It is amazing how powerful this is when you REALLY analyze it. I know it was for me.
The Temptation of Dining Out
The other day after church we had a moment of weakness. We were feeling lazy and wanton, and had no Sunday afternoon meal ready prepared… so when the preacher mentioned tacos in his sermon, it was all over. As we walked out to the car after the church service I knew we were destined for one place and one place only – The all-you-can-eat buffet at the local authentic Mexican restaurant. Mmmm.
Sounds honest enough right? Church couple goes out to eat after the service, you see it all the time. So what’s wrong with going out to eat once in awhile?
Well… because we are in debt!
Also… since we know how overpriced and unhealthy restaurant food is we normally go without and choose instead to eat at home. Many times if one of us gets lazy and wants to eat out, the other is there to quickly bring the situation back on track. But not this Sunday. For some reason both of us had lost our edge. The tacos were too much for us… so off we went.
Money Spent Dining Out
The food was great! I loved every minute of it… at least while I was eating anyway.
As soon as I was done eating, two things started to bother me.
- The meal would cost much more than I wanted to pay. And I was right, it did. After leaving a tip the damage came to around $26.00, which may sound cheap to some reading… but to us that is a lot to spend on one meal.
- We ate way more food than either of us needed. Overeating unhealthy restaurant food was a behavior we practiced often before adopting our frugal and sensible diet and weight loss mindset. Like most Americans, when we go to an all-you-can-eat buffet it is very hard not to get our fill – especially considering how much was being spent on one meal. In this situation most of us really want to make sure we get our money’s worth! 🙂
Now $26 poorer, for a meal that would sustain us for about 6 – 8 hours, we left the restaurant grossly full, hopped into the car and headed over to the grocery store to pick up a few things before heading home.
Money Spent on Groceries
This is the part that really helped set our priorities back in order!
At the grocery store we picked up the following groceries for a total of $20.49:
- 6 – 32oz. jars of organic applesauce (good for about 36+ servings)
- 10 organic apples (for use in 10 lunches)
- 4oz. of bread yeast (enough for at least 12 loaves of homemade bread)
- 75 sq. ft. of aluminum foil (should last at least 3-4 months)
The grocery items purchased would serve us many times over far into the future. You can also use a costco membership discount to cut grocery costs.
Save Money | Cost Analysis
So what is the moral of this story?
Dining out is much more expensive than purchasing groceries. Is this breaking news? No. But bringing the point up and analyzing the numbers so plainly gives us a very clear picture of the high cost of dining out!
We already have pretty strict rules in place for dining out… right now we loosely limit it to special occasions and business opportunities.
Do we miss dining out?
I would be lying if I said we are never tempted, but I can honestly say that since we began focusing our eating habits on healthy, frugal, homemade meals… most of the time we crave our own food more than restaurant food.
The less we eat out and the less junk we eat… the less we crave it!
Craig @ Money Help For Christians says
My wife is a fantastic planner so she makes great tasting meals at home. When we don’t have a plan it costs us.
Thanks for the reminder that the grocery store is STILL cheaper than the restaurant.
I think some people in debt still think they have the “right” to go out to eat. Yay for you for realizing it was a mistake.
Matt Jabs says
Good point Emily. My grandmother had 7 children and NEVER once went out to eat because her and my grandfather saw it as unnecessary. They definitely did not have the entitlement that we have today.
Jennifer Young says
This is my fall back also.I keep telling myself to plan ahead and the homemade local pizza guy want get your $20.00 for two pizza! He ends up with about $40.00 a month from us! My ideal is when I get my pressure cooker I am going to can home meals in jars that way when don’t feel like cooking I can pop open a jar of food.After all I can only put so much food in my freezer and most meals just are flat out bad from the freezer.So rather then having 100 jars of beans,corn or whatever I am going to take the beans or whatever and make a meal and can it! Even canning just one thing in a jar you still have to make a meal so I figure why not just cook meals and can it and keep my $40.00 a month!
Matt Jabs says
Wow, that is a brilliant idea to save money and prepare for those unexpected “lazy days” when temptation strikes!
If you prepare your family with pre-canned meals, as you suggest, you are much less likely to fall victim to the desire to go out and spend a ton on one meal! Awesome Jennifer.
