Slowly Sipping Coffee

Saving Money Isn’t Always Worth It

Okay, I know that in this “financial space” it might not be gauche to talk about why saving money isn’t worth it, but hear me out. I made a mistake a week ago and thought I’d save myself some money. To save myself ~$8 I cost myself almost 3 extra hours of time. Yeah, that doesn’t sound frugal, that is starting to sound cheap, and not to mention I cost myself a lot of extra work too. What mistake could cost me that much time for so little money? Brewing beer. Yep, homebrewing can be a great way to save money per beer, but when you add in the time cost, for me at this point in my life, I’d rather have time over cheap beer. So here’s what started the “saving money” idea and what led to me understanding how much that “saving money” actually cost me. I basically cost myself 3 hrs of working time to save myself $8, wtf was I thinking?! How did that even make sense?! This is what made it make sense in my head and how I forgot why I quit all-grain brewing to begin with.

Homebrewing Beer Saves Money — Mostly

I was reading an article by Mr. Crazy Kicks about homebrewing and beers only costing him $0.40 per beer. Yep, this is true, as it’s around the average per beer price for brewing all-grain from my Louisiana homebrew club members. Brewing like I do using pre-made malt syrup and a smaller amount of grains, usually costs more, closer to ~$1/bottle of beer. So in homebrewing, you can do all-grain, where you make your own base syrup or use a mini mash setup, where you use pre-made wort (sugar base) and add your own grains not for an alcohol boost but for color, body, head retention, etc… The all grain brewing usually takes about 4-5 hrs from beginning to end and the mini mash takes ~2hrs from beginning to end.

Is there a Quality Difference?

I have to say, yes. In the ~20 batches of all-grain that I made compared to the regular mini-mash technique I did taste a difference. The all-grain is a little cleaner and you get a little more flavor of the grain than you do with the mini-mash. The mini-mash technique is good, but the base flavor can be a little muddy compared to all-grain. Overall, it’s just a little cleaner flavor. So why give up the cleaner flavor for a little less time involved? Well, here’s why; there’s a lot of extra work involved in the all-grain process.

After reading Mr. Crazy Kicks article, I hadn’t considered doing all-grain on the stove. I’d always used a turkey fryer burner, and done it outdoors. It was just more efficient. After reading his take on it, I thought, “Yeah, I can do it indoors, it should be easy, why not save money.” Oh Christ, was I deluded. And I’d even done this many times before, but I’d forgotten why I quit doing all-grain brewing. It wasn’t cost, it was the time.

So Much Work

When the grains showed up I was all set to brew and then when I went thru the process in my head and talking it out with Mrs. SSC, she looked at me lovingly and said, “The kids and I will be out of the house next weekend, can’t you wait until then?” So I did. Then I got my cooler out that I steep the grains in, and I found my heat exchanger and my pots. So much equipment, I’ll never be able to live in a tiny house with these types of hobbies, lol. I had to clean the cooler, clean my pot, and scrub the whole half of the copper coil that was going to be submerged in my beer. I don’t want to taint it after all that work just for being lazy…

So Much Time

So the biggest part of all-grain brewing is the time involved. You have to heat 3 gallons of water to ~155 degrees, which takes about 30-40 minutes, then after the grains steep for 60 minutes, you heat another 3 gallons to ~175 degrees, which takes another 40 minutes or more. Then you boil the 6 gallons for about an hour adding hops at appropriate intervals. Then, you have to cool 5 gallons of liquid down from boiling to 80 degrees ASAP to dissuade any bacteria from setting up shop in your soon to be beer.

so much cooler to clean. I AM lazy!1

so much cooler to clean. I AM lazy!1

I use my heat exchanger, but in my mini-mash method I use a bag of ice and tap water because I’m boiling only about 2 gallons. So to get to 5 gallons total, I can add ice and tap water and cool down the 2 gallons of boiling liquid. In an all-grain setup you already have 5 gallons of boiling liquid you need to cool down so you can’t add ice or other water to cool it down or you end up with more liquid to deal with than you want.

