Eating out v. Home-cooked Meals – The Dilemma

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Mr. FAF and I love eating out. Sometimes I wonder if it’s because we’re Asian that we just love eating out at Asian restaurants so much.

Of course, we do it in moderation – about once a week.

There’s something so refreshing, exciting, and memorable about trying delicious Asian dishes at different restaurants.

It’s like an adventure that makes both Mr. FAF and me happy.

Even when we travel, we’d be more interested in the local food than the tourist attractions.

We’d definitely enjoy both, but what’s traveling without eating the local cuisine?

When I read about how Ms. Frugalwoods frugalizes her families’ groceries or how the Saving The Crumbs family spend $60/month on groceries, I feel guilty and want to be as drastic as them: not eating out at all to save money.

However, part of me still wonders if we’re missing out on the beautiful things in life – going out, trying good food, and having fun – by forcing ourselves to eat home-cooked meals all the time.

How do we strike a balance?

Is eating out once a week too much? I actually Googled this question to see what other people think. But ultimately, it depends on people’s income and how they balance eating out with other priorities (i.e. movies, traveling, clothes, gadgets).

Right now Mr. FAF and I don’t live together, but it will change in a couple of months. I’ve asked Mr. FAF about our food budget for when we live together with Baby FAF. He suggested:

— Eating out once a week for $50 or $200/month

— $500 for groceries/month (2 adults & 1 baby)

-> Total: $700/month

I told him I thought it was too high. According to the USDA, a family of two (female & male) has the following monthly food cost:

— Thrifty plan: $381.90
— Low-cost plan: $488.70
— Moderate-cost plan: $607.40
— Liberal plan: $760.70

Our $700 monthly food budget is definitely above the cost for a moderate plan. Ms. Frugalwoods’s goal is to stay under $350 for groceries each month and her family was able to keep up with that level before they retired early in the woods in Vermont (now it’s about $400-500/month).

I’d love for Mr. FAF and I to stay under $350/month. The frugal side in me would be over the moon.

However, the food lover in me would balk at that idea: Am I depriving myself of joy and good stuff in life? What am I saving for? To pay off the mortgage? To put towards retirement so that I can enjoy life later? Is it that simple?

We waited at this Korean BBQ place for half an hour. But we were just so excited we didn’t mind the wait at all. And the food was super delicious!


Once we pay off our mortgage, we will start saving up to buy a rental property. We will need a mortgage for the rental investment.

Given that Mr. FAF and I both don’t like being debt, we will work hard to pay off the rental mortgage.

So when will this buy-mortgage-save-buy-mortgage-save cycle end so that we can fully enjoy our lives? We can just be content with one rental, but the entrepreneurial spirits in us scream: “Work harder and invest more.”

Delayed gratification

Another thought is we can eat at home and save now so that we can retire early and enjoy life. I’ve thought about living in a tiny house when Mr. FAF and I retire, but will we be healthy enough to be on the road all the time?

Most of the adults in my family are advised by their doctors not to consume too much seafood, meat, or sweets although they have maintained a relatively healthy diet and lifestyle (i.e. no smoking, no heavy alcohol). The dietary restrictions have a lot to do with their age.

When people get older, their metabolism is not as good as before. They tend to have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, gout, etc. Now everyone in my family watches their diets carefully and is hesitant to try new food.

I don’t want to be like that when I’m old, always having to watch out for what I eat for fear that I might die early. I’m careful about my diet now, but death doesn’t sound so near and scary yet.


I feel like I’m in such as dilemma. When Mr. FAF and I eventually live together, I will convince him to stay within $500/month for two reasons:

1. We live in one of the most expensive cities in America, so $500 is reasonable for a frugal couple.

2. Eating out for us is almost the only fun activity/date we have to pay for. I think we can live a little while being frugal.

Mr. FAF is usually willing to meet me in the middle, so I’m hopeful this budget will become a reality.


Striking a balance between eating out and cooking at home is one of the frugality versus enjoyment dilemmas.

How do we enjoy life while saving and giving generously? That’s a question we will need to discuss and compromise not just for food but for many other things in our lives.

What about you? I’d love to hear how your family strikes a balance between eating out and eating at home.


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18 thoughts on “Eating out v. Home-cooked Meals – The Dilemma”

  • We are in a similar situation. 2 adults and 1 baby. We actually set down last night to calculate our average daily cost for food. It was $16.47. Our goal is to get that to $12 ($2 per meal per person) which we can do with just small changes. Mainly less pre packaged food.

    We eat out once, sometimes twice a week. If we have our little one it is usually pizza or mexican where we get out for less than $25.

    I am okay with working another year or two in order to be able to enjoy eating out and having plenty of meat in my grocery cart.