Jennifer–I don’t know if you already know how to can meat. But, if you don’t, I invite you to visit my blog storageskills.blogspot.com and click on November ’08. I have a complete picture step by step tutorial on how to can chicken. Hamburger and other meats are done exactly the same way.
*Holding my head WAY DOWN in shame!*
I also went out to eat yesterday after church….I indulged at Red Lobster…and curiousity lulled me to try the new Lobster Nachos (they were really good, but I digress)
Before I saw the bill, I knew I shouldn’t be doing this…ironically enough, I already planned on going shopping tonight after I hit the gym.
Thanks for the confirmation!
Lydia aka Ms. MoneyChat says
boy oh boy, i know this story all too well!! i’m so good at all other aspects of my finances, but grocery shopping and eating out are enemies to my budget. wait, let me say that another way, my lack of focused discipline with grocery shopping and eating out is an enemy to my budget! there, gotta take personal responsibility.
Matt Jabs says
It may seem simple Lydia, but what you just said is paramount! We have to take responsibility for the spending by realizing it was our own lack of preparation that got us here in the fist place!
Well put Matt,
My wife and I use to eat out ALL the time. After drinking the “no debt” kool-aid, we’d much rather eat at home. It sure doesn’t hurt that I bring home free pizza from my side hustle once a week for dinner 🙂
Another benefit to eating at home, the kids are much happier. They’d much rather eat in their own chairs than the restaurant’s. I’m sure that will change soon enough though.
Good timing on this.
Last night I made Shrimp and Pasta for my daughter and me. She asked what the meal cost (she’s 11 and thinks way too much for a kid).
1lb shrimp – $4.00 (sale a couple months back, in freezer)
1lb pasta – $1
Jarred sauce – 1/2 jar 50 cents.
$5.50 for 2 plates that each had a half pound of shrimp. She pointed out to me there was still pasta left over for lunch. How much do you think this would cost at (the local restaurant)? We decided at least $14.95 each. $30 plus drinks, tip, salad, maybe. $40-$50, by the time you get out of there.
On the other hand, we do eat out, but try to choose places that serve food I’d not make at home. It’s a balance.
Matt Jabs says
Nice Joe, sounds like she’s a chip off the ole block. 🙂
I cannot argue with anything you said… including the importance of having a balance. As a whole our culture has been way out of balance on this issue… it’s time to swing that pendulum back the other way for awhile.
JT–That shrimp and pasta analogy brings it home. It’s brilliant in it’s simplicity.
Robert Espe says
On a completely different note, I noticed an almost $4 tip. I personally only ever tip real wait staff, not buss staff (which is what buffets have). Tips are to reward excellence in providing a quality dining experience, not for washing the table and bringing me a drink after I’ve dished up my own food. I know some people like to tip anyone who works in a restaurant though.
Matt Jabs says
$3.15 tip, which is 13.2% for a buffet server. A good tip, but definitely not too much. What was too much was the meal! 🙂
We indulge – in restaurant food made at home. My son and husband love Northern Italian food … as in cream sauces. So I’ve learned to make a great cream sauce. And my own fetticcini. Roast a few shrimp to add, make salad and veggies, and where we’d have spent $60 on a restaurant meal we spend $10 on a ‘special’ meal every now and then.
Or maybe we’ll take leftover chicken and use it to make a home made flatbread pizza, also a recipe we copied from our favorite restaurant.
We don’t do this type of cooking often, but when we get a yen for special we don’t have to pay restaurant prices.
Matt Jabs says
We do the same thing Fern… and enjoy it far more than restaurants. It saves us money, there are no time limits, we know where the food came from, we can wear whatever we want, nobody can screw up our order. Then, when we’re done, we just walk over to the couch and relax! 🙂
There seems to be a negative shroud around eating out, but as Jason Georges said below… the whole dining at home experience needs to be reborn in our culture. Advertising works hard to make us think eating at home is a chore – well… as we know, it doesn’t have to be. In fact, it is (and should be) a great joy!
Financial Samurai says
Hey Matt – Nice analysis.
Have you done the following though with each meal? Add up the costs of all the ingredients & add what your time is worth? Say you make $25/hr, and it takes you 30 minutes to cook your meal. Your meal really costs you $12.50 more than it does.