I should be making moonshine with this setup right?!

I should be making moonshine with this setup right?!

That’s why I built a heat exchanger from copper pipe. One half sits in an ice bath and the other half sits in the boiling liquid until it cools down. The cooling part with the heat exchanger takes about 12 minutes to get to a yeast pitching temperature, but there are a lot more things to clean and deal with than a bucket, bag of ice, and tap water as I typically use with the mini-mash method.

It’s Not Worth It

My all-grain batch is fermenting away, but I can’t believe I put myself through all if that just to save $8… Holy shit, the extra time I cost myself amounted to about $2.50/hr in labor I paid myself. Yeeeaaahhh… I’ve never worked for that little. Even my first job, minimum wage was $4.25/hr – talk about dating yourself. The main thing is that while both methods make beer, and one method makes beer that tastes a little better, I already decided years ago that it didn’t taste enough better to account for the extra time involved. Pure and simple. It didn’t taste ENOUGH better to make up for the extra cost. I just got caught up in the fact I could do it cheaper. Yes, this time, I did do it all indoors, so no turkey fryer burner for me this time, but it still took about 4.5 hrs. Getting out all of the extra equipment and cleaning it, yep, it’s just not worth it.

It Could Be Worth It

Much like Mr Crazy Kicks and others from my home brew club that did all-grain brewing, they didn’t have toddlers, or even jobs, as most of them were retired, or they just had a solid half of a Saturday morning that they could kill because they didn’t have other engagements/kids/wives/things to do. I too would love to go back to all-grain brewing, but it will be when I have time to do it on a Wednesday, when nothing else is going on, lol. Until then, I don’t have 3 hrs extra to spend on making beer. Which is exactly why I want a &#*damn lifestyle change.

Is 3 hrs too much to ask? No, that’s a reasonable amount of time, but for something as “frivolous” as home brewing, then yes, that is too much to ask in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. When you have floors that need to be cleaned, a dishwasher that needs to be emptied, and then loaded, and god knows what else. Trying to find time to work out, or time to do anything other than “tend to life” is rare. I had a free Saturday afternoon by myself because Mrs. SSC and the kids were in hill country, and after swimming at the gym, I went shopping.

Yeah I may not have bought anything, but I miss shopping. Even if it’s all not buying but really shopping. Being able to walk into any store of your choosing and see what they have to offer, it’s pretty damn cool!

Have you screwed yourself out of time just to save yourself money? Have you ever had a similar situation? Let me know, I’d love to know I’m not the only one that’s made a dumb financial decision.

37 thoughts on “Saving Money Isn’t Always Worth It

  1. Our Next Life

    Oh, we’ve all had our equivalent of this, so don’t feel too bad! 😉 For me it was investing in all the canning equipment (including the more expense option: the pressure canner) so that I could save a few bucks by not buying jam and pasta sauce during the winter. I don’t know the actual numbers, probably because I’ve blocked them out, but I’m sure I’m still in the hole at this point, especially considering how much I spent on the local organic produce. (I don’t regret that last part, but it stil adds up!) The only comfort I get is knowing that the gear will last forever, so maybe I can slowly make back some of that cost in retirement. Fingers crossed!

    1. Mr SSC Post author

      Ohhh, canning equipment. Something I’ve thought about for almost a half a second before I laugh and tell myself, nope, nope, no way. :)

      Exactly on the gear lasting forever. I got my money’s worth out of my all-grain setup, and even though I haven’t used it in 4 years, I just had to clean it and it was good to get used again. So there’s that. It was just a great reminder why i quit brewing all-grain in the first place – too much time for my current lifestyle. :)

      I’ll definitely do it more post-work life when time isn’t at a premium, so like you, I’ll just cart the gear around until then. :) Good luck with your canning!

