(Photo: Courtesy Amy Choi)
During the month of January, I spent $30 on “takeout.” I don’t feel bad about that. Those were lattes and scones and slices of pumpkin bread that on snowy, sleety, generally awful days I could not resist.
I also spent $1,500 on groceries.
For the record, I didn’t count the convenience foods and drinks that were means to an end — another $100 or so over the course of the month that bought me a few hours refuge at a coffee shop to get through some email on a Saturday morning; or got me access to a “free” play space for my toddler; or work meetings with colleagues at cafés or restaurants.
A little compare and contrast:
In previous months, I’d spent approximately $800 in groceries and $1,000 in takeout.
So, $1,500 vs. $1,800.
THIS WAS NOT THE $1,000 WINDFALL I WAS EXPECTING. SHOUTYCAPS.
[pullquote]Fridays, I have learned through this exercise, are not cooking days. Candy Crush and Seamless are what I need on Friday nights.[/pullquote]
For $300 in savings, I cooked like a maniac every weekend. Because my family’s schedule doesn’t really allow for cooking during the work week, I have to do some marathon cooking on the weekends in order to have meals ready to go for Monday-Thursday with minimal prep, including lunch.
Oh, and cooking whatever we’re going to eat on Saturday and Sunday, too.
What about Friday? Funny you should ask. Fridays, I have learned through this exercise, are not cooking days. The window between when my kid goes to bed and when I eat dinner on Fridays is for clicking on Seamless and playing Candy Crush. Candy Crush and Seamless are what I need on Friday nights. Cooking on Fridays, it turns out, is not so good for my mental health.
And yes. I do all the grocery shopping and cooking in my house. My husband is excellent at washing dishes.
Anyways. So. $300 isn’t much, given the number of hours required for meal planning and manual labor. If we’re looking at the value of my time and making a pure financial assessment, it’s definitely not worth it to cook instead of ordering takeout. Which is disappointing and surprising to learn.
That said, if I keep up the habit, I think the savings will grow over time. I’ve now hit a kind of critical mass in terms of pantry goods and freezer meals. I can now cook every OTHER weekend and we’d still have a variety of chilis and soups and sauces to get us through a work week. My own little frozen food bank.
And even though it wasn’t the goal, the food my family is eating is definitely healthier. I got bored with my own cooking, so I was forced to expand my horizons and try new recipes, always a good thing. I made a lot of vegetarian dishes, which were mainly delicious. Bulgur with spinach and cinnamon-tomato sauce! Baked beans with red pepper and tomato! I even tried a bunch of vegan recipes (black bean and squash soup with no chicken stock or pancetta or ham hock as a starter — do not recommend). On nights when my husband was working late and the kid was in bed, I got a perverse pleasure in the weird meals I could cobble together from odds and ends in the kitchen. Leftover crispy chicken fingers, kimchi and a spoonful of steamed rice? Perfection. Grape leaves, salami and cucumber sticks? Also good. My kid’s leftover baked salmon in a bowl of instant miso soup? Not great.
All in all, my #30Days challenge was a good bad-habit breaker. Even though $300 wasn’t as much as I expected, it turns out I enjoy the marathon cooking efforts more than I love the convenience. I’ll keep bringing my lunch to work and my family is more than happy to eat out of the freezer four days a week. Now that I’ve made an overhaul of my pantry, it’s nice to know that the default on lazy nights at home doesn’t have to be a $30 sushi delivery but a quickie meal from my own kitchen.
Except for Fridays, of course.
Check out part one of Amy’s 30-Day Challenge here.
Find out how the rest of our participants did: