These are some interesting times. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and shelter-in-place orders, I’ve been home for two months now. Which has left me with more free time than I’ve had since before I went to college.
One thing I’ve just never had the time for is learning how to make my own bread. Specifically, how to make my own sourdough bread. Because there is seriously nothing better in this world than freshly baked California sourdough bread.
It just so happens, I now have an abundance of time. Additionally, there is a widespread shortage of yeast since apparently everyone else has a similar baking bee up their bonnets.
The time has never been better to dive into the art of sourdough bread making.
My first step was to research how to create a sourdough starter. I had some nice organic spelt flour on hand so I excitedly googled “How to make a sourdough starter with spelt flour”.
One week later, my entire bag of spelt flour had gone to feeding the sourdough starter beast. Sadly, all I had to show for the greedy monster was a gooey, stinky blob of…… something. Yes, I’d managed to propagate some kind of yeast and bacteria, unfortunately, whatever I had was definitely NOT the good kind.
So I searched for a more reliable sourdough starter source, then braved the grocery store for whole grain and bread flour.
But of course, everyone else has the same idea. There is no flour to be found.
Three stores later and I finally found the last 5 remaining pounds of bulk whole wheat flour and one 5lb bag of all-purpose flour. At check out I wondered why my grocery tab was so much higher than I expected.
Well, flour is in demand. Everyone else is home making bread. Therefore, flour is expensive!
What with all the discarding I was doing building up my starter, and sad, ugly flat loaves I was creating, I got to wondering whether I was saving money or busting my budget with my newfound hobby.
So ran the numbers to see just how expensive it is to maintain a healthy sourdough starter and to make homemade sourdough loaves.
So without further ado, let’s dive into the question of whether it’s actually cheaper to make your own bread at home. In this post I’ll review the numbers, both with pandemic inflation, and without.
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Price breakdown for homemade sourdough bread
When I got started, I had no idea that I’d have to be feeding my sourdough starter (which I now affectionately call Dudley, greedy spoiled child that it is) twice a day, with seemingly massive quantities of flour.
Here’s a run down of the costs, based on current flour prices:
Current cost of flour:
- Unbleached organic multipurpose flour (since I can’t find bread flour): $6.59 for 5 pounds
- Whole wheat flour: $1.79 per pound
- Dark rye flour: $3.35 for 24 oz
All my recipes are weighed out, so I converted prices to cents/oz.
- Multipurpose flour: 8.24 cents per oz
- Whole wheat flour: 11.19 cents per oz
- Rye flour: 13.96 cents per oz
My starter, Dudley, needs to be fed twice a day to stay happy and healthy. Here’s my recipe to re-feed it:
Sourdough Starter Maintenance Recipe – To be done twice a day
- 140g (4.94 oz) multipurpose flour
- 60g (2.12 oz) whole wheat flour
- 200g water, which I’m not counting in the cost
Using the price of each flour per oz, the overall daily cost of keeping my starter alive:
Sourdough starter daily maintenance = $0.64
Weekly maintenance = $4.51
Now, what does it cost to make an entire loaf? As I was reviewing my grocery receipt after I got home and realized that my bag of flour was $9 (!!!!), I was worried that it would be more than just buying from my local bakery. Here’s the recipe I use, which make two loaves:
Basic Wholegrain Sourdough Bread Recipe
- 785g (27.69oz) multipurpose flour
- 147g (5.19oz) whole wheat flour
- 49g (1.73oz) rye flour
So far, I’ve made 3 attempts at baking bread with my new starter. The first and third time worked perfectly. The second attempt was just that, an attempt. It was a disaster! Luckily, it still tasted good.
Using the price of each flour per oz, the cost of homemade sourdough bread is:
Total cost per loaf = $1.55
Even though flour is sky high right now, and it seems like I’m using a full 5 pound bag for every loaf I bake, the actual cost is only $7.61 for 2 loaves of bread and starter upkeep. Compared to the two $8 loaves of artisan bread I was buying from my local bakery, it really is cheaper to make it myself. Even with inflated flour prices.
Total weekly cost to make my own bread: $7.61
Potential savings by making your own bread at home
The total weekly cost of making my own sourdough bread, using only my own starter rather than yeast, is $7.61. This includes making 2 loaves of bread, and various other baking projects using the leftover starter.
Note: So long as I’m making bread a few days a week, I re-feed my sourdough starter twice a day. But the discard doesn’t have to be thrown away. I typically make crackers out of my leftover starter since it’s easy, uses very little additional ingredients, and now I don’t have to buy crackers, chips or other snack type foods. I use a little butter and whatever fresh herbs I have on hand to keep costs minimal.
I haven’t factored this in but baking with your sourdough starter discard will further increase your overall savings.
The current total cost to me is $1.55 for each loaf, with maintenance costs of $4.51 for my starter. If I only wanted to bake once a week, I could keep my starter in the refrigerator and only feed it for two days, rather than throughout the whole week. This would lower my maintenance cost down to just $1.28 a week.
Total cost to bake my own bread: $2.19 per loaf
How much was I regularly spending for bread of the same quality? My local bakery has multigrain sourdough bread for $8/loaf.
Total weekly savings: $11.62
Total annual savings: $604.24
I love that I found a way to continue enjoying really high quality bread, without the high price tag that went with the splurge.
Before I discovered artisan bread, and the fact that it was worth every penny, I was buying my bread at the grocery store for an average cost of around $4/loaf. Which is more along the lines of the average cost of buying bread. In fact, by shopping sales or other brands, it’s usually even cheaper.
If bread is $4/loaf:
- Total weekly savings: $23.24
- Total monthly savings: $100.71
- Total annual savings: $1,208.48
Which is nothing to sneeze at.
If I were to invest this over the course of the next 5 years, how much would I have?
Total savings after 5 years = $7,600
(Assuming an inflation rate of 2.5% and 7% annual rate of return)
Total savings after 10 years = $19,400
Which just goes to show that a little savings can go a long way when invested over time.
Is homemade bread cheaper?
Consistently baking your own bread at home is not just frugal, it’s a time consuming labor of love. It’s not for everyone.
Thankfully, I’ve been able to use my extra time at home to learn the process, which has taken hours out of my days. There is some frustration, disappointment, joy, weight gain, and a whole lot of extra dish washing. As I get the hang of it, I’m getting quicker, which means it eventually won’t be such a time consuming chore.
But wait, there’s more……
While you can successfully make homemade bread for much less than the price of buying it at the store, it will likely require some upfront investment. The more bread I make, the more I wish I had better tools of the trade. And this adds to the initial cost. So long as you keep it up, you’ll still end up ahead.
And really, is there anything better than a kitchen smelling of fresh baked bread?
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