  2. Miss Mazuma

    Hahaha – optimizing your time, I see! I know nothing about home brewing but after that fiasco it may be worth it to run out and grab a six pack. 😉 I once decided to start making paper. What a process! After a few rounds I figured I could buy it with the amount of time I took to make a few sheets. Not that spending time on hobbies is a bad thing, only if you feel pinched at the end instead of rewarded! My paper didn’t make me as happy as if I had spent that time baking/frosting a cake. :)

    1. Mr SSC Post author

      Whoa, Nothing about paper making seems easy or like a good cost saving DIY. Like you said, if it’s a hobby, sre, that’s one thing, but not if you feel pinched at the end of it. I like brewing and find it fun, and have a bunch of recipes developed, so I do it as more of a hobby than a cost saving measure.

      However, I remembered why I went back to my quicker method of brewing – less work and less time. Still fun and I enjoyed the all-grain batch, but yep, I’ll put that stuff away until I have a lot more time on my hands. :)

  3. Mr Crazy Kicks

    Thanks for the mention :) I think I’ve calculated my hourly rate for brewing beer to be about $10/hr. It’s definitely more of a hobby than money maker/saver. Though considering my current hourly rate at $0/hr, brewing beer does have some return!

    If you decide to give it another whirl, another optimization might be to skip the sparge. You will probably get close to the same efficiency if you just put the whole 6 gallons in for the initial mash. But all grain is going to be a 4 hour day any way you slice it :)

    1. Mr SSC Post author

      No prob, thanks for the idea! :) I definitely look at it as a hobby over a cost saver as well. I’ve brewed for about 8 years now, and while the last 3 years have cut back to about 2-5 times a year, when I first started I was doing about 2 batches a month. I had a hell of a stockpile going! I did the all-grain for about 20 batches or so before I decided I’d go back to mini-mash side of things. Of course, that was pre-kid too, so once they came along 4-5 “free” hrs are rare to find.

      That’s a good idea about doing the whole 6 gallons at once. At this scale efficiencies are not going to be great no matter how much you try and increase them, so yeah it’s probably close enough like you said. I know my cooler can handle that much liquid. Worth trying I think. :)

  4. Matt @ The Resume Gap

    I’ve had plenty of these moments where after a bunch of effort trying to save a few bucks, I’ve thought, “What a waste; I should have just bought the more expensive thing in the first place.” The good news is that they’re a minority of my attempts at frugality, and the successful ones add up over time.

    I’ve seen some people online suggest home-brewing as a cost-saver, but I’ve never found it to be that much cheaper than buying beer at the store. Not to mention that the professionals make much better beer than I do. I’ve only done it for the enjoyment and social factors, never to save money. I’ve never tried all-grain, but that definitely sounds like it’s not worth the trouble over mini-mash!

    1. Mr SSC Post author

      I had that same thought about 10 minutes after I opened the package and started going through the whole process in my head, lol. It’s not a waste, but I did a palm slap to the forehead thinking about how much time I cost myself.

      I see it as a wash in regard to cost. Yes, if you buy bulk grains and can store them, you can get it fairly low cost, like ~$0.40/beer. Even doing it my way, it comes out around $0.80-$1/beer but like you said, that’s close enough to store costs that it’s just a wash from a cost savings perspective.

      I do like it as a hobby and building my own recipes or tweaking my existing recipes that I have gotten where I like them over the years is fun. But yeah, not so much in the $$ saving department. :)

  5. Mrs. COD

    Oh yeah, saving money has to be worth the trade-off in time! It would be different if you really enjoyed the long brewing process and loved the taste so much more, but otherwise, I’d say buy the brews! I make laundry detergent at home and while it doesn’t save a ton of money, it takes almost zero time, so it works out fine. We do want to try your coffee-bean roasting technique soon; it seems the taste would be worth the effort!

    1. Mr SSC Post author

      Well, I was going to brew regardless, I just chose poorly in my method, lol. I like it as a hobby and it is fun experimenting with all the ways you can brew and adjust each batch, but after 4-5 years of not brewing all-grain I had forgotten ALL of the extra stuff it required from a time perspective. Oh well, lesson learned and I’ll revisit it in a few years when time is less of a commodity.

      it is bubbling away nicely though and I’m looking forward to tasting it when it’s ready.

