Maybe the Money Saved by Cooking at Home Just Isn’t Worth It

In these times of economic crisis (I make article #3,664,908 that begins with that phrase, by the way), you may have decided – wisely – to examine your budget. Don’t have a budget? Perhaps you’ve decided to create one, to map out your spending. You know you can’t cheat, so this is a scary prospect. I, for instance, knew exactly how much I was spending on cheese danish from the vending machine at work – but that didn’t make me any less apprehensive about actually writing down the figure. Perhaps you’re deciding that some spending needs to be cut. Perhaps, for you and your family, that clearly means eating out less, and eating in more.

It can’t be that hard, can it? I mean, people have been cooking for themselves since the first caveman stuck an antelope leg into a forest fire. Surely, your natural genetic memory will kick in, and before you can count to four you’ll be a regular Top Chef in the kitchen, flipping stir-fried vegetables and “eyeballing” your seasonings just like Emeril. Bam! Or maybe you imagine yourself strolling happily through the Farmer’s Market on a warm Saturday morning, in a wide-brimmed straw hat and a large canvas shopping bag, intelligently selecting only the most delectable fresh-picked produce for your family’s table. Perhaps you’re even starting to get a little excited by the prospect of cooking for yourself more.


Now, you may never have been the “Donna Reed” or “Mr. Mom” type, but you’re savvy enough to know that “home-cooked” doesn’t mean “nuked for 4-6 minutes.” And you certainly know that take-out isn’t any better than delivery, even if you don’t have to tip. But let’s find out how much you do know: can you name the basic components needed to make bread dough? How about the four types of foods needed for a casserole? How long should you boil an egg before it’s considered “hard-boiled”? How long do you leave food in your fancy Phillips air fryer? Most importantly, do you even care? It’s an awful lot to learn, and you certainly don’t want to be spending money on books, videos, or classes at your local community college – isn’t the point here to save money?

Don’t get me wrong; I believe cooking is a very important skill that everyone should spend a little time learning. But do try to take it all into consideration – the money for tools, equipment, and education, the cost of the ingredients, and what about your own time? What is that worth to you? Remember that back in the day, cooking dinner took up the better part of the housewife’s day. It’s really not something you can throw together in that hectic time between 5:30 and so-hungry-I’m-ready-to-eat-my-shoe-o’clock. It takes real commitment, and a huge personal obligation to manage all the planning, shopping, preparation, and clean-up. And yes, buying disposable cookware IS cheating.

If you’re really that interested in learning how to prepare home-cooked meals for your family, then more power to you. There are a ton of resources out there for you, and the benefits are definitely worthwhile. But be realistic. It was a lack of realism that got us into this mess in the first place, and the last thing we need is a massive nationwide movement to Walden Pond living. Find the balance that works for you. Even if your “dining out” numbers are leaping off the page and begging for adjustment, consider turning your attention elsewhere for now. Don’t be hasty or overzealous about cooking – you will almost certainly find yourself beaten down, fanning the smoke through the open window, barely able to see the buttons on the phone through your tears. Thankfully, you have the number for the Chinese place memorized. Now what to do with all that burnt lasagna…

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