Cider Costs: What The Apple Is Going On Here?

Fall and apples go hand in hand here in Michigan, as I know is the case in many other parts of the country.

We have always enjoyed many of the activities that fall brings, and those centered around apples have always been favorite, specifically going to the cider mill and also apple picking.  Both of these things have been traditions of our families for the last few years.

But, we noticed this year that things are just out of hand!

Cider Prices

Who doesn’t love cider and donuts?  I know everyone in our family loves these things.  Still, the price of cider these days is through the roof.  A gallon is now around $8 at most local cider mills!  This pricing came about in kind of a sneaky way.

In 2012, Michigan had an incredibly warm March.  Temperatures averaged low 70’s for roughly a two week period. This was about 30 degrees warmer than normal.  The apple trees started blooming earlier than normal, as is normal with these temperatures.  Unfortunately, when the cold weather came back in, many trees were damaged for the year.

In short, the harvest in 2012 was a dud, and prices of apples and cider went up as the crop was down 75% in many areas.  Prices for a gallon of cider went up from around $5 to $7.

Now, 2013 and 2014 produced bumper crops of apples, but do you think the prices went back down?

Nope.

I really get bothered by these types of opportunistic price increases, but they’re not surprising, and even though I’m sure there wasn’t direct collusion between cider mill owners, I’m sure that they all just decided to put out their prices as they were the year past and see what happened, and unfortunately nobody complained.  And now we’re left with cider prices that are much higher than they probably should be.

And, to top it off, some of the cider mills have gotten greedy.  There’s one local mill (Long’s Family Farm) that actually charges you for plastic cups if you want to buy your cider and sit outside.  Talk about greed!

Picking Prices

Long’s was also our favorite spot to pick apples.  They had a pretty sweet setup where you came in, parked, and took a hayride out to the picking area.  Our family generally got a large bag.  The fun and experience, plus the apples, were worth the $25 or so.

mb-2015-10-appleSadly, it’s not that easy anymore.  They now have a policy where every person that goes to pick apples has to buy their own bag.  Even kids.  So, instead of our family buying one large bag for around $25, we could get four small bags for roughly the same price. The only problem is that you end up with roughly half the amount of apples in four smaller bags as you do with one larger bag.

And, to add insult to injury, it’s been reported that when you go back, if your bag is above the top line, they’ll charge you for yet another bag!  After all, if you’re going to effectively double the price of your product, why not effectively throw sand in their face while you’re at it?

Sadly, our annual visit to this mill and orchard was crossed off the list.

Our Alternative

We found a new cider mill that we tried this year (Rochester Cider Mill).  The prices were around the same, but there’s no getting around that, but it was very laid back.  They had areas for the kids to play, and while you were in there, you didn’t get the sense that they were looking at you with dollar signs in their eyes, as has turned into the case with other nearby mills and orchards.  We loved it!

We ended up skipping apple picking this year.  Hopefully we can resume this at some point, but it will either have to be at a new orchard or if the old place we went to changes their minds.  This year, we have gotten our apples at the grocery store.  It’s not as much fun, but in the end, we’re satisfied with the product and we can justify the prices.  Our goal is to still have fun, just maybe in other ways.  The kids are now old enough that they can help bake pies or make crisp.  Yum!

A Deep History

Many of the mills and orchards in our area is that they are very old, with decades of tradition and history.  That’s all great and it makes for great stories.  However, I can’t help but think that charging for cups and napkins goes against the established traditions.  Was this kind of business what the founders had in mind?  It seems awfully hard to believe.

Readers, do you love apples and fall like we do?  Have you seen your local businesses stay true to their history or has commercialization and profit taken over?  Tell me your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

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Pizza: Homemade vs. Carryout vs. Sit-Down

Pizza.  Who’s having it tonight for dinner?  Chances are, somebody reading this is already planning on pizza as tonight’s dinner.  And, now that I’m writing about it, chances are at least one more person will choose pizza for dinner.

It’s just that good!

Our family loves pizza, and we love all three kinds of pizza. I’m not talking three different brands of pizza, but I’m talking homemade, carryout, and sit-down. What’s our favorite?  Read on to find out.

To start off, here are some pros and cons of each.

