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Cook at home, you lazy bastard

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Every time I do a summer internship, I lose my mind and start eating out every day. Then about halfway through the summer, I realize I have no money saved up, only fond memories of that taco truck down the street.

Cost of eating out:

Lunch: ($8.00/day) = $56.00/week
Dinner: ($12.00/day) = $84.00/week

Lunch: $2,680/year (365 minus 30 days of not eating out)
Dinner: $4,020/year
—–
Total: $6,700.00/year GOOD GOD

After I wept for 3 days, I went to the grocery store and started cooking a little bit for myself. A month later, I ran the analysis and discovered that, for me, cooking is 1/10 the cost of eating out.

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42 Comments

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  1. Same as the latte factor as mentioned in automatic millionaire . One of the simplest example of frugal living .

  2. Matt Hartrich - Buffalo, NY Link to this comment

    Surprisingly, very few people seem to figure this out.

  3. Here’s a simple calculus:

    If you can read, you can cook.

    This means that if you invest $20 in a cookbook, you’ll be repaid with delicious meals in addition to the money you save, not to mention the aquisition of extremely useful culinary skills.

  4. I wish I had your discipline…going out to buy tacos is just so much easier.

  5. I’ve been eating lunch out for almost the last 4-5 years that I’ve been working for. For me , the motivation to start cooking is less that it’ll save me some money but more that I’m totally SICK of eating out! Going out and trying out different restaurants and cuisines ( which was so exciting when I couldnt afford them more than twice a month) now seems torturous. I think having more dispensable money has made me lazy and lame. Time to get the pots and pans rolling!

  6. Does anyone have a website of quick lunches that can be put together for a decient price day in and day out?

  7. I appreciate this website and this posting because Ramit is changing the perception of readers. That is a very kind thing to do. It makes people better and wiser. Thank you for the lovely website. I read it everyday and each time I learn…I change…for the better.

  8. Tacos in specific aren’t too bad. They’re like $0.89 each. Two or three for an occasional lunch is cheap, although probably not very healthy.

  9. I’ve been hitting the home kitchen pretty hard lately… to save money and lose some lbs. For lunch I often go with the Lean Cuisine or Marie Calendar frozen meals that go on sale at the local mega mart for less than $2 each. Throw in some yogurt, string cheese, pretzels… for about $3.50 you can have a pretty satisfying lunch with far less calories than some supersized fast food. Find some friends and play some cards at lunch… just as fun as blowing money at Crapplebees.

  10. You don’t even have to invest in a cookbook to learn how to cook. There’s plenty of sites with recipes online, some of them geared towards inexpensive meals or inexperienced cooks. The library is a great place to get cookbooks also. If you really like the cookbook you can buy one.

  11. I don’t know what you cook, but when I do anything more than a very basic meal, I’m looking at around $10 for dinner on average.

    Dinner tonight:
    2 Halibut filets: $12
    4 scallops: $4
    Assorted veggies & ingredients: $4
    Ingredients for desert: $5
    Drink: $2

    That’s $27 for dinner for 2. Eating healthy isn’t cheap, either.

    Cooking at home and eating well is just as expensive as eating out frugally.

  12. In reply to the question about a website with reliable lunch suggestions –

    I don’t have a website to recommend, but I can recommend Nigel Slater’s “Real Fast Food”. Superb meals, easy to prepare, very reliable.

  13. Robin, ya, I know what you mean. A couple of 2 1/2 lb lobsters, a couple of NY Strip steaks, 4 oz a little beluga caviar, a bottle of Dom Perignon, some veggies and….

    Seriously though, you must be doing something wrong. I can enough salmon to feed 4 people for $12. If you’re spending $5 on desert for two, at home?

    I can make an apple pie and couple it with pint of vanilla ice cream for about $8, and that comes out to about $1 per serving. Mmmm.

    And I would consider those types of food extravagant for me.

    How about 1 lb of penne tossed with a head of broccoli rabe, a couple of links of hot Italian sausage cut up, a few cloves of garlic and a little olive oil. Sprinkle with some fresh grated Pecorino Romano.

    There are at least 4 servings in that meal, at Robin, ya, I know what you mean. A couple of 2 1/2 lb lobsters, a couple of NY Strip steaks, 4 oz a little beluga caviar, a bottle of Dom Perignon, some veggies and….

    Seriously though, you must be doing something wrong. I can enough salmon to feed 4 people for $12. If you’re spending $5 on desert for two, at home?

    I can make an apple pie and couple it with pint of vanilla ice cream for about $8, and that comes out to about $1 per serving. Mmmm.

