When you eat out the majority of the time you get used to it very quickly. Instead of a nice meal out being a treat, it simply becomes expected. This means it won’t bring you much extra happiness because it is simply what your brain already expects.
Compare this to when you make the majority of your food at home. A nice dinner out is a treat and you are not used to it, this means it makes you much happier in comparison. Making the majority of meals at home lowers your cost per meal drastically, saving you a surprising amount monthly as well as making the meals you do eat out seem even more rewarding.
The statistics on eating out
- Restaurants charge an average markup of 300% on what they serve
- The average American household spends around $7200 on food a year
- The average American spends $7.5 per day on food
- The average American household spends $3000 a year dining out
- Over half of the money spent on food a year in the US is spent on eating outside of the home
- Americans spend around 10% of their disposable income on food
Reasons restaurants are so expensive
As mentioned before, restaurants may not seem too expensive at the time, but the costs add up immensely if you go out frequently. Here are the reasons restaurants are so expensive to help shed some light on why they may be costing you much more than you anticipate.
You are paying for the experience, not the food
- The food you get at restaurants is quite cheap. Ingredients are not very expensive and the time it takes to cook is relatively minor. The real cost is the waiters providing you great service, the atmosphere of the building, and the skill of the chef.
The markup is incredibly high so the restaurant can make a profit
- Restaurants must pay for the building rental, tons of employees, plenty of utilities, and other miscellaneous costs. They must also run at a profit to stay in business, they do this by up charging you incredible amounts on your meal.
You go to them frequently
- What makes eating out so expensive is how often you do it. If you eat out multiple times a week it becomes very easy to spend hundreds of extra dollars each month without even noticing it. If you spend $25 on a meal 4 times a week you spend $400 a month extra. This is not even factoring in going out for family meals or expensive meals to impress others.
The average price of cooking at home vs. going to a restaurant
The average meal cooked at home costs around $4 per meal. While the average meal at a restaurant costs $13 per meal. What makes this even more expensive is that most of the time we are feeding multiple mouths, and most of the time we spend much more than $13 when we go to a restaurant.
It is very common for an average person or family to average $1 to $3 per meal cooking at home if they buy and cook foods intentionally. It is also very common for the average person to spend $20 to $25 per person on a meal at a restaurant, if you include drinks this can even be much higher.
The more often you eat out at restaurants the higher your monthly average cost per meal becomes. Try to stay around $3 per meal per person each month. This will enable you to save hundreds of dollars a month to put to use on things that make your life much better than eating at a restaurant multiple times each week.
The yearly cost of day to day products
Buying something every day seems very innocent, but when you run the numbers it can be shockingly expensive over time. Let’s look at a few examples of the cost of buying something daily and how much it will cost you per year.
For these examples, we assume that you buy the item 5 times a week each year. With 52 weeks in a year, this adds up to 260 purchases annually. Let’s look at how much these 260 purchases cost you!
Cup of coffee
- Average cost: $3
- Annual cost: $780
- Average cost: $10
- Annual cost: $2600
- Average cost: $16
- Annual cost: $4160
- Annual cost if only buying once a week: $832
The total cost of buying coffee and lunch daily: $3380
The total cost of buying coffee, lunch, and dinner daily: $7540
The annual cost of averaging $3 per meal cooking at home, without buying coffee: 260 days x $9 per day for 3 meals = $2340
Tips on how to save when eating out
When eating in a restaurant there are a few simple ways to save money that won’t degrade your experience much at all.
- Don’t get multiple appetizers or dessert
- Avoid buying multiple alcoholic drinks
- Go out on nights that there are good deals at your favorite places
- Do not tip less to save money, saving money at the expense of others is not worth it
- Don’t forget to utilize happy hours! This gives a great opportunity to get the same meals and drinks you would usually get for well under the typical price! It is the same experience for far less cost, can’t beat that.
- Avoid buying lunch every day of the week while at work. While it may be convenient and better-tasting at the moment, that money can be much better utilized. Try eating out once or twice a week instead! This will cost you less money overall but make the experience more memorable and you won’t get used to it like you will buying lunch at work.
- Going to restaurants on less popular nights of the week can be a great decision as well. This benefits the restaurant as the employees and owner get some business on their off night, and it benefits you because this is when the best deals are on!
- Another great way to save money is to avoid overeating when you eat out. Most of us eat the entire meal because we feel we should, or we send the rest to be thrown out when we are done. Instead, just ask the rest of the meal to be boxed up once you are full! This gives you an extra meal for another day and means you won’t feel stuffed and sick afterward.
