Budgeting Tips: Restaurants vs. Dining InAugust 13, 2016
Restaurants vs. Dining In – When deciding about whether to eat at a restaurant or to cook at home, many people immediately think about the health benefits of home cooking. Preparing your meals at home obviously allows you to control calories and limit indulgent ingredients, but it can also be healthier for your budget — and your waistline.
When most of us are trying to save money, we look to monitoring the thermostat, trying to use less gasoline, and probably cutting back on shopping or non-essentials. However, many people underestimate just how much money can be saved by sacrificing a few delicious meals at your favorite restaurant, and instead, opting to cook those meals at home.
A popular excuse for eating out is that many fast food chains and restaurants offer inexpensive meal options, while shopping for fresh ingredients or “healthy food” can be expensive. While both of those statements can be valid, it is commonly overlooked that most groceries are purchased in bulk, which can provide multiple healthy meals when prepared and stored properly. It is here that the savings related to at-home cooking really become noticeable. In fact, award-winning author Leanne Brown has created an entire cookbook in which she helps foodies eat well on a budget. Her methodology revolves around the $4 per day food budget, or, $1.33 per meal. While this sounds extreme, think about it this way: the average American spends $232 per month dining out, at an average cost of $12.75 per meal, making the $4 daily food budget seem like a real bargain.
If you are serious about budgeting, then you need to take a look at your dining habits.
Recently, researchers at The Boston Globe took it upon themselves to determine whether eating out was truly cheaper than cooking for yourself at home. They compared a steak dinner at Outback Steakhouse to cooking a steak dinner at home, with the same starter and sides. They found that after shopping for ingredients and replicating the meal, the at-home cost was just $11.84, compared to $23.84 at Outback. Furthermore, the ingredients purchased for the at-home test allowed the consumers to make soup and salad for the rest of the week.
Here are some useful tips for saving even more money when cooking at home — without losing any of the taste:
- Cook the right portions for your lifestyle. Some people love leftovers and focus on weekend meal prep. Others hate leftovers and always seem to end up throwing food away. Understand what type of person you are and what your food preferences are before you buy ingredients or begin to cook. You can always divide and freeze uncooked portions from bulk packages of pricier items, such as proteins.
- Plan your meals. Go to the grocery store with a list and only plan to purchase what you know you are going to use.
- Do not shop when you are hungry. We have all done this at some point, and it never fails to lead to cravings and impulse buys.
- Buy generic instead of national brands. With this route, you nearly always save money on quality food, as food manufacturers have to follow the same standards as national brands. Taste tests show that private label store brands often perform as well as their name brand counterparts, so it’s worth giving them a try.
- Stock up on sales. When staples go on sale (especially ones that can be frozen or are non-perishable), buy in bulk and save a little money.
- Buy in-season food. Produce that is not in-season often has to be transported long distances to get to your store, which is not good for the environment or your budget. In-season foods are often fresher, taste better, and are usually cheaper.
- Learn about seasoning and spices. Do you have a specific restaurant dish that you’re craving? Not only can you often find copycat recipes online that deliver results close to the original, but in the process, you’ll also learn how to combine different seasoning and spices to create your own signature dishes.
Ultimately, you do not have to sacrifice delicious food when you are on a budget. Restaurants can be expensive and, as a result, can make budgeting more challenging. However, if you focus on planning your meals effectively and shopping with a plan, you can enjoy all the flavor at a fraction of the price.