Eating Out Is Cheaper Than Cooking

Recently I’ve been on a eating theme. Last time I gorged myself at a buffet. This time, I’ve always heard that cooking and staying in is cheaper than eating out. On top of that, it is supposedly healthier and the cooks have the satisfaction of enjoying their home cooked meal. I decided to put this theory to the test and paid special attention to a common eating out scenario and a common Buck Inspire prepared meal.


If I drive to my local Fresh and Easy (they have the best meats) and buy a little over a pound of top sirloin steak, it will run me about $7.00. However, it will take me about an hour to get it done. To prepare my two steaks, wash and cook rice, and fry my steaks will run me another hour. Let’s not forget the additional half an hour to wash the dishes. Using California’s minimum wage, two and a half hours times $8.00 ($20) plus the steak, the meal would run about $27.

Eating Out

One of our favorite Chinese restaurants has three menu items and rice for about $20. Besides chowing down on delicious food, we have enough doggie bags for a second meal. If you break it down, one meal runs us about $10.

Apples to Apples

Some readers may balk at some of my inflated expenses. Ok, let’s eliminate some of the questionable ones. What if the grocery store was closer? Does it really take and hour? Ok, let’s cut it all together. Since we drop a shopping hour at minimum wage, the cooking expense falls to $19.

If you truly enjoy cooking, I can see that hour preparing and cooking as entertainment or relaxation. If we carve that hour out, the cooking expense drops to $11. I’m not budging any lower because you’ll be lying if you told me you enjoy doing the dishes!

Final Thoughts

I think you can see, if you select good restaurants that have reasonable prices, you will beat cooking at home every time. Always be on the lookout for coupons and specials to help your cause. I can see cooking very beneficial for couples with kids as the cost savings becomes obvious when you have extra mouths to feed. But for a couple with no kids, you’ll be hard pressed to convince me that it pays to stay home and cook. The only exception is Kids Eat Free Nights and that is another post altogether.

Stay Inspired!

P.S. After watching the video below, if you do dine out, don’t insult the chef!

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37 Responses

  1. No Debt MBA says:

    You’re leaving out transit time to and from the restaurant and the time you spend waiting for your meal at the Chinese place. Need to include those for it to be apples to apples. Or are you ordering for delivery?

    We spend about two hours a week on grocery shopping and around 25 mins each night cooking dinner and lunch for the next day. Our food is $25/wk bringing total cost for all meals to $65 a week including time. It would be very, very hard to beat that eating out. We would need to average a bill of less than $3.09 per meal (for two!) and have zero transit time to or wait time at the restaurant.

    If you can shop and cook efficiently, eating out can’t compare to cooking at home.

    • Buck Inspire says:

      You are right, I was eating at a restaurant and need to factor transit time. You could also throw in gas, too. I tried to even the field by cutting out the transit and shopping time in the cooking scenario. That’s impressive, your meal preparation time and weekly expenses can’t be beat. I totally agree, if one can shop and cook efficiently, you will beat eating out hands down. But for someone who wasn’t as savvy or efficient like you, wouldn’t it be logically for that person to question the two choices? I need to fine tune my shopping and cooking. Perhaps you should make a cookbook? It would be a valuable resource, especially for people like me!

      • No Debt MBA says:

        We rarely use recipes or measure so the idea of writing a cookbook would be difficult but maybe there’d be something to teaching the methodology rather than specific recipes. I know a couple of people who are fantastic cooks with exorbitant grocery bills since they pick five recipes for dinner that week and go out and buy ingredients for all five without regard to cost.

        Something to think about! Maybe I’ll write an ebook 😉

  2. Money Beagle says:

    I don’t understand why you calculate the time it takes for you to buy and prepare food into the cost of the meal. Are you able to go out and earn $8/hr every hour of the day? If not, and you’re making the meal during a time of day that you wouldn’t be making money otherwise, then this cost is $0.

    The $20 portion used for this is extremely suspect in this calculation.

    • Buck Inspire says:

      To be honest, I was recently frustrated with my adventures in the kitchen. It made me reflect on the alternative (eating out). So I will admit, this article is biased. I tried my best to be fair as I cut out some of my more outrageous cooking expenses. I agree, I don’t work at night and the $20 is exaggerated, but I wanted a starting point for the discussion. It’s great to see so many passionate cooks. Since I am not as passionate about cooking or washing dishes, I hope you can see why the grass looks greener on the other side sometimes. Thanks for chiming in!

  3. Echoing Money Beagle’s sentiments here. Unless you work 24 hours per day, in which case I apologise, you’re not earning every hour of every day.

    Secondly, do you walk to the restaurant or do you need to factor in gas here? How long does that process take? Or does the Chinese deliver to you? In which case, you’d need to factor in the cost of the phone call or the cost of your internet connection, if you’re making the order online.

    Finally top sirloin steaks are bound to hike up your grocery bill! There are much cheaper options out there that take less preparation time, can be made in larger quantities and frozen, thereby providing further meals.

    • Buck Inspire says:

      You got me. I do not work 24 hours a day! Like I said before, I was frustrated and biased against cooking so I did skew my argument a bit. Excellent point about factoring all the extra dining out expenses. Funny you mentioned top sirloin. I’m a big meat eater and have experimented with cheaper cuts (london broil, beef round) and they were tougher and not as pleasant to eat. So I decided to pay the premium for top sirloin and New York, on sale of course. I am thinking of hitting Costco’s meat section to stock up and throw some in the freezer to reduce costs. Thanks again!

    • Kellen says:

      If we’re being picky, I don’t think you could factor in the cost of internet or the phone call, because your internet and phone bill will be the same whether you order out or cook yourself, since they are fixed monthly bills. In terms of choosing between two projects (yay finance class), you wouldn’t factor those in because they cost the same in either scenario.

