have kids, they won't be content without those things either. 
So, the question is- do you buy those things ready made gluten free, do you buy gluten free flour with which to make them, or do you make your own?

You can make your own gluten free flours with a coffee grinder, as I've explained in this post, but I'll be honest, it's annoying enough that I don't bother to do so most of the time. And it doesn't work for making bean flours, like chickpea flour. And coffee grinders overheat quickly, so you can only do a little bit at a time, taking breaks in between, so that it doesn't overheat and kill the motor. Of course, I found the straining and regrinding to be frustrating and annoying.
In short, I was spending a lot on gluten free flour. 
And I didn't want to be.

I decided to buy the Blendtec Kitchen Mill Grain Grinder because of all the industrial grade (meaning powerful enough to not overheat, and actually does a good job grinding grain), it was the cheapest, and had terrific reviews.
I had read about the BlendTec grain grinder on a few different blogs, and everyone who's used it has only had good things to say about it.

It also helped that it was being sold by Amazon.com, which meant that I could use my free Amazon.com gift cards which I earned free from Swagbucks, to pay for part of the cost of the grinder.
It also helps that the Blendtec Kitchen Mill is light and compact- because I don't live in the US and didn't want to have to pay for shipping overseas if I could help it, I wanted to get something light and small enough that a friend of mine coming to visit from the US would be able to bring it with her. I also want to be able to store it easily in our small apartment. At 6 pounds and being able to fold up small, this grain mill meets those criteria.

So, how much was this grain grinder, you ask?

179 dollars.

Whoa. Hold it right there, I know you're saying. That's EXPENSIVE!

Yea, it is, but so is keeping on buying gluten free flours, honestly.

Lets do some math over here.

Assuming I would be paying 179 dollars out of pocket for this grinder, and assuming the difference in price between gluten free flour and gluten free grains is $1.80, after 100 pounds of flour, the grinder would have paid for itself already, and anything after that is savings.

But, I had no plans on paying 179 dollars for my grinder.
I used my Swagbucks Amazon.com gift cards to pay 100 dollars of those 179, leaving me with only 79 dollars out of pocket for this grinder, which would pay for itself after only 43 pounds.

And I know 43 (and 100) pounds of flour sounds like a lot, but when you're making everything from scratch, it isn't so much anymore. You can go through 5-10 in a week or less.

So I decided to order the grinder.

Imagine my chagrin of finally having my grain grinder arrive, and discovering that because of the difference in electrical currents between the US and here, I needed a transformer to run it. And the transformer I had didn't supply enough electricity to run it.
I went to the hardware store sure that I could get the transformer I needed easily and cheaply, and discovered instead that most stores didn't carry transformers for 1000 Watts. And the one that was willing to order one for me quoted me a price of around 300 dollars! That's twice the price of the grinder! Three times what I paid for it!

I seriously was ready to write off my grain grinder as a lost cause. Because paying 300 dollars for the transformer was ridiculous. It would make it only pay off to have bought it after 210 pounds. And laying out 300 dollars at once!

I asked around and discovered that there was a local guy who had a transformer "factory", where he made high quality transformers for much cheaper than the quoted price.

It cost me 135 dollars for this transformer. Still a lot, but now my grain grinder works, and won't just be sitting there unusable.
135 dollars is still a large financial blow, especially since it wasn't something I was expecting, but its much better than 300 dollars on that other transformer.

So now my total outlay for my grain grinder was 214, and it'll pay itself off after 118 pounds. Not terrific, but much better than 210...

To help make this more worthwhile, I decided that I'll sell gluten free flours, like gluten free rice flour, brown rice flour, glutenous rice flour, millet flour, chickpea flour, garfava flour, and buckwheat flour, as well as my all purpose gluten free flour mix. Most of those aren't even regularly sold here...

So- getting a grain grinder- is it worth it?
Well, lets rephrase that. If I knew now how much my whole expenditure on this equipment would be, would I do it again?
I don't know. I really don't.
If I lived in the US, there would be no doubt in my mind that it would be worthwhile. But once I factor in the cost of the transformer needed here, I simply don't know.

What do I recommend to people who want their own grain grinder to save money?
Buy one second hand if you can. But if you need it for gluten free flour, make sure that it was never used for gluten before, as you can't clean out the inside of this machinery properly enough to eliminate contamination.
Buy one with Amazon.com giftcards that you earn from Swagbucks.
If you live abroad and need a transformer, first see if you can find one being sold second hand- and make sure its for enough volts for your machine!

Then, once you have your prices, figure out how much your total expenditure would be for this.
Then, figure out how much you'd save per pound of flour by subtracting the price of store bought gluten free flour by the price of the gluten free grain. Take into consideration if you'd be able to buy grains in bulk, and how much they'd be then, and if you'd be able to buy the flours in bulk and how much it would be then.
To figure out how many pounds of flour it would take for this to pay for itself, divide the total expenditure by the savings per pound...
Then decide if you think its worth it.

Do you have a grain grinder? Have you ever considered getting one? What do you know about the BlendTec Kitchen Mill? 
Has there ever been a time that you bought something to save money, and midway through realized that the savings wouldn't be exactly as you thought they'd be? Did you then spend the rest of the money so you'd at least have the item, or did you leave it as is and write it off as a lost cause?

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