Food is expensive
Typically, the most expensive costs in life are related to fixed expenses, such as transportation, housing, and taxes. Fixed expenses, on average, consume about %70 of the average American’s pre-tax income. This can be seen in the statistic below, analysis from the Bureau of Labor Statistics based on the average American household.
$69,629 – Total Income
(-) $18,409 – Housing Costs
(-) $13,651 – Federal & State Taxes
(-) $9,503 – Transportation Costs
(-) $1,315 – Education
(-) $6,349 – Social Security & Insurance
$20,402 – Total Disposable Income
It is a little depressing to think that out of a reasonably sized income, we are only able to spend, save, or invest just %30 of what we make. The amount of money we have control over is actually just a very small percentage of what we make. This is why it is important that we focus on cutting fixed expenses as much as possible. I suggest the priority in life be reducing housing and transportation costs as these are the two major categories of fixed costs we can actually control.
Reducing social security costs or taxes may require a little bit more effort.
Out of the $20,000 of disposable income, roughly $7,000 (or about ⅓) of it is spent on food. Food cost is the #1 most expensive thing we spend our disposable income on. It is absolutely absurd how much money we spend on a single meal or beverage.
Learn to Cook, Then Cook In Bulk
Okay, first of all, learn to cook. There is absolutely no reason as to why people are unable to cook an affordable and healthy meal at home. There are plenty of free videos on YouTube. You can even learn how to cook from Gordan Ramsay himself by watching his 16 seasons of Hell’s Kitchen, 8 seasons of Masterchef (junior), or 7 seasons of Kitchen Nightmares. All of these are great T.V. shows and also teach you how to cook if you pay attention.
Cooking at home is a skill that is going by the wayside as dual income households have become the norms over the past several decades. With neither parent being around to teach children how to cook, the concept of a ‘home cooked meal’ is becoming a thing of the past.
Below statistics are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on cooking at home or eating out from 2013 to 2015.
Value ($) Percent change
Year 2013 2014 2015 2013-2014 2014-2015
Food at home 3,977 3,971 4,015 %-0.2 %1.1
Food away from home 2,625 2,787 3,008 %6.2 %7.9
As you can see from the above, the actual amount spent on eating food at home is marginally more than money spent on eating out. However, the year over year change is alarming. The trend of spending more money on eating out is increasing %6 – %8 a year, compared to the %0 – %1 change in home cooked meals. This type of behavior is precisely the type of action that keeps poor people poor and makes rich people richer.
I personally, would like to see this trend be flipped over on its head. Cooking at home is one of the most important things we can do to reduce our ‘discretionary spending’. Not only is cooking far cheaper than eating out if done properly, it is far healthier (depending on what you cook, of course).
One common complaint of the ‘cook at home’ lifestyle is that the time required is simply too costly. The excuse ‘I don’t have time for that’ or ‘I am too tired to cook’ is possibly the worst reason to spend money eating out. You work hard for your money, therefore you should work hard to keep your money.
Cooking at home is easy with a little bit of planning in advance. Buying foods that are easy to prepare and quick to make is the key to hassle-free cooking. However, slowly cooking huge portions of food on the weekend has been the major money saver in my life so far.
On the weekends, my girlfriend and I prepare multiple portions of a single dish that we can eat for the next couple meals. There are plenty of good examples of food that are easy to prepare in bulk. Good examples of foods you can make in large portions are curry, pasta, fried rice, soups, and braises. One of my favorite lazy pasta dishes comes from FoodWishes.com.
There are plenty of dishes that can be made in bulk and stored for a day or two. I strongly suggest cooking at home as a first step to saving money on food. More important than cooking at home, is cooking in bulk. The money that can be saved by cooking in bulk is exactly why I discourage buying food plans like Blue Apron or Purple Carrot, as these pre-packaged recipes limit you to the exact amount of each ingredient for just a single portion.
Bring In Your Lunch!
Lunch is one of the most expensive purchases anyone can make during any given day. The price of lunch is reaching levels that we should not be comfortable with as a society.
A typical lunch can range anywhere from $7 to $15 depending on where you live in the U.S. and the world. If you live in New York City like me, then you are probably used to a $9 Chipotle burrito or $10 pad thai lunch special near your work. Sure, there are cheaper options like $1 pizza or $5 street food, but I do value having a healthy diet.
I am a true believer of being able to eat healthy and tasty foods while paying just a fraction of what a typical lunch costs. Using step 1’s advice, we will cook in bulk and bring in our leftovers for lunch.
Practicing this habit, you will be able to have several meals for the price of one meal eaten outside of the home. After a while, it will feel completely normal to bring your lunch into work and the effort involved will be completely negligible. You will even find that you have MORE time during your lunch break to do other things because of the time saved by not going to buy your lunch.
Cooking at home every day of the week is nearly impossible for most of us I imagine. Personally, I am only able to find time to cook on the weekends and just a couple times on the weekdays. There are nights throughout the week that I am busy working out, doing yoga, or working my 2nd job. I find these things more important and more productive than spending my time cooking at home.
However, when I do find myself having a free night when I have no plans, I make it a point to cook at home and cook in bulk. For the other nights that I am not able to cook at home … I split my meals in half.
Cut Your Meals In Half!
Whenever I buy a meal outside, I try to make sure it is a meal that I am able to portion into two meals. This piece of advice may apply only to those in the United States as portions in America are ridiculously huge.
If I go to Chipotle, I will order the bowl instead of the burrito. This allows me to save half of the bowl for lunch and the other half for dinner. This may seem socially taboo or ‘stingy’, but spending just $9 a day for lunch and dinner works out great for me.
This may not work for a lot of restaurants, but consider ordering at places where you get more bang for your buck. I am only able to give New York examples as I am limited in my experiences, but Chinatown has huge portions of food at a great value. Halal Guys on 53rd and 6th are famous for their chicken and rice. Not only is this chicken and rice amazingly delicious, it is only $7 – and it can be split into two meals!
I can go on and on mentioning every single spot in Manhattan that I have found great portions for even greater prices (that still taste good), but I plan to write specific guides for this in the future.
For now, I will leave you with this one hole in the wall in Midtown West, ‘Manting Famous Foods’ on 49th st, between 5th and 6th Avenue. For $10 only, you can get a huge portion of white or brown rice with 4 sides. I have literally saved hundreds of dollars by eating Manting’s lunch special in two parts, half for lunch and the other half for dinner.
This type of restaurant allows for huge selection and even larger portions. See for yourself.
So, whether you go learn from Gordon Ramsey himself and cook in bulk or buy large portions of food and split your meals, start cutting your most expensive ‘discretionary cost’ (a.k.a. FOOD) by putting in a little bit of effort and skill.
P.S. If you are a big fatty and want to over eat every meal, then disregard the last piece of advice 🙂