    And I would consider those types of food extravagant for me.

    How about 1 lb of penne tossed with a head of broccoli rabe, a couple of links of hot Italian sausage cut up, a few cloves of garlic and a little olive oil. Sprinkle with some fresh grated Pecorino Romano.

    There are at least 4 servings in that meal, at < $1.50 per serving. Couple that with a $8 bottle of wine.

  14. Last summer I realized that one of my biggest expenses was food and/or candie while at work due to not having the discipline to prepare food in the mornings. My solution was to make about fifty sandwiches, pack them in little plastic baggies (pair-wise) and put them in the freezer. I could grab a bag every morning on the way out, and stick it in the little toasty machine in the employees lounge. If there was no toasty machine I could pull the bag out of the freezer the evening before.

    Saved a bunch – and was still able to be lazy in the morning. Cost me a couple of hours every few weeks.

  15. the chosen one Link to this comment

    cooking is so overrated it’s not funny, I just eat cereal, walkers crisps and varties of other large bags of crisps/potato chips and sometimes cheese & crackers.

    cooked food is useless if you want to make it last while watching lets say a movie, ufc event, etc.

    you are all probably thinking omg that dude must be a fat slob, ironically I am only 170 pounds.

  16. 170lb chip eater: Only 170 pounds but probably under-nourished. Healthy eating is more than weight ( with composition being more important than weight. I know 6′ guys who are fat-asses and only weigh 150).

    Expensive seasfood eater:
    I eat seafood myself but I spend about $1 per serving of Salmon. Veggies are like $1 a pound,. I also dont have a gigantic multi-course meal every night. I like to be able to get up sometimes. The meal you described, for most people, is a fancy special occasion meal- not typical.

  17. what to make at home for lunch ?that’s easy. How about sandwiches. Spaghetti is also easy to make and I never get tired of it. You can make these the night before and take it with you to work. If I’m in a hurry I grab a can of soup and a bowl on my way out

  18. Well I was on internship in slovenia as student for last 4 months. first, i got some discounts as student. second – i save time! 5mins by bike to restaurant, 5-10mins to wait for food. if you cook something good it takes at least an hour for cooking, washing up. just choose cheaper restaurants, but cooking at home can also get expensive! and as i said it takes time. if you enjoy it, then its different.

  19. I realized that one of my biggest expenses was food and/or candie while at work due to not having the discipline to prepare food in the mornings. My solution was to make about fifty sandwiches, pack them in little plastic baggies (pair-wise) and put them in the freezer. I could grab a bag every morning on the way out, and stick it in the little toasty machine in the employees lounge.

  20. the chosen one Link to this comment

    greg I don’t really care to be honest, because as long as I am slim, I will carry on just eating cereal + potato chips/crisps all the time 0.o

    my fast metabolism + 15 mins per day on my exercise bike is just great haha

  21. Eating lunch for me isn’t a problem cost-wise, my work has a cafe and my lunches cost less than $5 each day. Not bad, I can live with that.

    As for dinner, the savings really dont come into play that night…the savings happens when you make enough for leftovers. If you can save a few bucks each day by bringing leftovers to work, that helps.

  22. Since moving into my own apartment, I’m less motivated to pack a lunch in the morning…here’s what I do:

    Make a huge pot of chili, or stew, and freeze most of it in those 8oz Gladware containers. I use a pound of ground turkey, a pound of dried beans, plus a beer, onion, mushrooms & peppers. I’ve already got the spices. Costs me $10-$15 for about 8 servings worth of a very hearty, very healthy chili. It’s a whole lot tastier than most frozen dinners too.

    You can make a killer stew with a pound of stew beef, some potatoes, carrots & onions, a bit of broth and a few spices. Again, freeze it in individual portions and you’ll get a better, healthier & cheaper meal than the salt-laden frozen dinners.

  23. If you cook for dinner, use left overs for lunch. Make wraps, they are quick and easy. As for dinner…get in the habit of buying food when it is on sale then plan a menu (use allrecipes.com or cookinglight.com or any other cooking site and put your ingredients in and you can whip something up. Try cooking on Sundays for a couple of dinners to have during the week. You will be less tempted to go out if all you have to do is retreat. Concentrate on a system for a couple of months and it will pay off for the rest of your life.

  24. I was eating out a lot too. When I started cooking for myself, I usually coked enough for at least two meals. I freeze one and eat the other. I take the frozen one to work and nuke it for a cheap hot lunch. When I do go out, I often only eat half the plate of food, take the rest home and voila, another hot lunch or dinner for a lazy night.

