The Secret Financial Power of Home Cooking

If you could save an extra $500 per month or more by doing just one thing differently, would you do it? Think about what you could do with that $500: pay off your student loans or credit cards, save for a home purchase or home renovation, power up your retirement account or even take a fabulous vacation. If you’re like many Americans who are feeling squeezed for cash to apply to your big goals, there is one simple thing you can do to save a lot more money – cook and eat at home.

I’m as guilty as the rest of us. While I love to cook, I am the first one to order a pizza when the time crunch of work, kids and activities gets crazy. Plus, as an extrovert who works from home most of the time, I enjoy taking my computer to a café so I can see some actual humans.

The keys are 1) moderation – set an “eating out” maximum for the month and 2) preparation – plan to eat at home and shop in advance for ingredients. Need motivation? Here’s how much you could save:

Save money on breakfast

Let’s take a typical breakfast on the go: a ham, egg and cheese sandwich on an English muffin with a cup of gourmet coffee for $5. Eat that every day and you’ll spend $35 per week. How to cut this down?

Cook your eggs. Making your egg sandwich at home could cost you as little as $1.00 if you kept all the ingredients on hand and cooked from scratch (not to mention that it might taste a lot better). Your savings per week? $28 or $1,456 per year.

Brew your own coffee. You don’t have to sacrifice coffee quality. My serious Nespresso habit costs me about a dollar per day and I save the pricier coffee shop brew for when I’m out meeting friends.

Buy prepared in bulk. Even reheating a breakfast sandwich in the microwave and brewing a coffee pod would only cost about $2.50 or less per meal. Your savings per week: $17.50 or $910 per year.

Save money on dinner

Unplanned take-out food is the easiest place to fall off the wagon when it comes to your meal budget. For a single person, take-out Chinese food or a pizza dinner would cost about $15-$20 depending on where you live, and you’ll get two meals out of it. For a family of four, a take-out meal costs about $40.

Stock your pantry and fridge for easy meals. Having a well-stocked pantry and fridge is like having money in the bank because you’ll always have ingredients on hand to pull together a quick and easy meal. See the Food Network’s list of essentials to keep on hand and these suggestions from Real Simple magazine for easy meals you can make in a hurry.

Making dinner at home can save you about $7 to $15 per person. Replace just one person’s meal out per week with a home-cooked version and you’ll save $364 to $780 annually. That’s $1,456 to $3,120 for a family of four.

Use your slow cooker. My slow cooker is my favorite piece of equipment in my kitchen. I load it up with ingredients in the morning, turn it on, and presto! There’s dinner at 5 pm.  See this list of easy recipes from Cooking Light.

Save money on lunch

A typical lunch on the go costs $10-$15. Sure, you’ll want to eat out occasionally with co-workers in order to connect and have a change of scenery, but you don’t have to do it every day. How much can you save from bringing your lunch?

Bring leftovers. What better thing to bring for lunch than last night’s yummy leftovers? Bring a hot lunch of leftovers just once a week and save $520 to $780 per year.

Stock sandwich ingredients at home. You can make 5 tuna subs at home for the cost of buying a single one at the sub shop. Your savings? About $28 per week or $1,456 per year.

Save money on snacks

That mid-afternoon latte and muffin or trip to the smoothie shop can cost you $3 to $7 per day easily. Buy snacks you like in bulk and keep them in the office to save $520 to $1,300 per year. If you’ve got kids, you’ll save even more by keeping a cooler in your car stocked with healthy snacks to keep the hungry hoard at bay.

It doesn’t have to be all or nothing

I’m not suggesting that you should never eat out again. Rather, be mindful of how much you are spending on food out and set some limits. If you’re saving for a big goal or trying to pay down debts, this is an easy and almost painless place to cut back on your spending. Your return on your investment for preparation and cooking – or even just reheating — is high. That’s the secret financial power of home cooking.

 

Do you have a question you’d like answered on the blog? Please email me at [email protected]. You can follow me on the blog by signing up here, and on Twitter @cynthiameyer_FF.

 

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