Updated on 09.15.14

What You Spend, What You Eat

Trent Hamm

The Deep Connection Between Food and Personal Finance

spicesOver the last year, I’ve really rediscovered my passion for cooking and food. We’ve moved into a house with a good-sized kitchen (not the large one of my dreams, but plenty big enough) – it’s the largest kitchen I’ve ever had access to in my life. I’ve used it with gusto, making homemade breads, homemade pastas, and countless other interesting things. This summer, it gets even better – we have a box garden where we plan on growing a bunch of vegetables.

Many of the discoveries I’ve made through this process directly relate to personal finance. In short, in both direct and indirect ways, this rediscovery of food has saved me a lot of money. Let’s take a look at the direct implications.

The Direct Implications of Cooking Meals

I’ve drastically reduced my levels of eating out

A typical Friday and Saturday evening used to involve a trip to a place like Applebee’s and a $30 bill. Even on weeknights, we used to often order takeout, with a bill adding up to $15 or so. Now, I often prepare meals at home for $10 or less – and these meals usually generate enough leftovers that they amount to a free lunch.

A corollary to this: my food spending is actually higher now than it was a few months ago because I’m now selecting higher quality ingredients. I buy things like Boston lettuce, organic vegetables, free-range chickens and eggs, organic milk, and so forth – they’re more expensive, but they genuinely taste better and produce a better dining experience. I’ve made a garlic and rosemary-crusted chicken using fresh, organic, and free range ingredients – it was rather expensive, approaching an Applebee’s bill, but it was by far tastier and healthier than anything we could have eaten at Chili’s – and it gave me two days’ worth of leftovers for work that smelled like heaven in the break room.

I feel healthier

Even with two children in daycare, I’ve not had one severe cold this winter. This is completely unusual for me – I usually suffer three or four bad colds in a winter. I’ve lost about ten pounds during the winter as well, even though a normal winter sees me gaining that much (then losing it again during the summer – that’s what a 100 degree seasonal temperature variation does for you). Some digestive issues I was having a year ago seem to have largely vanished. Most important, I genuinely feel better on a daily basis – mentally happier and physically more energetic than usual. The only signficant change I’ve made in the last year is that I’ve moved heavily into eating at home.

What does that mean for my wallet? No doctor’s visits, no cold medications, no prescriptions, no lost days of work. All of those have a direct financial cost to me, and they’ve all gone away this winter.

I’ve found a financially responsible hobby

Over the last several months, cooking has really grown into one of my primary hobbies. I deeply enjoy it, and it’s an enjoyment that I would never have discovered without considering my money first. I’ve always realized that cooking at home is cheaper than eating out and I knew that my house had a large kitchen on it, so I pledged to give some real effort to the cause of cooking at home. What I found was that it was fun. I enjoyed it – a lot. Not at first, when I was just rehashing old skills, firing up the crock pot for basic recipes, and stuff like that, but when I began stretching my skills and trying new things. That was fun, and that’s what has kept me in the kitchen.

Perhaps even more interesting than these obvious benefits are the indirect implications, which are also worth mentioning:

Indirect Implications of Cooking Meals

My family eats dinner together, at the dinner table, every night

We eat a homecooked meal, talk about our day, and bond together. We don’t scavenge for food, call for takeout, or eat separately – we eat a single meal, together. This is one of the key parts of my day and food preparation is a big part of that process. This fosters a deep relationship with my wife and with my children, one that I don’t have to foster with gifts or other big splurges to “make up” for time that I didn’t set aside for them.

I can receive gifts that aren’t redundant, silly, or take up space

Instead of receiving an Uncle Joe’s Bathroom Reader or an ill-fitting t-shirt as a gift, my friends and family got me a lot of useful stuff for the kitchen as gifts for Christmas this year – several excellent cookbooks, a pasta mill, and an electric carving knife, for starters. These are gifts with utility – the best kinds of gifts – and I have many more ideas along those lines, too. I’m certainly thinking of upgrading my knife set over time, particularly in terms of getting a few top-notch general chef’s knives. I’d also like a collection of herb jars and a nice spice rack – again, utilitarian gifts instead of junk.

The investment in some bulk quantities of food makes more sense

I’m currently involved in buying a quarter of a grass-fed cow to stock my freezer with several months’ worth of beef. Buying at this quantity means my prices, as compared to buying grass-fed beef at the store, are far, far cheaper – roughly 40% off on everything. Without a commitment to preparing my own food, this would be a poor purchase, but I’m quite sure we’ll get through all of this meat.

