You probably heard this advice before: if you want to save money stop eating out so much!
And let’s be honest, you’ve tried, but haven’t really stuck with that advice.
I live in a growing city, I get it.
But maybe some actual numbers will help you really see how much you can save if you stop eating out – even if it’s just a few days a week.
The cost of dining out
The average American household spends about $3,000 a year dining out, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (remember that one person spending only on him/herself counts as a household, too.)
Are you thinking there’s no way you could spend that much?
Well, let’s take another look.
If you go out for lunch Monday through Friday for a year, you might spend $10 a meal – a pretty good deal at most dining establishments. This adds up to $50 weekly. It’s also easy to spend that amount if you go out to dinner two or three times a week. And yes, if you order takeout or delivery, this still counts as “dining out”.
Between delivery minimums and surcharges, you’re paying almost as much to stay in.
Spend $50 a week on restaurant food, and in total, you’re spending $2,500 per year, near the national average. This cash adds up to almost half of the average American’s annual food budget.
Why is dining out so expensive?
To make a profit, restaurants charge about a 300% markup on the items they serve. You’re paying for service and convenience. In many cases, you could make a $15 meal in a restaurant for $5 at home.
Granted, the food you make at home might not taste exactly the same. Sometimes it’s worth it to enjoy a dish made by a professional. People eat at restaurants for lots of reasons – to socialize, to celebrate, to try something new, to take a break from busy lives. But if you dine out regularly for convenience’s sake, you could save some serious cash cooking at home.
The savings of eating in
At first glance, cooking might not seem like a budget-friendly move. You need money for groceries and kitchen implements. You’re also budgeting time and effort.
How much can you really save?
Commercially-prepared meals are way more expensive
The average commercially-prepared meal costs around $13. Even if you rarely spend this much money at one time when you eat out, consider frequency. Two meals for $6.50 will add up to the same price.
By contrast, the average meal prepared at home costs around $4 for groceries – a $9 savings per person per meal. To put it another way, a $13 restaurant meal is about 325% more expensive than a $4 meal you prepare yourself.
You’ll save even more if you make, and use leftovers. The actual numbers will depend on the cost of groceries where you live. But an area with pricier groceries almost always has pricier-than-usual restaurants as well. Percentage-wise you’ll still save by eating at home.
You don’t need to stop eating out altogether in order to save
Don’t worry, you don’t have to quit ordering out completely to save major cash. Most Americans eat commercially prepared meals about four times a week.
If you make just two of these meals at home instead, you save $936 – almost $1,000 a year.
This extra money could be a big jump in your savings for long-term or short-term goals. Even if you only skip one restaurant meal a week in favor of cooking or leftovers, that’s about a $500 annual savings.
Another bonus: home-prepared food tends to be healthier than the typical restaurant meal. People who cook at home get more nutrients and eat less fat and sugar than people who eat exclusively at restaurants.
Plan to try more cooking? Tips for working meal preparation into your busy schedule
Let’s start with the cost: you may spend more than $4 per meal initially if you’re stocking up on kitchen staples like oil, flour, and spices. But once you’ve got the basics, the grocery bill won’t be as high.
Plus you may find you enjoy cooking more than you thought you would!
Here are some of our best tips:
- Look up simple, healthy, low-cost recipes.
- Follow our grocery saving tips for more budget-friendly food shopping.
- Cook enough for two or three meals and reheat leftovers! Eating leftovers, rather than throwing them out, can save you up to $1,000 a year. One of our writers saved $1,365 a year by eliminating food waste.
- Bring lunch to work. Prep food the night before if you have an early, rushed morning.
- Eat breakfast. The much-praised “most important meal of the day” is often the cheapest one. Freezer-friendly breakfast sandwiches, for instance, can replace the meal you grab from the corner store.
- If you’re an ultra-organized type (or want to be) try making meal plans for the week. There are plenty of meal plan templates and even apps to try out online.
Meal delivery services can help you save
If meal planning stresses you out and cooking is really not your thing, meal delivery services take care of planning all of that for you, with super easy step-by-step instructions.
You could argue that meal delivery is pricier than buying your own ingredients, but it’s still SO MUCH cheaper than most restaurants.
