Can you survive on boiled eggs, toast, salads, and frozen dinners? Well sadly, that’s the extent of my cooking and I certainly can’t! OK, I exaggerate a little as I also know how to boil pasta and put some Prego on top, but beyond that, guests of Chef Sam aren’t in for a fine dining treat!
After spending 3 hours trying to read, prep, and cook a gourmet meal for a friend that tasted slightly above edible I decided to no longer spend my life cooking. Some of those cookbooks alone give me nightmares frankly as they are so big and unwieldy. Someone has got to tell the editor to cut those 100 step recipes down because one wrong move and instead of Yakisoba you might get Chicken Cacciatore instead.
Conventional wisdom says that eating in saves you a lot of time and money. Whoever comes up with conventional wisdom clearly must not work for a living or has been a contestant of Iron Chef before! Let’s go through several reasons why dining out not only saves you money, but increases the quality of your life.
The World Of Specialization
Henry Ford invented specialization when he first decided to build his Model T Ford. Every factory worker had a specific role they did well to create the ultimate motor vehicle. If one person or several people decided to build the entire car from scratch, it would take too long and probably fall apart after a short while.
Chefs are specialists in the cuisine you seek. It is highly likely they know how to cook way better than you, especially if you go up the ratings scale. Some of you are thinking to yourself that you can cook better than most chefs out there with your secret sauce spicy meatball recipe. Trust me, you can’t and your family members and guests are just being polite. I remember being served a mishmash of barley shoots, carrots, meat, and potatoes all in one by my mother growing up. It was bad, but I ate it, smiled and thanked her anyway. By going out to eat, you get to enjoy the finest food possible.
Your Time Is Worth More Than You Think
Let’s say you earn a healthy $80,000 a year, which equates to roughly $40 an hour if you work 40 hours a week. That meal you spent two hours prepping and cooking doesn’t just cost the price of the food items, the meal’s cost also needs to include the $80 in forgone salary not working harder to get a raise and promotion! You are probably rolling your eyes because you don’t agree about including your after work time as work. Well, if you don’t believe your time is worth much after you come home from the office, stop by my house and rake my leaves please! Ask an entrepreneur who works around the clock what their time is worth, and it could be probably worth hundreds of dollars an hour because they are banking their entire future on their project!
I can see you still rolling your eyes because you enjoy cooking so much and find it relaxing. Well, that’s nice if cooking really does relax you. However, your family won’t be relaxed when it comes time to eat it because going back to the World of Specialization, if you work full time, you likely aren’t a good cook. And even if you are, you aren’t as good as professional cooks!
Unites Your Family And Saves your Marriage
After a long 10 hour day, the last thing you want to do is cook for yourself or any of your dependents. In fact, if that is what’s expected of you, you’ll probably build up a resentment over time and blow it if someone criticizes your overcooked pees. Let’s say you have the luxury of not working. It’s not that great of a luxury because as a homemaker, you have the most important responsibility of keeping the house in order and the family fed and happy. Your family’s expectations of you goes up as a result and that’s a lot of pressure! A stay-at-home parent’s value is easily worth over $30,000 a year if not much much more in big cities.
When you are preparing a meal for a family or friends, you don’t have time to sit down, relax and communicate with your loved ones. You’re always worried about how the food tastes, whether the veggies are getting cold, and hoping that the meat is medium rare. You are going back and forth from dining table to kitchen like a mad person while your friends and family are enjoying or pretending to enjoy your food. In other words, you miss out on family time! Your resentment grows some more until you finally tell them to cook their own dang food!
By going to a wonderful restaurant to eat with the family, you let professionals wait on you. Their service frees up time for you to communicate with your loved ones more. The food will come out much better than you could ever make, not only because the chef is a professional, but the chef also has his or her own cooks specializing to prepare your dish as well – souse chef, pastry chef, saucier, etc! Yes, dining out saves you money. Just don’t go crazy with your money. Most importantly, dining out also saves your relationships, which are priceless!