In short, a commitment to home-prepared food opens up many doors for trimming your budget, sometimes in subtle ways that you don’t even expect.

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  1. You may want to check into vegetarian cooking. Most people think of vegetables as side dishes. I eat meat (and milk) only a couple of times a week and I haven’t been ill in years. If you want a serious boost try raw food. Mentally and physically it’s like a shot of triple espresso without the bad side effects. I’m trying to switch a few days a week to raw food. It’s definitely challenging.

  2. It’s definitely a good idea, for many reasons. With a little trial and error I’ve found some favorites that are easy to make, and I’ve had people tell me one meal was as good as something from a restaurant. Not to mention that it’s easy to make a little extra so lunches are never boring.

    I enjoy making something new or something that I really like, so much so that even the smell of most fast food turns me off. I’m starting to think that if you always eat things that no one really thought about while they were making it you’ll get exactly what you paid for.

  3. I found that preparing my own meals from scratch was rewarding of itself. Preparing a pizza from scratch (with a little help from the dough cycle on the bread machine) is a satisfactory endeavor. When I pull the pizza or new dish I try out of the oven and consume the good food, I am pleased with the results and my tummy is happy too!

  4. Funkit says:

    I agree with your comments. We can save lot of money. Putting a habit is very important. Little bit of stretching we can learn.

  5. Susan says:

    When are you going to start your cooking blog? I’d love to get some tasty, economical recipes. I like the idea of a cooking blog that ties in finance.


  6. Aaron Gaul says:

    Food and eating habits are an important part of life. Now that I am eating more organic, whole, and raw foods I have cut way back on my supplements. And it is quite a time saver when I only have to go to the bulk food and produce section. I can skip the rest of the store that has prepackaged and processed food.


  7. Nancy says:

    My husband and I have found that, usually, restaurant meals at run of the mill places like Applebee’s, Olive Garden, TGIFriday’s, etc. are not as good as something we would fix at home. I’ve thought of some other advantages of eating at home:
    — Weight loss. Studies have shown that most restaurant serving sizes are WAY too big, yet we eat the whole thing to get our money’s worth. You can control your own portion sizes at home. Also, you can be on the “cheap and lazy” diet. For example, I don’t buy cookies because I’m cheap and tell myself that I can bake my own. But then I’m lazy, too… so I never get around to baking!
    –Research shows that kids who are less likely to use drugs have one thing in common: they ate dinner with their families more nights than not. Look it up!
    –You’ll probably end up saving money on gas.

  8. Lauren says:

    Buying bulk can also extend to smaller things than buying parts of a cow. Bulk bins at ethnic grocers and even Whole Foods can be a lot cheaper than buying the same amount packaged, and you also reduce waste. I bought some glass storage jars from IKEA for only a few dollars so that I can functionally decorate my kitchen as well. Buying spices in bulk is especially cheaper, as long as you use it up before it goes bad.

  9. Liz says:

    I enjoy cooking at home, but I also really, really enjoy going out for a nice dinner and drinks/happy hours with friends, my significant other, or the Dining Out club I belong to. Most (almost all!) of my “fun money” is budgeted for this purpose. I know in advance that I will be going out for dinner/drinks several times a month and plan for it. This is how I choose to spend my extra $ after bills are paid and money is put into savings. That said, I have become much more particular about where I am spending these dining out dollars. I try to avoid chain restaurants (Chilli’s, Applebees, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, etc.) at all costs. If I am going to spend my hard earned $ eating out, I want it to be at a unique, corner restaurant type of place, with an interesting and creative menu. My city has so many interesting non-chain, ethnic restaurants and I love to try them all! An awful lot of people out there must LOVE those chain places, however. Just drive past one of them on a Fri. or Sat. night and there is a 2 hour wait. No way would I wait 2 hours for the endless soup and salad at Olive Garden. Not to say that the food there is not tasty- it is, however, I do not want to waste my dining dollars on chains, where the food is identical in every city in the entire country!
    Just yesterday, a group of co-workers invited me along to the all you can eat Pizza Hut buffet. I went running the other way (and had brought my lunch from home anyways!). Just my 2 cents on dining/eating dollars! Bottom, line, Trent is correct- eating at home is much more economical (and healthy!) But I do not feel badly about my dining out habbit, since it is what I enjoy (I do not play any sort of video or online games, go to movies, buy knick nacks for my house, etc.) it is budgeted for very carefully and is only done with my “fun” (after bills/savings) money.