Adding back the cost of your time is the KEY missing ingredient. And therefore, the more you make, the more you SAVE by going out to eat.
That comparison isn’t always valid. In my case, I was home late afternoon, enjoying a fire. Wasn’t going to leave the house while it still roared. Jane 2.0 (my daughter) was doing her homework, and I wasn’t inclined to take her out to eat. Just as eating in a restaurant is social, I can claim that since she was doing the homework at the kitchen table, I was multitasking, and getting a free meal (in terms of time) by cooking while with her. Not like I needed to sit right next to her the whole time.
Matt Jabs says
See, as I mentioned in another comment reply… we do not view dining at home as a chore. We choose instead to make it a wonderful experience.
We have lived both ways now and can say with surety, we far prefer the “eat at home” experience… finances being just one of may reasons. 🙂
I also would like to add that the time it takes to drive back/forth to the restaurant, be seated, waited on and served that meal, wait for the bill and pay is also time consuming. I can make a meal in about 30 minutes for my family eight. That’s a lot faster and cheaper than eating out.
Financial Samurai makes a good point, but where it breaks down is in the question (literally) “what would you be doing to earn money instead of preparing the meal?” If you could be earning $25/hr instead of cooking a meal, it makes perfect sense, but only if that’s an option.
There are two basic ways to make money, earn it or not spend it (expense reduction). Also, while it might make perfect sense to pay others to do jobs we can’t do ourselves, it really makes little sense to pay them from what we can do. I think Matt’s basic point is what should control here, that you shouldn’t be paying to eat out (or paying others to cook your meals) when you’re in debt.
I have heard of this analogy, and I have heard it taken so far as to have even heard a former boss get upset when people are in the bathroom too long, or step out of a cluttered office for 2 minutes to get a breath. He even had coded timers put on the door too see how long smokers smoked during the workday.
I think your analogy would only work if you were making dinner while at work – I don’t really think you can apply it to performing basic necessities of life like eating, sleeping, cleaning up your own house, getting the mail, time with your kids, sex, using the bathroom, showering. . . . .the list could go on forever.
Point still taken though.
Mr Credit Card says
Our trick is that we leaned how to whip up a pasta dish quickly or Ramen noodles. The trick is to have some tomato based sauce, or know just use olive oil as your sause. And have some vegetables and meat in the fridge so you can use those quickly. Or learn to make an out of this world omelet!
Takes 10 minutes!
The thing was once we learned to make really good pasta, we can’t bring ourselves to order basic pasta dishes at restaurants any more. It has to be something we can’t do well (that is for those planned meals out!).
And we have an alternative is the temptation strikes. Once you can whip up a dish is better than most diners, the decision becomes easier.
Matt Jabs says
Exactly… preparation is key! That is why the bible praises the ant for putting away its food in season, so it has food during the winter! 🙂 The bible is so wise.
Ah, but Sam, have you counted the time it takes to eat out? Travel there and back, wait to be seated, wait to order, wait for your meal, eat, wait to pay ….. And you pay with post tax dollars, for that matter.
Financial Samurai says
That’s true, but paying with groceries is also post tax dollars, and I don’t count enjoying a nice candle light dinner with jazz music in the background with the wife as labor 🙂
Chopping onions and slaving over a hot stove however, is definitely labor!
Jason Georges says
Great post Matt,
One might argue that eating out is more about the social experience and ambiance in addition to the food. So that then a portion of the bill could actually be categorized as entertainment, which brings me to this thought. Would eating our lose some of its appeal if we made meal at home more of experience than a chore. In other cultures family meals are an event which take place over an evening not twenty minutes. Perhaps the “family style” format of eating has robbed us of some of this experience. Today the “family style” meal consists of the entire meal being placed on the table and then distributed resulting in a meal concluding in 15-20 minutes. Recently I ate a meal served in seven small courses which turned the meal into an event. Granted a meal prepared and served this way is much more work, but the results we the creation of a great social situation as each course was discussed and anticipation of the next course shared. While to do this for every meal would be hard, most people do not eat out every night (at least the money conscience), recreating the restaurant experience at home is a great way to reduce spending without sacrificing fun. For example my wife and I used to enjoy Mongolian Bar-b-que, which is way over priced stir-fry. Realizing that I could could the same way as they did at the restaurant I purchased a steel wok and have since hosted many Mongolian Bar-b-que dinners in our home. Same fun, less funds.
