I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream

It’s one of my favorite indulgences of the summer months: ice cream. Whether it’s a creamy soft serve dripping from a cake cone, or a thick homestyle variety drenched with toppings in a cup, ice cream always makes me feel like a kid.

And during the summer months, it can also make me feel broke.

Soaring Ice Cream Costs

Just like everything else in the world, inflation has hit the ice cream market hard. In 2011, global demand for dairy products like milk and butter send ice cream prices soaring just as the summer thermometer was climbing; the cost for other ingredients, like sugar, chocolate and nuts, was up an average of 11 percent. 2012 has been no different; earlier this year, a shortage of vanilla pods – fueled by a poor harvest in countries like Mexico – sent prices for this key ingredient climbing. The result? An increase of up to ten percent per serving of vanilla-based ice cream products. And this isn’t a one-time
hit – it takes more than half a decade to cultivate a vanilla crop, meaning the price of ice cream won’t be going anywhere any time soon.

Your Favorite Sundae: DIY or Hit The Store?

I’ll be the first to admit that I feel a little giddy every time I walk into an ice cream parlor; it’s that whole nostalgia of my childhood washing over me. But with ice cream prices rising, it seems like ice cream stores have been the first to increase their prices.

So, I decided to do a comparison: for the month of July, I tracked the price of ice cream at two local ice cream shops as well as a grocery store. I wanted to see which place gave me the best deal.

The Traditional Ice Cream Parlor

The first element of my unofficial ice cream cost study was a traditional ice cream parlor located a few miles from my house. This store offers 12 flavors at any given time, plus loads of standard toppings like caramel and chocolate sauce, shaved nuts, and sprinkles.

The prices are as follows:

  • Single scoop (no toppings): $2.89
  • Single scoop (two toppings – went with shaved coconut and caramel sauce): $3.69
  • Hot fudge sundae (two scoops of ice cream, plus hot fudge, sprinkles, whipped cream, and a
  • cherry): $5.19

The Pay-Per-Ounce Ice Cream Shop

I’ve seen an increase in pay-as-you-go ice cream shops that charge you per ounce. The cool thing about
these shops is that you get to custom-build your sundae. This particular shop always has six flavors, and
far more topping options than the traditional store, including rarities like pieces of crumbled cheesecake
and fresh mangoes. The shop charges $0.45/ounce; I tried my best to copy the same menu items from
the traditional parlor. Here are the prices I got:

  • Single scoop (no toppings): $2.30
  • Single scoop (two toppings): $4.08
  • Hot fudge sundae (ice cream, hot fudge, sprinkles, whipped cream, cherry): $6.17

DIY: Hitting Up The Grocery Store

I was hopeful that by adding my ice cream purchases to my grocery budget that I’d be able to reduce the
costs of this summertime treat. In order to accurately replicate the items I’d ordered from the ice cream
shops – I was eating a lot of ice cream by this point – I had to buy full-sized versions of everything from
the ice cream to the jar of cherries. Here’s what it cost me:

  • Half-gallon of vanilla ice cream: $3.99 (enough for eight store-sized servings)
  • Shaved coconut: $1.49 for 8 oz (enough for probably a dozen or more treats)
  • Caramel sauce: $2.49 for 12 oz (enough for several dozen servings)
  • Hot fudge: $2.49 for 12 oz (enough for probably a dozen servings)
  • Sprinkles: $1.99 for 3 oz (enough for several dozen servings)
  • Whipped cream: $1.99 for 6.5 oz (enough for probably a dozen servings)
  • Cherries: $2.99 for 16 oz (Probably enough for several dozen servings)

Doing The Math: Cost Per Serving

Because I bought the ingredients at the grocery store in bulk – it would have been impossible to do
otherwise – I broke the costs down to a per serving basis. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Single scoop (no toppings): $0.50
  • Single scoop (two toppings): $0.73
  • Hot fudge sundae (two scoops of ice cream, hot fudge, sprinkles, whipped cream, cherry): $1.59

The Comparison

Obviously, you can see that based on individual servings, it was far, far cheaper to buy the ice cream at the store and scoop it myself. But those numbers are deceiving. Overall, I spent $17.43 (plus tax) on the ingredients to make the same treats I bought at the ice cream parlors. Based on the smallest item I bought – the vanilla ice cream – I should have been able to get eight servings; but I went through the ice cream in just six days, and then failed to buy more ice cream. Essentially, I wasted a lot of money by purchasing more than I really needed; I also ate a lot more ice cream over the course of that single week
than any human being really should.

I would have thought that the pay-per-ounce ice cream shop would have been a great deal, since I got to dictate how much I bought. I did pretty well estimating the amount of ice cream per serving (in comparison to the traditional parlor), but things went horribly wrong when I tried to eyeball the toppings.

Ultimately, I think going to a traditional ice cream parlor may make the most sense. From a financial perspective, the prices are fixed, so you know what you’ll be paying when you place your order. Second, there aren’t any leftovers to go to waste. And third, you won’t have to make time for extra sessions at the gym because you overindulged on ice cream.

Readers, do you prefer to make your own ice cream treats in the summer, or do you hit up an ice cream parlor? Anyone ballsy enough to make their own ice cream from scratch?

4 Responses to I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream

  1. There is a locally owned ice cream place a little bit down the beach that is amazing. We get a 3 scoop for a little over 5 bucks and share it. They have had some high profile people eat there and their cake ice cream is to die for. Normally we just eat at home though.

  2. Kathleen @ Frugal Portland says:

    I love ice cream so much — just love it. I have homemade caramel sauce so I get the good kind of vanilla and adjust my dinner amount accordingly.

  3. Betty Baez says:

    You have valid points here, either I end up eating the entire carton in a week or it doesnt get eaten and gets freezer burned

  4. Squeezer @Personal Finance Success says:

    Have you noticed that you can no longer get a 1/2 gallon (2 quart) ice cream container anymore? Now they are 1.5-1.75 quart containers.

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