Americans are spending more money to eat out than they do for groceries. In 2022, people spent almost 21% more at restaurants than on food from the supermarket, according to a recent report. And in early 2023, that number grew to almost 30%.
While cooking meals at home can be time-consuming, there are ways to make the process easier. And when you do eat out, there are a few simple steps you can take to save money.
Cooking at Home vs Eating Out: How They Stack Up
The pros and cons of eating at home vs. eating out have long been debated. As you’re deciding between the two, here are some factors to consider.
Is It More Expensive to Eat Out?
Because of inflation, grocery prices have been on the rise over the past year. The average cost of eating at home increased more than 11% between 2021 and 2022, according to the Consumer Price Index.
But more recently, the price of eating out has been rising. In March 2023, the cost of eating out rose 8.8%, while the cost of eating at home went up 8.4%. Many restaurants have raised prices because of inflation, experts say. This could indicate that the cost of eating out may cost more than cooking at home.
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Is it Healthier to Eat at Home?
When you cook at home, you’re able to control what goes into each dish. You can easily make adjustments like reducing the amount of butter or using milk instead of cream.
And if you have any dietary restrictions or allergies, you don’t have to worry about consuming something you shouldn’t when you cook for yourself.
Research has shown that cooking at home typically leads to healthier choices. Generally, the more people cook at home, the healthier their diet, and the fewer calories they consume.
How Much Time Will It Take to Cook at Home?
There’s no way around it, cooking can be time-consuming. But it also takes time to go out to eat or pick up a takeout order.
If you’re trying to do more cooking, don’t overextend yourself upfront. If you’re used to dining out several nights a week, pick one or two nights to make dinner at home. You can gradually increase the frequency to three nights a week, and so on.
Cooking is like any other skill. The more you do it, the better you’ll get. Find some go-to recipes that are easy to prepare and affordable. For instance, sheet pan dinners can be great for those with a hectic schedule. Stock your pantry with the essentials so you’ll have all the staples you need on hand.
Over time, you’ll become more comfortable in the kitchen, and what used to take you a half hour to do, will take you just minutes. Plus, you’ll be rewarded with a delicious meal you made yourself. Now you’ve maximized your time and money!
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Tips for Saving Money While Dining Out
Going to your favorite restaurant is one of life’s little pleasures. And you don’t have to give it up. There are a few ways to curb your spending, and manage your money, while still enjoying a great meal. Here are some simple strategies that could help reduce your bill.
1. Not Ordering a Drink
Skip the drink the next time you want to cut down on your restaurant tab. Restaurants tend to substantially mark-up the prices of drinks. They may charge two to three times the bottle cost for craft beer, for instance.
Or, if you want to treat yourself to one drink, spend wisely by sticking to just one and really savor it.
2. Skipping Dessert
A lot of the mark-up for desserts goes toward labor costs. A talented, creative pastry chef can be expensive to keep on staff. As a result, many high-volume casual restaurants outsource their desserts.
One creative way to save money is to eat your dinner out and then have dessert at home.
3. Sharing a Meal
Portion sizes at restaurants tend to be oversized. Share a salad and an entree with your dining mate to cut costs and calories.
If your friend or family isn’t interested in sharing, save half of your meal for lunch or dinner the next day.
4. Go During Happy Hour
Instead of meeting friends for dinner, join up for happy hour instead. You can catch up over drinks and an appetizer or two, while enjoying discounted happy hour prices. You’ll get the experience of eating out, and pay less for it. You can put the money you save in your bank account.
5. Ordering an Appetizer as Your Meal
Instead of a full entree, order from the appetizer menu instead. These items typically cost less and may come in smaller portion sizes, too.
6. Limiting the Number of Times You Eat Out
If you go to restaurants a lot, you could start to cut back. For example, you could save eating out for once or twice a week. Not only does that make it feel more special, you can savor every bite without worrying about going overboard on your budget.
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Eating out can be expensive, but there are ways to trim costs so that you can enjoy your food without stressing over the bill. For instance, skipping extras like dessert can keep the price down. And eating at home a little more often could help you save money — and may be healthier as well.
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3 Money Tips
- If you’re saving for a short-term goal — whether it’s a vacation, a wedding, or the down payment on a house — consider opening a high-yield savings account. The higher APY that you’ll earn will help your money grow faster, but the funds stay liquid, so they are easy to access when you reach your goal.
- If you’re creating a budget, try the 50/30/20 budget rule. Allocate 50% of your after-tax income to the “needs” of life, like living expenses and debt. Spend 30% on wants, and then save the remaining 20% towards saving for your long-term goals.
- If you’re faced with debt and wondering which kind to pay off first, it can be smart to prioritize high-interest debt first. For many people, this means their credit card debt; rates have recently been climbing into the double-digit range, so try to eliminate that ASAP.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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