Matt Jabs says
Mr. Georges… I do believe you have hit the nail on the head with this comment! In fact, it may even turn into a separate article of it’s own.
I cannot disagree with anything you’ve said, and think what you are saying is something our culture desperately needs.
Darvin @ Inexpensive Gifts for Men says
Yeah that’s a tough one. I think the two reasons why my wife and I give in to are a feelign of “entitlement” and that “every once in a while won’t hurt”.
Sometime eating out, for us, becomes a sort of reward for us doing such a good job of budgeting and saving. I know it sounds contradictory, but it is what it is. Then we feel like, if we only do it sparingly, it won’t hurt our financial plans much. I think you just proved this theory wrong!
Matt Jabs says
Well… I’m not necessarily “anti-dining out” but after crunching these numbers it certainly makes it a much less attractive option.
I think the best thing we can do, as a culture, is to learn how to enjoy meal preparation from scratch again… and to do it as a family event, not a burden! 🙂
Money Funk says
Nice Analysis. I’d be lying if I didn’t say we missed eating out, too. But, we usually try one or twice a month. Depending on how frugal we want to be.
And I am with you, cooking at home has us craving the home cooked goodness over eating out many of times.
My previous comments on this thread notwithstanding–alas, I’m an admitted hypocrite, so best to ignore all that I write (!)–we do breakdown and succumb to the temptation to eat out.
Eating out has become a cultural norm, and resisting it is harder than ever. We have a family that’s often pulled in different directions so eating out becomes a default choice when the stress is high. Finally, sometimes we just get tired of our own cooking!
Our goal is more modest, in that we work to reduce the number of meals outside the house, not eliminate them entirely. We go to lower priced restaurants, usually ones with coupons, and cut out desserts, alcohol and other extras. While that helps, I still can’t get past thinking about how far the same money could go for groceries. And to add insult to injury, my guilt is often punished by the journey to the bathroom scale the next morning. As Matt indicated, eating in restaurants isn’t terribly healthy.
Matt Jabs says
Just remember Kevin… the tortoise always wins the race! 🙂
I am guilty. I was tired and hungry Friday night, so I suggested we eat out for supper since I didn’t eat out at lunch time (like I do fairly often on Fridays). The evening ended with 2 meals ordered, 2 glasses of tap water, and a $42 bill with taxes and tip. Ugh. Not impressed. The food wasn’t even that great. (Although it was healthy, chicken stir-fry with a Greek salad.) At least that money came from our own budgeted “fun” money. That $42 could definitely last us a week in groceries instead of spending it on 2 meals.
Matt Jabs says
That’s just the thing, most of the time not only is it super expensive to eat out, it is also just plain not worth it… especially when we look back and analyze the situation honestly.
Thanks for sharing T.
My wife and I do have one thing we spend way too much money on – that’s eating out. As a dual income no kid couple eating out has become almost part of our entertainment budget, which probably isn’t good. Only in the past year or so have we made a conscious effort to eat at home more, and it’s amazing how many hundreds of dollars it saves.
We also just found out recently that we’re expecting our first child. With my wife having nausea most days, and only enjoying home cooking I’m finally learning to cook a bit more – and we’re eating at home most nights – which is saving us a lot of money. And I’m actually kind of having fun learning to cook. Who knew cooking could be fun!
Matt Jabs says
Congrats Pete! 🙂
I think what you say about spending too much comes along with having too much… which most of us do. Often I think that all of us would be much better off with less – less debt, less possession, less abundance, etc.
“Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.” – Proverbs 30:8-9
Like anything else it is situational, if you just get 2 slices of pizza every night you will save a lot of food. Grocery shopping can add up as well, gets pretty expensive. I prefer to cook both dinner and make lunch, healthier and I think I save a bit.
When given the choice between eating at home or dining out… I’ll choose the home experience every time. Healthier, cheaper, and more fun… a lot of it has to do with your attitude and mindset.
