Weighing the High Cost of Convenience in 2023

by Joel Fink

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We are all busy and looking for shortcuts, but how much is that convenience costing us? We compare prices and weigh the cost of convenience.

It’s nice to just toss that detergent pod into the washing machine. It’s much easier than using the cup to measure out the liquid detergent. But you might want to ask yourself, “How much am I paying for that convenience?”

Let’s take a closer look.

Here are some recent prices from Publix (May 2023), a grocery chain out of Florida. (Note: Of course, prices change, but this will give you a sample of the pricing relationship between products).

The Cost of Convenience in the Laundry Room

A bottle of Tide® Ultra Oxi liquid laundry detergent, 146 fl. oz., at Publix costs $22.99 and washes 94 loads. That equates to 24.4 cents per load. A package of Tide® Pods laundry detergent, 42 count, at Publix costs $15.99 and washes 42 loads. That equates to 38.0 cents per load.

In this case, the cost per load for the pods is about 55% more than the cost of the liquid detergent per load!

What if you pay for the convenience of having these products delivered by a service such as Instacart rather than driving to the store and doing your own grocery shopping? You’ll pay an extra $1.70 for those Tide Pods or an extra $2.50 for the liquid — and that’s on top of the delivery charge.

The cost of convenience doesn’t just impact laundry.

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The Cost of Coffee Convenience

A package of Dunkin’ Roast & Ground coffee, 20 oz., for your drip coffee maker costs $17.99 at Publix. If you follow the package directions, you’ll get about 26 servings from that bag of coffee and pay about 69.1 cents per serving. You’ll pay $29.99 at Publix for 32 K-Cup pods of that same Dunkin’ coffee, which comes to 93.7 cents per pod. You’ll pay about a third more per serving buying pods rather than a bag of grounds.

Having these items delivered by Instacart means paying an extra $1.90 for the bag of grounds and $3.30 for the K-Cup pods.

Granted, most people don’t make one cup of coffee in a drip coffee maker. However, if you are going to drink a couple of cups or are making coffee for more than one person, the cost per cup for the drip coffee is much cheaper.

The Cost of Convenience in the Kitchen

Probably the most familiar “convenience choice” that people face is food.

Diana Sagers from Utah State University Extension has written an article on the topic of convenience regarding food preparation.

In her article, she shows the relative cost per serving of several common dinner entrees (e.g., tuna noodle casserole, lasagna, chili macaroni helper, fried chicken, tacos, etc.) between scratch and various other convenience options. As you might expect, the scratch options usually come out cheaper per serving (and are often more nutritious).

Of course, there is a trade off in the time and effort that it takes to prepare a meal from scratch versus grabbing a heat and serve alternative or driving through the local fast food restaurant. You can also lose some of the cost advantage of scratch if you end up throwing out food because it didn’t get eaten quickly enough. (See 5 Ways to Reduce Food Waste by 20%.)

Also, be careful of those “already prepared meals” that you find in your grocery store.

Consumer Reports did a study of the healthiness and cost of convenient “ready to eat” meals.

They found:

  • Freshly prepared items don’t always mean fresh ingredients.
  • They often contain a lot of salt.
  • Grocery stores are not required to provide nutritional information for these products.
  • The portions offered can be larger than what is healthy for you.
  • The cost can be high, often twice as high, as homemade.

Granted, people today live busy lives. They work long hours, tend to child care and household chores, and keep up with family commitments. Time-saving conveniences often seem more like necessities than conveniences. However, the cost can be high.

Your budget can benefit if you take steps to reduce a few of the more expensive conveniences.

  • Include your child, or partner, in meal preparation to turn cooking time into quality time.
  • Put portions of that lasagna into small containers after dinner to encourage leftovers to go into school or work lunches tomorrow.
  • Buy one, reasonably priced, ready to eat item like a rotisserie chicken. Prepare the side items yourself and use the chicken for more than one meal.
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Sometimes, quick and convenient solutions are worth it. Just be sure to do the math once in a while. Make sure that you aren’t paying too high of a cost for that convenience.

Reviewed May 2023

About the Author

Joel Fink is a retired CPA and financial services executive living in Dallas, Texas.

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