      The coffee roasting started as a hobby too, and also actually turns out to be a money saver as well. :) It takes less than a half hour to roast, and cool down beans and then you’re set for a good couple of weeks. And you get to experiment with different roast profiles as well. I still have some green coffee beans I can send you guys to try it out with if you’re ever interested. Just PM me an address. :)

  6. Brian

    I’m glad I don’t drink beer. :) I had a similar situation a few year back. There was an old cast iron wood burning stove that was left in a shed when we purchased our house. It weighted a ton. During our debt prepayment I was getting rid of everything to drum up extra cash. So I was finally motivated to move it. It was a struggle to get it to the car. I drove it to the scrap yard, and brought it to the wrong area, and I brought it back to the car, to drive it to the right area some guy offered me $20 for it. I turned down the offer, and got it over to the right area. After all the hard work of struggling to move this thing around. I walked away with $9. Certainly not worth the physically effort and time I spent. It was nice to have the space in the shed. Lesson learned.

    1. Mr SSC Post author

      Yep, that sounds like a scenario straight from my life. :) For the most part I try to realize when I’m getting into situations like that now, but they still tend to happen at times.

  7. Mrs. BITA

    Am I a bad person for finding your extreme frustration to be extremely amusing? This whole post reminded me of the #nailedit meme – you know where people try to duplicate something they saw on Pinterest and end up with hilarious results. I mean, I know you didn’t mess up the actual beer, but you ended up being about as pissed off as those folks normally are.

    I’m going to consider this a cautionary tale. I find that when I’ve read a bunch of FIRE blogs, I get all fired up about all the DIY that everyone seems to be doing and doing so well. I get so enthusiastic that I tend to forget that the vast majority of the time my skills don’t quite match my desire to DIY, and I have close to zero spare time anyway.

    1. Mr SSC Post author

      Hahaha, yeah it did tend to fit that meme more than be relaxing. :) I just found it funny that just because I hadn’t brewed that way in 4-5 yrs I forgot all the extra steps/time involved and why I quit doing it that way to begin with, lol.

      It’s fermenting away and looks like it should turn out well, but yep, I could’ve saved myself a couple of hrs easily by just doing my regular method. To be fair, I have brewed for almost 8 years now, so I’ve pared it down to be as efficient as possible. When I don’t deviate from my norm, that is. :) Maybe in the future I’ll get back to the longer version, but maybe not, time is still time.

    2. Mr SSC Post author

      Oh and another actual #nailedit that I forgot to mention. Making my own aftershave/cologne… Yep, Burt’s Bee’s ahd discontinued their witchhazel-y sort of cologne or aftershave and I loved it. I figured I’d just make my own. After spending about $30 on supplies and oils, I ended up with a “not like their version at all” version of some hazel nut styled aftershave. Oh, did I mention, it also ended up oilier, so it got my shirt collars all grimy looking? Yep, lesson learned there.

      There’s a reason that it’s a billion dollar inustry. :)

  8. Mrs. Picky Pincher

    I think you need to find actual enjoyment with many of these money-saving activities. There has to be a certain return on your time and energy. If you absolutely HATE brewing your own beer or baking your own bread and save $1 total, it’s not worth saving money. There are plenty of things I could do to save money, but I don’t do them because the return isn’t worth it.

    1. Mr SSC Post author

      I totally agree. I’ve brewed for about 8 years now and have had a lot of fun doing it, but I was definitely kicking myself for not remembering the time suck of all-grain brewing. I have gotten mini-mash down to under 2 hrs vs 4-5 with the other method. So, yep, lesson elarned, keep it to the method I enjoy the most and is most efficient, lol.

      Since this is a hobby instead of a cost saving measure anyway, then meh, I just cost myself some time, but still. It was frustrating when I realized that. :)

  9. Mr. Need2save

    I’m looking forward to brewing my own beer… when I’m retired. As you’ve pointed out, it seems like the time investment is large. Given that I’m still working and have 127 other hobbies, the brewing will need to wait a while.