Car Insurance Phi says
I am also guilty of eating out. However, I am not in debt but it would be nice to not have to spend $30 on a meal for two people once a week. I think what’s so tempting about eating out is the instant gratification. While preparing a meal may be fun, with eating out you get your food right away when you crave it the most. At that point, it’s all about the discipline.
Instant gratification is certainly a part of it, but I think convenience may be even bigger. Convenience has become the unspoken Holy Grail of modern life, and we seldom put a price tag on it and measure it as we would any other expense. We just assume that if it’s convenient, it’s in our best interest.
But truth be told, it is an expense, and eating out is one of those areas where the cost of that convenience can be easily measured against the alternative. We just don’t like thinking of it that way.
I would love to say I’m one of those people who far prefers eating at home – but I don’t. I love not having to prepare the food or clean up afterwards; I even like waiting for the food because we get to chat – but, alas, I do realize how it hurts the budget. I cook pretty well, am organized about meal plans, and enjoy it well enough – but we still eat out more than we should. How do you get to the point of really preferring eating at home? (And we have three little ones, so don’t say once we have kids we won’t want to eat out, lol!)
Bucksome Boomer says
Even though we’re not debt-free yet, our budget includes dining out. I agree that eating at home is less expensive, but I just want to have food made for and served to me once in a while.
We always use coupons and limit it to once a week or less.
Andrew @ Earn Give Save says
We definitely include dining in our budget (it’s too fun to leave out and we have room for it), but we usually make it an event. Going out for dinner becomes a date night for us, and that way it stays special and we appreciate it more. Thanks for the post!
I’ve enjoyed watching your progress. You’ve motivated me in many ways. I think your price comparison would have had more impact and validity if you bought all the fixings for tacos rather than applesauce. Yes, you can definitely make more homemade tacos than you can buy in a restaurant. What bothers me is the self flogging you give yourself for eating out every once in awhile. Dining out is a social function that falls under entertainment in addition to pure body sustenance. I cherish the special rare dinners I have out with friends. It’s part of a rounded balanced life and something I like to do in moderation to connect with the important people in my life. Balance.
Matt Jabs says
Hey Red… thanks for stopping by, reading, and taking the time to comment.
Honestly, it’s not so much that I beat myself up… it’s more that I just cannot believe how inefficient dining out is in relation to the amount of sustenance provided for the cost. Like I said, my wife and I do go out for special occasions, but it has actually gotten to the point where most times we prefer to eat at home. This has as much to do with the quality of the food as the cost – we now eat mostly all organic local foods.
Jason @ Redeeming Riches says
Late to the party here – but thought I’d weigh in as well.
I’m a big “everything in moderation” type of person – so as long as you’re not spending outrageous amounts on dining out I think it’s OK. And if it’s something you enjoy doing, then by all means do it! Just set aside an amount each month that can go for that and when you run out, no more eating out.
Whether you’re at home or going out – think of dinner time as fellowship time. God created us as relational beings and we all have something in common – we need to eat. Use that time to build relationships.
If you’ve overspent by $25 for the month, but you built a new relationship with the neighbor or someone at church and through that you’ll be able to be a light to them….I think it’s a worthwhile $25.
Matt Jabs says
Thanks Jason, relationships are very important. Not sure you read through the comments, but a lot of it is touching on how meals are all about relationships.
Most important is that if we have the debt then first of all we should relieve from the debt then we need to think about the hotel or for the dinner outside. Debt is one of the biggest burden for the human being. And in my point of view we should do planning to avoid the debt and live the life without any debt that is the most important thing in our life.
“The less we eat out and the less junk we eat… the less we crave it!”
Completely true, especially with junk food. My family cut out the junk about a year ago which basically meant smarter meal planning and skipping the idea that dessert is necessary after every dinner.
Now things like apples and bananas are considered dessert. It’s amazing how good natural foods start to taste when you detox from the junk.
Steve in W MA says
I think Ryan’s comment, “The less we eat out and the less junk we eat… the less we crave it!” is a good answer to Karyn’s question, of “how do we get to the point where we prefer to eat in instead of out”.
Becoming accustomed to more simply-prepared food (as most home-prepared food is) adjusts your taste. And also, getting accustomed to spending $3 to $4 per meal, instead of $10 and upwards, adjusts your spending barometer so that when you do go out, you are acutely aware of the value tradeoff in spending $15 or more on dinner, even without drinks and a tip.