Readers, how often do you dine out? Have you ever tracked how much money you spend on food a month? You might be surprised, as I was to see how much we spend.
Photo: My Big Carne Asada San Diego Burrito for $10.99, 2011. SD.
Note: Sydney is back from her trip next week. Thanks for letting me sub in.
Hi Financial Sam,
I agree with much of your take on this. I always ate out a lot when I was working 9-5. I’d go to a restaurant and have a sit down meal whilst most of my colleagues would just settle for sandwiches at their workdesk or else some dreary food in the canteen. I needed the change in environment and surroundings, plus I value good food. At least better food than you get in most of these corporate staff restaurants.
I dont really enjoy cooking all that much, its a chore to me, and I agree with the point about valuing your time. What I find much more of a time hog though and a real chore are the trips to supermarkets that are necessary in order to be able to cook at home. This is what I really hate.
And most of the “take out” food that’s sold in the West is bad for you.
Only trouble with eating out in developed countries is that it tends to be relatively expensive. It’s fine in Asia, when Im there I always eat out all the time.
Eric | Eden Journal says
The key to eating out in my opinion is to either split the meal or take home a doggie bag. Portion sizes are so big now that my wife and I can easily split a meal and sometimes still have some left over. Doing this allows us to eat out more often.
Some weeks when we are really busy or are traveling we eat out every day, and by the end of those weeks I’m ready for something home cooked.
Good post for generating comments! I appreciate going out to eat and enjoy it, but I can’t afford to do it often. I also don’t have a lot of time to cook, but I love to use the slow cooker. It is practically fail proof.
Big Fish says
Looks like lots of good points on both sides here; how about a little moderation as well? Eating out once or twice a month is a nice treat, gets us out of the house and doesn’t bruise our finances so much that we can’t also enjoy other things that might cost a few bucks. On the other hand, by eating in or having friends over for dinner creates a great night for all, and is a chance for me to experiment in the kitchen… usually good for a few brownie points from my wife! Win – win… win!
I say why choose? Do both!
If the extent of your cooking knowledge is limited to heating a pre-processed package that you opened from the pantry or the freezer, then I view that as a personal failure.
Life is about learning and growing. Take every opportunity to learn about and personally experience as much as you can. Aspire to proficiency in many skill sets, including cooking. You will no longer be dependent on other specialists who will do your cooking, plumbing, gardening, vehicle maintenance, or any other easily-learned task for you. And you will not be so wholly dependent on the single task which you (the specialist) rely upon for your income. You will be a richer person — and far more interesting.
I can relate Sam! I love to eat out. I think those of us who work full time and blog really do benefit from eating out because we’re so darn busy all the time. I used to cook a lot more when I worked a lot less hours and got home a couple hours before dinner time. That made a huge difference. Now that I’m on the go all the time I don’t have the energy or as much time to plan things out and go to the grocery store on a regular basis. I am a regular at the farmers markets though. Right now I eat out several times a week and always stretch my orders into 2-3 meals. I am trying to cook at home more often this year so I have total control over what goes in my food, but I still love to order out since there are so many delicious and healthy restaurants in SF.
Lisa @ The Penny Hoarder says
Luxuries come in many varieties! Some feel like having a ‘family movie night’ with pizza is a splurge – it’s all about where your priorities are. If you’ve been able to to put yourself in a position where eating out is an affordable luxury – then so be it! Great post, thank you!
I was one of those people growing up – pizza was a BIG treat for us as was any type of delivery or eating out. My mom hated to cook but she managed to put meals together for us all on her own. Now that I know how hard it is to plan and cook meals (at least it’s hard for me) I really appreciate all the cooking my mom did.
