by Jack @ FinGoal
Everyone knows the common wisdom that cooking is cheaper than eating out. But a lot of us, myself included, are daily tempted to ignore this wisdom for an understandable reason: Cooking is exhausting. Especially for folks with long workdays during the week, the challenge of navigating the grocery store at peak hours coupled with the chore of actually cooking the meal makes the task seem hardly worth it. For a long time, I had this notion and as a result I spent scads of money of food. But I’ve come to realize that with a few straightforward steps, cooking can become more than a frugal replacement for eating out; It can become one of the day’s highlights.
I won’t reiterate here that homemade meals are cheaper than their restaurant equivalents—though, if you want to see the eye-popping numbers on that, they’re remarkable. The only reason I won’t concentrate on the price difference beyond stating that it’s massive is that we’re all already aware it. For most people not cooking their meals, cost isn’t in the calculation as much as ease. On a weeknight after a long day’s work when we’re tired and hungry and the grocery store is jammed, cooking sounds like a massive pain. But here at FinGoal, we found that pain could be alleviated with a couple simple steps and tools that will save you a mind-boggling amount of money.
Get a good recipe source.
I doubt that there are any expert chefs reading this article as they’re too busy coming up with new and interesting recipes, and I say leave that work to them. Once you’ve had some experience in the kitchen, it can be a lot of fun to imagine up new recipes. But if you’re like me, in need of a meal at the end of the day, just use the experts’ recipes. There’s a cookbook for everything if you’ve got dietary restrictions or specific tastes, but if you’re a new cook I suggest getting a beginner cookbook. These books offer simple recipes with straightforward instructions, and the food tends to be easy and relatively fast to make. I highly recommend How to Cook Everything as an excellent place to start. If you want a more technological approach, you can also consult apps which make meal planning easy, like Mealime or Yummly.
In addition to cutting down the time you spend deciding what to make, a cookbook provides a concise list of ingredients that will help you build your shopping list. Just remember to check your pantry first—it’s easy to forget what ingredients you may already have, especially spices and condiments.
Use a List.
If you’re looking to keep a tight budget, don’t grocery shop on the fly. You’ll wind up buying things you won’t consume, impulse shopping, or getting a more expensive item when a cheaper alternative is exactly the same. A tight list of what you need will invariably cut down on your grocery bill. If you’re looking to be really frugal, try meal planning and shopping for an entire week’s worth of food at the same time. When you think on the weekly scale, you can plan meals that will consume extra ingredients or leftovers from what you’ve already made.
As for lists, there’s nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned list on the phone or a sticky note. However, if you’re looking to step up your game, I recommend checking out Basket [https://basket.com/]. With the Basket app, you can calculate the cost of your grocery bill as you build your shopping list and compare prices for items between local stores to work out where you’ll get the best deal. Additionally, Basket lets you know exactly what to look for, so you don’t grab the first item that matches what you need. Grocery stores are stocked to the gills with all kinds of variations in brand and type, and it’s not always evident in the moment what the best deal for each ingredient is. Basket helps you figure out exactly what you need so you don’t wind up paying more for your ingredients than you want to.
If time is especially short, you can also skip the grocery store altogether. There are many meal kit services that will provide an inexpensive and easy way of receiving everything you need to cook. We recommend Dinnerly, which provides meals as cheap as $5 per person.
At this point, you’ve cut down on your food bill significantly and your final hurdle is doing the actual cooking. The process is time-consuming, and for new cooks it can definitely seem like a huge risk. After all, if you eat out, you’re assured to have a good meal. Eating out never comes with the risk that you won’t get any food at all, whereas with you at the stove, who knows what could go wrong?
The good news is that it’s surprisingly hard to screw up while cooking. Sure, you’re not going to be making Michelin Star-worthy meals right out the gate, and sometimes mistakes are made. But even if something goes wrong, it’s likely that you’ll be able to eat whatever you made anyway. There’s no real threat of going hungry, and if you’re really worried about it, buy some instant rice or a to-go salad as a backup plan.
Even better news is that cooking is a hobby, and like all hobbies it can be frustrating and slow at first. But eventually, it will become fun and easy. You will get faster at making your meals, more knowledgeable about your ingredients and your methods, and ultimately you might even discover that you want to branch out into recipes that take longer to make because your time in the kitchen is some of the best-spent time of the day. Not only does this attitude toward making your own food make you happier in the long run, it’s also totally essential to keeping the habit. If you think of cooking as a chore, by the time Wednesday or Thursday nights roll around you won’t want to do it. But if you see cook time as time spent learning a life-skill and pursuing a passion, that hour in the kitchen will be a lot more appealing. Couple that with the amount of money you’ll save every week and you might just find yourself cooking in every night.
For more personalized feedback on how you can spend smarter and go farther, get started with FinGoal today.