If you’re like most people, it’s been hard not to notice the increase in your monthly grocery bill over the past year. I guess that’s to be expected with the latest “official” inflation rate as measured by the CPI coming in at a jaw-dropping 9.1% last month. That’s not only a four-decade high, it’s also grossly understated when compared to the original methodology used to measure rising prices in 1980.
Meanwhile, the estimated cost of a school lunch this year is $3.93. For a family with two kids, that amounts to $1414 during the course of a 180-day school year.
Oh, sure; $3.93 for lunch may sound like a great deal, but the truth is, despite those ever-rising grocery bills, people who choose to brown-bag a sandwich, piece of fruit, and carrot sticks or a serving of chips, are always going to spend less than the folks who buy their lunch at a restaurant, school cafeteria or fast-food joint.
On the other hand, not all sandwiches are created equally, as celebrity chef Martin Blunos demonstrated a few years ago with his decadent $184 cheese sarnie. The good news is, while food prices are climbing faster than ever, the results of my 14th annual brown bag sandwich price survey show that most folks will spend far less than that in 2022.
How the Survey Was Conducted
As usual, I visited my local grocery store and recorded the per-serving costs of various ingredients for ten of the most common brown bag sandwiches: peanut butter & jelly (PB&J); bologna; tuna; ham & Swiss; roast beef & cheddar; egg salad; salami; American cheese; turkey; and bacon, lettuce & tomato (BLT).
For consistency, I only selected items with the cheapest per unit costs, regardless of brand. And to keep it simple, I also assumed all sandwiches would be made with wheat bread.
Here are the results of this year’s price survey, which was conducted on July 29th, 2022. The first graphic shows the sandwich serving sizes and per-serving costs for each ingredient. It also includes the percentage increase or decrease in the per-serving price of each item from last year’s survey:
With that data in hand, and using my handy spreadsheet, it’s no effort at all to determine the most economical sandwiches.
Here are the official Len Penzo dot Com rankings of the ten most common brown bag sandwiches in 2022. Rankings are based upon total ingredient unit costs, from least to most expensive.
As you can see, at 45 cents, PB&J has the honor of being the Most Economical Sandwich in 2022.
By the way, you may be surprised to know that this is only the second time PB&J has held the undisputed title of Most Economical Sandwich since the survey’s inception in 2009. However, PB&J has also shared the honor on four previous occasions.
This year’s survey results also end a streak of nine consecutive years where bologna either topped or shared the least expensive sandwich honor. Even more impressive, this is only the second time in 14 years when bologna has failed to hold at least a share of the Most Economical Sandwich crown.
As for the rest of this year’s rankings, the only other positional changes occurred near the bottom of the list, where Roast Beef & Cheddar swapped positions with Tuna Salad.
The next chart is an annual comparison of each sandwich since my inaugural survey in 2009. This year, every sandwich in the survey except Ham & Swiss saw a price increase from the year before.
In 2010, the average price of all ten sandwiches in my survey fell two cents from the year before to 84 cents — that was the all-time low. This year, the average cost of the survey’s ten sandwiches is $1.43, which is an all-time survey high; it’s also an eye-watering 27% higher than last year and 42% more than it was in 2018. Ouch.
Tips and Observations
- Like last year, five sandwiches in this year’s survey cost less than a buck; that’s down from seven in 2018.
- After holding steady in 2020 — the price of bread climbed 8% in 2021 to $1.39, and then another 7% in 2022 to $1.49. The last time a loaf was more expensive was 2014, when it cost $1.99.
- Just four of the 18 sandwich ingredients saw price declines from the year before; they were ham, turkey, tomato and mustard.
- Not all cheeses are created equal: American and Cheddar prices remained stable, but Swiss cheese climbed 24%. Over the past two years, the price of Swiss cheese has risen more than 50%.
- After hitting an all-time survey low two years ago, the price of a Roast Beef & Cheddar sandwich has climbed 57%, including a 17% increase this year.
- If you’re the type who is hooked on tuna, you’ll may be disappointed to learn that a sandwich has never been more expensive. In fact, with the price of albacore tuna nearly doubling in 2022, and mayo prices up by nearly a third, a tuna salad sandwich now costs 83% more than it did last year.
- At just 72 cents and 99 cents, respectively, Turkey & Swiss and Egg Salad are still among the more economical brown bag options.
- After two years of price declines, the BLT climbed 29% this year to $3.42 — that’s almost 50 cents above its five-year average. The good news is it’s also 57 cents less than a Big Mac.
- Cooking your own ham and turkey and slicing it yourself is a great way to reduce your grocery bill. It’s also cheaper to buy block cheese and slice it at home.
- If you’re like me and love to put tomatoes on a sandwich, grow your own— you’ll save a bundle. Best of all, they taste much better than anything you can buy from your grocer.
- You can save upwards of 40% by purchasing store-brand products. As my popular blind taste tests have proven, their quality is often just as good — if not better.
Photo Credit: neil russo