Resolving to cook all my meals at home for a week made me realize how much money I spent eating out
It's no secret that making your own meals instead of eating out will save you money.
Just buying lunch instead of packing your own costs $2,000 a year on average.
But only the most dedicated savers manage to cook three meals a day, seven days a week.
I decided to see if I had what it took to be one of them. Here's what I learned in the process.
Small purchases add up.
Before I started this challenge, I would have told you that I rarely eat out.
But reviewing my spending from the previous week showed me a trend.
There was the $17 that I spent on snacks at an expensive organic juice bar, $10 for a sandwich from the grab-and-go case at Whole Foods, $8 I paid for guacamole while getting drinks with friends, $9 for Chipotle on the way from work to class, and the $5 I spent on delivery in order to use a $10 credit from Caviar.
At no point did I sit down in a restaurant and order a meal, but I still managed to spend $77 on food that was cooked by someone else — on top of the $50 that I pay for groceries every week.
Doing a big grocery shopping pays off.
To prepare myself for a week of cooking, I stocked up on groceries using Instacart, which came to $73 in total, including $4 for delivery and $7 for a tip.
Even though using Instacart helps me avoid impulse purchases, I still felt like I'd overspent.
But seeing that enough groceries for a full week's worth of meals cost less than the amount of money I'd spent on three meals and a few snacks during the week before put it into perspective.
For my money, I got milk and cereal for breakfast, spinach, scallions, dried cranberries, avocado, barley, and couscous for salads, and enough pasta, sauce, and frozen meatless meatballs to make a week's worth of dinners.
I was much healthier.
Whenever I see a salad on a menu, I think, "Nope, I can make that myself," and then order something less healthy.
Cooking all my meals for a week gave me the opportunity to actually make those salads, instead of just talking about it.
As an added bonus, I spent more time outdoors, since bringing a pre-packed lunch meant I had time to sit and eat outside, instead of spending my whole lunch break waiting in line for food and then eating it at my desk back at the office.
It doesn't have to ruin your social life.
On Sunday night, my friend Natalie invited me to come over and cook dinner with her.
Her suggestion was the perfect solution to my biggest dilemma: how do I stick to my goal of only eating home-cooked food while still having a social life?
Later in the week, when a friend wanted to get lunch, I proposed that we both pack food and meet up in the park.
In both cases, I had just as much fun as I would have if we'd gone to a restaurant.
Cooking didn't really take that much time.
On Sunday, I spent a little over an hour cooking a pasta dish that I'd eat all week for dinner, and making salads to take to work everyday. (I usually eat cereal for breakfast, which takes no advance preparation whatsoever.) That was it — I was set for the week. Although eating the same food over and over again did get boring, it was still preferable to my usual routine: suddenly realizing that it's 6pm, I'm hungry, and I have no idea what I'm going to eat.
Still, I'd be lying if I said I didn't celebrate getting to the end of the week by going to the fancy Mexican restaurant where my friend works and ordering a $10 plate of tacos. Cooking all my meals for a week reminded me that this is what eating out should be — not a matter of convenience, but a special occasion.
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