The Cost of Eating In vs. Dining Out

This was posted in the Orlando Sentinel’s Money section this weekend. As a long time tightwad, it was good to have my argument that prepping your own healthy meals was WAY cheaper than dining out every day validated!

Anyone who claims that eating healthy costs too much money but still dines out several times a week really needs to read the following articles and get a grip on financial reality.



Toting A Lunch To Work May Be More Savvy Than You Think

By Carolyn Bigda
Your Money staff reporter

Posted March 27, 2005

For many of us, a packed lunch is a relic of childhood school days, not the appendage of a salary-pulling worker.

The average person age 24 or younger spends 8 percent of his salary on food prepared outside of the home, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That figure is the highest of all age groups even though young workers, on average, draw the lowest income.

In studying these numbers though, a question emerged: Would more homemade meals lower the total food bill (which averages about 16 percent of income), especially considering the variety of ingredients required for just one hungry person?

“It may seem that, even if it’s not harder to cook for one, it’s less worth the effort,” said Gary Foreman, editor of the Dollar Stretcher, an online tip sheet for budgeters ( “But the cheapest meal is one you prepare yourself.”

Nonetheless, I decided to conduct an experiment. For five working days, I ordered out breakfast, lunch and dinner. Then for the same length of time I prepared all of my meals at home.

In neither case did I eat extravagantly. Dinner on Friday night of the “out” week, for instance, was two slices of cheese pizza ($4), and Friday of the “in” week was rotini pasta with marinara sauce and a salad ($2.42).

The difference in cost was remarkable. In the first week, I spent $83 for takeout and delivery. I spent only half as much to make food at home the next week.

Part of the reason was sales tax. I paid 8.625 percent on most takeout and delivery food but almost nothing for groceries, which are largely tax exempt in most states.

Also, I could take advantage of sales at the grocery store: A half-gallon of orange juice was only $2.50 the week I went shopping compared to the regular price, $3.39.

And I didn’t have to pay delivery fees or tips when I cooked.

Those extra quarters and dollars were hardly missed at the time, but over the course of a year, they would have added up to hundreds of dollars–a sum more difficult to swallow.

Admittedly, the meals I cooked required only a handful of ingredients. If I had attempted elaborate recipes, I would have spent more on groceries. The same would be true if I insisted on buying organic or specialty products.

Also, eating at home all the time limited opportunities to socialize and became monotonous, with a turkey pita sandwich for lunch every day.

But since food is the third-largest expense in most household budgets (after housing and transportation), it’s worth learning how to moderate the bill, especially considering that reducing the other major expenses would require more dramatic lifestyle changes.

Try bringing your lunch four days a week and eating out only on Friday. Treat yourself to a $2 Starbucks coffee occasionally, but on most other days brew a cup at home for less than 50 cents.

When you do go out for lunch or dinner, save leftovers for another meal. Better yet, set aside a portion of the plate right away to ensure you have something to take home.

Be careful with desserts and drinks, which can easily turn a $10 meal into $15–a 50 percent increase.

At the grocery store, shop sale items and stock up on ingredients you use regularly when they are discounted. Chicken, for instance, can be frozen up to three or four months.

Store brands will also be cheaper than name-brand products. My local supermarket’s standard 24-oz. bottle of ketchup was $1.79 while Heinz was $2.19.

“It’s not that you have to buy inferior ingredients or not have steak once a week,” says the Dollar Stretcher’s Foreman. “Just buy it on sale.”

From the Chicago Tribune
Weekly Cost of Eating In/Eating Out
By Carolyn Bigda
Your Money staff reporter

March 27, 2005

Eating Out


$3.04 a day for coffee, banana and muffin (Starbucks small coffee $1.79 Banana $0.25 Muffin $1.00)
Total: $15.20


Monday–Tuna sandwich with pickle $4
Tuesday–Panini, pickles and bag of chips $6.46
Wednesday–Fish fillet and small salad $4.96
Thursday–Soup and baguette $4.22
Friday–Large salad with bread $7.88
Total: $27.52


Monday–Vegetable lo mein and egg roll $11, with tip
Tuesday–Salad (with chicken) and bread $8.35
Wednesday–Chicken schwarma sandwich $4
Thursday–Sweet & sour chicken entrée $13, with tip
Friday–Two slices of cheese pizza $4
Total: $40.35

Five-day total: $83.07

Eating In


$1.39 per day for coffee, orange juice and cereal (with milk) ($0.26 for coffee $0.52 for cereal $0.30 for orange juice $0.31 for milk)
Total: $6.95


$3.01 per day for turkey pita sandwich (with lettuce and mustard), yogurt, crackers and orange
$0.16 pita bread
$0.20 lettuce
$0.52 deli turkey
$0.89 yogurt
$0.74 crackers
$0.50 orange
Total: $15.05


Monday–Progresso vegetable soup ($2.89), roll with butter ($0.60): $3.49
Tuesday–Broiled steak ($4.50), broccoli ($0.32) and egg noodles with butter ($0.43): $5.25
Wednesday–Salmon fillet, with onion ($3.15), baked potato with butter ($0.60), broccoli ($0.32): $4.07
Thursday–Baked eggplant with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese: $2.92
Friday–Rotini pasta with marinara sauce ($1.00), salad with lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes and dressing ($1.41): $2.41
Total: $18.14

Five-day total: $40.14

E-mail Carolyn Bigda at

Copyright © 2005, The Chicago Tribune

5 thoughts on “The Cost of Eating In vs. Dining Out

  1. Maggie, You always give me food for thought. I love your analytical mind. Keep up the good work. It keeps the rest of us from having to think so hard. 🙂 Mary

  2. 😛 thanks for the info, I am writing a speech for my Speech class and this was the exact information that I needed.

  3. Pingback: Caustic Musings»Blog Archive » Article: Eating on a Budget

  4. :claplow:great job:claplow:
    just what i was looking for… ive always wanted to prove my poor friend wrong
    she always thought she was saving money:!:

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