Lisa @ Thriftability says
Sam, I appreciate your article. Just like every other frugal person in the world who makes an effort to budget, save for retirement, and live within their means… we all have the places where we feel justified in spending money. Mr. Thriftability and I are the same way – while we’re on a strict saving plan to fund our wedding/honeymoon in Jamaica this September, we still agree on one expenditure: we DO like eating out. End of story. We can both cook – which we do (often, together) but dining out equals relaxation for the two of us. Great post – I enjoyed it, and the comments that followed!
That’s sweet you both like to cook together! I love to eat out myself too and also find it relaxing. Congrats on your engagement btw! 🙂
Sam as a generalization this is false, but under certain circumstances your argument definitely holds up. Client meals should definitely be out unless you’re a professional chef. Your weekly lunch can definitely be made cheaper home cooked. I think the point to consider is, how expensive would it be to make it myself vs. how expensive it is to eat out, then compare the quality of the food. Dining out doesn’t guarantee the food is good by any means. I’m nowhere near a professional chef, but there are certain things I can whip up at home that are just as good with just as little effort as going out. There are also certain foods I leave to a professional to prepare. I think this is an individual choice. No one is going to agree with a blanket assumption either way.
We all have to eat food, but what we eat is definitely a personal choice. Sometimes it takes a fair amount of trial and error to find a restaurant that makes really good food that is also healthy. Salad is one thing that I try not to order out that much unless it’s a really fancy salad because they are easy to make at home for a lot less.
101 Centavos says
There I go falling down the middle again. I enjoy both cooking for family and friends, and eating out. I know my way around the kitchen well enough to cook fast meals after a long day, or all-day food feasts that are as much fun in the preparation (and drinking) as in the consumption. No problem!
As for eating out, there’s something so beautiful about a well-seared steak with peppercorn sauce and a fine glass of wine that it’s worthwhile to splurge and look forward to.
Damn, I made myself hungry…
Financial Samurai says
Damn, I’m hungry too now! hahaha.
I think part of the problem w/ not wanting to eat at home is that nobody at home knows how to cook very well.
My wife and I have dinner out or bring it in twice a week. Add going to the movies with friends 1-2 times a month and my entire entertainment budget is under $150 a month. We tend to frequent inexpensive, but good local restaurants. Some may think it is a luxury, but I do not!
Financial Samurai says
That’s not bad at all Larry. I know many folks who spend multiples of that… and I think I’m including myself!
Andi B. @MealPlanRescue says
I partially agree with your points. I think eating out is a great way to enjoy company, to experience new foods, and there are ways to do it less expensively for those who are short on cash. However, and for me it’s the biggest however, when I think of my great-grandmother, I think of cooking her matzo ball soup with her. Most of my fondest memories growing up were in the kitchen with my family, and they continue to be today. My husband and I made breakfast together, sat down, and had a nice meal. Those are not moments that can be duplicated in a restaurant. The hustle and bustle you’re describing can be remedied with simple kitchen and time organization.
Financial Samurai says
Welcome to the Challenge and thanks for sharing your matza ball story on Untemplater! Tried to comment on your site, but says to enter a password, but I don’t see anything.
You’re right, cooking together in a cozy kitchen is wonderful!
Andi B. says
Thank you very much! Yeah, discovered my spam killer was killing everything, so it’s fixed and we’d love to have your comments.
And btw, who knew dining out was such a sensitive subject. Way to be controversial. 😉
The Prudent Homemaker says
I feed my family of 8 for $100 a month (.40 per person per day). $100 a month wouldn’t last us too many meals out.
As far as relationships go, you’ve left out the relationships that are built as you teach children how to cook, cook with a spouse, and serve one another.
Not everyone is a bad cook; that’s an incorrect assumption. Many people are FANTASTIC cooks.
Since I have 6 children ages 10 and under, I plate everyone’s food, restaurant style, before the meal. There is no running back and forth. We don’t start eating until everyone is sitting at the table. Even my youngest children know to wait to start eating until we have everyone sitting at the table and we’ve had a prayer. They wait for everyone.