    • Hi Grant, thanks for dropping by my blog! 🙂

      I’m with you on working harder to enjoy eating out and having meat in our meals. I just ended my weight loss diet this past weekend, so I’m eating more meat than I have been this past few months. It’s great to be able to take in all this great food. It’s always a balancing act for us – enjoying life and being frugal. 🙂

  • We spend about $4-500 per month on groceries and $1-200 on eating out. I think that’s perfectly reasonable. As long as we’re capping the eating out to once per week. Try $500 for a month and see. You can raise it to $600 if you really need to. Enjoy!

    • That sounds like a reasonable budget to me. 🙂 Mr. FAF and I just went through a big food budget blowup this past week. I’m writing a post about what happened which I plan to publish on Wednesday. I feel bad just thinking about it, but I have to look on the bright side and see it as a lesson for both of us. -_-

  • I definitely think your budget sounds realistic! Me and my fiance eat out a little more than I would like, maybe $50-$75 per week (one nice meal and one or two quick ones) but I normally am pretty thrifty at the grocery store and can get the food for the rest of our meals for $60-$70 per week so that helps balance out our food budget

    • Thank you, Paige! Sometimes I feel like I have to go back and forth with my husband about eating out and saving money. I’m very thrifty at the grocery store too, but we like to enjoy delicious food maybe a little too much sometimes (@_@).

  • I think the ‘eating out frequency’ depends on both income and lifestyle.

    For instance, we eat out maybe once a month, sometimes even less frequent. We could afford it, but I prefer not to for 2 reasons:
    1) I LOVE to cook! I love trying new recipes, I love knowing what we put in out mouths and – this may sound weird – I love it when I get compliments for what I cook 😀 hahah!
    2) I’m a very frugal person and would rather eat out on special occasions or when I actually don’t have the time to cook.

    However, we do go out for ice-cream or drinks. Those are just not the same if you stay at home.

    • It’s great that you love to cook and you cook well! I know I’m not good at cooking and still trying to improve. I think it will save us so much more money than now and, as you pointed out, is much healthier than eating out.

      Mr. FAF and I usually don’t go out for ice-cream or drinks since we can easily buy them from the store. It’s the different kinds of dishes that we find challenging. We also love the atmosphere at a restaurant and not having to do the dishes afterwards :”>

  • We spend a lot on groceries and eating out (get ready to gasp–around $950 in groceries for a family of four and about $200 in eating out)! We live very close to the Frugalwoods, which shows even though we live in a high-cost-of-food region of the country, we could still hypothetically cut down on those costs. But, as a family, we love to eat delicious food and eat out occasionally. So we’ve let our guilt about overspending in the food category go (somewhat). Especially because there’s not a lot to do in New England during the winter, and it brings us joy. My point is, if you and your husband adore eating out, then define that as a top value and let go of your guilt. Everyone is different. If you truly can lower your food bill without feeling major deprivation, go for it! That’s just my (spendy) two cents! 🙂

    • Hi Laurie, thank you so much for your helpful comment. I appreciate your sharing the details of your family food budget. I’m always amazed at how other people are able to keep their food expenses down as a couple. I’m pretty good with it when I live alone. But when Mr. FAF visits, we just like eating good food wayyy too much.

      You have a very refreshing perspective on letting go of guilt while maximizing our effort to lower the food bill. I will definitely keep that in mind. 🙂

  • Ha, we’re exactly the same in our approach to food and travel!

    We used to go out to eat once a week together (with a few quick bites grabbed here and there as well). Now we’re homeowners and happy to curl up at home (plus being in a less central location) we probably really only go out for a sit down meal more like once a month.

    • Wow once a month sounds great to me. I try to convince Mr. FAF to eat out less often, but it’s still a challenge. I’m glad you guys have a great time enjoying yourselves at home. 🙂

  • I stumbled on because gosh, that picture of KBBQ looks goooooooooood!

    D.C. is certainly expensive single, it’s even harder with kids. In Seattle (a bit cheaper of course), it’s just me and my hubby and our elderly father. Think King of Queens set up…but Asian (I just told my husband this and he’s just staring at me now…LOL!) Oh gosh, our food budget is around $500 for 3 people. We only really eat out if there is a remainder at the end of the month and that’s how I like to keep balance. If we shop smart, we get to reward ourselves.

    • Wow $500 for 3 people sounds like a great budget to me. I’m glad you and your husband are on the same page about not eating out regularly. Seattle is an expensive city too. It’s great you guys have such a smart budget strategy!

  • When my wife and I first got married we ate out a lot. Now, with 3 kids (and one ordering off the adult menu) we can easily drop $80 to $100 on dinner, and that’s at a casual restaurant. I love eating out but we’ve had to cut back to once or twice a month.

    • Hi Mike, I know what you mean. Eating out with 3 kids is definitely not cheap. I can definitely feel the dent in my wallet when Mr. FAF and I (2 people) eat out. I’m glad you and your wife have worked out a plan that works for your family! 🙂

  • The dilemma I see with eating out is that you spend the same amount of money for a week’s worth of food at the grocery store and spend that very same amount eating out.

    • Agreed! Mr. FAF and I could easily spend $50 on Korean BBQ while that same amount can easily feed me for 1-2 weeks!

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