  10. Angel Castaneda says:

    Great post, Trent (as usual). I was just wondering if you’re still thinking of starting that cooking blog. I’m quite sure it’s going to be well received!

  11. Kim says:

    We, too, are very much into cooking and dining at home. No doubt about the upside regarding improved nutrition, good value, and the qualitative difference using fresh ingredients. Our average grocery bill for two is $70 per week and – trust me – we eat like royalty.

    (Matter of fact, right now I am munching on a delicious chicken sandwich – served on a hamburger bun topped with my homemade pickles that puts Chik-Fil-A to shame on sooooo many levels. We made parmesan chicken last night and these are the leftovers)

    For us wine lovers, the savings are even higher dining at home. And the quality of the wine is so much better – we get to pick the vintage, serve it at the temperature we choose, and use the best glassware around (something which significantly enhances the wine-drinking experience).

    Trent, can you recommend a good manual pepper mill? We are in the market for one but don’t want to buy a cheap one – want it to last a long time.

  12. Matt says:

    Hi Trent,

    My wife and I have started taking this hobby up ourselves. Its great when you sit down to a meal that you thought was challenging to put together and it tastes amazing! The monetary savings might initially seem small but they really add up over time. The scary thing is that when we do go out to one of our regular haunts the food that we get just doesn’t taste nearly as good anymore. The ‘inconvenience’ of cooking is much more of a pleasure and the food is just that much better.

    The scary thing is this is the way people used to live, our proliferation of fast food and semi-fast food just seems a bit silly to me now.

    The one unfortunate side effect for me is I still enjoy a nice dinner out; this is no longer a medium grade restaurant but a nicer one which is inevitably more expensive. But at least I appreciate the food so much more.

  13. Susan says:

    I’d like to start making enough meals for a few weeks at a time, but haven’t had the motivation to be organized enough to get it done. When my husband and I do go out, we always split our meals. Portions are too big, saves money.


  14. guinness416 says:

    I’m one of those people for whom cooking is a chore, but am lucky to have a husband who adores cooking and is extremely talented at it. For him it’s a hobby as well as a side business. So I just peel the potatoes :) We do eat out anyway though, which is one of the perqs of living in a major city, but avoid like the plague bland, child-filled, garbage-nutrition chain restaurants like Applebees, which I firmly believe are a waste of my hard-earned. I think your note about moving house is important too; cooking in a small enclosed apartment kitchen can be a frustrating and antisocial activity, and small apartments just often lead to wanting to get out and about anyway. The other money-related note about cooking is that people who like to cook (especially the men, in my circle) often waste money on expensive shiny appliances and tools and plates and decorative little kitchen items; it can be as big of a cash-suck as any other hobby if you let it.

  15. eaufraiche says:

    Isn’t it GREAT when 1 becomes what 1 eats?
    You and your wife might enjoy registering for a kitchen wish list…. maybe at Bed, Bath & Beyond and Target…. (she must be lovin’ your hobby!)

  16. Neela says:

    Inspired by your blog, I started cooking at home. It is absolutely the best thing I could have done! I feel better. The food tastes far better than what I could get at most restaurants. And I save money. I went from take-out/delivery/restaurants most meals every week to rarely going out for a meal ever. I get so much joy out of making up something healthy that costs very little. It’s like a challenge now. It keeps me going and aware of exactly where my money is going.

  17. Sarah says:

    This is my favorite hobby too.

    @eaufraiche: I thanked my husband for encouraging me to branch out in my cooking (I love making local, vegetarian/grass-fed/free-range, seasonal, creative meals) – rather than *only* going for the lowest cost. He responded, “It’s not entirely altruistic.”

  18. MJ says:

    How about pushing the idea of organic produce one step further through community supported agriculture? This will be the second year my family and I enter it a farm share agreement w/a local, organic farmer in the Western New York area.

    For $560, my family of four will receive a weeks worth of vegetables and fruit picked that day from the beginning of June to the end of October.

    The advantages: delicious, nutritious vegetables the way they were meant to be eaten: asparagus is two feet tall, strawberries are smaller but sweeter, dark, leafy heads of lettuce are huge! Plus we’re aiding our local economy not some giant conglomerate.

    The disadvantages: though one or two vegetable substitutions are always allowed you do not have the flexibility you have in the grocery store and if weather conditions are bad the returns may be small.

    We also have the option of buying beef or pork.

    Even if a farm share does not seem your thing, please consider your local farmers’ market.

