How Much Can You Save by Eating at Home?
Freeing up some room in your budget is often the first step toward saving for a goal or adding to your investments. As you search for extra items to cut, restaurant spending might be catching your eye. Eating at home is cheaper than buying food at restaurants, and if you make a habit of cooking at home more you can most likely find significant savings.
How Much Can You Save?
USA Today reports that the average U.S. household spends $4,049 on food at home and $3,154 on food away from home, for a total of $7,203 annually. But how much might that family spend if they didn't go to restaurants?
There are two to three people in a typical U.S. household, so consider a family with a mother and father under the age of 50 and a child between the ages 6 and 8. Under the USDA's thrifty food plan, this family would spend $526.80 per month on food, or $6,321.60 per year by cooking all meals at home. That's a savings of more than $880 per year compared with what the typical household spends on food when restaurant delivery is included.
Recently, Forbes compared the advertised prices per serving of restaurant delivery meals with the cost of cooking those same meals at home. Suppose you start off the day with beef tacos, have a quinoa bowl for lunch, and then eat a cheese pizza for dinner.
- Beef tacos are $2.71 at home versus the $19.98 you'd pay for restaurant delivery
- The quinoa bowl costs $2.07 to make at home versus $16.99
- A cheese pizza for dinner is $1.30 per serving at home versus $17.94 from a restaurant
You save $17.27 on this breakfast, $14.92 on lunch, and $16.64 on dinner. That's $48.83 over the course of a day.
These calculations include delivery costs ranging from $2.50 to $5.00 per meal, but even if you avoid those fees by dining out at a restaurant, the price difference compared with cooking at home is still more than $10 per serving for many typical meals. That adds up quickly if you're buying several servings a week from restaurants.
Ways to Make Cooking at Home Easier
Cooking at home is more convenient when you have all of the ingredients you need on hand. Organize your grocery shopping by planning meals in advance. Browse cookbooks, or explore recipe sites like Yummly or Epicurious for inspiration. Once you've decided on the dishes you're going to make, write a master grocery list covering all meals for the week.
Try to shop for a mix of shelf-stable staples like grains and beans, and fresh foods like meat, seafood, and vegetables. Shelf-stable items can be bought in bulk at cheaper prices, while the fresh ingredients add delicious variety to your meals.
Being short on time after work prevents some people from eating at home on weeknights. If that's you, pick a weekend when you're less busy, and cook ahead. Prepare some meals that can be made in large batches, such as stews and casseroles, and then freeze them. When you're in a rush, you can heat up one of your frozen meals.
If the hassle of getting to a grocery store is preventing you from cooking, look into having groceries delivered. You can order non-perishable foods from sites like Amazon, and you may qualify for free delivery if you meet the minimum order. Delivery of fresh or frozen foods costs more, but it may be worth it if it allows you to cook at home regularly. A $10 monthly delivery subscription fee is a lot kinder to your wallet than spending hundreds on multiple restaurant outings.
Do you enjoy others' cooking? Start a cooking co-op with a few friends. Pick a regular weekly dinner time like Saturday night, and let all of the co-op members take turns cooking a big batch of food to share with everyone. This way, you do some extra cooking when it's your turn, but other weeks you can sit back and relax while a friend cooks.
Cooking at home takes some time, but the result is that you spend a lot less. The next time you want to reach for a take-out menu, consider putting on a stir-fry instead.