It’s coming close to quitting time and the thought crosses your mind, “What am I going to have for dinner?” I’m in New York and I couldn’t cook my way out of a brown paper bag. So the temptation is always there to stop on the way home and pick up some take out. But we’ve all been told a bajillion times that eating out every day is expensive. Or is it? Yeah, it is.
The Fiscal Times (via Business Insider) takes a look at the daily decision to either eat at home or take out your supper. They note that people are spending 4.5 percent on eating out. And, it says, supermarket food prices are going up six percent each year, a faster rate than restaurant meals.
When they break down, for instance, the cost of beef and broccoli with white rice from PF Chang’s ($12.75) vs. the cost of making the dish at home ($13.04), PF Chang’s is declared the winner. The article notes that their analysis is “highly unscientific,” but even with that there are a ton of caveats that skew the result.
The Fiscal Times writer is also located in New York, where the cost of living is high. Moreover, the article says, ” [W]e didn’t go hunting for the best grocery deals and didn’t factor in whether one meal or another would be healthier or friendlier to the environment.” Those factors are actually really important. These days, everyone is looking for a deal. In fact, in many homes, meals are dictated by a food budget. So if you’re not taking price into consideration, the whole experiment is probably null and void.
With obesity levels at all-time highs, we have to take fat content into account. And if you’re eating a lot of food that isn’t good for you, the savings from purchasing the take out meal are offset by the healthcare cost from the high blood pressure and other illnesses that result. And if we destroy the planet with our eco-unfriendly meals, we won’t have a place to sit and eat them, so we might want to keep that in mind.
The at-home meals were also calculated using Fresh Direct, which isn’t necessarily the most expensive grocery market out there, but, based on my experience, it can be a little more expensive than your neighborhood market. In addition, some of the items were organic, which is pricier.
So we took a very quick and unscientific look at Key Food online to tally the cost of making the PF Chang’s dish (as an example). The article uses three ingredients: flank steak, white rice and broccoli. At a local Key Food, you can get a pound of flank steak for $8.99, some Foxy broccoli for $1.50 and a bag of white rice for $5.99. Total: $16.48 before any taxes or anything. That’s nearly $4 more than PF Chang’s. But, the article didn’t take the cost of feeding more than one person at the restaurant into account. Our meal could feed a small family, with rice to spare. If you’re single, you’ve got leftovers.
So feed two people at PF Chang’s and it’s $25.50 without tax or tip. If you add $13.28 to your Key Food grocery bill, you can have another pound of steak and even add some Asian sauce for flavor. The total is $29.76, just about what you would pay at the restaurant. Same total, but more food. And it’ll have less salt and fat. Plus, you don’t use the extra gas to get to and from the restaurant.
Of course, it’s not just the dollars and cents of making a meal at home. The Fiscal Times article also notes the time expenditure for shopping and preparing food into account. We’ll propose that preparing a quick meal a few times a week should be a part of your schedule, just as household chores, going to the gym and other tasks are. The key here is to recognize the importance of making your meal at home and the broader expense or savings of doing so. When something is important, you make time for it.