Cooking In vs. Eating Out

It’s an age-old question. Should you stay in to eat, or go out? Often the answer is based not so much on finances as on convenience, time and other circumstances. It makes sense, though, to approach the issue with finances in mind, since going out regularly can put a big dent in your food budget. 

There’s no question that cooking meals saves money over going out to eat in restaurants. The money you spend on ingredients will be far less than the cost of similar restaurant meals, and when you add in beverages and tips, the cost of eating out can skyrocket. Making meals at home is cost-effective and budget-conscious.

It’s important to figure in some other, hidden costs of cooking at home, however, when you’re doing your calculations. To begin with, your time is valuable, and if you add the cost of that time into your overall home-cooked meal cost, it will go up. If you’ve had a long day at work and you’re exhausted, sometimes going out will make sense because it will give you several hours when you don’t have to labor over the meal. Yes, the meal would be cheaper at home, but you’d be paying for the savings, in part, with your time.

You can also figure in some of the hidden benefits of eating out, such as ambiance, relaxation, time to spend with your partner or family, and not having to clean up afterwards. These benefits add to the value of a restaurant meal, and though you’re paying for them, you might decide when you’re doing your calculations that — you know what? –sometimes those benefits are worth it.

Anyone on a budget simply can’t afford to go out every night, or even several nights a week. It just gets too expensive and cannot be sustained. The fact is, though, cooking at home has hidden costs, and going out to a restaurant has hidden benefits. A budget can’t be all about money, after all. It must take into account desires and feelings, as well. Having an honest accounting of both finances and intangibles will make your budget sustainable, attainable and fun.

So don’t worry — go out once in a while! If you plan for it, it doesn’t need to ruin your budget. And in fact, when done wisely, going out can help you stay on track financially in the long run.

Bon appétit!