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Does eating in actually save you money?

Newlywed, new mom and first-time home buyer, Sarah is currently playing out her exciting life in Phoenix, Arizona. She recently gave up her job in finance to stay at home with her baby girl, who between bath time and feeding time, keeps ...

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.

Ingredients

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.

Leftovers

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:

Coupons

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.

Specials

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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