  19. MJ says:

    The website localharvest.org has info. about any and/all types of agreements.

  20. Sounds like a profitable hobby!

    Have you read Dinner With Dad by Cameron Stracher? He undergoes a similar experiment with cooking at home, discovering many of the benefits you listed while being candid about the downsides.

  21. I gotta tell ya, having a garden is one of the more enjoyable experiences in my life. My wife never had one growing up and I still remember when she tasted the first broccoli I harvested. She said she never knew broccoli could taste that good.

    Having a garden and fixing our own meals is one of the great pleasures. Always, Always, try to grow at least ONE new vegetable every year. It’s fun and it exposes your kids to new foods to help keep them from growing up to be picky eaters.

    I’ve got my target set on some fruit trees next!

  22. Sandy says:

    Definately,eating organic, while more expensive, can drastically keep your medical bills down…our family rarely has to visit the doctor…I mean years will go by…my husband had to go in for something last year (he’s 46) and the doctor just could not believe that he was taking no medications of any kind…(I swear, the food industry and doctors are in kahoots).
    Anyway, one other thing I find helpful to the budget is to write out a month worth of menus ahead of time. We buy certain things in bulk, and since I tend to buy organic meats, etc… I tend to buy them all at once on one grocery trip per month. Meats and cheeses go in the freezer, beans and pastas in the pantry, frozen veg and canned veg get put away, and out comes a pen and paper. I try to make out a variety, that goes something like this:
    Friday is always pizza night.
    Sundays are always a meat and potatoes kind of night.
    Tuesdays or Wed are soup nights (I have a pretty wide selection of easy soups, very cheap, too).
    Also one pasta night, with different sauce each week.
    One night is another protein source night (omelette, sausage, ham steaks,)
    And usually a casserole.
    And don’t forget leftover buffet night!
    It’s always best to get 2-3 meals after a roast or roasted chicken: the night after a roast chicken is often chicken pot pie night (one of my daughter’s favs)then cook the bones for broth toward your soups. Beef roasts get stretched to beef barly soup, or beef and noodle casserole…
    Gardening is one incredible way to stretch your food bill, too. For the last 2 years, I keep a sheet of paper with all the fruit/veg that I’ve planted in my garden. Then, each time I pick green beans for 4, or enough eggplant for a meal or a handful of strawberries or raspberries, I assign a $ figure to it.It’s really amazing how much food can come from a relatively small space..(mine is about 12 ft by 16 ft)Each year, it has been over $400 if compared with organically grown from the store. Well worth the effort, I think!

  23. Aldo says:

    Trent – you recently commented that people should shave each day and hide any body piercings they may have chosen to get, out of a sense of “correct and respectable appearance”.

    Don’t you think the same logic applies to fat people? In fact, doesn’t it apply even more? If you don’t shave for a day, that might mean that (in your worldview) you’ve been a slacker for a day or two. A momentary blip in your enthusiasm. But fatness indicates literally years of self-neglect and gluttony.

    So by your logic, surely fat people aren’t trying hard enough?

    I know this is off on a tangent, but given your last couple of posts, I thought it reasonable to draw the connection, and pose the question (if no one else has).

    Obviously my tone is sarcastic regarding fat people being slackers and lazy. But does fatness actually imply laziness and self-disrespect, according to your view?

  24. Todd says:

    Another great post, Trent, after yesterday’s amazing post that generated 90 responses as of the last time I checked. I can hardly believe you are one person. Even if I found out that Trent is actually a staff of five writers, I’d still be impressed with the quality of material The Simple Dollar puts out day after day after day. Truly amazing work!

  25. wlh says:

    Like others, I am really looking forward to your cooking blog. An update regarding its launch date, if possible ??

  26. Matt says:

    Trent, I quite enjoyed this food & finance post of yours. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot of personal finance and dieting. These have been two things that I’ve been focusing on lately to improve. In finding your site and your book review of, “Your Money or Your Life” has gotten my finances back on track. I’ve also stumbled across some great diet and nutrition sites, like this one from Harvard Health (www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource).

    Most interesting, I too have noticed how food and finance are related and connected. By budgeting better, I’ve lost about 15lbs. Through improving my diet, eating more fruits, veges and cooking at home, I’ve saved $1000s of dollars. Amazing.

  27. Kim says:

    I just recently started cooking for myself (after eating out -every- meal (literally!) ) and I couldn’t agree with you more.

    I’m looking forward to expanding my techniques and recipes, and possibly starting a container garden this spring. I have this dream of picking fresh fruits and vegetables and immediately cooking something with them.

