Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Bean Counter

We live on one paltry income here at Krazo Acres so I try very hard to stretch every dollar and pinch pennies when I can.  Like any other frugally minded grocery shopper, I check the sale ads and try very hard to only buy and stock up on items that are on sale.  As our garden does not put out as much as I'd like her to (the stubborn prude), there are still many canned goods that I purchase for our pantry.

One of those canned items includes tuna. We don't eat that much tuna, but for some reason I seem to stock up on it when it's on sale. The last time I paid 79 cents for a 5 oz. can (remember when they were SIX ounces???? Buggers!) and I purchased about a dozen or so.  Just a few days ago I decided that supper would be tuna fish sandwiches and a side of broccoli raisin bacon oh-my-gawd-is-it-delicious salad.

When I was making the tuna salad, I realized that two cans of tuna wasn't going to be enough for supper and for Paul's lunch the next day. So after opening the third can of tuna, I drained it as normal and then weighed the actual tuna. Two and three-quarter ounces of tuna. For 79 cents. That's $4.60 a pound for sub-par-fish-in-a-can! And that price was a store brand on sale!

I also buy various beans (kidney, pinto, black, northern) in cans.  Yes, I know it's cheaper to buy them dry in bulk, and we do have plenty of dried beans in the pantry, but I was convinced that the convenience was worth it.  But really, was it that much cheaper and how did I actually know it was worth it if I never really figured out the cost difference?  So I did another food-cost experiment.
Left: Dried beans, soaked & cooked.  Right: 15 oz. can of beans.
I opened a can of great northern beans, drained the liquid and weighed the beans.  A fifteen ounce can (weren't they SIXTEEN ounces before??? Buggers!) yielded 9 1/4 ounces of actual beans.  Cost per can was 59 cents (again, store brand on sale).  So that comes out to $1.02 per pound.

In order to be able to compare "beans to beans" I had to do some creative figuring.  I couldn't really compare 9 1/4 ounces of dry beans to the same amount of canned beans as there are actually fewer beans in the can because they have already absorbed water from the soaking/cooking/canning process.

So I did what any other insane person would do.  I soaked and cooked my dry beans, measured out 9 1/4 ounces (just like the store bought cans) and then counted every bean.  There were 327 of them, so then I counted out 327 dry beans, weighed them at 3 3/4 ounces, and based my costs upon my last grocery store trip.

A 4-pound bag of Great Northern beans cost $5, or approximately eight cents per ounce.  So 3 3/4 ounces at 8 cents per ounce is thirty cents.  A can costs 59 cents, so the dry beans are about half the cost.  But even though the dried beans are cheaper (and probably even more so if I bought them in bulk), I still had to take the time to soak and cook those beans and it costs money to run the stove.

So, is it worth it?  Honestly, I'd say it's a toss-up.  Maybe I would realize more cost savings if we ate beans more often.  The canned beans were also pretty salty, something I can avoid if I use the dry beans.  And then there's the environmental factor if you consider that canned beans come in, well, cans.  Even if you're going to send that metal off to the recycling center, it won't make up for the fact that the can took resources to fabricate.  And dry beans take up less room than canned beans.

I guess the best way to save money on those beans is to plant our own.  You know, when we get another garden fenced in. Which takes time and costs money.  And after we get the other fifty-million things done on the list.  Ugh!!  Canned beans or bulk dry beans or beans in the garden????

Between trying to figure out the canned vs. dry bean costs and wondering how I'm going to plant beans, my head is spinning.  I think I need to take a nap.


  1. Woah, you did some awesome research! And I can't believe you actually counted the beans! An average price for canned beans around here is $.89 which averages about 1 cup after draining. I recently got dried beans for about $2 at my import store, and it made about 5 cups of cooked beans so that averages about $.40 per cup... We are eating a lot of beans lately, so I will stick to dried. And as you said, the salt control issue is important!!!

  2. I stick to dry beans mostly for the ease in storage. But, like you, I do keep some cans in the house for quick preps when I don't have time to soak, drain and cook. As for the ounces on cans - 20 years in the grocery business have taught me a few things. Almost nothing is the same size it used to be. Dry pet feed used to be 20 and 40 lb. bags and it's now 17 and 37 lb. Coffee, cookies, snack foods and canned vegetables and fruits have all gotten smaller. Originally, it was because the manufacturers thought they'd be slick and give us less for our money (thus raising the price without raising the price). Since then, most of us don't pay attention to the smaller sizes and just accept a price increase for what it is. Buggers!

  3. Leave it to you to count the beans! Bwahhhahhhahah!! Something else to consider about using cans is that most all of them these days contain BPA. That stuff will kill ya!

    It's crazy how they have shrunk most all the packaging of ... heck... most all our purchased foods. I had no idea just how much the tuna had shrunk. It makes me rethink my "Tuna Mountain" just a bit for sure.

