A few weeks ago, I shared a truly delightful and extravagant meal with Stephanie, my wife.
We started off with a delicious goat cheese spread over sourdough baguette. Next, we cleansed our palate with a refreshing dijon vinaigrette salad. For our main course, we enjoyed a mouth-watering panko-crusted chicken with a side of mixed vegetables. We both paired our meal with a glass of Chardonnay. And for dessert, we indulged in a rare treat: two slices of the most perfect apple pie you can imagine!
Then…our bill came. And we were shocked.
Including tax and tip, the grand total for our evening in food heaven came to…$9 per person.
You may wonder, how is this possible? Did the waiter forget to add a zero?
In the words of Sherlock Holmes, “it’s elementary my dear Watson!” The answer is, we enjoyed our gourmet meal in the comfort of our own home, with everything either cooked or bought from the grocery store.
Don’t believe me? Here’s the cost (per person) for each item, rounded to the nearest 10 cents:
Note: For several items, we only used a portion of what we bought from the grocery store. I’ve estimated cost per portion, since we ate the remaining portions on other days.
The moral of the story? Fine dining is a relative term. You don’t need to go out a spend lots of money to enjoy a delicious meal!
You may be thinking, good for you, but I am not planning to prepare meals like that any time soon. Don’t worry, I’ve got your back.
In this article, I’ll provide three practical savings tips to help you reduce spending on food without sacrificing tastiness or healthiness!
Tip #1: Nothing beats simple home cooking in bulk
As illustrated above, home cooked meals can be delicious.
With home cooking, you can choose the ingredients you like and remove the ones you don’t. You can iterate on recipes until you get them just right. You can make the dishes healthier, unlike restaurants which often add copious amounts of salt, sugar, or fat. You eliminate the need to drive to and from the restaurant. There’s never a wait.
The benefits go on and on…and we haven’t even mentioned money! Cooking can be so much cheaper than eating out, especially if you cook in bulk and portion it out over multiple days. In preparing the meal Stephanie and I shared, we generated lots of extra food and saved it as leftovers for days.
What if you don’t have the time or skill to prepare a complex meal? No problem at all. There are plenty of dishes which take less than 10 minutes to make.
For example, one of our household favorites is breakfast tacos (tortilla, scrambled eggs, shredded cheese, and spinach or another veggie). The ingredients cost less than $0.80/taco and take only 7 minutes to prepare! For more quick recipe ideas, check out this handy article from greatist.com.
Tip #2: Grocery stores are your friend
What if you don’t like cooking at all? No problem! As it happens, there’s a wealth of pre-cooked food options at absurdly low prices in every major U.S. city. Where? At your local grocery store!
Grocery stores are a modern miracle. They’re easily one of the best things about living in a capitalist economy. As an illustration, in 1989, Boris Yeltsin (who was then a leader within the Soviet Union) visited the U.S. and said that if Russians saw the incredible U.S. grocery stores, “there would be a revolution.”
Suffice to say, we should take full advantage of these magical places.
The freezer section is also a treasure trove of inexpensive, ready-to-eat foods. For example, Trader Joe’s sells a 6-pack of steamed soup dumplings which you can heat up in two minutes and turn into a delicious meal for a total cost of $2.99. A comparable delivery (i.e. GrubHub) order of dumplings would likely cost upwards of $11, including tax, tip, and delivery fee.
Stock your freezer with these types of foods and you’ll start seeing your savings grow in no time at all!
Tip #3: Pack healthy inexpensive snacks when you go out
We all know about the impulse to splurge on snacks and treats when we’re out for the day.
You’re headed downtown with your friends and of course you have to stop at your favorite ice cream place. You go see a movie and of course you have to get some popcorn and candy.
Then you’re back at home after a long day of hanging out. And you realize those unexpected snacks added up to make a decent dent in your wallet. To make it worse, your tummy isn’t feeling so good from all that sugar. What if there was a better way? Well there is!
If you’re worried your friends will think you’re a crazy person, I know from firsthand experience they’ll learn to love it over time. Especially if you bring extra snack bags and offer to share when they start getting “hangry.”
I haven’t even mentioned the best part of this tip yet: the cost! Most of my pre-prepared snacks cost less than a dollar per portion. By comparison, a snack when you’re out for the day can cost you anywhere from $3-10. Now that’s what I call savings!
Decide what works for you
Hopefully you’ve picked up some actionable ideas about how you can cut down your food expenses.
Do you have any other savings hacks around food? If so, please share them with us in the comments!