    BTW – my first job was for minimum wage at $3.35 an hour. Ah, the good old days of making pizzas in 1988

    1. Mr SSC Post author

      Yep, the time investment can be large, but I’ve gotten my version down to under 2 hrs if I stick to my regular method. Its still 2 hrs and it took me a few years to get it to there down from ~3 hrs, but yep, I also ahve a lot of other hobbies that fight for those 2 hrs.

      Ohhh, nice blast from the apst there with that minimum wage. :)

  10. Elephant Eater

    My brother and I did some experiments in home brewing. I was surprised by how good our beers came out in the first couple of batches, especially a Heffe and a Pumpkin seasonal. It is great fun as a hobby, and one of the few times in my life I can recall spending > an hour together that didn’t end with us fighting.

    However, when factoring in all that we spent on gear, recipe books, time, and ingredients, there is no way it is a money saver and it is a major time suck. We haven’t brewed for a couple of years and won’t again until time becomes more plentiful.

    1. Mr SSC Post author

      It is surprising how easy it is to make good beer. I find it to be a fun hobby, but after many years of honing recipes and stuff like that, it’s definitely hit a hobby status and not a money saving status. I just like being able to make a Hoppy Wheat beer if I want or a Steam Ale, or maybe a black wheat beer, because why the hell not? :)

      I have plenty of gear, books and more and still refer to them occasionally, but since most of my recipes are fairly dialed in, I don’t experiment as much anymore. It’ll be fun to do that, you know, when I have more time.

  11. Mrs. Groovy

    I wouldn’t blame you one bit for buying a six-pack.

    In the past I’ve spent stupid amounts of time returning an online purchase to a store. Now, if the item is under $10 I sometimes just suck it up and either throw it out or give it away. Or if it’s a T shirt I just don’t like, I’ll wear it to sleep in. The time it takes to drive over to the store and stand in line at customer service is not worth the money.

    1. Mr SSC Post author

      Oh, that’s a great example! Depending on the store and its location, yep, I’ll do the same and decide that it’s just not worth the time.

      And if I have to deal with customer service – eesh, no thanks. That’s one thing I love about Amazon, is that I don’t have to deal with people or going anywhere out of the way to make a return.

  12. Fruclassity (Ruth)

    “I don’t have 3 hrs extra to spend on making beer. Which is exactly why I want a &#*damn lifestyle change.” Therein lies the conflict when it comes to so many frugal alternatives. They cost time! I will be able to ramp up my frugal so much more in retirement! I’m sure you will have a very different report of home brewed beer once your FFLC kicks in. Until then, here’s to the beer store!

    1. Mr SSC Post author

      I’ve cut way back on the amount I brew now relative to pre-kid life, but I have managed to make it as efficient as possible. From start to finish i can be in and out of the kitchen in under 2 hrs and most of that I’m not even tethered to the stove. But… all-grain brewing, oh how quickly I forgot there was so much time, work, and being tethered to the kitchen for a lot of that process.

      I do have that 5 gallons fermenting, and another 6 gallons of wine fermenting – almost ready for kegging/bottling. Yep, I put 5 gallons of the wine I make in my keg and treat it as a large “boxed wine”, lol. Now that’s where cost savings can come in. With wine you can make good wine for under $3/bottle. :) Way lower than what I get at the store. But… then you have close to 30 bottles of the same type of wine, so you better like the style. 😉

  13. Mr. Groovy

    Thanks for a very enjoyable read, Mr. SSC. I’ve always been intrigued by home brewing. My brother-in-law makes homemade wine and limoncello and he lives it. But he’s also retired. But after reading your trials and tribulations, I’ll stick to store bought beer for now. Like you said, there’s only so many hours in the day, so you got to prioritize.