- When planning dates out consider options other than just going out for dinner. Going out for lunch, coffee or dessert may be more pleasant as well as easier on the wallet.
- Finally, avoid overspending. If you create a dedicated monthly amount in your budget to be spent on eating out you can keep your spending accountable. If you have no idea how much you are willing to spend monthly you will easily overspend. If instead, you keep in mind the amount you want to spend you can spend that money intentionally. This will help you avoid overspending as well as get the most bang for your buck by stretching the dollars you budget each month to their max.
Utilize credit cards rewards and coupons
Credit card rewards and coupons take very minimal work to take advantage of while providing great benefits if you use them properly.
Making the most of credit card rewards:
- Shop around for the best credit card for your needs. Get one that offers high rewards for your grocery store and the restaurants you frequent most often.
- Make sure to use the card that gives the most benefits whenever you go out
- Know how best to optimally spend your rewards, there are often deals at certain times to get up to 50% more value out of your points if you know the system well.
Making the most of coupons:
- Find good cheap coupon books and flyers, before you buy them make sure the places you frequent most are in there
- Use coupons to help decide where to eat. Check through the coupon book as a list for ideas of where to eat out.
- Don’t rely on remembering your coupons when you leave the house, keep them in your car or wallet.
The health factor
There are 2 important factors to consider when thinking about your health and how it relates to eating out.
Risks of eating out
Eating out frequently encourages you to eat much less nutritious and health-conscious foods. Some restaurants are good for making high-quality nutritious meals, but most are not. Especially if you get fast food frequently, you are often putting a large number of calories and unhealthy foods into your body and not even satisfying your hunger as much. Healthier foods cooked at home can nourish you significantly more and avoid major health risks such as heart disease, diabetes, and stomach problems. In addition to these long-term risks, there are short-term effects too such as feeling sick, lacking energy, or feeling bloated.
Cooking your food yourself fits your diet better
When on a diet or simply trying to eat healthier, the best way to control your eating habits is cooking for yourself. You will know exactly what goes into each meal you make and can control just how healthy it is. This can also help immensely in finding out which foods give you the most energy and best help you to reach your health goals. When you eat out so much you barely know what you are putting in your body it becomes incredibly difficult to keep track of your diet and your health. Cooking your meals puts what you eat in your control.
Planning is important
One of the biggest reasons people end up eating unhealthy or eating out is that they have not planned any meals and just want the convenience. This feeling is understandable and you shouldn’t feel bad about it. What we can do instead is make sure we are planning ahead so we avoid creating these vulnerable situations for ourselves.
Planning your meals makes this process much easier. It is best to plan your meals for the week and get all the ingredients during your grocery trip. This means when you get home and want to make a meal all you have to do is grab the ingredients you already have and follow the recipe you already have. This takes away all the stress and friction holding you back from making a healthy home-cooked meal.
When it comes to saving money on food, one of the best ways to do it is to plan out your grocery shopping ahead of time. This means making a concise list of what you need for your meals and healthy snacks this week and then sticking to it. You should also make sure to plan where you are going to do your grocery shopping.
Know where the lowest prices are in your area for what you need. Just like when it comes to cooking meals, have this done before you are about to leave for the grocery store. This will allow you to go to the store without any added stress or decision-making that may lead you astray and cause you to spend more on the food you don’t want.
Tips for cooking at home
One extra benefit of cooking at home is how much you can save money by being clever and making intentional decisions. Here are a few ways to save money and cook better when eating at home.
Smart grocery shopping
- Don’t go shopping when you are hungry
- Make a plan and stick to it
- Base what you eat around what is on sale this season
- Check coupons to see if you can get some extra savings for a small amount of your time
Must have kitchen tools
- High-quality knives and a sharpener
- A variety of measuring spoons
- A great set of nonstick pots
- A slow cooker, allows you to make incredibly simple meals with no effort. They can also feed you for multiple days for super cheap!
- Find healthy ways to make what you love to eat, such as fries, chicken wings, or burgers
- Follow the recipes at first, then do some improvising
- Always taste as you go
- Experiment with different spices and seasonings to find your favorites and keep things fresh
- The Keto diet is a low-carb diet. It focuses on getting your calories from fat and protein instead of mostly carbs. This means avoiding things like bread, pastries, sodas, and other “empty calories.”
- Being vegetarian simply means not eating any meat products. There are many arguments to be made for plants being the healthiest way to eat and studies back this up. It is a simple diet but a bit difficult to follow if you are a meat lover.
- The Paleo diet is inspired by the hunter-gatherer humans that came before us. The idea is to eat what they could have eaten. This is a focus on fish, some lean meats, nuts, vegetables, and seeds. It is more natural than most diets and avoids processed foods.
