We’ve all heard the warnings: Takeout food isn’t practical. Eating out is costly. And making dinner at home is always the best bet for your budget.
However, as the temperature continues to inch upward, I’m more and more tempted to throw budgetary caution to the wind and dial up dinner. Plus, let’s face it: Sometimes, a mom just wants a little break now and then.
Yesterday, my desire for someone else to cook dinner got me thinking: Is it really cheaper to cook at home? Can I make dinner for less than my local pizzeria, sub shop or Chinese restaurant?
To help feed my family (and yours, too) on a budget, I’m testing the theory that homemade food is cheaper than its takeout siblings. The first meal to be put to the test is one of my family’s most-trusted go-to staples: pizza. My guess is make-at-home will be much less expensive than ordering out. But I’m looking forward to finding out if I’m right.
The meal: In our house, the standard is a 16-inch Sicilian crust with cheese, sausage and onion.
My make-at-home ingredients:
• One 16-inch pizza crust. I contemplated making it from scratch but opted for a little ease.
• One 15-ounce can of pizza sauce
• One medium onion
• One package of precooked crumbled Italian sausage (the cheaper route, as buying a whole package of sausage would have been more than $7. However, I only needed a little more than a cup)
• One 32-ounce package of shredded mozzarella
• One container of oregano (I’m growing my own, but it’s not ready to harvest yet)
The cost of ingredients: $17.65.
The variables: It’s difficult to put a price tag on a person’s time. The 45 minutes I spent driving to and from the store and shopping for the ingredients have some value, but it’s tough to say what those precious moments are really worth, so I won’t assign any price to my time.
Then there are the utilities — electric and gas — to cook the pizza. Without dissecting my utility bills, it’s difficult to pinpoint the actual cost. My best guess is about $1.25 (based on average usage).
The total make-at-home price: $18.90.
The takeout price: At our local pizzeria, we’d spend $18.94 including tax. That’s for one 16-inch cheese pizza with two toppings. Of course, delivery and tip would tack on a few more dollars, but because I didn’t tally my time going to the grocery store, it seemed only fair to not add tip or delivery charges to the takeout price tag.
The bottom line: Making pizza at home didn’t net much of a savings at all; four cents hardly seems like a worthy trade-off for the convenience of having someone else do the cooking once in a while.
However, our family sank its teeth into significant savings on the extras.
I know all too well that when placing a to-go or takeout order, it’s easy to add on Buffalo wings, mozzarella sticks, desserts or beverages. When you pay via your credit card (I use the one attached to our bank account to avoid interest fees), you don’t immediately feel that you’re dropping a small fortune on one meal. In our house, it’s those extras that usually drive our pizza delivery bill upwards of $40 or more.
Making pizza at home meant we drank what we had on hand, and instead of starting the meal with appetizers, my family dove right into the main course. Our hearts were happy because cutting out the extra fat is good for anyone’s cholesterol levels, and our wallet was happy because because we didn’t splurge on extras we didn’t really need.
In the coming weeks, I’m going to compare the make-at-home vs. takeout price of a variety of popular convenience foods. From subs and burgers to Chinese and Mexican, nothing is off-limits.
Wondering if your family’s favorite meal is cheaper to make or take out? Drop me a line and suggest a price test. You might be surprised to learn what really costs less.
Photo credit: Getty Thinkstock