Cooking to save

One of the things that can drastically affect a household budget is eating out at restaurants.

On the surface, it seems as though a once-a-week cheap meal out (especially if there are just a couple people in your family!) doesn't really amount to any financial strain.

For those who want or need to cut costs, cooking is a huge money-saver.

When Joshua and I were first married, we started "splurging" by going out to eat one evening each week. I hadn't been accustomed to going out to eat, being raised in a family where eating out occurred about once a year.

I enjoyed having a night off from cooking, and it didn't take me long to adjust. ;) We found that over time, it became more of a habit than a special treat, and we found more excuses to eat out, not just once, but occasionally twice in one week.

Yet, we weren't really even enjoying eating out. Yes, it filled a need (a meal), mostly due to lack of planning. It wasn't a special evening out, but instead something to fall back on when I was feeling uninspired in the kitchen. :|

It's easy to get into a habit of resorting to eating out, because, let's face it: Buying ready-made food is easy. Being disciplined and tackling something new takes, well, some work.

It didn't take us too long (thankfully!) to realize that we needed to stop eating out. Not completely, mind you -- we actually never made a decision to never ever eat out.

What I did do, was start planning ahead more. Making a weekly menu helps. I also continued honing my cooking skills. If you feel as though your culinary efforts are inadequate, you may enjoy this article, where I discuss some of the "ingredients" of successful cooking endeavors.

If you're a beginning cook, start with simple dishes. There are a lot of yummy meals that are made entirely from scratch and are also very simple to make! Don't tackle too much all at once. Be sure to read the entire recipe at least once before you begin, so you're not surprised by any of the ingredients it calls for, or the instructions. Allow extra time if it's a new recipe and/or you feel inexperienced.

As I spent more and more time cooking, I learned to make a variety of different meals, and we adjusted the recipes to suit our tastes. I still don't consider myself to be an advanced cook (there is so much I just don't know about cooking/foods!) but I will say that we really enjoy our home-cooked meals.

We enjoy our homemade meals so much, in fact, that when we finally decided to go out to eat for a special date (I think it had been maybe 6 months or so since we had last eaten out/ordered food at/from a restaurant) we were quite disappointed in the food. We were eating at a nicer restaurant, yet we realized that Joshua's grilled meats and my homemade side dishes and desserts tasted far better than the food for which we had just paid $30+.

A few months after that experience, we ordered pizza, and were again disappointed. Not that the pizza was bad -- not at all. But ours was just as good or even better, since we put plenty of our favorite toppings on, and somehow "triple-cheese" still barely covers the sauce when you order a pizza. I also had gotten fast at making homemade pizza, and with getting the cheese on sale, it was costing us about $2.50 for a loaded 16-inch pizza, which took very little time and effort to prepare.*

In the past couple years, we've eaten out just a handful of times. In the past 12 months, I can think of two occasions where we purchased prepared food. At this point, even if we had endless money, we would still eat our own cooking, because we just like it so much better! (Plus, homemade is usually healthier!)

Be sure you aren't replacing eating out with the habit of purchasing expensive groceries. Food Budgeting Tips: How we eat well on less! I also pack my husband a lunch every day, which costs less and is much healthier than anything he could purchase at work.

So, these are my suggestions for beating the eating-out habit! It's no longer a challenge for me to cook every day (although there are days when I do make an extremely simple meal, which we still like better than we would like most restaurant food!) and since we can't afford to eat out, anyway, we save a lot of money without even feeling like we're "sacrificing".

*I use a bread machine to knead most of my homemade bread dough, which is a real time-saver. My homemade pizza takes me about 5-10 minutes on the dough, 10 minutes shredding cheese/preparing toppings, and 5-10 minutes to assemble. Baking time is about 20 minutes. Start to finish, we can have homemade pizza in 60 minutes, with about 20-30 minutes of actually working on it. This time-frame does require using pre-made sauce and pepperoni, both of which I make in large batches to use as needed.

The first time you make homemade pizza, it won't be that quick. It may not even turn out exactly how you like it. But I encourage you to keep experimenting, because with some effort, you can spend less for more, and it'll still be easy. :)


We too have found that when we go out we find ourselves saying that our homecooked meals taste so much better. Now, there are a couple places that I just can't figure out how to replicate the taste (I'm working on it), so we look forward to when we get to eat out now. It's the exception, not the rule. Very good tips!!!

We eat out occasionally, and even order the occasional pizza, but even then, my kids love my pizza better . . . and they are teenagers! One of my older son's friends (18) loves to eat my pizza! I find that my time investment is about the same as yours - a really fast pizza, start to finish, ends up taking me 45 minutes. I've also learned to make stuffed-crust pizza, and now the kids want that every week. It's definitely worth learning to cook well, both for money savings and taste. Great entry!

This is a great post, and so true, too! When you think about it, those eat-out meals really add up. Where I live, fast food for four would be at least $16 (likely more, we don't eat out much so I don't really know!). Over a month, that's $64, and $624 in a year. Think of what you could do with that...


I told my husband the other day that my favorite place to eat is at home. We went through an eating out 2 times a week phase, too. Now I also plan meals for the week and it saves lots of stress. Lunch time is much less confusion because there is always something good and solid to have leftover, not just little bits and pieces. And I love pizza at home. It's very economical, yummy and much more healthful. Much less grease and we know just what went into its making--love.

