Cooking at home is one of those habitual activities that comes with a whole host of tangible benefits. I think we’re all familiar with stories talking about “Grandmas home cooking” or “Mom’s secret recipe.” These expressions are used so often because there is an incredible importance to meals cooked and eaten at home.
So why would we be talking about cooking meals at home on a website that primarily discusses financial well-being? Well, it isn’t the first time we’ve done it. In one of our very first posts, Eric talked about why he brings his lunch to work. While this post has some similarities, I’m going to use this concept in a different way to illustrate why cooking at home is so important.
First, there are a variety of different financial benefits to eating meals at home. While I don’t think this surprises anyone, it does have a pretty significant fiscal impact. More importantly though, is the mindset that cooking and planning for meals at home requires. Think about all the different activities that go in to preparing to do that on a weekly basis. A lot of these skills are applicable to being successful from a financial standpoint, and it wouldn’t surprise me if some of the most financial savvy people out there also loved to prepare meals at home.
Below, I’ve highlighted some of the key benefits, and how they can help you thrive on your financial journey.
This is the one that’s most obvious to people when they think about the benefits of eating in. That makes sense, given the tremendous impact it can have on your budget. Let’s use one of my favorite dishes as an example: spaghetti and meatballs.
If you were to go out to eat at a modest restaurant and order my favorite dish, you would probably spend in the neighborhood of $16.29 for one serving. For reference, I am utilizing the Richmond location for Carrabba’s Italian Grill to determine my pricing. Assuming this is a meal for a family of four, you’re out the door for $65.16 before taxes and tip. This also assumes you didn’t order any drinks with you meal at all.
That same meal, cooking at home would cost you approximately $15.00 (I rounded up a few dollars to account for any spices or other touches you may want to add). While it’s hard to ensure the portion sizes are exactly the same, you get the point. For reference, all prices were captured from Wegman’s via the Instacart app. Now, some may argue that this meal may not be as good as what you’d buy at the restaurant, I’d argue that someone who has been cooking for a while might make a better dish! And for less than a quarter of the cost, I would be ok with something that isn’t necessarily as good!
While the financial benefits of cooking at home are significant, it also helps train a planning mindset that can serve you well in other areas of life. As a kid, I remember going over to a friend’s house. Every Sunday, his family would sit down and plan the meals for the next week. Not only was this an opportunity for the entire family to come together, but it taught my friend and his sister the importance of planning ahead. His dad would then go to the store and buy everything they needed for that week. They were able to limit waste and ensure they had a good lineup of meals each week.
Planning is one of the most important activities that we talk about here on thriving millionaires. The way people approach their eating habits says a lot about them. While eating out occasionally is a great treat and should be planned for, it’s often used as an option when there was no planning ahead. Just like big financial decisions, if you don’t do you’re homework beforehand, you’re missing out on some significant opportunities. Your grocery and eating habits can be a great place to work on this critical skill, and it also offers you the opportunity to demonstrate to your children what success looks like.
While this one may seem a little awkward, learning how to cook teaches us a variety of skills that are applicable across our whole life. One of my favorite lines from my Dad is “you have to play the what happens next game.” In a lot of ways, cooking is the same way. It can be something as simple as “what’s going to happen if I turn the heat to high on the frying pan” to “what happens if I sear this steak before putting it in the oven.” While cooking in and of itself isn’t wildly complicated, it takes an understanding of a variety of different rules to be successful.
Financial planning is also very similar. The rules and payouts of different financial investment vehicles are not that complicated. It’s just a matter of understanding all of them in order to be successful. This requires a lot of reading, research and talking to different people about it. Cooking is the exact same way and is a real-world example that 90% of success is all about showing up.
While I know some of you think this concept may be a little far-fetched, I thought it was important to show how you can take a seemingly meaningless activity daily activity and use it to better yourself. My father took over the cooking in our family when I was a teenager, and he has grown to be one of the best cooks I know. He often tells me his favorite part of each day is the hour he spends cooking a meal at home after work. It allows him to decompress, and it’s become something that he gets to work at getting better at each day. Start using your meal prep as more than just a way to fill your family’s bellies.
The concept of applying cooking at home as a metaphor for financial planning is surprisingly apt. The planning ahead, the consideration of “what if”, not to mention the financial savings associated with cooking at home. I’d like to add on to what Patrick outlines above.
Cooking is a passion of mine. It all started watching Bobby Flay on The Iron Chef when I was little. From there, I spent hours watching Emril’s show on the Food Network. Years later, I still enjoy episodes of Cutthroat Kitchen and Chopped.
Beyond simply being a passion, having the ability to cook is a wonderful skill to bring to any living situation – whether you’re living with roommates or a spouse (or both!). My wife loves when I cook for us. She’s always impressed with my ability to create flavor out of whatever is currently in our kitchen. One of my favorite things to do is cook for my family while they hang out around the kitchen. This is wonderful family time together – and an experience that can’t be rivaled by sitting at a restaurant somewhere.
That’s not to say we never eat at restaurants. But when we do, it’s for reasons outside of food altogether. When we eat out, it’s about getting together with friends or family from out of town. It’s about getting dressed up and going out for a change of pace. And, when we can find a babysitter, it’s about having a meal with just my wife.
We budget $120 per month on meals out. This used to account for a meal out (with drinks) every week or two – depending on where we chose to eat. Given that we are now generally joined by our daughter, we find that eating at home is more relaxing as well as more fun. That $120 per month generally goes unspent in our budget each month.
From a mindset perspective, I could remove this line item from our budget and find a different use for that $120 in our monthly plan – but I prefer to leave it there so that we never have to feel guilty about eating out when the opportunity presents itself or the mood strikes us.
And, as our daughter gets older, I’m hoping we can venture out to public meals more often…
One quick aside on the part about planning meals: Not only does this help prevent the action of opening the fridge at 5:30PM on a Tuesday and asking “What’s for dinner?”, but it also helps keep you disciplined while doing the grocery shopping. If you find yourself wandering the aisles waiting for meals to form themselves in your cart, you’ll significantly overspend on your grocery bill each week. Planning meals allows you to be clear in what you need to purchase (and what you don’t) – and will also help you get in and out which minimizes your time at the store, giving you more time back with family and friends.