Thursday, September 23, 2021

The Price of a Snack Cake

When I was kid, I used to take my lunch to school every day.  It was a rare and delightful treat when my mother would purchase snack cakes to go in our lunches.  My favorite was Little Debbie's Oatmeal Cream Pies.  

Most of the time, though, my lunches were a peanut butter sandwich on sliced white bread and a little baggie full of Chex Snack mix.  I know.  Super nutritious.  Don't judge.  I was a kid.

I don't eat Little Debbie's cakes anymore, because they are not gluten-free.  Being gluten-free means that we have a much smaller selection than other folks have.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, mind you.  It's made me a pretty good cook.  And, believe it or not, it's saved us money.

Deus Ex Machina takes his lunch to work every day.  I think I've probably mentioned it.  I usually pack his lunch with leftovers, and I usually make enough at dinner to have at least one lunch during the week.  If he purchased his lunch through the cafeteria at work, it would cost between $7 and $15/day.  So, just cooking extra and packing leftovers saves us $55 a week x 48 weeks (allowing for vacations and holidays) is $2640/year in savings. 

Some days, I really enjoy something a little sweet for after dinner, which is why I like making the cakes I mentioned in my last post.  Dessert AND preserving eggs??  Win/win!!

And because I have made so many cakes over the last few weeks, there has been enough for dessert, the freezer, and Deus Ex Machina's lunch.  In fact, the pieces in the freezer will probably end up in his lunch at some point.

After I published the post, I got to thinking about how much it was costing to make those cakes each week, and what the difference in cost would be if we purchased snack cakes for Deus Ex Machina to take to lunch instead of my homemade cake with store bought frosting.

Each cake is a 9'x11' sheet cake.  Our favorite flavors are applesauce spice cake and pumpkin spice cake.  I was using the applesauce I canned last year for the applesauce cake until I ran out of applesauce.  Unfortunately, I don't have a cost for the jars I canned, and so I can't make a cost comparison.

But I do have a cost for the pumpkin cake.

I use King Arthur measure for measure gluten-free flour.  I get a 3 lb bag from for $7.99.  Each cake uses 2 cups of flour.  I can make 5 cakes with a 3 lb bag of flour.

I use Florida Crystals raw sugar.  I get a 3 lb container from for $5.39.  Each cake uses 2 cups of sugar (although I do cut it a little, because 2 cups is a lot of sugar and makes it just a little too sweet).  I can make 5+ cakes with a 3 lb container of sugar.

Each cake uses a 15 oz can of pumpkin.  I can get a can of pumpkin at the local grocery store for about $2.  

The cake also uses eggs and a bunch of spices.  I can add raisins and nuts, if I choose. 

Each cake also uses baking powder.  An 8 ounce container is $1.29.  I use 1 1/2 tsp of baking powder per can, which works out to about 32 cakes.

The flour, sugar, pumpkin, and baking powder bring the cost of the cake to about $2.70.  If I assume the cost of the eggs and spices is around $0.30, and round up, the whole cake costs me $3.

I don't make a very good frosting.  It's a skill I'm still learning, but I can get a can of pre-made frosting for $1.99 at the little Mom&Pop grocery 2 miles from my house.  I can frost two cakes with one can.

Which brings the cost of my cake to $3.99.

The cakes I make are 9'x11' sheet cakes, which I cut into 15 pieces.  The cost per piece is $0.26. 

So, I was curious, and I looked on to see if they carried Little Debbie's Oatmeal Cream Pies.  They do, in bulk.  The have a box of 24 snack cakes for $8.89.  Each of those cakes is 2.6 ounces.  The cost per cake is $0.37.

My pieces of cake weigh in at a hefty 4 oz each.  

So, my cake is $0.09 cheaper and 1.4 ounces bigger than the Little Debbie's Cakes.  

And with fewer preservatives, maybe a little healthier ... ?

If Deus Ex Machina took a snack cake to lunch every day, the cost would be $88.80 per year - just for a 2.6 ounce plastic wrapped cake.  

Making my own cake, which I send with him for lunch saves $24 per year.  

I mean, $24 doesn't sound like much, for sure, but when we figure that the cost of his lunch is free, because it's worked into the price of yesterday's dinner, saving an additional $0.09 per day for his dessert is pretty good.


  1. Yes I made his best! And not full of all those nasty preservatives

    1. An additional bonus to homemade versus store bought - better, fresher, and more wholesome ingredients!

  2. Isn't it interesting how $24 doesn't seem like much to so many people, but if we broke it down into what it would pay for, it's enlightening? I used to think I wasn't saving us "much" - then started thinking in terms of diesel for my truck. How many gallons of fuel would $24 buy me? Or if I think in terms of the big bottles of vitamins we buy, normally $9-10 - two bottles and maybe change left over. Maybe a pair of SmartWools? ;)

    1. That $24 I saved on cake for Deus Ex Machina's lunch will fill up my gas tank, which works out to about 350 to 400 miles of driving that I can do, because I bake cake instead of buying it.

  3. $24 here and $24 there adds up over the course of the year. I know I'm preaching to the choir, and I know you've said it before, but it's really the regular small choices that add up to a more financially sustainable lifestyle, not to mention homemade foods can be made with love <3

    1. And all that love makes it taste better ... or so Deus Ex Machina tells me :).