Papa John's pizza is one of our splurges - we usually only get it once a month or once every six weeks, and with a coupon, but it still costs more than your 2.50 pizza! I have not had good results with pizza dough in the past, would you mind sharing your pizza recipe? I apologize if you've already done so somewhere!

Look on this site for "Tammy's Easy Pizza", "Anna Jisca's Easy Pizza Dough", and "Homemade Pizza with a pre-baked Crust". They're all in the Main Dishes category. A simple instant-read thermometer will help you to get your water the right temperature to make the yeast happy. If you choose a dough that needs kneading, more is always better for making a soft, elastic dough (8-10 minutes by hand). Pizza at home has so many options and you can make the crust as thick or thin as your family likes it. You're on your own for duplicating that garlic butter sauce they put with the pizzas at Papa John's, though. ;-)


Do you factor in the cost of running the oven or stovetop when you post how much it costs to make a certain dish? Sometimes it seems that making our own bread or pizza is just as or more expensive than buying it from the store because we're running our oven, and the cost of electricity keeps going up. I've been curious about this for a while :)


We have been doing quite a lot of eating out... or my family has since I've been in that early pregnancy sickness season. But, thankfully, that is coming to an end and we need to get back to our own kitchen table! Thank you for some great inspiration!!

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, everyone!

Brandy, you seem to know all about this website! ;) Here are the recipe links, for quick access:

Tammy's Easy Pizza

Anne Jisca's Easy Pizza Dough

Homemade Pizza (pre-baked crust)

Valerie, no, I don't usually add in electricity or gas costs for cooking foods.

I think that buying the cheapest bread (Aldi's has some that's really cheap, for their plain white bread) would be less expensive than making homemade. However, if you're paying a dollar or more for a loaf, you can actually get good ingredients and make homemade cheaper.

Flour, water, a little salt, and oil, and yeast (buy the yeast in bulk, for sure) really won't add up to much. My bread takes about 30-35 minutes to bake (at 350) so I'm not sure the price on that, but at least in the winter, the extra heat is warming my house too. :)

There are prepared foods that are cheaper to buy ready-made, but usually you can get higher-quality for the same amount or less, even figuring in cooking costs. You can also save heating costs by baking several things in a row, like making bread, a cake, and a casserole for dinner. I have even baked things at the same time, although I admit it is a little odd to pull a pan of brownies out of the oven and smell the roasted chicken baking at the same time. ;) My mom bakes 5 loaves of bread in the oven at once. Then she freezes the loaves and takes them from the freezer to use as needed.

But yes, using the stove or oven does cost money! I definitely try not to turn the oven on for a tiny little dish of something. If you really needed to cut costs, you could make large amounts of the casseroles, breads, pizza, etc. and warm the leftovers in the microwave (if you have one -- we don't), which I have heard uses less electricity than warming something on the stovetop. :)

eating out can "steal" your money quicker than most anything! We do eat out about once a week but my husband is firm in that it be no more than that. It certainly can become a habit and has for us in the past. For me, it's not the time off of cooking (although I enjoy that); it's the fact that someone brings me the food...and then cleans up after me! :) My husband's work schedule has been erratic lately and I have found myself, on more than one occasion, cleaning up the kitchen at 9:30pm. So, yeah, I like the "someone else cleaning up" aspect of eating out more than than the "eating" part! I know, I know, I could use an attitude adjustment. I'm trying. :)


Another thing Tammy did to try to save on the cost of oven-usage was to time how long it takes our oven to pre-heat. By pre-heating the oven at the right time (rather than at the very beginning of making a recipe that takes 30 minutes), it's not wasting resources. :)

I worked the numbers on what it would take to feed our family on "cheap" fast food occasionally. 3 times a week at a fast food place is pretty normal for people around here (well, actually the norm is more like 4 or 5 times a week, plus "snacks" from the drive-through). It's hundreds of dollars for 12 meals/month for our small family.

I showed that to my husband and he's stopped complaining about my grocery shopping spending. We're at $7-$10/day for all of us (4 people eating and one of us is preggers) and working it lower every month. :) If I could actually figure out the secret to coupons, I'm sure we'd do even better, but I seem to have a mental block on that front.

Well, I am not very skilled at couponing, either. I imagine it takes some practice! Crystal is excellent when it comes to couponing, though! :)

... but I totally agree about homemade food vs restaurant food! My husband and I have found when we go out to eat recently that we're always saying "the chicken Parmesan we ate two weeks ago at home was so much better than this..." or "this is really bland, don't you think?"

The only time we think differently is when we go eat food that I don't make that we both love -- like fried chicken. I never fry food at home (for health reasons), so when we pass by a restaurant that sells fried foods we always pause and wistfully take a sniff. However, I know from personal experience that my grandmothers make better fried chicken than restaurants do. So even there I would agree that homemade is best.

My husband and I recently developed a principle where we only eat out if it's food that we don't have the space/equipment/skill to make for ourselves, because we kept being disappointed by food in restaurants.

I'm glad I'm not the only person who doesn't see the point in paying for food that's inferior to something I could make myself!

Homemade food is better, no doubt about it. I'd rather have my MIL's fried fish (we don't fry food at home); I'd rather have my meatloaf. The things I like to eat out tend to be ethnic foods I don't know how to prepare, like the Indian vegetarian buffet restaurant, or sushi.

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