Saving money. It’s the key to building any real wealth. But diligently saving money over the years it takes to reach financial independence isn’t easy. It takes years of steady saving, and some serious dedication.
One of the easiest and most controllable ways to save money is by simply cooking all your meals at home. Many people attempt to do this with some regularity, but within a few months many fall off the “cooking at home” bandwagon.
Why? Long term consistency is hard, and preparing food at home takes considerable work.
Maybe it was a rough day at work, or maybe you simply didn’t have time to cook a meal from scratch. There’s always a really good reason, and after you’ve fallen out of the habit it’s easy to tell yourself that you’ll start again…tomorrow, next week, or even next month.
It’s completely understandable why families commonly rack up thousands of dollars per year in restaurant spending — It’s soo easy to trade that extra little bit of money to have someone else prepare and serve you food.
So how do families like mine go years without eating out? How do we stick with it year after year without fail? Don’t we get tired of cooking?
It’s simple really…
Building Better Habits
It all comes down to building frugal habits. Our family didn’t start out being so frugal…it’s a habit we built-up over time.
Initially we had the same spendy food habits as everybody else — we ate out all the time. We went to restaurants about once a week, and got takeout at least one other night of the week. Lunches were typically purchased as well.
Combined, Mrs. Tako and I spent an additional $300-$500 per month eating food prepared by someone else. Money we could have saved. It was a terrible habit we needed to break.
We knew we needed to form better financial habits, so we started with small changes.
The first step was our shift to takeout-only. We told ourselves “you can still order restaurant food, just get takeout instead.”
Instead of sitting in a restaurant and soaking up all that wonderful ambiance, we simply ordered takeout. Eating was no longer the same “experience”, but we still had the same good food (just not in the restaurant). As a result, the money saving process started.
Over time, we found ourselves ordering less — fewer appetizers, smaller portions, smaller tips, and fewer drinks (or no drinks!). The bill amounts started falling. It was actually a very easy transition.
This went on for maybe 6 months, and we realized that picking-up takeout actually turned into a chore. Someone had to order, drive to the restaurant, pay for the food, and then drive back home again. It took time, and wasn’t terribly fun either.
Eventually, we realized it was just as easy to cook at home. Over time we started ordering less and less takeout…
Four times a month turned into three times a month… which eventually morphed into once a month.
Now, we go multiple months without a single takeout order, and I can’t even remember the last time I sat in an actual restaurant.
Keep It Interesting
Part of cooking more at home is about learning to be a better cook. Why? If you can’t cook decent food, you won’t want to eat at home.
Don’t kid yourself, becoming a good cook isn’t a skill people are born with — it takes practice. Lots and lots of practice. Good thing you’ll be getting plenty of practice once you stop eating out so damn much.
Part of being a good cook also means cooking something you actually want to eat. If all you ever cook is instant ramen and macaroni, you’ll quickly tire of that menu. Instead, cook food you have a passion for!
Spend the time (and money) to make really delicious dishes. Don’t be afraid to spend on high quality ingredients, fresh herbs, or special sauces — You’re going to be saving a ridiculous amount of money by not eating out. Quality ingredients make a huge difference in preparing great meals.
Keep cooking interesting too — don’t get stuck in a rut cooking the same 5 dishes over and over again. Constantly expand your culinary possibilities by trying out new dishes and new techniques.
Don’t be afraid to attempt foreign cuisines and more complicated dishes either!
With a little practice, you’ll eventually realize food at home that is healthier and higher quality. Yet one more reason to avoid the madness of
crowds restaurants. 🙂
Prepare For Cooking Fatigue
Of course, everybody can get tired. Sometimes life just gets too busy for cooking meals from scratch. That’s why it’s important to plan ahead. The solution is simple — prep meals ahead of time for when you’re having “one of those days”.
Rather than cheating, meals become a matter of reheating food items you’ve already prepared. No need to buy food from the nearest
fast fat food restaurant, just reheat!
Our family typically makes a larger batches of our normal meal, then portions it out into air-tight locking glass containers like these. We’ll then pop them into the freezer. On a busy night (or a lazy night), a simple re-heat makes meals easy.
Expensive condiments like salsa we also batch-make and freeze. My roasted salsa recipe is out of this world good, yet typically costs less than $1 per pound.
What’s that? You don’t have any freezer space left? I highly recommend getting yourself a chest freezer. They’re cheap, highly efficient, and can store tons of prepared meals. I even wrote a post about how much I love my chest freezer.
Share The Load
It’s also worth noting — another way to keep the “at home” habit going is by simply sharing the load with your partner. In millennia past, cooking tasks were designated along gender lines — but there’s absolutely no reason why this should remain true today.
In our house, Mrs. Tako cooks breakfasts, and I make the evening meal. When one person cooks, the other does the cleanup. Lunches tend to be individual affairs for us, except on the weekends.
While Mrs. Tako is a far better cook than I, we both try to share the load. When one of us is tired or sick that day, the other partner takes over.
This might not sound like a revolutionary tip for saving money, but you’d be surprised how frequently I talk with moms who shoulder the entire responsibility of cooking for a family… they all sound exhausted! Most of them are dying for a break.
I hope sharing my own culinary journey is either inspiring or helpful for families looking to save some serious money. Stick with it folks! Financial independence is worth it!
It’s been over 5 years now since we gave-up eating at restaurants, and I have little desire to go back to that life. Frankly, I can now cook better food than I find in most restaurants … at a mere fraction of the cost.
Saving ourselves $400 per month, we’ve probably saved an additional $24,000 of capital to fund our financial independence. While not a huge sum, that isn’t peanuts either.
That money, once invested, will continue to appreciate and earn us dividends for decades to come.
That’s a delicious treat I can dig into.