In 2008 my family spent $7447.06 on groceries. That represents the total cost required to make 349 breakfasts, 342 lunches, and 320 dinners during the course of the year for my family of four. It also includes all of the snacks and desserts that we consumed at home for the year.
Like most other folks, our family also enjoys going out to dinner occasionally. In 2008, we went out for dinner at a restaurant 29 times. Sometimes we went out for fast food, and sometimes it was to a mid-priced family restaurant like Chili’s. The total cost for those 29 restaurant meals: $1050.32. (Just to be clear, this does not include the few times either the Honeybee and/or I went out for lunch or breakfast.)
Breaking down the numbers, what should immediately stand out is that on a per meal basis, dining out is horrendously expensive. In my case, we consumed 1011 meals at home at an average price of $2.09 per person per meal. But really, that cost is even less because the grocery bill for the year also included snacks and desserts. Assuming 2% of our grocery bill was dedicated to snacks and desserts, then my household’s actual meal price per person is really only $1.80.
Now compare that to the household’s cost of dining out which comes to — hold on to your hats, folks — a whopping $9.05 per person! In other words, on average the cost of dining out is almost exactly five times more expensive than eating at home!
My family dines out an average of about 2.5 times per month. I think that is a reasonable frequency. How many people do you know that bring home dinner from a restaurant three or four times per week? Just think of all the money that a family of four could save, not to mention the health benefits, by simply eating more home-cooked meals!
Those that do the math will see the obvious moral to this story: increasing the number of times you feed your family at home is an easy and extremely effective way to cut your monthly expenses.
Talk about low-hanging fruit!
I have found that the best way to encourage this behavior is to sit down and create a dinner menu approximately twice a month. When I am not playing household CEO I love to cook and so, as the family chef, I am responsible for sitting down and putting together the dinner menu that covers our meals over the following 14 to 21 days. The menu period usually includes a couple of “off” days where we go out to eat, and also a leftovers night as well.
This process has kept us disciplined in eating the great majority of our meals at home and minimizing the temptation to simply go out for pizza or run down to the local fast food joint to avoid cooking. This discipline has resulted in significant savings annually that we put toward other uses.
I always make sure the whole family gets to participate in the menu selection process; I get many menu inputs from the Honeybee (i.e., the household CFO), and my kids are also each allowed to select two meals on the menu. Incidentally, the kids menu inputs are always, um, interesting. For instance, later this week we are going to try spaghetti tacos, courtesy of an input from my nine year-old daughter.
That should make for a fun evening at the dinner table! Let me know if you want the recipe.
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