    1. Mr SSC Post author

      The home made wine is the easiest of all, with about 30 minutes from start to finish. Basically, you just have to clean/sanitize your fermenting vessel, dump in some bentonite, mix it up, add the juice, add the yeast, and top it off to 6 gallons. Put the lid on and come back in 2-3 weeks to rack it into a different container and let it sit for another week or so. Add in some clarifying agents, mix it up and give it a day to clear and you’re ready to bottle. Or keg, which I do. I’ve only made whitet wines so far and just put them in my 5 gallone keg and then bottle the remaining gallon.

      It’s like boxed wine turned up to 11, lol.

      As far as homebrewing, I’ll stick to my tried and true 2 hr method until i get more free time, and I may even stick to it then. I’ll still have to prioritize my time even then.

  14. ZJ Thorne

    Currently I conceive of my business as a very expensive hobby, but I’m taking this learning time to figure out how to do all the things so that I know what I’m asking of someone once I am able to pay someone else to do it. Bookkeeping is still worth the time-cost of me doing it myself since I would have to pay someone $500 twice a year. However, I think that I’ll pay someone to do my taxes next year. It’s just getting too complicated.

    1. Mr SSC Post author

      I bet doing taxes for personal life and a business would get complicated really quickly. I kept offering to Mrs. SSC that we should get someone to do our taxes to see if they can find some things that we may be missing, but she hasn’t taken me up on that offer yet. I think giving up control would be the biggest battle there, and currently, they’re not that complicated.

  15. Jason

    I am greatly intrigued by home brewing (just to see if I could do it) but your post is perhaps one of the reasons I haven’t done so. The laborious nature of it and I haven’t wanted to commit the time. I do admire those that can do it though and then turn that passion into a potential business. Not a bad way to go to creating your own brewery someday. Hope your batches come out well.

    1. Mr SSC Post author

      It is a fun hobby, but I’d start with the mini-mash method that I usually brew with. That’s a fairly quick and easy process, getting in and out of the kitchen in about 2 hrs or less. Also, it’s not as complicated as you might think. The biggest component is just the stuff that comes along with it. You can keep it pretty minimal, but you’ll still need a 5 gallon bucket, lid, straining bag, thermometer, racking cane or tube, bottle capper, ~50 empty bottles, bottle caps, priming sugar, another bucket if you plan on racking your beer…

      It eats up space as well as time, lol. I love the batches I make and of the close to 100 or so I’ve made now I’ve only had about 6 come out bad and only 2 of those ended up “undrinkable”. :) Those were due to the batch getting tainted somehow, so the recipe was good, I must have gotten lazy when cleaning the equipment.

  16. M.B.

    I might have missed it in the comments – but have you tried the brew in a bag method? I haven’t tried it – but it looks like less equipment/space and saves a bit of time.

    You may have convinced me not to give all grain a shot!

    1. Mr SSC Post author

      I wouldn’t discount all-grain, but I haven’t worked out a way to get the time down on it, so it is a minimum 3.5-4 hr commitment, even though most of that is waiting for water to heat up or grains to steep.

      I’ve used the brew in the bag method pretty much from the beginning – using the mini-mash brew in bag technique. I did see a couple of ads in 2 homebrew magazines that showed up yesterday both touting the all-grain brew in the bag method. It lets you skip buying a false bottom or screen for the grain, but you still need a cooler if you want the temp to hold steady, and you’d still need a pot big enough to boil 6 gallons of liquid in. It would cut down on some equuipmen though. Mr. Crazy kicks suggested even skipping the sparge (rinsing) step and just steeping the grains in ~6 gallons of water from the get go. That’s probably close enough in efficiency as using ~3 gallons and sparging with ~3 gallons, so that would save another step.

      I know that I can go from zero to pitching yeast in under 2 hrs with the mini-mash method though, and I have consistent results with that method too. I’ll probably stay with it and pay the extra $8-10 per batch until I find more time to give all grain a go again. It’s definitely more of a hobby than a cost saving measure though until you get into the full on all grain buying in bulk mode.

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