Convenience vs. Reality vs. the Wallet

by Steven Burns


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A couple months ago, my coworker and I were running late for a meeting in another city. We knew lunch was going to be fast food because of this. Pulling into the parking lot, my partner said, "Use the drive through, as it's quicker."

There was a car waiting to pull up to the ordering board and there was a line of vehicles around the corner to the pick-up window. We made a small wager and went inside to pick up our order. When we left, the car we would have pulled in behind had moved two spots forward. I won the bet and he paid for lunch.

My coworker was under the false impression a drive through allowed you to get your food quicker. It means no such thing. It only means you don't have to get out of your vehicle.

Doing a little research, I found the drive through takes roughly five minutes per customer. It didn't matter if it was a fast food restaurant, coffee shop, or bank.

Vehicles burn between one and four gallons per hour, depending on the number of cylinders the engine has and if it's a hybrid. Depending on your vehicle type, how long you wait, and if you keep your engine running, it can add up quickly. With today's gas prices, it doesn't take long to add another dollar or more.

Then I tried thinking of a place that sold items that made our lives more convenient. The grocery store? I found all kinds of things but will only compare a couple items. The prices are for where I live.

The first item is a 12-ounce package of salad mix, containing a mixture of iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, carrots, and radishes with no dressing. A one-pound bag of baby carrots costs $2.29/pound. There are about one hundred carrots in the bag, and in the mix, they shredded about three for a cost of about $.07. Radishes cost $.79 for ten and they used about two in the mix for a cost of about $.16. Romaine lettuce costs $1.29/pound or $.08/ounce. I'm estimating that they used six ounces for a cost of $.48. Iceberg lettuce costs $.99 for a 2 pound head or about $.02/ounce. Using another six ounces to fill out the bag costs an additional $.15. Add it all together and it would cost you, if you made it yourself, $.86. The pre-made bag costs $3.49, a savings of $2.63/bag.

Several aisles later, I found pudding snacks: four cups for 14 ounces. A box of pudding mix that makes 16 ounces costs $1.05 or $.92 for 14 ounces. A gallon of milk costs $3.75 or $.41 for 14 ounces. The tricky part is having something to put it in to take to work. Plastic containers cost $3.99 for six. There isn't any way the convenience price can be beat if these containers are only used once. I have a set that I've used for over a year. We'll make the assumption they are replaced yearly so the price is $.05 for four cups. The total cost is $1.38 versus $2.09 for the convenience, a savings of $.71.

In the cooler section were gelatin snacks: six cups for 19.5 ounces. Going through the math again, a box of gelatin that makes 32 ounces costs $1.75 or $1.07 for 19.5 ounces. We'll use the same assumption for containers as we did in the previous example: $.08 for six cups. To make it costs $1.15 against $3.49 charged by the store, a savings of $2.34.

There will be no argument from me that there is an energy cost to cool the pudding or gelatin, but it isn't that much. The argument comes when your personal time is put into the equation. My favorite is when a person says, "My time is worth…" and they mention some large monetary amount. Get real. None of these items take more than five minutes to make.

I found a lot of items that were pre-made for our convenience. Very few were cheaper than if you made it yourself. Not to mention that you are putting what you want into your meal and making it as healthy as you want.

So, the next time you think about using the drive through or picking up that pre-made item, consider if it's worth the extra cost for the convenience. I hope you start making things yourself after reading this and don't even get me started on fruit cup prices.

Take the Next Step:

  • The next time you think of using the drive through or picking up some convenience food, consider if it's worth the extra cost.
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