Your Wallet Should Be Fat, Not Your Belly!

3168342551_1bdce9613aIf 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:

$1,091 TOTAL

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:

$377 TOTAL

Again, wow! Good for Holly. She is spending just over $4,500 per year on food.

Let’s compare:

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.

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12 thoughts on “Your Wallet Should Be Fat, Not Your Belly!

  1. John November 22, 2013 at 8:12 pm

    Great post, thanks a lot. I look forward to reading more of these in the future. Keep up the good work!

    • Mr NYBudget November 22, 2013 at 8:34 pm

      Thanks John! I have a ton of posts floating around in my head, so there should be many updates to come!

  2. Fritz November 22, 2013 at 9:31 pm

    It is worth noting that Rick spends anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours eating per day. Holly will be spending at minimum two hours a day shopping, preparing, and eating, even if she shops for expedience (which often drives costs up). Rick’s ~$40/day eating compared to Holly’s $13/day is made up for with opportunity costs, which if you price at his work salary in NYC, is very significant.

    Additionally, Rick really shouldn’t be eating out three meals a day. The average restaurant or shack meal can easily reach a thousand calories. Twice a day is all that is necessary when one eats out often.

    This is not meant to directly refute your article. What you say is very true, but eating out all the time is economical in *time*, not money, and is more complicated than shown here.


    • Mr NYBudget November 22, 2013 at 9:39 pm

      It’s true – this post refers to just the economical side of things. Basically, it comes down to a choice. Effort vs. Money. I am just trying to illustrate how much savings are possible since many people only see the downside to the effort side of the equation. From there, people have to make their own choices. Although, something that gives me joy is going against the stereotype that young adults are lazy these days. It’s more rewarding than I ever would have thought truly providing for myself. There is a great sense of pride there. In terms of the calories, that is fair. But when people eat all the crap that is in restaurant food, they tend to eat way MORE calories than they need. Hence the addition to the waistline. Thanks for the comment! I am always happy to chat about this stuff!

    • Zeb November 30, 2013 at 7:55 am

      You can’t price the opportunity cost at Rick’s work salary in NYC because to do so you are implying that instead of preparing his own food he would, instead, be working at his job. This is not realistic, because he would be preparing his food in the evenings or on the weekend during a time when he would not be working, and therefore, not earning any money. Further, if he brought a home-prepared meal, he would be spending less time out of his work day for his lunch meal. This means he would actually have more time during the typical work day for work, which may mean either he could earn overtime pay or perhaps leave work earlier in the day leaving him more time for preparing his meals.

      Also, it is likely that Rick he were preparing his own meals that he would not cook every day, but would instead prepare several days worth of meals at a time, or at least ‘dovetail’ his meal preparation by reusing ingredients across several meals (thus spending less time overall in preparation). In short, he would familiarize himself with techniques to save time in the kitchen.

      It is true, however, that there is an opportunity cost to preparing your own meals and doing the associated clean-up afterword. I just never felt it was a fair statement to put a dollar amount on that cost unless it truly cuts into time that would otherwise be spent earning money. The reality is that the opportunity cost cannot be measured in dollars, but rather the choices of which other activities to trade for meal preparation time. For example, would Rick be watching TV instead of cooking (actually this is a bad example because you can cook and watch TV at the same time)? Would he be dating, or exercising, or some other thing you can’t do while cooking? That is the opportunity cost… not money (unless maybe Rick would otherwise have a second job in the evenings or something).

      • Mr NYBudget November 30, 2013 at 2:57 pm

        Great point. I get the “opportunity cost” comment a lot and this is a perfect defense against it. Basically, it comes down to what you are actually doing, not what you would be doing in a theoretical economic construct. If you can cook your own meals and it will help you, then you should! Thanks for the comment!

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