We eat some fantastic food. And, we make it in less time than it takes us to go to a restaurant, wait to be seated, and wait to be served. We don’t spend money on gas, on a tip, or a ton on food. We eat pretty amazing meals.
Financial Samurai says
Definitely some good points you make. I would definitely say after a certain number of family members, it’s probably better to just eat at home.
Could you share more about feeding a family of 8 in $100 a month? That’s amazing! Why do people think it’s expensive to have kids if that’s all it takes?
I agree with your thesis Sam. I don’t think many will, because most of the readers here are probably in their 20s and don’t have much money. They don’t have the luxury of going out.
Those in their 30s and 40s will probably identify more. Food is glorious!
Financial Samurai says
Thanks for agreeing JAcob! You are the one and only! lol
Jon -- Free Money Wisdom says
Sorry, I disagree with your logic as well. I eat well, and barely cook. I put chicken on a George Foreman, make my veggies and boom it’s done. It’s not hard and it does the job. Not to mention it doesn’t cost me $11 a meal. I work full time and pack lunches. I do occasionally go out as a treat–but, for the most part, I stay at home or bring my own food with me to work. But, when you factor in tipping and the jacked up prices of a simple chicken breast and veggies at a restaurant, it’s just not worth it. And my finances have never been in the red. I work out steadily and so eating out is neither a healthy nor an economical choice.
Financial Samurai says
It’s cool. Do you not have clients to take out? Eating a meal is very conducive to building long-term business relationships and you can definitely eat healthy.
And how much of a value do you put on your long-term health? Obviously a very low dollar figure judging by the picture of your Big Carne Asada San Diego Burrito. The cost of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic diseases tend to add up over time, far more than you claim to be “saving” with your approach.
Financial Samurai says
We’re all going to die anyway, and the government will take care of us, so why bother? Why do you think America is so overweight?
Overall, this is poor advice, and it is also not really based on reality. My time might be worth $50/hour in the market place, but at home, it’s not. I don’t make $50/hr at home. Nor, do I make that while cooking. Also, you assume that cooking is a drag or something that “you don’t feel like doing”. I enjoy cooking. So, that’s first. Second, I can roast a whole chicken and not only have dinner, but also sandwiches and maybe a subsequent dinner. Plus, I can make chicken soup from it too. I just bought a whole chicken on sale for $3.00. I can make some brown rice and a veggie. I’ll get a dinner, a couple lunches, and a pot of soup that will last a few days out of it. The only other expenses are a few veggies to throw in with the soup like carrots and celery. Cheap.
I used to use the rationale you are using for everything in my life; dry cleaning, eating out, washing my car, everything. Then, I stopped it all, and my bank account is in the green again. It’s not a proper comparison. The proper comparison would be to say if you took off work, and therefore didn’t get paid, in the time it took you to cook, and instead you went out to eat. What would be more economical for you? It depends, doesn’t it? I know that I cannot feed my family in a restaurant for less than I can cook. It’s a fact. I’ve done the comparisons. And, over time, you will find that it is always cheaper to eat at home.
Plus, most restaurants do not cook healthy. Even the ones that say they do, usually don’t. The veggies come out shiny dripping in oil. Bad fats, cheese on everything, and fried foods rule the restaurant industry. Cooking at home is very healthy because you know what is in your food. You can limit the oils and fats and make sure you and your family are eating properly.
Also, as far as visiting, if you learn how to cook things that don’t require your time to be in the kitchen the whole time, you will be able to visit with friends and family (like roasting a chicken). However, I find everyone gravitates to the kitchen anyway. So, it’s never an issue.
Financial Samurai says
When you say your bank account is in the green again, why was it in the red in the first place?
For those who make more money and have a lot of responsibility eg side business, long work hours, and even many dependents, going out to eat really helps vs the confentional wisdom of eating at home.
With your healthy eating, I hope you have the body of Adonis!