  25. Cooking saves a fortune. I estimate that my wife and I eat well for only about $50 – $75 per week. That’s 3 meals per day, we pack lunches and I cook gourmet meals everynight (except for Fridays when I make pizza :)). My wife and I are fortunate in both having well paying jobs so we don’t really need to live this way, we just prefer it. Cooking is a lost art. Most of the gourmet Italian food you now order at restaurants were old recipes developed out of necessity due to little money or lack of ingrediants (i.e. gnocci, pasta etc) I’m always amazed when I go shopping at what people have in their shopping carts. Usually the people on the tightest budgets have the most processed (read “expensive”!) foods in their cart. If they only knew how to cook, they could whip up all of those items from just a few inexpensive staples. I think teaching underprivileged people how to cook would go a long way in helping them better manage their money, control obesity and feel better!

  26. I learned long ago that a little cooking skill pays off in more ways than one. You can impress that special someone a lot more by cooking her/him a first-rate meal than you can by spending too much money at a fancy restaurant. Ask my girlfriend ;-)

  27. Greg, I’m having trouble visualizing exactly how a 6 foot tall person who only weighs 150 lbs. could possibly be fat. I’m 5′ 10″ at 170 and I’m pretty thin. My oldest brother is 6′. He once got down to 160 and he was rail thin. He was living on chips and salsa at the time while in school.

  28. One word: COUPONS! I always had the foodstore swipe card and thought that was giving me enough “savings” that I didn’t need to clip coupons. Then I saw the light one day… I clipped some coupons, went to the store, saw the item was on sale and that it happened to be double coupon day and when I got to checkout a few of my items were FREE! Every since I have been an active coupon clipper and keep the envelope of coupons in my glovebox so I always have them with me when I get to the store. It is shocking how much more I save on groceries and all it takes it about 20 minutes on a Sunday to go through the paper, clip and orgazine. Or, you can also visit a manufacturer’s website which often has coupons for more expensive items as well. Coupons man, its all about coupns ;)

    Also, if you aren’t a master chef, invest in things like a rotiseriee, contact roaster, crock pot etc. Those things are easy to use and to quote the master tv hocker- “just set it and forget it”, haha.

  29. I don’t understand how so many people spend $100′s weekly on restaurants and bars/clubs. It might be fun, but definitely not smart. Cooking became like a therapeutic hobby for me. And this way my husband and I can afford steak dinners and wine as often as we like!

  30. One more side benefit..chicks dig a dude that can cook! ;)

    I eat out once, maybe twice a month. Everything else is done at home, whether it be a complicated meal or a quick Sams Club pizza thrown in the oven. One tip for those that think they can’t cook, get a crock-pot. They are easy and you can prepare everything in minutes, turn it on in the morning when you leave for work and when you get home, you have a very nice hot meal waiting for you.

    For me, the leftovers from dinner become my lunch for the following day. Cheap, good & healthy.

  31. Oh yeah. That is so me right there.

    I need to learn to cook, especially for work lunches.

    Although I sure do love the sandwiches at the corner cafe. Mmmm mmm.

    But yeah, I’m headed for the crock pot area.

  32. 6.700$ ! geez, with that amount of bucks, i could rent a house for 10 years straight, or buy 5 motorcycles or 4 years of college education in a national university for 4 students or give jobs for the homeless!
    to all the people in the house, you have to cook at home!

  33. This is funny. I eat at chipotle or subway for dinner and usually eat at the corner vendor for a great chicken sub for lunch at work.

    dinner:
    chipotle buritto bowl (tomato,blackbeans,rice,chicken,dab of cream,lettus) = $5.40/day
    Subway(6″ with double meat) = ~$5/day

    lunch:
    vendor (chicken sub, cheese,onions) = $4/day

    $9.40 * (365 – 30) = $3149/year or $265/month

    still alot, but i think i can live with it, without having to deal with the time it takes to cook. The trick is to bring your own drinks that you bought from your local grocery store. Or fill a water bottle with water, or just order water to go. I am sure that you could get it down to $200 or even $150 by cooking yourself. The article said 1/10, so hell thats only $670/year

    A good question is how much savings should there be before the benefit is worthless? Thats another part of being rich isnt it. Knowing when paying for something actually gains you more than (or maybe even equal to) doing it yourself.

  34. the chosen one Link to this comment

    lol @ loop telling people stuck in the house that they have to cook, I don’t have to do any cooking loop, I have being surviving off cereal and crisps since I was a kid and now I am 21, and still doing fine with no problems, and I am pretty skinny as well.

