Are Bread Machines the Secret to Eating Good Bread on a Budget?

The machine of yesteryear is proof that some hacks never go out of style.

February 20, 2023
Photo by Bobbi Lin

As a child, I was always amazed when my grandma would talk about making homemade bread with such ease. Eventually, I learned that a bread machine played a key role in the baking (and mixing, and kneading) of these loaves—a fact that only heightened my amazement. To me, the idea that one could just throw ingredients into a box, press a button or two, and eat still-warm fresh bread a few hours later felt like magic.

In the following years, encounters with bread machines outside of my grandma’s house remained rare. Though I’m sure they’re a staple appliance in many homes, I rarely heard of people using them, buying them, or talking about them, especially since 2020's sourdough boom. I certainly had never used a bread machine, and it wasn’t something I was planning on purchasing anytime soon.

This all changed when, seemingly overnight, my TikTok feed became inundated with videos of 20- and 30-somethings touting their bread machines as the new hack for cheaper, better bread. So, I decided to put these claims to the test. Is a bread machine really the answer to my bread-price-inflation woes? Could I save money by making my own bread, and if so, how much? I found a bread machine on sale for $60 (though many TikTokers are adamant that there are countless bread machines under $10 at thrift stores, waiting to be brought home) and began the tests.


Grandma mode activated

♬ original sound - Mowglii

First, I wanted to see if the breadmaker actually did what it claimed to do: make decent bread. I made a total of four loaves, including two kinds of white bread, one loaf of whole-wheat, and, of course, a version of my grandma’s cottage cheese and dill bread. It was my first time using one of these appliances, and I was struck by how easy the prep was—it was basically nonexistent. I tossed in the ingredients (still in a specific order, adding yeast last), chose the style of loaf I wanted (basic, whole-wheat, etc.), its size (which could range from one to two pounds), and its crust color (light, medium, or dark). There was also an option to program the machine in advance, which I did late one night. By the time I woke up the next morning, the smell of freshly baked bread had filled my apartment, and a still-steamy loaf was waiting for me in the machine.

Across my tests, I used a variety of flours, including all-purpose, bread flour, and whole-wheat flour—but I didn’t see much of a difference in performance, texture, or taste. I also used active dry yeast for all of the loaves (rather than the yeast specifically made for bread machines) and didn't face any issues. Because I was trying the machine with a money-saving mindset, I appreciated that I didn’t have to buy any specialty ingredients to get consistent results.

In terms of taste, the bread was good—very good—but not necessarily life-changing. It’s important to keep in mind that this method, at a baseline, can and will not yield the complexity, flavor, or texture of sourdough or another artisan loaf from your local high-end bakery. It will, however, produce a pretty solid loaf of sandwich bread, which is ideal for toasting, serving with soup, and eating warm from the machine with butter. Even though I found their flavors occasionally lacking depth and their crusts a tad dry, I loved the nostalgic taste and squishy-soft interior of these loaves.

Because the bread is not made with any preservatives, it did go stale quickly. By the day after baking, after storing it on my counter, the bread’s quality had declined significantly—and by the day after that, it was no longer something I wanted to eat. While I didn’t try this myself, I imagine that keeping the bread in the fridge (or, even better, slicing and freezing it) would prolong its shelf life significantly. Another key element of the experience was the time it took to make the bread. All four took upwards of three hours from start to finish, meaning it’s not ideal for a last-minute fix. (While the machine does have a “quick bread” setting, it’s not recommended for the best results.)

Ultimately, I felt that the pros (based on the taste and overall experience) outweighed the cons; I would prefer this bread over the average loaf of sliced, white bread available at most supermarkets.

Once I knew the swap worked from a taste perspective, I had to see if I was actually saving money. According to the Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED) database, the average cost of a pound of white bread in January 2023 in an average U.S. city area was $1.88. That’s the highest price it’s been since the database began in 1980, and it’s over 50 cents more than the average price of bread in January 2020, which was $1.35. Prices for whole wheat bread are also currently elevated, at $2.45 (up from $1.96 in January 2020).

On a recent trip to my local store, I confirmed that the prices for a standard loaf were similar to the national average: the cheapest option was $1.79 for a 20-ounce loaf of a generic brand white bread. However, the pre-sliced sourdough and peasant loaves that I typically gravitate towards were closer to $5 or $6. If I wanted to splurge on an artisan loaf, that number could have easily surpassed $9 (the horror).

To compare store-bought to homemade, I based my calculations on King Arthur Flour’s recipe for a one-pound loaf of standard white bread, which uses 300 grams of all-purpose flour. According to FRED, the average cost of flour per pound was $0.54 in January 2023, meaning 300 grams would cost $0.36 cents.

