Friday, October 3, 2008

Eat At Home

#7 Money Saving Tip - Eat at Home! This goes along with the cost of convenience foods. The convenience cost of eating out is generally at least twice as much as eating home and more commonly four times the price or more. Granted, there are some foods you cannot replicate from your favorite restaurant in your kitchen. But oftentimes, people eat out because they are in too much of a rush to make dinner and they pay for it. These are simple dinners they are eating out - burgers, pizza, spaghetti, etc. A pound of burger meat costs about $2.99. Oftentimes you can get it even cheaper than that when it's on sale. A pound of ground meat should feed a typical family of four. Or perhaps there are big eaters in your family and you need two pounds to feed your family. The cost of the meat is only $3-$6. Add in a salad (cost is probably $1) and some french fries that also shouldn't cost more than $1. That is a meal for 4 people for between $5 and $8. Pizza and spaghetti are even cheaper to make at home. Even if you are not cooking from scratch but instead are using prepared or frozen foods from the supermarket, the cost should be dramatically less than eating out.

The key to this is planning in advance. For the most part this isn't difficult. When you shop at the supermarket, buy some ground beef, a bag of frozen french fries, and a bag of prewashed salad and a tomato. When you get home, immediately, separate the meat and form patties and then throw them in the freezer. Then any night that week, your meal is only 30 minutes or so from being ready - even quicker than takeout. The burgers can be made easily on a grill. The fries can go in the toaster oven, and the salad can be prepared while the other things are cooking. You can make your meal even cheaper by buying the meat in bulk when it's on sale and having it last you for more than one meal. You can make the fries from scratch by buying potatoes and slicing them and frying them (or baking them) yourself. And lettuce, of course, can be bought outside of a bag and washed yourself. But even by taking the shortcuts mentioned above, you will still save a lot of money by staying home to eat.

For other easy meals such as spaghetti or pizza, it can be done from scratch or the shortcut way and still have dramatic savings over eating out. Pizza dough can be bought in the refrigerated section. Add some jar sauce and shredded cheese and bake. Cost is proabably about $3. A bag of spaghetti and jar sauce is probably only $2. One person cannot eat that cheaply in a restaurant let alone a whole family.

If you plan most of your meals ahead of time (even just in your head), you can avoid rushing out to eat or ordering take-out. Instead you can eat out when you truly want a meal you cannot duplicate at home or you want to treat yourself to a night out without cleaning up dishes.

In Real Life (IRL) - I am not a great cook. I'm not sure I'm even a good cook. But I do make at least 6 of our dinners at home per week. Sometimes I make all of them. Sometimes I do it from scratch as much as possible and sometimes I buy foods that are more convenient (and more costly than basic ingredients but still less than eating out). For example, I often make pizza dough from scratch. Flour, yeast, sugar, oil, and water do not cost much. Maybe I spend 50 cents on those ingredients for one pizza dough. I don't use homemade pizza sauce though and I buy shredded cheese. So it takes me very little time to make a pizza for dinner. As long as I know in my mind early in the day that pizza is what I'm making, then it gets done. It's when I don't think about what dinner will be until the last minute that I am tempted to order out.

I don't think everyone needs to cook from scratch to save money from eating out. If you are eating out 3 -4 times a week and want to cut it down, then start by buying convenience foods - premade doughs, frozen french fries, jarred sauce, etc. Once you have that routine covered and are comfortable with it, then attemp to make the same foods from scratch. It not only saves you money but is also healthier. Bulk potatoes are very cheap. Cutting them and frying them is not too time consuming. Cutting your own lettuce and washing it takes a few minutes more than pouring it out of a bag but really doesn't take that long. When we stared cutting back on eating out to save money, this is how we did it. We bought easy things and then I started cooking more from scratch. I don't do it all the time, but we do avoid eating out most days. And it has saved us a lot on our grocery bill.

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