Americans have a number of different financial responsibilities they must consider every month. Between housing, transportation and leisure costs, our varied budgets can see our money going in many different directions. We make many different choices about where we want to live, what we want to own, where we want to work and who we want to be around on a daily basis.
But while many aspects of life can be altered or phased out in favor of saving money, everyone needs to eat.
Food costs across the country are one of the most diverse aspects of our daily lives, and the choices that we make can play a huge role in how much we pay on food costs. These choices are only made more difficult by the fact that there are more food options today than there have ever been before.
Food Costs in America Today
It should come as no surprise that the costs of different food products throughout America have been slowly on the rise for quite a while. The reasons for this are many, in that more population leads to more food demand, more food demand leads to more livestock and their feed, and so on. In fact, the rate of food costs has raised to nearly double the annual inflation rate for the U.S. dollar. Because of these changes in food price, being financially prudent about the food that you buy for your family has become more important now than ever before.
But although the cost of food is steadily rising, there are also many more options today than there ever have been before. This can be said about food variety, in that more diverse international ingredients and restaurants are open in more U.S. cities each year, but also in the ways that people can get their food in the first place. While going to restaurants or the grocery store are still the most popular options for most Americans, the rise of food delivery services and pre-portioned meal delivery kits have allowed for an incredible amount of convenience for anyone who wants it. However, some of these methods can be far more expensive than others, and can be deceptive in their overall worth.
Positive & Negative Sides to Restaurant Dining
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is often some disagreement about whether or not restaurant dining is affordable for the average American salary. This is mostly because of the large difference in cost from a fast food place to a fine dining establishment, for example. However, most studies have seemed to show that on average, restaurant dining is more expensive than eating at home. Eating out at a restaurant:
- Requires you to pay for convenience. While the cost of the ingredients is a large portion of the cost for a restaurant dish, you are also paying for someone to prepare and cook those ingredients. Additionally, you will often have to pay some sort of gratuity at many restaurants for the quality of their service.
- Can provide a more diverse selection. Sometimes, however, the higher cost of a restaurant is warranted by the novelty of the restaurant’s food. Certain dishes may be difficult for someone to prepare at home or may involve cultural ingredients that can be hard to find at a grocery store. Therefore, they can be a more authentic experience than following a recipe at home.
- Can have a tendency to be unhealthy or over-portioned. While some restaurants are more and more health-conscious, many are not. Certain restaurants promote lots of unhealthy choices, such as fried foods and big desserts.
Although there are generally more financial costs to eating at a restaurant, some of the pros can outweigh the cons in certain circumstances.
Positive & Negative Sides to Eating at Home
Conversely, while eating at home is often considered to be cheaper, there are also many other factors to consider before solely going to the grocery store every week or two. There can also be good and bad sides to cooking at home, which can include:
- Being able to more easily make smarter financial and health decisions. Ingredients in the grocery store are often much cheaper than the same ingredients at a restaurant. Also, without the need for constantly frying things and preparing food with additives and fillers, Americans who cook at home will often have more well-balanced meals than those who rely on restaurants alone.
- Having to take the time to make the food. With the average American’s busy work and home life schedules, cooking can be a challenge to fit into a day. Certain dishes, especially if they need to be made for a large crowd, can take a long time to prepare and cook. This is one reason the fast food culture in America thrives.
- Having the satisfaction of making a dish yourself. You don’t have to be a master chef to follow a recipe and replicate a dish that you enjoy from somewhere else. In fact, taking the time to learn different cooking techniques can be a relaxing experience for many people, who may take it up as a hobby or even a career.
Weighing the bad with the good can help you to determine whether or not you want to spend less money but more time on your food needs.
Tips for Maximizing Your Food Cost Savings
Simply put, doing your own health research and grocery shopping for natural ingredients will always be a more cost-efficient approach than eating processed food or going out to eat. Fruits, vegetables, starches and even meat/dairy products can be obtained in greater volumes from the grocery store than they are presented in restaurant dishes, which can be a great way to get more out of the money that you spend on food. However, if you do choose to go out to eat on occasion, there are plenty of considerations that you can make in order to avoid paying too much. When dining out at a restaurant, try to:
- Cut your meal in half. Most of the time, restaurants give out generous portions so that customers will be satisfied and come back. By saving half of your dish and bringing it home, you can save money on your next meal and eat a healthier amount of food in one sitting.
- Not go overboard on the fancy options. Not every day is a special occasion, so there is no need to get alcohol, appetizers or desserts at most restaurants. These items can really drive up the bill, and make restaurant dining far more expensive than the same amount of food at home.
- Do it sparingly. For many Americans on a budget, going out to eat is something that can be done once in a while. In order to not become dependent on restaurants, try to make a solid cooking routine or calendar to get into the habit of mostly cooking at home.
By making smart, conscious decisions when eating at home or at a restaurant, you can save tons of money that could be going towards home bills, vacations or any number of life’s other expenses.
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