If you are trying to save money or cut down on expenses, you can save money by just doing one simple thing: cook your food at home.
Managing where you eat your meals is something that everyone has to do. But you have monthly payments that are set at a specific cost: your rent or mortgage, car insurance or the cost of a monthly Metrocard. It would be hard to cut back easily. But spending money on food is one area you can be flexible in budgeting.
And American’s do cut down on eating out if people need to tighten their belts. In the three years preceding the end of the recession in 2009, Americans cut their spending on food prepared outside the house by 12.9 percent, adjusted for inflation. This steep cut is deeper than the inflation-adjusted 1.6 percent drop in at-home food spending, according to the USDA.
But cutting back when times get tough could be too late.
A study published at the end of 2015 showed that 56 percent of American’s have less than $1,000 in savings. If times get hard, most Americans do not have a cushion to fall back on to make sure they are financially secure. But one way that you can better save money or reduce your costs in case of financial distress is to cook more food at home instead eating at a restaurant that marks up the cost of the food it prepares to survive.
And don’t fool yourself, eating out is more expensive than cooking your own meals. The cost of eating at home in January actually fell by 0.5 percent year over year, according the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While those costs actually fell, the average cost of eating at a restaurant rose by 2.7 percent.
But some people might think it is a luxury that’s worth it. Alexandra Owens is the mother of two teenagers and she said that eating out to them is a good way to create more family time.
“Our calculus places a high value on eating out, because it means family time in a way that a meal at home doesn’t,” Owens said. “Preparing, cooking, serving and cleaning up all get in the way of actual conversation.”
Owens, her husband, and two kids spend about twice as much eating out as they do making meals at home. But there is still a financial trade off she takes and “there was a point where we did have to cut down when money got tight,” Owens said.
But you might not be as lucky as the Owens’ and you can’t afford that. If you are looking for a way to make sure you don’t eat out too much, you can plan out your meals in advance.
That is exactly what Kali Jadusingh does each month. She is the mother of a two-year old and her family only goes out if it is a special occasion. But usually she lays out a monthly plan. “I budget for the entire month by creating a monthly calendar and writing what’s for dinner for each day,” Jadusingh said. “Then I just create a grocery list based off of the meal options I made, and buy in bulk.”
There are Two things that Jadusingh focuses on to save money is to buy in bulk and use coupons when she can.
Jadusingh tries to go to Sam’s Club at least once a month.“Those are usually toiletries, diapers, sometimes meat, and then quick meals to take to lunch or to make for my son.” She said that it is better for savings but it is more convenient to buy toiletries because “we go through them so quickly that buying them in bulk allows me to not have to get them as often.”
Jadusingh also saves money with coupons. “I shop at Target for when I have coupons because they let you stack deals,” Jadusingh said. The stack deal is basically when you have multiple coupons for the same item that can come from the manufacture or the store.
One recommendation that Jadusingh said that she recommends to people that creating a calendar is helpful for living on a budget. “After using the calendar for a few months I’m pretty much able to budget without sticking to it strictly,” Jadusingh said. “ You can move things around and swap them out really easily.”
If you are trying to save some money or need to cut expenses in a crunch, look at how much you eat out. It is a flexible cost that you can control for by making your own pasta instead of ordering pasta primavera from a restaurant.