      • Buck Inspire says:

        Appreciate the finance class insight. Was too busy fending off angry cooks who save. Haha! I never imagined so much dialogue would erupt over cooking versus dining out. Just goes to show we have a lot of passionate savers who cook!

  4. MoneyCone says:

    Now you are just trying to find an excuse to not cook Buck! (Just kidding!)

    Depends on what you eat/cook. McDonalds everyday is probably cheaper than making it all at home – but I wouldn’t attempt it!

  5. krantcents says:

    I bring an entirely different perspective, my wife is a great cook. I enjoy eating at home and it is cheaper as well as healthier to eat. We generally have dinner out twice a week, although they are inexpensive or reasonable restaurants. I could eat out at a lower cost, but that would probably destroy my health before it hurt my wallet.

    • Buck Inspire says:

      Don’t get me wrong. My wife is a great cook, too. After a long day of work, sometimes the preparation around cooking takes a toll. Good point about health. I need to factor that in my comparison better. Thanks!

  6. 😀 Pretty funny post. You can’t compare steak to Chinese food. I was surprise you didn’t compare it to a steak house. You’ll get a more accurate picture then, no?

    • Buck Inspire says:

      I aim to entertain, haha! Totally missed the fact I was comparing steak and Chinese food. Ok, imagine if you sliced and diced your steak with some vegetables to make a typical Chinese dish. Crazy part is the prep time may even balloon higher than a steak! This goes to show you can skew any argument if you work at it enough. Debt ceiling anyone? If you go for a steak comparison, in one of my earlier posts, I wrote about a perfect $10 meal. You get an amazing filet mignon with gravy over mashed potatoes for $10. The cooks who commented earlier may change their stance if they ever taste this delight. Different strokes for different folks!

  7. I totally agree that eating out is cheaper! My favorite analogy is Subway. I can get a $5 footlong, and there is no way I could make the same sandwich for cheaper. If I tried, I would have to buy so much of the ingredients that they would probably go bad before I used them all!

    • Buck Inspire says:

      Thanks for support! Felt like I was about to get run out of town. Some really passionate cooks who save! Your Subway example is a great one for dining out. Thanks!

  8. Certain comparisons are simply situational, and you have to adapt to your own particular situation. When it is simply my wife and I, we could eat for a reasonable cost and eating out may even be cheaper. It is certainly less headache. But with the 8 of us (6 kids included) spending $45 at Taco Bell vs eating at home, there is simply no contest.

    • Buck Inspire says:

      Thanks for your feedback. It really does depend on your situation. Perhaps being flexible is the key? What’s wrong with spending $45 at Taco Bell? Haha. Thanks again for chiming in on the food fight!

  9. Ronald says:

    It is not always cheaper to eat out, but as a cook I do find it convenient. I would eat out if I am too stressed to cook or want to reward myself with a delicious meal that I don’t know how to make. I would eat out if I prefer to just sit down and wait.

    • Buck Inspire says:

      Hi Ronald,

      Thanks for your opinion. Rewarding yourself with a delicious meal, especially one you don’t know how to make, soothes the soul after a rough day or week. I’m getting hungry. Thanks for stopping by!

  10. Geoff says:

    Buck, I agree…even without accounting for your opportunity cost, sometimes it’s just more expensive to eat in (although still enjoyable). I love Wegman’s (it’s the NorthEast’s version of Whole Foods) and they have a fantastic selection of seafood and steaks….but I usually end up with a pretty hefty bill for my barbeques!

  11. Hunter says:

    “no charge for the soup” – awesome restaurant sequence!
    It really is more expensive to buy the ingredients and prepare my favorite food, Thai, than buying from ou local restaurant. Especially when time and transportation are factored in. I could pay $10 per meal at my local Thai place every night of the week. We usually eat there 1 night every two weeks or so but, I wish we could manage it more often.

    Thanks for the mention(s)!

    • Buck Inspire says:

      I agree. Funny thing, perhaps I need cooking classes, but if I attempt to make my favorite dishes, it just doesn’t taste as good. Glad you liked the video and thank you for you support!

  12. Suba says:

    Buck, you just don’t like to eat in. Say that 😉

    I will add more questions –
    Did you finish the entire portion you cooked in one meal?
    What would be cost if you did the exact same chinese meal (to really compare apples to apples)? Regular chinese food is not equal to expensive meats.
    Do you regularly eat expensive meats? If it is a once a week special thing, usually restaurants are cheaper.

    Looked like the scale was tipping for you, so just wanted to reset the support 🙂

    • Buck Inspire says:

      Hi Suba, let’s just say I prefer dining out? Haha. On second thought, I believe it’s a mood issue. After a long day of work, slicing veggies, prepping meats, cooking, and doing dishes, we’re not in the best of moods. I’m guessing the cooks are in the same or better moods after their home cooked meal. On the flip side, we are usually in great moods after eating out. On to your questions. We usually finish the meal in one sitting. To improve, we are trying to make meals last for one or two days now. If we tried to prepare the same Chinese meal, the cost of the meat can drop, but you would have to buy a variety (chicken and fish), more veggies, thus sending the cost back up. Prep time also goes up and more plates will need to be washed later as well. Thanks for tipping the support scale back, I think, haha!

  13. Southern California has a lot of affordable Chinese Buffets. I think on a weekdays, some buffet cost only around $6.50 and weekends are around $9.99.

    You’re right on that sometimes cooking your own meal may cost even more especially for a small number of people (single or couples with no kids)

  14. 101 Centavos says:

    Well dude, I was going to chime on the side of the home cooks, but you’ve already gotten plenty smacked around with virtual kitchen implements.

    So, next time you’re eating out, hoist a nice glass of vino or a pint of ale and make a toast to not doing the dishes. Cheers!

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