Why meal delivery services can save you money and time
- No more throwing out extra non-eaten food sitting around in your refrigerator for days or weeks….and you can order food for the exact number of people you are cooking for. That’s savings right there.
- Plus everyone is talking about how “easy it is” and fun, which means you will end up going out to eat less. More savings!
- Going to the grocery store and buying food takes time; and as the saying goes, time is money.
Subscriptions average around $8-$12 per meal which includes 2 servings. Yes, 2 servings!
So the bottom line cost is quite reasonable and that’s why so many people have regular subscriptions and say that using meal delivery services has truly been life-changing.
With Home Chef it’s uber convenient (and fun) to get a box of fresh ingredients delivered to you.
I’m definitely a fan.
Recommended meal delivery services in a nutshell
*We’ve got a great comparison table for you here; be sure to scroll right to see the whole thing!
|Home Chef||EveryPlate||Blue Apron||Freshly||HelloFresh||Sunbasket|
|Best For||Time management||Price||Variety||Convenience||Customizable options||Quality ingredients|
|Price per meal||$6.99+||$4.99+||$7.99+||$8.99+||$7.99+||$9.99+|
|Minimum order||2 meals / 2 plates||3 meals / 2 plates||2 meals / 2 plates||4-12 individual meals||2 meals / 2 plates||2 meals / 2 plates|
|Delivery Cost||Starts at $9.99||$9.99||$9.99||Starts at $9.99||$9.99||$9.99|
|Promotion||Try Home Chef - Get $90 off your first 3 orders!||Try Everyplate at $1.49/meal on 1st box + 20% off next 2 boxes!||Blue Apron new customers: Enjoy $180 off across 6 orders—plus, your first order ships free!||or||Try HelloFresh - Get 18 Free Meals + 3 Surprise Gifts + Free Shipping!||Try Sunbasket - Get $90 off + a free gift and free shipping on your first box!|
Check Out Our Meal Delivery Comparison: Home Chef vs. HelloFresh vs. Blue Apron vs. Freshly vs. EveryPlate vs. Sun Basket
Another option: plan to dine out (with discretion)?
Not ready to cut out restaurant dining altogether? We don’t blame you. Socialization and even business take place around food, so restaurants are hard to avoid.
Fortunately, you can save money while still dining out. Besides eating in restaurants less often, here’s how to keep the check reasonable:
Use a credit card that rewards your spending
If you use the right credit card you could save even more on your groceries, since they offer cash back.
We’ve compiled some of our favorite credit cards for bars and restaurants. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card comes highly recommended.
Another card to check out is the Chase Freedom Flex℠, which provides 3% cash back on dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery services. The card also earns an impressive 5% cash back on rotating quarterly categories (on up to $1,500 spent), which often include spending at grocery stores and wholesale clubs.
With a solid 1% cash back on all other purchases, the Chase Freedom Flex℠ is a flexible card with lots of earning potential.
- Go to lunch or happy hour instead of dinner. Restaurants tend to have better dining deals earlier in the day.
- Split an entree with someone else, or take half of your food home. We’re primed to eat the amount of food that’s in front of us, regardless of our actual hunger level. Managing big portion sizes in restaurants goes a long way towards saving money. Just don’t forget to use the leftovers.
- Eating just appetizers helps cut the cost of your meal down, plus many restaurants have tons of options when it comes to appetizers, making it easy to mix and match.
- Skip the extras like drinks, desserts, and appetizers.
- If you have favorite dining establishments, sign up for their e-mail alerts and follow them on social media. You’ll be alerted to deals and bargains.
- Bring your own beer (BYOB) to restaurants that allow it and save on costly drinks.
- Find restaurants where kids get discounts, that way you only have to pay full-price for the adults.
- Research menus ahead of time if possible. If you know what you want, you’ll be less tempted by the offerings once you get there.
- You can buy discounted gift cards to chain restaurants through sites like Cardpool and Raise. And you can always keep your eye out for a good Groupon.
Small expenses can add up when it comes to eating out at restaurants. But small changes also make a big difference.
Make your $2 daily coffee at home Monday through Friday, and you’ve saved $40 a month already. Think of minor changes you can make easily, and you’re on your way to breaking your restaurant habit and saving for bigger goals.