In 2008, I spent $7447.06 on groceries for our four-person household. In 2013, it was almost twice that much: $13,788.59. In case you’re wondering, that represents the total cost required to make at home 342 breakfasts, 330 lunches, and 281 dinners last year. It also includes all of our snacks and desserts.
Needless to say, like most other folks, our family also enjoys going out to dinner occasionally; most of the time it’s either fast food, pizza delivery, or a mid-priced family restaurant like Chili’s, but sometimes we splurge and eat somewhere a bit more upscale.
Unfortunately, eating out is not cheap. Back in 2008, we dined out 29 times and spent $1050.32. Of course, like most people, as our household income has grown, so has the number of restaurant meals. Last year we let someone else cook our dinner 68 times. The total cost: $4140.
Breaking down the numbers, what immediately stands out is that, on a per meal basis, dining out is horrendously expensive. In my case, last year we consumed 953 meals at home at an average price of $3.62 per person per meal — that’s 73% more per meal than the household spent in 2008. While the majority of that increase can be blamed on price inflation, I believe a good chunk of it is also the result of my kids’ insistence on growing up and becoming ravenous teenagers — despite my pleas to the contrary.
By the way, healthy eaters can take solace in the fact that my cost per meal for dining at home also includes snacks and desserts. Assuming 5% of our grocery bill is dedicated to snacks and desserts, then my household’s actual meal price per person is really only $3.43.
Now let’s compare that total to my household’s cost of dining out which, in 2013, totaled — hold on to your hats, folks — a whopping $15.22 per person! In other words, on average, our cost of dining out was more than four times the cost of eating at home last year! I know.
My family dines out an average of about five times per month. How many people do you know who bring home dinner from a restaurant that many times per week? Just think about all of the money a four-person household could save — not to mention the health benefits — by simply eating more home-cooked meals.
The moral to this story can be found in the math: Increasing the number of times one eats at home is an easy and extremely effective way to cut monthly expenses. Best of all, for folks who are looking to stretch their income by cutting costs, that’s low-hanging fruit.
Behold The Power of the Family Dinner Menu
Even so, for a lot of people, the temptation to avoid cooking at home is strong.
I’ve found that the best way to encourage more home cooking is by simply planning ahead — and the best way to do this is by creating a home dinner menu approximately twice per month. I know this because, when I’m not playing household CEO, I pull double-duty as the family chef too. (Yes, ladies, believe it or not there are quite a few men out there who love to bring home the bacon and cook it up too.)
Anyway, one of my duties as the family chef is to assemble a household dinner menu that covers the following two weeks — including those “off” days when we splurge by dining out — and usually one leftovers night too. I then use the dinner menu to help create the family grocery list for the next two weeks.
Trust me; this process is tried and true. And it works because it instills discipline. In fact, we’ve successfully used this method for more than ten years now, and it has helped us to save a lot more money than we would have otherwise.
Who Says Home-Cooked Meals Are No Fun?
I always make sure the whole family participates in the menu selection process; our kids always get to select two meals each, while the Honeybee and I choose the rest.
When my kids were a lot younger, their inputs almost never failed to be, well … interesting. I remember one particular time, back when my daughter was in third grade, she selected spaghetti tacos. They actually turned out pretty good! If you want the recipe, let me know.
Photo Credit: Aranami