  4. Now I know where the term "bean counter" came from. I do buy some beans in cans, but honestly, I buy dry beans, soak them overnight, bring them to a boil and then can them. I looked at my notes in my Ball Blue book and I had noted that 2 lbs. of beans yielded 8 pints and 3 lbs. yielded 12 pints. So, 4 pints per pound of beans. At $1.00/lb. or less for a pound of dry beans, that is .25 cents or less for a can of beans that you canned yourself. Well under .59 cents per can. I love our home canned beans, they just taste better and I am saving money, too.

  5. I admit to having some JICB in the pantry (just in case beans), but I mostly use dry - I am very leery of cans. I wonder if anyone has done a study on the slow, but steady, shrinking of our food while the prices soar. They change packaging, tart it up and do all kinds of optical illusions. Before you know it, you're paying twice as much for half the stuff. Buggers, indeed!

  6. Good info! I have used canned beans a lot for small batches of things. Sometimes for large too, but I keep dried on hand for when I have the time to soak, then cook. Sometimes it's a wash as you say....

  7. CR, I always have both on hand. If I use any canned item, I make sure to rinse the beans or vegetables really good before using. As for recycling, I do that at times or I will clean the can really good and drill a few small holes in the bottom and use it for starting seeds. Thanks for doing the bean experiment and sharing it with us. This experiment sure gives you an idea of how many beans to truly expect in a can.

  8. I like dried beans too. I figured they were cheaper and less packaging. Good to know they do work out cheaper in the end. I plan on a field of dry beans- eventually....maybe next year if I get everything ready in time.

  9. Wow, you're down to counting beans now? I think maybe the heat wave finally got to you! :-)
    I have, out of need, discovered a way to cook dry beans using little fuel or electricity. I now pressure cook all my dry beans. Depending on the bean it takes 15-17 minutes to have perfectly cooked beans!

  10. In the winter, you can cook a pot of beans all day on the top of the wood stove. Just thought I'd throw that out for consideration. Does not work well in this horrid, humid, hot weather to fire up the wood stove to cook your beans.

    I think the biggest reason I always use dry beans is the flavor. No comparison to the canned ones. Sooooo much more flavorful. I can't even make myself use canned kidney beans in chili because it tastes so different.

    Yes, it does take time and a little bit of energy to cook beans at home. (But, heck, I'm home 90% of the time anyway so why not have a pot of beans bubblin' away?) Also, I usually do a big pot of them, divide into convenient sized containers and freeze for later use. Commenter Rose, who cans her own cooked beans, has a good idea, too.

  11. Wow! The bean info is interesting, but the tuna calculations are a real eye opener! I was just thinking the other day that a can of tuna used to go so much further than it does today - I wonder if they're putting more water in them these days too... or maybe I'm just hungrier than I used to be?

    Anyhow, at $4.60/pound, I think I might just consider other options.

    I've yet to attempt it, but I'm gonna try cooking some beans in the solar oven... I may have to get up early in order to give them enough time in the sun though... we'll see how it goes!

  12. Tiny, 89 cents is the usual cost for canned beans around her, so when I saw it for 59, I grabbed a bunch!

    Maxine, the "Incredible Shrinking Packages" drives me INSANE!!!

    Sci, Tuna Mountain you say? Now that would be an interesting picture, but since I don't want to mess up your OPSEC, I won't ask you to post a pic :)

    Rose, I really need to get around to canning my own beans. I'd also like to whip up a batch of homemade baked beans and can them....maybe this winter.

    Susan, I'm pretty sure there is a website about the shrinking packages, remind me to look that up if you don't see it from me in a few days.

    Nancy, as much as I know the dry are better & cheaper now, I'll still have some in cans for convenience.

    Sandy, we don't have a recycling program near us so it drives me NUTS to toss the cans!! I've made some tiny little planters out of bean cans and a tuna can for the bottom and painted them. Hillybilly'esque, for sure!

    Sadie, make sure to document that bean field, I'm sure we'd all be jealous of it :)

    Yukon, Yes, the heat has taken it's toll!! And my preferred way of cooking beans is the pressure cooker, less time, less energy.

    MamaPea, we were without many woodstove cooked meals this winter because of the unusual warm temps, so very few bean meals were made on the stove. Although that's when the majority of our beans are cooked / eaten - in the winter when the wood stove is going. May as well use it to cook something!

    EcoCatLady, solar cooked beans would make a wonderful blog post. Hint-hint.

  13. What a timely post, reminded me to put some beans on to soak! LOL!!
    I hadn't noticed the shrinking tuna cans... Grrr... Has anyone else noticed that C&H sugar is now a FOUR pound bag instead of five?!?
    Thanks for doing the comparisons! :)

  14. I wonder how much money companies pay to reconfigure equipment to accomodate smaller packaging.... I would never buy beans or rice from the big cardboard bulk bins in produce sections of stores .... seen too many children with dirty hands running their hands thru the beans and rice.

  15. You actually counted the beans? You're my kind of gal!! When I got to this post, I knew I had to follow your blog :-)