    Cereal and 24 packs of crisps aren’t really expensive, obviously this kind of eating isn’t for everyone since some people like different varieties of food, but with me I just like different varieties of crisps, as for drinking, I just like to drink water or pure orange juice, I avoid sugar at all costs.

    The most cooking you are going to get out of me is a pot noodle haha.

  35. Cooking healthy meals at homeis the best gift that you can give to yourself and your family. Eating out is fine once in a while, but cooking your foods at home is the best. If you are concerned about your health, then you need to start eating healthy at home. When you eat out, do you know what is really in the foods you are consumming? If you need to watch your sugar, salt and fat intake, how do you know how much is in the foods you’re eating at fast food stores or restaurants? Keep in mind that they may add ingredients just to make the foods taste good. Cooking at home is not hard. All you have to do is plan it and you’ll not only be healthier you will also save money.

  36. Something that is easy and smells so good is to saute fresh garlic in some olive oil and a bit of butter. (Hint — smack each garlic clove with the flat of your knife to help get the skin off).

    Boil up some pasta (egg noodles are quick), pour the olive oil/butter/garlic over the cooked noodles and maybe sprinkle some dried basil (or chop up fresh — even better!)…

    And you’ve got a tasty, easy, pretty quick meal.

  37. I have to agree with the posters who point out that a 90% savings on dining in is just not realistic.

    Basic home economics and portion accounting shows that the cost reduction is no where near that high on any apples to apples comparison.

    In my experience creating restaurant grade meals at home is more costly per portion than at the restaurant, excluding any value for my labor. Why? ECONOMY OF SCALE. I just don’t buy 500 lbs of tomatoes each week.

    The only way to make dining in a money saver remotely close to the degree suggested while eating healthy (not just ramens) is eat small portions and very plainly. Forget meat, sauces and condiments.

    The point about beverages is true at home and dining out. The jack your per meal costs, but a free refills restaurant is a lot less than dining in beverages… (I am a soda junky)

    Drink tap water. Healthy and low cost.

  38. this is so true. SO true.

  39. If you buy your food at a grocery store you will most likely save money; but you have to put *thought* behind it. Many prepared dinners available at grocery stores, like rotisserie chicken, are almost as expensive as a meal out. Another option (and the cheapest one) is to buy uncooked chicken (preferably on sale) and prepare it yourself. In general, eating in is considerably less expensive than eating out.

    With this…like other lifestyle changes…It’s best to take it slow. Maybe start eating in a few times a week. Oatmeal or Cereal may be fine for some people…but most people would get bored of this and then opt to make meals with more variety.

  40. So true! recently I realized that the two sugarless iced teas and bag 2 ounce bag of crackers I buy from the vending machine at work each day cost me $20 a week. Bring my own tea made in a plastic half gallon container and an apple costs about $1.35 each week. That’s $1040 versus $71. When I realized how stupid and expensive that ‘convenience’ was I quit doing that immediately! $1040 a year to drink tea at work! Good lord!

  41. I think this one is a little more complicated than it seems. First, some food goes bad. So, I’ve got to spend a lot of time shopping, i.e., going to the grocery store twice a week to get veggies as opposed to getting fresh veggies at a meal eaten out. Ditto sandwich meats. A half sandwich with meat, cheese, and added veggies (fresh tomato, lettuce) at the deli near my office costs $2.99. A whole sandwich that lasts two meals costs $5.99

    I don’t think I could beat that if you account for spoilage and time spent shopping – let alone labor. Like others have mentioned, the only way I’ve saved money is by eating a lot more processed foods with a lot less variety. Two possible factors: I think this might change if I were cooking/eating with a family rather than as a single.

    Second, eating out is serving a lot of different purposes — entertainment, relaxation, people-watching.

    That said, the one thing I can never bring myself to buy out is tea! The reality that it’s just water and $0.25 worth of plant materials, and that there is NO difference in quality in what I can get out from what I can make (as opposed to, say, pizza!)

  42. Ten Lean Cuisine spaghetti with meat sauce @ $2.39 =$23.90; sometimes on sale for $1.99 = $19.90.
    versus
    3 1 lb boxes of pasta @ .59 = $1.77
    3 jars sauce @ $1.69 = $5.07
    fresh mushrooms @ $3.00
    1 lb ground beef $3.00
    Total $12.84
    Okay, I’m gonna try it this month. Gonna miss my lean cusines though.