It should be intuitively obvious that you save money when you cook your own meals. Yet many people who are struggling to get by eat away from home on a regular basis.
Try this little exercise. For one week, make a note of how much you spend on every little food item that you eat away from home. This should include all those $5 latte’s you just have to have at Starbucks, any juice or soda that you buy at the gym and any candy you get on the run, just to have a little sugar to keep you going. Do this for a week. Include everything.
Thousands of Dollars in Expenditures
At the end of the week add up your total. Be honest or the exercise is pointless. Also, be sitting down, you are in for a shock. Now make it worse. Multiply the number you got by 52 to get an annual expenditure. The amount is likely to be in the thousands.
At the very least, now you know how much should go into the budget that we previously urged you to prepare under the line item, unnecessary food expenditure.
Personally, I am broke. I am so broke that I have had to give up going to Starbucks. You have no idea the kind of sacrifice that is for me, but I have no choice. Yet I still, from time-to-time, find myself sitting in a Denny’s where the dinner I eat, including endless lemonade for $2.99, and dessert, will cost me $20. That includes a tip by the way.
There is no way I can justify this spending. For that $20 I could have four meals at home (or seven Grande coffees at Starbucks). Not only that, but I feel terrible every time I eat at Denny’s. Not just for the cash I have put out, but for the amount of sugar I take in.
Do Not Bring the Kids to Denny’s
I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like taking a wife and two kids with me to Denny’s. The damage would be around $80 for lunch or dinner, and two kids that are over-hyped on sugar. It is going to be so much cheaper, you are going to save so much money, if you start cooking and eating your meals at home.
Prepare Large Meals Infrequently. Take Days to Eat Them.
Here is a tip. Prepare your meals only once or twice a week. Make them big meals that you can consume for days. Also, make them out of something that can be reused in a number of different ways. Make a big roast chicken. Have the legs the first night. Strip off the white meat and have fajitas the second night. Then throw the remains in a pot with some water and the veggies of your choosing and finish the bird off as soup.
To my mind, the most important thing this accomplishes is keeping you away from the phone, where you would order pizza, because you are too tired or busy to cook. The meal is basically there, it can be eaten with really minimal prep time.
You also accomplish the art of using leftovers creatively, something else that will save you money.
Save When You Cook Your Own Meals
Now that we have you out of the restaurant, into your kitchen and cooking your own meals, here are some great ways to save money in your kitchen.
- Get out the crock pot. Buy meat that is less expensive but tough. Cook it in water, over a low heat for an extended period. The meat will taste great when done. Where I shop, you can get crock pot suited meat for between $2 and $6 per pound. Steak on the other hand goes for upwards of $10 per pound.
- Serve the correct portion size. My ex-girlfriend used to drive me nuts with this. Experts say that you should be serving 4 ounces of meat (that cooks down to 3 ounces) at meals. Make up the rest of your dinner with veggies and whole grains. This could work for you. I’m a meat eater and don’t love this concept except for the cash savings.
- Take those bananas that have turned brown virtually the second you got them home and use them for banana bread or muffins. Or, peel them, freeze them and use them at a later date for smoothies.
- This one is obvious. Use the leftovers from dinner tonight for tomorrow’s brown bag lunch. It may be less obvious to think about preparing extra for your dinner exactly for the purpose of that brown bag lunch. Making extra of one meal should be less expensive than making both a dinner and a lunch. What would be worse is not making that lunch at all and eating at your local diner.
- Try making a stir fry. You can use just a little meat or chicken with a lot of veggies. Add seasoning and rice. You will have a healthy and inexpensive meal. And you can save the leftovers easily.
- Scan your fridge. Make a routine that each time before you go shopping, you move the items in your fridge that are about to go bad or approaching their expiration date, to the front and use them next. Don’t let good food go bad because you had forgotten that it was there.
The Return to Starbucks?
There are lots of other ways to save money when you get over the eating out habit and start cooking your own meals. These are just a few examples. What I hope you take from here is that eating out is expensive. And, not only can you save a lot of money by staying home, but if you employ just some simple concepts, you can save even more when you cook your own meals.
My hope is to save enough by cooking at home that I can afford to go to Starbucks again, at least every once in a while.