Food cost is the third biggest expenditure item for a typical household in the US with 12.5% of income spent on this category. This is certainly true of my own budget in the past couple years. The choice is simple, either cook at home or eat out. Many people have great affinity for one or the other, and many more just don’t care how much is spent. In this post we will look at how my grocery vs restaurant bills have evolved. Along the way, hopefully I can give you some reasons to be mindful about this spending category as well.
Couple years ago, we had a habit of eating out often when my girlfriend and I first dated. We were able to spend quality time together enjoying delicious cuisine cooked by the pros. As we got to know each other more and later when I moved to a new place, we swung the other extreme of cooking every meal at home. It was fun at the beginning. I’ve always wanted to be a great cook and that was a perfect chance to do so. But as we got busier at work, cooking felt like a chore and ultimately we burnt out. We dialed back to a better balance that works for us since then. This includes storing convenient food at home so the days where we don’t feel like cooking we are still covered (we went gourmet every time when we cooked before). I’m quite comfortable cooking, but sometimes it is hard to fight the bug of being lazy and eat out. Today, we eat out about once or twice a week, and we savor them as our date nights. The key to
In our experience, we average about $20 per person when we go out to restaurants. Generally we’re not getting anything fancy – two entrees and an appetizer with no drinks. When we cook at home, we typically remark on how our meals cost $2 per person and how well we were eating. For a realistic representation, our weekly grocery bill averages to about $3.50 per person per meal. That’s a difference of almost 6X! Sometimes when we do grocery haul, a heavy bag full of healthy ingredients could be had for less than the cost of dinner next door.
When it’s clear that cooking is so much more economically efficient, why aren’t more people doing it? Some common arguments for eating out.
- I don’t know how to cook – “I’ve never used a knife, a spatula, or a stove.”
- I’m a terrible cook – “I produce more burnt pots and pans than edible dishes.”
- I have no time to cook – “I work a stressful job, I don’t have any time to spare when I get home.”
- There’s no time to shop for grocery – “If I don’t even have time to cook, where do I find time to shop?”
- I hate shopping for grocery – “There are way too many choices and it’s not enjoyable.”
- It’s convenient – “I can just show up wherever I want depending on what I’m craving for.”
While they’re all valid reasons, reality is many are not as significant as they seem.
- Abundant resources online to teach simple recipes – Start simple and learn a few dishes you like. Do it a few times and you’ll be amazed by what you can do. Practice makes perfect.
- Failure rate of 2% max for things I’m totally uncomfortable cooking with – I’ve tried cooking completely different cuisine or unfamiliar ingredients, they all turned out okay as long as I follow instructions the first time.
- Takes about as much time to eat out as eating in – Between traveling to the restaurant, waiting for a seat, waiting to order, waiting for the food to come, waiting for the bill to be paid, and traveling back home, you really don’t save all that much time unless the restaurant is right next door.
- For the same price, you can get much more – In Japanese restaurants when we order a plate of sashimi, it’s typically $20 for a few pieces. At our neighborhood quality Japanese supermarket, we get three types of fish of similar quality for around the same price. Your dollar goes much further if you eat in.
- Can buy a lot at once – If you don’t like grocery shopping, do it fewer times but get more per trip. Food won’t go bad as long as you buy within a week’s worth (or even two) and store them properly.
Restaurants charge at least 3X the ingredient cost for them to cover expenses and turn a slim profit. You can save that 3X by investing a bit in basic cooking skills. As mentioned before, start simple. Do it once a week, get a feel for it. Gradually ramp it up and determine your optimal tradeoff. It’s a fun activity for couple, it could be a simple task for an individual.
If you’re a novice cook, here are a few gadgets that help make the cooking process foolproof and extremely efficient.
- Pots and pans – Basic cookware obviously.
- Instant Pot – This is a jack of all trades and master of all device. You can cook anything from stew to porridge to yogurt, all in one pot in fraction of the usual time. Throw in ingredients, set the appropriate timer, and the pressure cooking feature will take care of the rest. It’s like using a cheat code in the game of food, it’s glorious.
- Anova Sou Vide – This is another device where using it felt like cheating, especially the first time. The idea is to use constant water temperature to poach food items to the desire doneness. Absolutely foolproof and is what’s used in fancy restaurants to cook meat as well.
- Dishwasher – Chances are you don’t like washing dishes. If you already have one it’ll make the cooking-at-home process so much less like a chore.