Why Cooking is An Essential Skill for Saving Money


In part one of this mini-series on food, I discussed 6 More Ways to Save Money on Food. There are a number of ways to cut down on food spending, which is often one of the largest categories in a person’s budget. The biggest key to keeping food spending in check? Reducing the number of meals eaten outside the home. Part two of this mini-series on food discusses why cooking is essential to saving money.

Food spending can be tricky, because while food is certainly a “need,” going out to restaurants is not. It’s common knowledge that it’s significantly cheaper to purchase groceries and cook your own meals at home, yet there is an allure for millennials when it comes to going out to restaurants. Not only for the opportunity to experience new cuisines, but also as social outings.

Restaurant Spending Continues to Rise

Statistics show that millennials would much rather eat out all the time than cook their own meals at home. In fact, for the first time in history, restaurant spending has surpassed grocery spending. This is incredible.

Between restaurants, bars, and coffee shops, we’re talking about a significant portion of the typical millennial’s budget. It’s also an area that millennials tend to admit needing to cut back on.

Whenever you’re analyzing your budget, it’s important to find the areas of spending most important to you and then cut back on the expenses that aren’t bringing you value. While we enjoy eating out, we grew to realize it wasn’t as important to us as some of our other goals, namely our debt payoff, long-term investing, and travel. That might not be the case for you, maybe you place a high importance on going out to eat and you’d rather cut back in different areas.

Changing Our Mindset

While we still enjoy eating out from time to time, we now think of it as a special occasion. What started as “sacrificing” and feeling difficult, has since become a way of life. Through continual practice of cooking meals at home, the temptation to eat out has dwindled. The more you do something, the easier it becomes over time.

Common reasons I’ve heard why people don’t cook their meals at home are: they can’t cook, it’s inconvenient, don’t like cleaning up, they ran out of groceries at home and didn’t get a chance to shop, and they get bored of having the same meals over and over.

The bottom line is that if you want to get your food spending in check, you need to cut back on meals outside your home. Paying for convenience often comes at a substantial cost.

Not only is cooking at home significantly cheaper, but many nights it’s a much more convenient option. It’s easier for me to whip up a 10-15 minute meal than it would be to drive to a restaurant for takeout or wait for delivery. You also have full control over the ingredients used in the meal, so often times it is a healthier option. Cooking together has been a tremendous bonding experience for my wife and I, while also being a social opportunity for inviting people over for a home-cooked meal.

home-cooked meals

Egg scramble with bacon bits, onion, bell pepper, cheese, rice, beans. Top with some salsa.

Practice Leads to Improvement

This all happened as a result of practice. I’m not an amazing cook, I usually tell people that “I can make a few meals well.” I started from scratch and learned new techniques and new meals over time. Once you make a meal a few times you get better at it. For example, the first time I made an omelette was intimidating, and now I can make them with ease. Cooking used to be a struggle, and now it has become something I enjoy.

Start with the very basics like scrambling eggs, making pasta and sauce, or a stir fry. These are cheap, quick, and easy meals. Once you master the basics, scale up from there. None of the meals we make are complicated, or involve a ton of different ingredients. Once you master one technique or recipe, move on to the next. YouTube is filled with cooking videos, you just have to make the effort to put yourself out there and learn. Each new meal you make will lead to making progress in your cooking skills.

Changing our mindset about restaurant spending and cooking meals at home is arguably the most important lifestyle decision we made to keep costs low and speed up our road to debt freedom. Not only in the area of our food budget, but the impact was felt across our entire budget. This mindset shift helped show us that lower cost alternatives are doable, and are often preferable to higher cost solutions. This has trickled into other areas of our budget such as finding lower cost methods of entertainment.

Taking the time to build cooking skills is time very well spent and can save you a ton of money over the years. It may even become something you truly enjoy doing.

Related Reading: 9 Easy Ways to Lower Food Costs

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5 Responses

  1. We cook pretty much every meal and it makes such a difference! Your budget will thank you for it!

  2. Cooking cheaply and efficiently takes some practice, but the learning curve is quick.
    If you make one dish repeatedly, you can perfect the routine, and make the dish taste great and limit the clean up.
    Master a couple of rice dishes, then move on to another type of food.

  3. OMGF says:

    I realized that I need to make a choice with my eating habits. Either I’m eating out or I’m cooking. I cannot do both or else food goes to waste. The last month was heavy on the dining out but I’m swinging back to enjoying making my meals at home. So far I’ve managed to cut my average month’s food spending from $600 to just under $400. I’ve also taken to getting my dining out fix for free through mystery shopping and free events.

    Oh, and stir fry on an electric stove?! Almost unforgivable, but I like your blog so it can slide for now.

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