Dining Out Vs.
Cooking At Home

With the cost of groceries on the rise (6 percent every year, that's 2.5 times as much as restaurant prices), dining at home may not be saving you as much money as you think.

Family eating dinner

Eating at home

For example, Outback Steakhouse charges about $18 for a steak, soup, salad, veggies and bread. Buying these separate items at the grocery store will cost you $20. Olive Garden charges $15.75 for seafood Alfredo, and the grocery store will cost you $19. Now, of course, there are a few factors to consider. Take a look below to see if eating at home is really saving you money and decide what's best for you:

Family size

The bigger your family, the cheaper it's going to be to cook at home since you can buy (and cook) in bulk (think Sam's Club and Costco). Families of three or more are going to save the most by staying in. Take the Outback example above — an $18 meal for three people will cost you $54. You can easily buy $54 in groceries to make that same meal, plus some for the next day.


Cooking a gourmet meal of ribeye and shrimp every night versus sticking to simpler meals is going to cost much more money than it would to go out. Elaborate foods require elaborate, and oftentimes expensive, ingredients that you may only use once. Decide if it's really worthwhile to cook that $50 meal at home, or if you'd rather just go out and let someone else do the cooking.


Be honest with yourself. Are you going to eat those leftovers? If not, it's probably best to dine out. Cooking at home almost always allows for leftovers. If you are not going to eat the leftovers, it's definitely in your best interest to go out instead of spending money on food you're going to end up tossing in the trash. Another alternative is to freeze it. There are tons of recipes that do well as frozen meals.

Eating out

Make eating out even more affordable by utilizing some of these suggestions:


Check the coupon packages that come in the mail — there are always great deals on local, family-owned restaurants and even larger chains, such as Subway. You can also check websites for coupons, such as Restaurant.com and Groupon.


If you're going to dine out, go to a restaurant that has a happy hour (not just for drinks, but food too!). Also, take advantage of value menus at fast food restaurants. Order your main food items and save some more money by drinking beverages you already have at home.

Split meals

Remember, most servings at restaurants are the equivalent to three (or more) healthy portion sizes. Split your dish with your spouse or friend for a fun evening out without breaking the bank. Or, take half your meal in a doggy bag for lunch the next day. That way you get two meals out of one!

More money-saving tips

Tips for saving money as a family
Money saving meal prep strategies
Ingredient swaps that save money


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Comments on "Does eating in actually save you money?"

Michelle March 18, 2013 | 7:43 PM

With inflation taking a big toll on the price of groceries nowadays I'm pretty sure you don't really save as much as you used to be doin' al your own meal preparing

Sarah December 26, 2012 | 6:27 PM

Hi Marsha, This is the first time I've seen the MSN article. The information on pricing is just facts - you can look it up on the restaurant's website. As far as 4 servings at a grocery store versus 1 serving at a restaurant goes, I did state that you have to take family size into consideration. Going out for 3 is obviously much more expensive than eating at home, due to the serving sizes. If you're a single man who doesn't eat leftovers, though, it's cheaper to go out instead of wasting all the extra food you would purchase at the store. I hope that clarifies some things and I'm sorry for any confusion. Thanks! -Sarah

Marsha December 25, 2012 | 10:46 AM

Looks like you copied from an MSN article on January 19, 2012 using some of the same examples that they sited along with the same errors of judgment. Going to a store and buying a bag of salad, rice or bunch of vegetables isn't the same as a restaurant serving. You are comparing 4 servings of grocery store purchase to 1 serving of restaurant purchase and damaging your credibility by doing so.

Jenifer July 23, 2012 | 10:41 AM

I prefer eating at home. That way I know exactly what I'm getting and what I'm paying for. Also, eating at home means I get to stay in my pj's which is always a plus!

Katie June 22, 2012 | 3:31 PM

Very true about eating out requiring tax and a tip. That alone can make it worth eating at home. I'm old fashioned though and think it's always best to eat at home. Also, eat what you can afford. If you can't afford gourmet meals, make pasta and pizza and simpler, more cost effective foods.

Julie June 18, 2012 | 10:32 AM

6% a year? Grocery prices are really out of control. However, remember when you eat out, tax and tip will up that bill by as much as 30%. Although not having to clean up may be worth it.

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