Americans are dining out more now than ever before. But while it’s lovely to avoid the hassle of cleaning up, the costs accrue ― consider the fact that the average restaurant inflates the cost of a food item by 300%.
Eating out, which is typically far more expensive than cooking at home, accounts for 43% of annual food expenditures for the average U.S. family. And from 2015 to 2016, for the first time in history, Americans spent more money at bars and restaurants ($54.86 billion) than they did on groceries ($52.50 billion).
Although it isn’t necessary to cut dining out entirely, cooking at home is not only beneficial to your bank account but one of the easiest ways to save money. Here’s how to cut costs by cooking at home.
Plan your weekly menu around what you already have.
Rosemarie Groner, founder of Busy Budgeter, suggests taking stock of what’s in your freezer and refrigerator and building your week’s meals from there. “By adding a few simple sides and extra ingredients, I can often buy groceries for the week for about $20, leaving the extra money that we budgeted for groceries toward our longer-term goals like debt reduction or savings,” Groner said in a Busy Budgeter post.
Substitutions and omissions will go a long way, too. If you happen to follow a recipe that calls for shallots and you don’t have any, use regular onions that you have on hand. If you don’t like a particular seasoning, omit it instead of buying a bottle that you’ll never use.
Organize your pantry. It’s a gold mine.
U.S. families throw out between 14 and 25% of the food and beverages they buy. This can cost the average family between $1,365 to $2,275 annually.
Organizing your pantry is an effective way to save money and reduce waste. Throw out items that have expired and donate what you won’t use. Arrange packages and containers for easy access and visibility so that when you’re ready to cook, you’ll know what’s in stock.
Of course, there are other ways to organize your pantry. Sara Pederson, an ambassador for the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals, recommends using containers to make the most out of available space. Clear containers have the advantage of displaying items vertically for more efficient use of storage space.
“My favorite pantry containers are multi-purpose bins. Affordable ($4 to $7 each), durable, handled … all the good stuff. And I love that they are tall… no more wasting your vertical space!” Pedersen said. She also recommends shopping at the dollar store for a variety of plastic containers and baskets, or at your local thrift store for used bins.
Despite an initial investment of time and perhaps money, the savings you will generate from minimizing waste and using what you have will make it worth the effort.
Don’t buy fantasy foods. Stick to foods you eat every day.
If peanut butter and jelly is your thing, start there. There’s no judgment here.
“It’s important for people to know what their go-to cuisine is, whether it be Mexican or Italian,” April Craig, a culinary professional and owner of Life Mashed In, told HuffPost. “If it’s Mexican, make sure you have the basics on hand, like black beans and tomatoes; for Italian, have your favorite pasta and sauces stocked.”
Avoid wasting money by purchasing exotic ingredients for that one-time recipe. For example, instead of that $8.50 bottle of Armadillo Pepper, choose a more affordable and familiar brand like Frank’s Red Hot, which can be priced as low as $2.62.
Just do it.
When it comes to cooking at home, you shouldn’t be intimidated.
“Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, just do it; you might make something that’s not perfect, but with practice, you’ll get better,” New York Times deputy food editor Emily Weinstein told HuffPost.
It’s best to start cooking right where you are, right now. Whether or not you have experience in the kitchen doesn’t really matter, but what you’ll be saving as a result of your efforts does.
A report by Forbes shows it’s almost five times more expensive to order delivery from a restaurant than it is to cook at home. Meal services aren’t much better, coming in at about three times the expense of a home-cooked meal. So something as simple as preparing a hard-boiled egg with toast for breakfast will start you on your way to saving money.