If you have ever looked into ways to save money, you’ve heard it before: Cook your own meals. But it bears repeating here because it is the MOST important habit you can change in New York and I am here to illustrate that for you. Let’s run a quick comparison between two New Yorkers: Restaurant Rick and Home-cooked Holly. We will look at their food budgets for an average month.
Restaurant Rick picks up a breakfast sandwich and a coffee every day before work. He is frugal and gets these from a pretty inexpensive truck, so his cost is only $5. Sometimes he splurges and gets a Starbucks coffee, which adds $3 once a week. He works about 21 days per month (average 5 day work week).
Total for Weekday Breakfasts: $117
On the weekends, Rick usually eats cereal for breakfast. At 8 servings per box (that’s being very generous since he usually has more than one bowl), this costs him about $.75 per serving. Sometimes, however, Rick likes to go out to brunch or breakfast at a diner. He does this only twice per month, but each time he spends $20.
Total for Weekend Breakfasts: $47
Restaurant Rick never brings his lunch to work. But, he is relatively frugal about his choices. He doesn’t do “power lunches”, he simply grabs a sandwich, burger, or salad at Pret a Manger or the corner deli. He adds a drink and sometimes a bag of chips. Since he makes these seemingly frugal choices, his lunch averages $10 per day.
Total for Weekday Lunches: $210
On the weekends he has similar lunch habits. Although sometimes he is lazy and orders from Seamless, which makes his lunch more expensive. His average lunch is about $15. He has about 9 weekend days in a month.
Total for Weekend Lunches: $135
For dinner, Restaurant Rick tries to pick up sushi, falafel, or something similar to eat at home. Sometimes, when work is really weighing on him, he’ll go straight home and order from Seamless. Between the $12 he averages for pickup and the $25 he averages for Seamless meals (remember tax and tip), he is averaging $17 per dinner (he has been pretty good about just doing pickup lately!).
Total for Weekday Dinners: $357
On the weekends, Rick likes to go out with friends. His restaurant bill (food only, we aren’t even talking about alcohol yet) fluctuates as he likes Chipotle as well as the occasional nice steak restaurant. Of course, sometimes he stays in and orders Seamless or picks up as well. However, Rick’s average weekend dinner, after tax and tip is $25.
Total for Weekend Dinners: $225
So in an average month, Restaurant Rick’s food budget is:
Wow! No wonder I hear so many people argue that you can’t live in New York without at least $50,000 of annual income. If this is the way you live your life, you, like Rick, are spending over $12,000 a year on food alone! Many people will look at their $12,000 food budget, throw up their hands and say, “what am I supposed to do? Not eat?” No. Just eat smarter.
Home-cookin’ Holly’s food expenses are easier to figure out. She cooks her own meals for the majority of the month. She uses BudgetBytes so she averages about $1.50 per serving. Let’s say she likes to have a side of an apple or other fruit from time to time. This treat bumps up her average to $2 per serving. She eats this way for breakfast, lunch and dinner for 80 meals per month. Groceries can go bad and Holly is not perfectly efficient when it comes to using all of her ingredients, so let’s add another $15 per month to her expenses.
Total for Homemade Meals: $175
For the other 10 meals in the month, Holly likes to treat herself. After all, she has friends too and she loves grabbing sushi with them and finding new and interesting restaurants in New York. She usually avoids fancy restaurants because she knows New York has plenty of amazing food to offer at less expensive prices. She allows herself to splurge once a month on a meal that will cost her approximately $40. Otherwise, Holly spends an average of $18 every time she goes out (after tax and tip).
Total for Restaurant Meals: $202
So in an average month, Home-cooked Holly’s food budget is:
Again, wow! Good for Holly. She is spending just over $4,500 per year on food.
Holly spends $714 less than Rick per month
Holly spends $8,568 less than Rick per year
Now let’s say Holly is able to invest the difference. How much more will she have in 10 years if both Rick and Holly keep their habits consistent? We will use the 173 monthly expense multiplier (if you want to dive into the math, follow the link, otherwise, you can trust me that this is a good estimation).
In 10 years, Holly has saved $123,522 MORE than Rick. Imagine if she did that over the entire course of her working career! Remember, Holly still gets to go out with friends and has a fancy dinner once a month (plus, she has honed her cooking skills and has become quite the impressive culinary artist!).
Oh, and guess what. Rick is fat. Yup, all that eating out was bad for him and his weight shot up. In the month that I, Mr. NYBudget started cooking almost all of my meals, I lost 7 pounds without even thinking about it. Also, the dishes I made TASTED better (start learning about herbs and seasoning and you enter a magical world of taste).
Now I don’t want to hear any complaints about how difficult cooking is. Go to Budget Bytes, find other recipe sites and follow the directions. It is as simple as following directions and finding a YouTube instructional video whenever you don’t know how to do something. Try it now. Start with beans and rice. I guarantee you can master that. And any mistakes you make along the way are chances to improve your cooking IQ. It’s time to jump right in, because if you don’t, New York restaurants could cost you $123,522 in just 10 years.