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Could Cooking at Home Actually Be MORE Expensive than Eating Out?

Conventional wisdom has us believe that cooking at home is always less expensive than eating out. Is it? If you are a single person or half of a couple, maybe not. Let’s look at the numbers.

Costs to Cook and Eat at Home (in Addition to the Actual Food)

You know how you have to pack a certain amount for a trip whether it’s for one day or four? Sure, you’ll bring more clothing for four days, but regardless of how long you go, you have to lug the requisite basics for daily care, comfort, and hygiene.

It’s the same with cooking. Whether you are family of six or it’s just you, you still need to invest in the same basics to be able to cook for yourself: pans, dishes, cutting board, utensils, condiments, oils, spices, clean up gear, etc. And, although it takes somewhat more time to cook for six rather than one, it is definitely not six times more time. Making scrambled eggs (whether it’s two or twelve) requires about 15 steps and quite a few ingredients and implements (certainly many of which you just buy one time, like the pan, but which you have to buy sometime and then need to store, wash, care for, and eventually replace):

1. Drive or walk to store

2. Find mask on floor of car and then walk into store

3. Locate eggs and milk in the store (and salt, pepper, butter, Pam, frying pan, flipper, whisk, fork, bowl, plate, napkin or paper towel, dish soap, sponge, drying rack if you don’t have them; if it’s just you and you don’t drink much milk you need to find little milks or end up wasting the milk)

4. Get in line

5. Check out at store

6. Drive or walk home

7. Put eggs in fridge till needed

8. Get eggs out of fridge

9. Break into bowl with a little milk, salt, and pepper; whisk

10. Heat up pan; add fat; cook eggs

11. Serve eggs on plate with fork and napkin or towel

12. Eat eggs

13. Put dishes in sink

14. Wash dishes and put in drainer

15. Put away dishes

16. Recycle or discard egg carton and napkin

Conversely, if you go to McDonalds or other eatery, it’s like 6 steps

1. Drive or walk to restaurant

2. Order scrambled eggs

3. Eggs are handed to you

4. Drive or walk home from restaurant

5. Eat eggs with utensils, condiments, and napkin provided

6. Recycle or discard takeout container

Actual groceries for a 2-egg breakfast would probably cost about $4, and the costs for items you reuse would be spread over time. You wouldn’t need to buy food prep and clean up supplies every time you scrambled two eggs, but you’d need to outfit your kitchen with the basics in order to be able to cook. The one-time outlay for pan, cutlery, and dishes, coupled with the regular replacement of condiments, spices, cooking fats, dish soap, sponges, etc., needs to be taken into account.