Homemade Pizza

I never knew how easy it was to make homemade pizzas, but now we make a couple of different kinds.  In the cooler months, we’ll make a pizza in the oven using pizza crust yeast, which mixes in with flour and a couple of other quick, easy ingredients to provide crust.  In the summer months, we will get pita bread and make pizzas on the outdoor grill. Yum!

Pros:

  • It’s fun to make a pizza together.  Everybody gets in the game
  • It’s cheap
  • It’s customizable.  Every person can get exactly what they want and how they want it, even on the same pizza
  • It’s healthier (if you want it to be).  You know what’s going on your pizza so you can control what goes on, and we’ve found that things like turkey based pepperoni work just great, and make things a lot less greasy.

Cons:

  • Dirty dishes. One of the best benefits to pizza is typically less dishes, but you need a pizza dish, a bowl to mix the dough, something to roll it out, and a pin, all of which require washing.
  • Rolling out pizza dough.  The first couple of times rolling out pizza dough is interesting and it usually doesn’t come out very round.  The good news is that after a few tries, you get the hang of it!

Carryout Pizza (or Delivery)

mb-2014-11pizzaWhether it’s Little Caesars Hot & Ready or something a bit more upscale, there’s just something great about picking up a phone and a few minutes and a quick trip later, having a hot pizza in a box ready to drive back home and eat.

Pros:

  • It’s easy.  With Little Caesar’s, you don’t even have to call or wait.  Other places, you might have a quick phone call and a short wait, but it’s quick and easy!
  • It’s hot. There’s nothing like getting a piping hot pizza that can only seem to work after it’s been in one of the super hot pizza ovens that only pizza places have.
  • More toppings. Pizza places typically have more toppings available to choose from than you’ll find at home.

Cons:

  • Risk.  Every once in a while, opening the pizza box at home yields less than satisfactory results, whether it be overdone (or underdone), too much sauce, too little cheese or just made wrong.  Since it’s often more trouble than it’s worth, many times you end up stuck with it.

Sit-Down Restaurant Pizza

Who doesn’t love going to a restaurant that specializes in pizza, and will bring it to you?  We have several local places around Detroit, The Alibi and Buddy’s to name a couple, that make pizza an experience.

Pros:

  • Quality.  Typically, quality is top notch and a step above carryout or delivery places.
  • The other stuff.  Our favorite pizza places are also our favorite places for salad and bread sticks.  Typically, a place that does pizza well seems to find a way to do other things well, so when it comes to good things, you get two (or three) for the price of one.
  • Full service.  Going out means no dishes or tables to clean up.  It’s all right there!

Cons:

  • Cost.  The pizzas are more expensive, and you also pay for drinks, tip, and other things that can add up quickly.
  • Wait.  Your favorite pizza place is probably the favorite pizza place for a lot of other people, so you might have to wait…and be really hungry!

As you can see, all pizza options have their share of great things and maybe not so great things, but the one thing that trumps all is that in every scenario….you get pizza!

And, that is the number one thing.

For the record, our favorite out of all three…is all of them!  That sounds like a cop-out and it might be, but we love all three.  The difference is that on some pizza days, one stands out more than another, but overall, we love all three and would never dream of dropping any option out of our ‘rotation’.

Readers, who’s having pizza tonight?  What are your favorite pizza options, toppings, and all the rest?

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Was Buying Our Halloween Candy At Costco A Good Deal?

We realized last year that we need quite a bit of Halloween candy.  Fall camping at many campgrounds in Michigan means that they set things up for Halloween, with campers decorating their RVs and campsites.  There are Halloween based activities for the kids, and of course trick or treating.

Least year was our first time at the nearby park, and we realized quickly how big this was.  We took about 9 bags of candy and it was gone in a flash.  Our kids came back with an enormous haul, which let us pretty much have enough to hand back out on the actual Halloween back at our house.

This past weekend was our planned trip, and this time we decided to be more prepared.  We doubled our purchase of candy, getting the equivalent of 18 bags.  I say equivalent because we bought it from Costco, where the bag sizes (like everything else) is bigger.  Much bigger.  We purchased two bags, each roughly 90 ounces.  One bag had candy based around chocolate, and the other was more the sugary sweet candy.

