Cook Your Way to Wealth
As an American, I love to eat. I love to go to restaurants and try new dishes with friends. But the fact is, if you have limited funds, learning how to cook is one of the best ways to save money. Not only is a home cooked meal better for you, cooking is a fun activity to share with your family and friends.
If you have a family of four, the average grocery bill equals about $700 – $1000 per month. This includes breakfast, lunch and dinner for everyone.
If you take your family out to eat at a fast food place or any inexpensive restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner for one month, you would spend about $3,000 – $3,600 (depending on the age of your children) not including tips for a sit down.
Let’s break it down. The average fast food burger combo costs, with tax, between $9.00 – $12.00 per person. The average cost of just an entrée at an inexpensive sit-down restaurant such as Applebees, Chili’s, Pei Wei, or any local fare is about $12.00 – $15.00 per person, not including a drink or appetizer, tax and tip. The cost savings if we trade dining out for the grocery store is phenomenal. Anyone who convinces you that it is cheaper to dine out or to eat junk food has simply not done the math.
If I go to a burger joint and spend $12.00 on one meal, that is approximately 5 huge pieces of raw boneless-skinless chicken breasts. Each of those raw chicken breasts can easily be cut in half for 2 meals. Conclusion? Buy one burger combo for $12.00 to feed only you one time. Or you can buy a package of raw chicken to feed your entire family for 2-4 meals.
Other Meats: 1 lb of ground beef makes 4 hamburger patties. A 1 lb package costs $3.00 – $3.50
Sausage: 5 large sausage links costs between $3.50 and $5.00 depending on the brand. So again, you can buy one fast food hamburger for as much as it would cost to feed 4-5 people.
But don’t side dishes and condiments cost money, you ask?
Meat is the most expensive, along with cheese. Side dishes and condiments are very cheap in comparison. Stay away from pre-cooked frozen entrees and the pre-made specialty items from the deli department. Make your own side dishes instead. Also stay away from chips, sodas, sport drinks, sport snacks, nutrition bars, and other pre-packaged snacks and side dishes. Just don’t even walk down those junk food isles! They are expensive by comparison and most are loaded with sugars and excessive amounts of salt.
Recipe books: Don’t buy them. Search for recipes on-line instead. There are millions to choose from at the tip of your fingers.
Salad: You can buy an entire week’s worth of salad fixings for about $15.00 for a family of four. If you are doing a low carb or no carb diet, double this figure, but you would skip all the other side dish costs.
Rice: Skip the Rice-O-Roni and flavored boxed rice. You can buy a 20 lb bag of rice for about $9.00. A 20 lb bag of rice equals over 200 servings! But let’s be realistic. The average American eats a double serving. But even if a 20 lb bag of rice equates to 100 servings, it will still feed your family for months. Now you can even buy brown rice and wild rice in bulk. Check your local co-op grocery store or your bulk foods stores. You can season your own rice with various creations, rather than buy expensive pre-flavored boxed rice dishes. Check recipes out rice recipes online for different creations.
Pasta: You can buy pasta for .50 cents for an entire box on sale. Think about that! Buy an entire box of pasta for .50 to 1.00 or even 3.00 to feed your family for 2 days, or a medium order of french fries that will only feed you for one meal.
Potatoes: 5 lbs of potatoes is about 8 potatoes and costs approximately $3.00.
Pasta sauce: Learn to make your own by using tomato paste or canned tomato sauce for a fraction of the cost of the premium sauce brands.
Cheese: To save even more money, learn to love your food without cheese. Cheese is expensive and unfortunately Americans put cheese in everything. Not only is it high in cholesterol and would be better left on the shelf, but if you taste dishes side by side, a lot of times you can’t tell that the cheese has been left out.
Spices and Oils: Setting up for cooking oils and a spice cabinet can be pricey, but remember that spices and oils will last for more meals than you can count. Start with the basics. Olive oil, vegetable oil, salt, pepper, basil, oregano, Montreal’s steak seasoning, Montreal’s chicken seasoning, Adobo, teriyaki sauce, Worcestershire sauce, chili powder (comes in hot, medium or mild), and perhaps a few Asian spices. The average cost of the spices in a meal is about .50 to .75 cents per dish (not per serving).
It is fun going out to eat. But if you’re really on a tight budget, dining in is the way to go. Make it a fun family event by cooking together. Liven it up by doing some dinners dedicated to conversation around the family table, other nights cook a simpler meal and play games at the table, or do a dinner movie night in front of the TV. The key is to cook together and do the activity together. Change it up! It makes life a lot more interesting. With the money saved we can add a substantial amount to our emergency fund, save for a vacation or other items on our wish lists.