SALT LAKE CITY – With a wild bunch of kids in the kitchen, one of those instant fajita kits with all the fixings, ready to serve in 10 minutes, looks really, really appealing. But have you ever done the math on how much more you pay for that convenience?
The KSL Investigators tallied it up during Taco Tuesday at Casa de Gephardt.
On the menu: fajitas, veggies, watermelon and Gatorade.
In addition to the pre-packaged kit, we cut up our own ingredients to make beef fajitas, weighing both the raw and already-prepped options from the same store to price compare.
First up: the produce.
A whole, 12-pound watermelon cost us $7.15. Compare that to a $10.73 package of pre-sliced melon from the same store's produce department.
The sliced watermelon turned out to be one-and-a-half times greater in price, yet only one-fifth the amount of melon.
Six ounces of pre-diced onion ran $2.99, more than eight times what a whole onion weighing the same amount cost: $0.37.
To be fair, convenience doesn't always mean having to pay more moolah. For instance, an eight-ounce block of cheddar ($3.49) wound up being $0.30 cheaper than its already shredded eight-ounce counterpart from the same manufacturer.
But most times, convenience does cost more.
We bought all the raw ingredients to match a $24 vegetable tray. By slicing our own veggies, we chopped the cost down by more than half, to $11.49.
In fact, by skipping convenience, we sliced off $25 from our entire meal's cost. The already-prepared options totaled $48.68, compared to $23.67 for the foods we prepped ourselves.
Time vs. money
That's a good chunk of dollars and cents, but is trading time to save money always the right trade-off?
"It's going to be a person-by-person decision," said Eric VanEpps, an assistant professor at the University of Utah's David Eccles School of Business, who teaches behavioral economics.
Paying more for convenience to save time is not necessarily a bad thing, he told us.
"We shouldn't treat time as though it doesn't have any value at all," VanEpps said. "We should pay attention to the opportunity cost of our time."
Whether we buy pre-sliced veggies to shave time off meal prep, or swing by a coffee shop rather than brew our own coffee, or drive miles out of our way to find gas that's under four bucks a gallon – these are all situations we decide what works best for us.
"Consumers might well think of, 'This is the money I'm willing to spend on food and I'm not willing to spend $1 more,' or, 'This is the time that I'm willing to spend on food and not a minute more,'" explained VanEpps. "And that might really influence how they actually are spending their time and money in a way that seems irrational when we take a 30,000-foot view but make sense in the moment. You're saying, 'Well, this is all the time I have today to be able to spend on preparing dinner and so I just have to make the tradeoffs that come along with that.'"
While paying less isn't always best, if you are going to pay for the cost of convenience, doing the math can help you make sure it is worth the time and effort you are saving.
VanEpps said convenience costs are not always transparent. But the more we understand what we really pay, the better choices we can make about how we spend our time and money.