- Inspired by what people in the Mediterranean eat, this diet focuses on Italian, Spanish, and greek foods. It mostly avoids red meats, instead of focusing on vegetables, nuts, bread, and fish. It can be quite a delicious diet and less limiting than most.
- The Atkins diet is very specific and takes place in 4 phases. First, you avoid carbs and eat high-fat and protein foods to kickstart weight loss. Then you balance out your diet with fruits and nuts. In phase 3 you slowly add more carbs to lose weight more slowly and in the last phase, you eat the number of carbs that your body can handle without gaining weight.
Easy to make recipes & Great sources for recipes
Any type of pasta
Pasta is incredibly simple to make, it consists of 2 steps:
- Boil your preferred type of pasta or noodles in a pot
- Once cooked cover with your favorite type of pasta sauce, add meat if you like
Soup or stew in the slow cooker
Soup or stew in a slow cooker is a great meal when you don’t want to think too hard. The best part is you can dump your ingredients in the morning and turn it on before you leave for the day. You will come home to an amazing-smelling dinner and one that tastes good too!
Stir fry is nearly as simple as making pasta and just as delicious. It is a simple 3 step process:
- Put oil in your wok or pot, add vegetables, and fry.
- Cut your meats and add them to the pot
- Add noodles or rice to the pot and add your favorite seasoning (can’t go wrong with teriyaki)
Last but not least, you can never go wrong with making tacos. If you have tortillas or hard shells in the house, all you need is meat and some toppings:
- Cook meat
- Prepare cheese, vegetables, and condiments
- Layout all the options and allow everyone to make their tacos!
A few great recipe blogs to check out
- Simply Recipes – A great resource for simple recipes to make at home.
- Food 52 – Slightly fancier recipes but still very simple to make and incredibly delicious!
A few Instagram and Youtube channels for recipes and cooking related content
- Smitten Kitchen – A variety of great home-cooked dishes with simple and engaging videos to follow allow to.
- Justin Chapple – Incredible-looking food that will inspire you to eat healthier and happier.
- Binging with Babish – Cook alongside one of the Internet’s most famous chefs. He makes incredibly delicious food and makes it super simple to follow along.
- Tasty – Recipes you can make in a very short time with very simple instructions, great for when you need an awesome meal or snack in a pinch.
A few Instagram and Youtube channels for health and fitness that are also related to cooking
- Sami Clarke – Great fitness and workout videos coupled with meal prep and healthy eating videos.
- Jeremy Ethier – Focus on healthy foods and meal prep to bulk up and reach your ideal body type.
Consider a home cooking date instead of a restaurant
While going out for a nice meal may be the traditional way to spend date night, it may pale in comparison to eating at home. When eating at home there is no rule saying you must have a boring and uneventful dinner! Instead, make a night out of it. You can play some music, find a great recipe you are both excited about, and cook together.
This can bring you much closer together and will be a great experience as you have to communicate and work together to create something great. The fact that this costs less is just a bonus. Give it a shot and you might just find you’ve been missing out all along.
Meal delivery services
Meal delivery services offer an in-between option, halfway between eating out and cooking for yourself. They provide the ingredients and recipe for a high-quality and healthy home-cooked meal. What makes it different from restaurants is that you cook it yourself.
This can be a great experience as you don’t have to buy any groceries and the meals are pre-planned and health-conscious. It can make the cooking experience much more enjoyable as it takes most of the stress away and allows you to just cook and nothing else.
The only problem is that it is still more costly than cooking at home. As mentioned before it is easy to spend an average of $3 per person per meal cooking for yourself at home. With meal delivery services that average is closer to $10 per person per meal.
While this may be notably more expensive than buying your groceries, if you are incredibly busy and value the time save of not planning meals or grocery shopping, it can be worth it. Anything that gets you cooking and eating healthy meals at home is a good thing, while it may be cheaper to do it yourself if you value the convenience these can be a great option.
A few of the best meal delivery services are…
- Hello Fresh
- Blue Apron
- Home Chef
To conclude, it is important to know the true cost of your spending habits. While it may seem minor to spend $10 or $20 a day on eating out these purchases add up immensely over months and years. While you shouldn’t feel you are depriving yourself, cutting back on these frivolous purchases can add incredible flexibility to your annual budget. This money can be spent on things that bring you more happiness, or saved and invested to grow and allow you to retire earlier.
Either way, being more aware of your daily and weekly spending can make your life much better than you may anticipate. The little things in life add up and become the big things, making sure you are in control of your small purchases will in turn lead to you being in control of the financial big picture of your life as well.