Read Time: 6 minutes, or get to the point.
I love to save money. I also love to cook and eat good food. Fortunately, those two things don’t have to be mutually exclusive. One of the most important things when it comes to saving money is the ability to enjoy your own cooking. If you’re used to super-fancy Michelin-star-rated chef cooked food for every meal, this may be a daunting task. However, if you have slightly less expensive tastes, you’ll find that all you need to make good food for cheap is a little bit of kitchen confidence.
Like all types of confidence, kitchen confidence comes with practice. I highly recommend that everyone get comfortable with the idea of cooking. Yes, it takes time out of your day, makes more dishes you have to clean, and requires some effort, but it’s so worth it. You have to eat and your only other options are to go out to eat, order delivery, or make microwave meals.
For one thing, most of those options are not very healthy. If you’re not eating healthy food, then you’re taking time off your lifespan. So, you’re effectively trading your time now with time on the back end of your life. Plus you’re paying more, so you’re also trading your time now for time you’ll have to spend at work to pay off the more expensive meals. To me, those tradeoffs aren’t worth it, plus cooking can be a relaxing and fun activity.
I hear people say all the time “I don’t know how to cook” or “I’m an awful cook”, but I don’t think there is such a thing as a “bad cook”. You can be a good cook by just following recipes. I think what those people really mean is that they lack the confidence to try cooking. The only way to gain that confidence is to start, and if you like to save money as much as I do, then you’ll love how much money you can save by cooking.
If you’re a complete beginner, you might want to start out with a meal kit delivery service. There are several companies that will send you a box containing a recipe with all of the ingredients you need already measured out. Just assemble it according to the instructions, and now you’re cooking! I really only recommend this for beginners though. Meal kit delivery services are a lot more expensive per meal than just getting the ingredients at the store, and they have a lot of packaging waste associated with them. All of the ingredients are usually separately packaged in plastic, which on their website they say is recyclable, but it’s better to reduce than to recycle.
It makes sense that paying to have a company deliver a box of pre-measured ingredients to your door with a recipe would be more expensive than going to the store. You’re paying for the convenience, and if you’re curious how much extra that convenience costs, I did a little research. The least expensive (per serving) package on Blue Apron is $119.84 for 4 recipes each week. Each recipe serves 4. That comes out to $7.49 per serving. Below I’ve broken down their Pesto Salmon & Roasted Vegetables meal into the ingredients and how much they would cost at discount grocery stores like Aldi and Walmart.
|Item||Price For What You Use||Total Price|
|skin-on salmon fillets||$5.31||$8.49|
|pitted niçoise olives||$0.23||$1.35|
|red wine vinegar||$0.06||$2.19|
|weeknight hero spice blend|
|whole dried parsley||$0.06||$1.05|
|Total Per Serving||$2.91|
As you can see, buying the ingredients from the store is much more cost effective. Per serving, the cost of buying ingredients from the store is $2.91 whereas the Blue Apron cost was $7.49. That’s over twice as expensive!
One interesting thing to note is that the total price of all of the groceries in the table above is $28.80 even when buying from the grocery store. That’s pretty comparable to the total cost for this meal from Blue Apron which would be $29.96. In terms of total-money-spent, the two are very close, and if that was the whole story, I would switch to a meal kit delivery service right now. But, only 40% of the price of the groceries you’re buying is going to the recipe. The other 60% is leftovers that you have to get creative with in order to use. Unfortunately, most people are too lazy to do this, and that’s part of the massive problem our country has with food waste.
For this recipe, here’s how I would handle the leftover ingredients. First of all, the spices and the vinegar will stay good for a really long time, so there’s no need to use those up. I would probably buy some baby spinach to serve as the base of a salad for a lot of these leftovers. The leftover shallots, olives, capers, salmon, pesto, tomatoes, and red wine vinegar all make great salad toppings. The leftover potatoes could be used to make potato soup, mashed potatoes, hash browns, scalloped potatoes, or any number of delicious potato recipes. The pesto would also make a great flavor combination with roasted potatoes. In general, soups and salads are great catch-alls for leftover ingredients. As long as you have the basics on hand: a bed of leafy green vegetables for a salad or a broth for soup, you can mix in a lot of other ingredients and it will still taste delicious. Plus it’s fun to come up with creative ideas for the leftovers. Whenever I do that I feel like a chef on one of those cooking shows where they get secret ingredients and have to find out what to make with them.
Below I’ve compared grocery shopping and cooking to other ways of eating: microwave meals, pizza takeout, fast food, meal kit delivery, restaurants, and restaurant delivery. I have a weekly grocery budget of $20, so that’s what I used for this comparison. I go out to eat sometimes on the weekends, but for Monday through Thursday, I can pretty easily stick to a budget of $20 for food. If that sounds ridiculously low, remember that I’m just buying for one person, but if you’re still curious how I do it, read this article.
As you can see, grocery shopping is the clear winner. It’s also significantly healthier than anything else on that chart (depending on what you make). Plus eating out for every meal is exhausting. Driving to the restaurant, waiting in line, driving home. It’s so much easier to cook at the beginning of the week and just open the fridge to grab some food. I also created a chart below showing how much money you can save if you make the switch from one of these options to grocery shopping and invest all your savings over a decade**.
So, making the switch from any of the cheap and unhealthy options (pizza, microwave meals, and fast food) would net you enough money to buy a nice used car. Making the switch from a meal kit delivery service would give you enough savings to put a down payment on a house, and switching from restaurants or delivery would make you enough to replace well over a year’s worth of the average US salary. So there you have it. Keep grocery shopping. Save your health and your wallet, and get cooking!
* I eat twice a day, so that’s 8 meals a week at an average of $2.50 per meal. So, the equivalent meal kit delivery I compared it to is Blue Apron’s 2 recipes per week of 4 servings each. For the microwave meals comparison, I used Hungry Man meals**. Yes, sadly I have some experience with these. I was in college once. For the pizza comparison I used a large pepperoni from Domino’s which easily feeds me for a day (again, sadly I know this for a fact). For the fast food comparison, I used the Wendy’s 4 for 4 deal. For the restaurant comparison, I assumed $10 + tax and tip so $13 per meal. Finally, for the delivery comparison, I figured it’s about $3 extra for the delivery fees per meal, but otherwise the same as a restaurant.
** For the purposes of this article, I assumed I would need 3 Hungry Man meals a day because the calorie count is about 400 – 800 per meal with an average of about 650, so not quite enough for me to only eat 2 a day. This also concurs with my college experience of eating these.
*** Assuming an average 7% interest rate in the stock market.
When you opt to grocery shop and cook over going out to eat or ordering delivery you can be healthier, save lots of time and money, and help the environment. If you’re just starting out and don’t have much time to spare, a meal kit delivery service might be the best option. I have a weekly grocery budget of $20, and here’s how that works. Here’s how much you can save over a decade by switching to grocery shopping and cooking from the different options in the graph below: