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Ask Chuck: Save money by cooking at home

Ask Chuck your money question

Dear Chuck,

homecooked meal, dinner
Unsplash/ Tina Dawson

My adult children rarely cook. They eat out and have groceries or meals delivered. I’m on a mission to teach my grandchildren how to cook — to prepare them to save money and become more self-sufficient in the future. I want to make it fun but could use some tips. 

Cooking Up Some Savings

Dear Cooking Up Some Savings,   

Food and entertainment can average 15% or more of the average American budget. This is a great way to help your grandchildren (and maybe your children too) learn to save a lot of money over their lifetimes. However, I am pretty limited on how to make cooking fun. So, I have asked my wife, Ann, to help me out here. She does a great job holding our food costs down! 

My limited experience

While I was in college, my Dad paid for all my meals. Most were eaten in the campus cafeteria. When I got married, we ate most of our meals at home as a means to save money. Since Ann knew how to cook and I did not, my experience at it remains very limited. That was in 1978. Today, many young people, married or single, do not know how to cook or even how to shop for groceries. 

Twenty years ago, Ann and I led a group of teenage Boy Scouts through the Crown Bible Study for Teens so they could earn a particular merit badge. They learned basic financial concepts — the importance of keeping a budget, avoiding debt, and so on. Before graduating, we wanted them to learn how much they could save by cooking their own food v. eating out. We had them bring $5 for a meal that Ann cooked. They loved it. The following week, they brought $5 to eat out, and they chose a pizza buffet. Even those teenage boys noticed how much farther their money went by eating at home versus eating out.  

Look at the numbers

Yahoo! Finance reported that a survey by Visa found that the average American spends about $20 a week eating out for lunch. That comes to over $1,000 per year — for just one person. Priceonomics conducted research and found that “on average, it is almost five times more expensive to order delivery from a restaurant than it is to cook at home. And if you’re using a meal kit service as a shortcut to a home cooked meal, it’s a bit more affordable, but still almost three times as expensive as cooking from scratch.” The average price per serving based on 86 meals revealed the following costs: 

  • $20.37 for restaurant (with a delivery fee of $5.00) 
  • $12.53 for a meal kit (with a delivery fee of $2.50)  
  • $4.31 for cooking at home 

Why people eat out

  • Lack of preparation
  • Convenience 
  • To be served
  • To be entertained
  • Variety of food choices
  • Business expense

Why people do not cook

  • Lack of knowledge
  • Time consuming
  • Too messy
  • Too stressful
  • Picky family
  • Fear of failure

Many recognize the need to change their habits. They want to save money, eat nutritiously, and impact their children’s futures. Start by learning to make one meal well. Learn to master something. Me? Well, I like to cook eggs and make smoothies. Let’s get Ann’s take. 

Tips from Ann

With the goal of making cooking and eating at home appealing, prepare ahead by knowing what you plan to cook and gathering all ingredients. Consult cookbooks, websites, YouTube, or cooking shows to plan your menu. Search for budget-friendly, nutritious foods. After a few tries, you will gain confidence and should venture out into other meals. 

Aim to make mealtime special by including the entire family. Rotate preparation, cooking, and clean-up chores. Teach children how to set the table, then let them be creative with cloth napkins, dinnerware, and centerpieces. Consider eating in different places, indoors and out. Turn off the TV and put away electronics to allow for family communication. Invite friends to join you. Ask relatives to demonstrate how to prepare favorite foods. Invite internationals in to teach you to cook specialties of their culture.

Pick a night of the week to have a certain meal. This will cut down on menu planning: Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Crockpot Night, Soup and Salad, Pizza or Pasta, Breakfast for Dinner, etc. Also, consider a baking competition where someone judges the dishes your grandchildren make. You will be surprised what a little recognition will do to motivate them. 

Discover salvage and surplus grocery shopping to stock your pantry at reduced rates. Take the grandkids with you to learn. It is always a treasure hunt. Skip the prepackaged, microwavable stuff, and learn to eat fresh foods. God made them for us, and they are full of vitamins. Limit the foods that cause inflammation in your body, and you will save money and also improve your health.

My tips 

Eating out is a treat in our home. Ann and I have our favorite spots. We try to find coupons or ways to save while enjoying the splurge. We prefer to eat lunches out when we can since they are less expensive than dinners. We have not ordered a beverage at a restaurant in years. Water is good for you and saves a crazy amount on your total bill. Sometimes, we split an entrée, and we seldom order desserts.  

It is interesting to note that the ant is considered wise for planning and storing its food supply in advance. “Go to theant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest (Proverbs 6:6-8 ESV). Good stewardship eliminates the waste of time and money. 

Hope it goes well! Thanks for contacting Crown. We invite you to listen to our Stewardship Podcast series; you will find many ideas on how to best manage God’s resources. Enjoy!

Chuck Bentley is CEO of Crown Financial Ministries, a global Christian ministry, founded by the late Larry Burkett. He is the host of a daily radio broadcast, My MoneyLife, featured on more than 1,000 Christian Music and Talk stations in the U.S., and author of his most recent book, Seven Gray Swans: Trends that Threaten Our Financial Future. Be sure to follow Crown on Facebook.

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