Using more data from FRED, I calculated the relative costs of the other ingredients in the recipe (because the organization doesn't track yeast prices, I used the cost of a 4-ounce jar of yeast from Target as my baseline). That equaled out to $0.07 for ¼ cup milk, $0.30 for 28 grams butter, $0.04 for five teaspoons granulated sugar, and $0.17 for 1½ teaspoons of active dry yeast (because their costs per loaf are so small, I excluded water and salt from my calculations). All in all, one loaf of bread cost me $0.94—exactly half the price of store-bought.

Saving almost a dollar on each loaf is nothing to scoff at. And, compared to the overpriced bread I typically buy, the savings are much more drastic at $4 or more. But none of those calculations included the cost of the machine itself. To break even on my $60 machine (based on the $1.88 average loaf price), I’d need to use it 64 times, which is, admittedly, a lot of bread. However, if you found a bread maker secondhand, that number could be brought down significantly.

Okay, so, what’s the final verdict? Making bread from a machine is marginally cheaper than buying it, as long as you eat bread frequently enough to offset the cost of the appliance. Specifically, I see this as an investment that’s smart for households that go through bread quickly, like large families or homes with multiple roommates. I also think it’s a great option if you’re concerned about the ingredients going into your bread, but want an option that’s more affordable than high-end bakeries.

That being said, you’re not throwing a ton of money down the drain by relying on the supermarket staple. Store-bought bread is accessible, much more convenient than a machine, and cheap—meaning it’s (still) a great option for home cooks on a budget.

Are you team bread machine or store-bought? Share your thoughts in the comments!
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stefan May 10, 2024
I'm on the 167th loaf made in the bread machine. Not bad for an 81 year old. I admit that commercial bread is still tastier than my homemade bread, but I have the advantage of only 50% of the price of store-bought bread, I use few and natural ingredients (except yeast), and I do countless experiments to get good bread at taste. I made white bread, potato bread (mashed), poolish bread, wholemeal bread (40%, 50%, 70% and even 100%), sandwich bread. I want to make soda bread, yudane bread (the Japanese method), gluten-free bread (although I love gluten and use it to supplement protein from weaker flours). My grandmother made bread by hand in a wood oven and had a recipe with hop flower that made the bread last. Unfortunately this recipe has been lost. I have only two problems: 1) I'm diabetic and can't eat much bread, and 2) I'm the only one who eats my own bread, my wife prefers store bought bread. Ha, ha, ha!
Pamela K. July 12, 2023
I use mine for more than bread…it takes up space so it needs to multi task. And it’s making pizza dough for my family. I make a double batch at a time … it used to $1 for a premade dough at TJs. I was horrified at the local market to see it was $4-5 for the lump. I use it also for the dough for char siu bao. Oh yeah…even decent fresh mochi.
M February 22, 2023
These were big in the aughts but quickly disappeared because they just don't make tasty bread, are an impractical size, and will have a gaping hole where the paddle sits. Didn't help when no-knead bread hit and it made significantly better bread than the space-hogging machines.

If you taste a bread from one of these machines, like it, and know you want to make a LOT of it, it'll be worth it to you. But don't waste money and space on a machine like this because TikTokkers who want to go viral and insist that a decades-old, unpopular machine is a new "hack." There's a reason there are countless debunking videos about TikTok "hacks." And there's a reason the author of this piece couldn't find a machine at the same price.
Smaug February 22, 2023
I should be happy to never see the word "hack" again; it seems to be the younger generation's way of announcing that they've a better way, which they generally have not. ln answer to the initial question, the key to eating good (fill in the blank) is to learn how to cook. Which you can't do by watching videos, it has to happen in the kitchen.
Smaug February 21, 2023
My mother used a bread machine after her hands got so bad from arthritis that she couldn't do it by hand; made decent enough sandwich bread once she'd developed some recipes; the loaves are a weird shape, and you have to tear the mixing blade out of the loaf. Can't really see the need for the machine otherwise, bread making should really be a basic life skill, but here in America survival skills are more and more limited to shopping. Bread flour is currently running near $2/lb. in these parts, but still cheaper than buying commercially made bread; they have to buy flour too. Of coursed a machine is very limited in what it can do; no English muffins, no baguettes, no pizza etc. Some people do use their machines to mix dough and then finish it outside the machine, but it's really not at all difficult to do without.
I suspect that most of you, unlike the author of this article, know better than to store bread in the refrigerator; it would have been preferable to have someone who knew breadmaking do the tests.
Bert G. February 20, 2023
So sorry you don't get the value of fresh bread. As you say "Because the bread is not made with any preservatives, it did go stale quickly." Maybe that's a good thing.