I have found that it’s good to have some “comfort” foods in my repertoire that I can fall back on when I feel I need an “easy treat”. One good example of this is pizza: I have learned to make pizza very quickly, and usually have some dough on hand in a plastic tub in the fridge, along with some pizza sauce (made from canned tomatoes and other ingredients) in a mason jar and some shredded mozzarella in a ziploc in the freezer.. If I want a pizza, it’s just 30 minutes from idea to finished product, which is likely less than it would take me to get takeout pizza, and it will cost me less than one fifth the outlay of ordering pizza from a shop.
Steve in W MA says
I would also like to respond to Karyn’s comment that she enjoys the fact that when she eats out she doesn’t have to clean up, doesn’t have to cook or plan, etc.
I think this is valid. I think it also depends on your personality. I actually enjoy getting full use of my home and kitchen and spending relaxed time creating meals for myself and the people in my life. I enjoy getting use out of the way I have ordered my kitchen work space and also putting it back into shape after the meal. I enjoy that the knife I use is useful and sharp because I sharpened it with my own understanding and my own hands (using a sharpening stone, of course, not just my hands!).
It wasn’t always like this for me, but it has become this way so I think it can change for people like Karyn, too. It’s kind of a shift of perspective or frame. I actually find it a bit of a bore to go out to eat now because in most cases it’s so wasteful of my money resources. For that reason I tend to usually reserve eating out for those social occasions that have to happen in , or are best suited to, a public restaurant or bar.
Matt Jabs says
Well said, I agree. I like to create things with my own two hands, and I love to utilize my skills to create meals that wow me and those around me. I also like to save my money and control the food that enters into our bodies… it’s a real win win.
Coupon Mole says
I’ve been doing thinking about eating out vs eating in as we eat out a lot. It just seems there’s never enough time to plan a meal, get the food, cook and clean. I try not to analyze it like you do as I think this might make me sick at the price difference 🙂
One comment I have is…Cheap Tipper! you left $26 on a $23.85 bill? You tipped a total of $2.15. That’s only 9%!! I leave at least 20% unless the service is terrible and they will get 12-15% depending how bad the service was.
On the other side I agree with eating out is costly and usually not as Healthy.
Another illustration would have been better to build your case. For 3USD, that will probably count to your electricity or burner expenses and the time and effort you need to put into cooking. But I do agree that dining out is always more expensive.
Nice story and I get the intention of your point, but this anecdote doesn’t really provide any useful information about dining-in vs dining-out. Your grocery receipt is completely irrelevant to the story. I really doubt you’d prepare a home meal of apples, applesause, yeast and tinfoil. I seem to be finding that we CAN dine out for a price comparable or LESS than buying ingredients at a grocery store. Prices of groceries have gone crazy lately, and I always end up buying more than I need. A pack of 12 taco shells when I only need 4. Yes I can save the remainder, but on the long term average there is always waste of some leftovers because it’s very difficult to use all of those leftovers.
One thing that my wife and I do to save money, and to help with the diet aspect of dining-out is to share an entre. We do it ALL THE TIME. My goodness those restaraunt portions are HUGE!! Some upscale restaurants charge a fee to split an entre, but most don’t. It’s not my fault they serve such huge portions. I just take advantage of it. Here’s my point…. I’m not so sure it really does cost much more to dine out.
Matt Jabs says
It depends. Most of the time it cost much more for us. Something to remember… if food supply costs are up for us, they’re up for restaurants too – who must pass cost increase on to the consumer.
I'm With Sam says
Another point to consider is efficiency.
As an example, some posts have listed spaghetti sauce as $0.50 for a half can. What happens to the other half of that can? Be honest with yourself here, how many times have you thrown out that last 1/4 gallon of milk because it expired, or eggs that have gone bad, produce not consumed in time.
Those costs are often left out of the dining out vs eating in calculations, and really can make a significant difference. Particularly when cooking for one.
I certainly enjoy variety in my food, prefer fresh produce over frozen or dried, and don’t enjoy leftovers one bit. To eat well at home, we must account for spoilage/waste, as well as labor, which more or less flattens the formula.
Now, that formula changes as you add spouses, children, dependents, etc….