Saving Pennies or Dollars? Grinding Your Own Flour

saving pennies or dollarsSaving Pennies or Dollars is a new semi-regular series on The Simple Dollar, inspired by a great discussion on The Simple Dollar’s Facebook page concerning frugal tactics that might not really save that much money. I’m going to take some of the scenarios described by the readers there and try to break down the numbers to see if the savings is really worth the time invested.

Gretchen writes in: I have a grain grinder and I make my own whole wheat bread using freshly ground grains. The taste is so good but how does grinding grains compare to just buying whole wheat flour? Although I don’t think I could go back to store bought flour because the taste is so much better.

Honestly, this is something I’ve been thinking about doing. I would love to make bread using freshly ground grains in exactly the method you described, mixing grains the way I would like them. I’ve never really thought about it from a money-saving perspective, though, so I guess it’s time to run the numbers on that.

I can get a sack of whole wheat flour weighing five pounds for $1.50 to $3, depending on what I get. The brand I’m most happy with is King Arthur, which comes in at around $3 a bag, while the generic is at about $1.50 a bag. We’ll use the King Arthur kind for comparison’s sake here, because the purpose of doing this is to have higher quality flour.

A five pound bag of flour has about twenty cups of flour in it. My homemade bread recipe uses a little over three cups of flour, so I’d get enough flour for about six loaves of bread out of one bag. That gives me a cost-per-loaf for just the flour of $0.50.

A home grain grinder can cost around $20. It’s extremely similar to a home coffee grinder, actually, in that it takes larger grains and grinds them into a fine powder. Both devices even look fairly similar.

Now, let’s look at an example of wheat. You can get whole wheat berries dried for approximately $1.10 per pound. This was the best price I could find by asking around and searching websites – it was suggested by a person at a local food co-op.

In this case, to get five pounds of flour, you’d need five pounds of wheat berries, costing $5.50. You’d also need to pro-rate in a bit of the cost of the grinder (say, $0.05 if you use it a lot) and the energy cost (say, $0.02). This gives you a cost per loaf of about $0.93 for flour you grind yourself.

So, clearly, buying flour at the store is less expensive than grinding it yourself, at least in the quantities that you’d be able to do it at home. The large flour manufacturers work on an enormous scale and thus are able to buy the wheat at a much lower price than we’d be able to.

This isn’t to say that you won’t have access to less expensive grains. I can easily get access to dry corn for an extremely low price. I have farmer friends who would sell me a bushel of corn kernels for $7 or $8 – that’s 56 pounds of corn. If I’m interested in making corn meal at home, this would be an incredibly inexpensive way of doing it. If I had access directly to a wheat farmer, I could probably make a similar deal. (For some reason, I’m tempted to make homemade corn bread now.)

In other words, you probably can make flour at home cheaper than you can buy in the store if you have direct access to wholesale grain prices. The problem is that most of us don’t have this kind of access.

Regardless of the price, if you’re the type of person who deeply enjoys making things from scratch, this isn’t a terribly uneconomical thing to do. If you have the right sources, it can even be the less expensive option.

Either way, it’s inexpensive enough that I’m tempted to get a grain grinder and try to make a truly from-scratch loaf of bread.