I decided to take a look to see if we got a deal or not.

Most bags of candy sold for the purposes of Halloween giveaway is around 10 ounces, so that was my assumption.

At Costco, we purchased two bags, each around 90 oz. each.  That gave us 180 oz. of candy, or approximately 18 bags.

Costco:
Total Price: $28.58 ($14.99 and $13.59)
Ounces of candy: 182 ounces
Cost equivalent per 10 ounce bag: $1.57

Random check of other prices:

Not on sale bag at Meijer: $3.39
On sale at Walgreens: $1.99
On sale at Kroger: $1.50
Amazon (equivalent pricing): $3.24

So, with doing a random check, Costco came in 2nd, a few pennies more expensive than the sale price available at Kroger.

However, if given the choice I would still pick Costco.  Here’s why:

  • No quantity requirements (except for it being Costco) – For the Kroger deal, you had to buy the candy in multiples of four.  Meaning, if we were hard and fast to our 18 bags of candy, we would either have to get two bags less (16) or two extra bags (20). If you’re buying that many bags, chances are you can be flexible here, but there’s always…
  • Availability – This is probably the key one for me.  I was basing the price comparisons by what Kroger advertised in their circular.  But, I’ve seen deals like this before and more times than not, when I go to the store to grab the candy, there’s an empty spot on the shelf where the candy was that other lucky buyers already purchased (or three bags, just enough to where you can’t get the deal).  You can go track someone down to ask if there’s more in the back, but if anybody has ever gotten anything other than a shake of the head, you’ve been luckier than me.   You could try a rain check, but who wants to chance them not getting more, and then having to rush out last minute, and settle for being the house that gives out the little wrapped pieces of gum that lose their flavor after 3.7 seconds.

Purchasing candy at Halloween isn’t for everybody. If you need less than the equivalent of nine bags, chances are it’s not the place for you.  But, if you do need Halloween candy in bulk, I would recommend Costco without giving it a second thought.

Readers, where do you purchase your Halloween candy?  How do you sniff out deals?

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Do Lower Prices Equate To Lower Motivation?

In the last few months, my exercise routine has fallen off.  I have  yet to go more than a week without going to the gym (except during camping trips), but my normal four day per week routine fell to as little as one time and is now averaging around three times per week.

Initially I blamed the summer months and being busy, tired, etc. along with the activities, but when I took a closer look, I realized that my fall off not only occurred right around the time when summer started, but it also happened to be the time that I switched gyms…and got a lower price.

Prior to summer, I had been working out at a local gym and paying around $22 per month.  When Planet Fitness announced that they were opening, I enthusiastically switched as their pricing was only $10 per month.  I typically utilize cardio machines 90% of the time, which is the specialty of Planet Fitness.  My old gym had much more in the way of weights, but that was largely wasted on me.

I started to wonder if my gym routine took less importance in my mind when a ‘missed’ day had less cost.  Back when I was working out 4 times per week, that equated to roughly $1.32 per workout ($22.50 per month exactly divided by 17 workouts per month).  Once I started paying only $10 per month, that price per workout could be matched by only going 7-8 times per month…which is what I was hitting around the summer.

I wonder if subcounciously I had said “As long as I’m getting my money’s worth at the $1.32 price point, I’m OK”  and was letting that influence my decision.

I suppose time will tell.

It’s not all disappointment, though.  On the flip side of things, even with the reduced attendance, I’m still at my longest stretch of continued attendance at a gym in my life.  That’s pretty cool.  So, the good news is that I haven’t given up altogether, which is all too often the problem, and a much bigger one if you think about it.

Now that I’ve had this hit me, I’m going to work on getting back up to four times per week and keep that going through at least the fall and winter.  And, if you know Michigan weather, that would entail quite a few months in which to get back and stay on track!

It brings to mind some other potential examples:

  • If the price of your favorite pizza went down, would you throw leftovers away rather than keeping them or heating them up?
  • If your cable bill went down, do you think people would still try to call and get discounts or switch providers?
  • If car prices went down by 50%, would you cut the amount of time you keep the car by half? (Not taking into account the fact that a car costing half the price would probably fall apart in half the time)

What do you think, readers, what element does price weigh in on motivation?

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