  28. Trent – great post.

    I ran some quick numbers just to see how much one could save at $20 per week. Assuming that you invest the money in mutual funds with an average return of 10%, you could amass over $66K in 20 years time….do this for 40 years and you would be looking at $675K. Listen up all of you recent college grads…eat at home and put away a mere $30 a week until you retire…you will amass in excess of $1 million! It may seem like a small amount each week but it adds up big time when you compound the earnings over time.

  29. Jessica says:

    you do know that Organic as a word is quite abused…Organic is anything, such as oil and plastics, neither of which if you like to live you will consume. It astounds me that you people would say that word organic and think it means something…From a biological standpoint Food is any chemical that you can eat and will not vomit from. Kinda funny when you think about it, however you SHOULD be more concerned about the freshness of food, we break down those cells and use them to build our own and the fresher the cells the better off you are.Yeah, most of the stuff you get in the supermarket is not very fresh. sorry to burst your bubble. yeah it looks alright but if you go to the source you will taste a difference, forget all this ‘organic’ crap. Just go to the source, a lot of the time its cheaper, organic to me seems like a rip off when if you know a few farmers then your set, and you help them not the companies that rip them off.

  30. geolojoines says:

    Since getting married about a year and a half ago I’ve taken an even greater interest in not only cooking at home, but experimenting with diffent ingredients and focusing on the art of seasonings and sauces.

  31. sara says:

    what an interesting connection you make between food and personal finance. I understand the obvious connections (cheaper, healthier, etc) but I think your point about substituting gifts for time not spent around the dinner table is very interesting, and I think I totally agree! I have grown up eating dinner as a family, and now love cooking for my hubbs. This article pointed out a lot of areas of savings that I have definitely experienced, but never acknowledged. Thanks for making me think!

  32. JT says:

    In my budget, food is my biggest “controllable” expense. So, a year or so ago (even though I’m single) I made it a point to learn to cook at home. And I’m learning that I love it. I love spending time in the kitchen, either making dinner or prepping breakfast/lunch/dinnner for the next day. I feel really good about touching and learning about different ingredients, to eating the final product. Cooking has become a heatlthy, addictive hobby…and my waistline has benefitted as a result (I’m not overweight and didn’t have a ton to lose to start with…but I have noticed I’ve lost 5 pounds without even trying! Just by eating less takeout…they must put a LOT of extra salt/fat in those meals to get them to taste good!). And I usually only have to cook twice a week…it yields enough leftovers to feed a single gal lunch & dinner most of the rest of the week.

    The only time I eat out anymore is for purely social reasons – dating, or meeting up with friends. If I’m by myself…I cook for myself :)

  33. J. says:


    if you can manage it, try to pull out a couple choice bits of steaks from your quarter cow to not freeze, to age & use shortly after slaughter. see Alton Brown on this subject. Freezing, though frugal & efficient, does nasty things to meat, and the slower you cool it down, the bigger the ice crystals…

    I love my Amazon wishlist, it’s full of ideas for things I actually want & would use (esp. in the kitchen)… it’s definitely improved the gifts I’m getting, not that anyone getting me a gift has to use it, but as you say it cuts down on the bathroom readers & ill-fitting clothes.

  34. k12linux says:

    We have cooked occasional meals at home from scratch for a few years now but didn’t get serious about doing it regularly until last last year. It was a combination of a few different realizations.

    First, we just couldn’t afford to eat out anymore. We’d dug debt hole pretty deep. The food bill was the biggest single expense that we could actually do something about. We dropped from around $300 per week to about $100/wk for our food bill.

    Second, we realized we were getting kind of good at this home cooking thing and recipes were coming out the way they were supposed to. It was getting harder and harder to get better food eating out than at home. And man, you just can’t touch truly fresh produce grown in a garden for flavor!

    Third, we realized how little you know about the foods that go into your meals when you buy pre-packaged or dine out. And forget about the nutritional value and chemical content of fast foods.

    Finally, it’s become something we can do together. We’ll prep up a bunch of stuff on Sunday to make cooking faster the rest of the week. Planning your meals ahead of time really can pay off in both time and money.

    What you said about bulk foods is also right on the money. We eat a lot of dishes with white rice. We were paying about $1/pound for jasimne rice at one time. Now it’s closer to $0.40/lb.

  35. k12linux says:

    Almost forgot… One HUGE advantage of cooking your own foods is that you can customize them to your own tastes. As you become more experienced and comfortable in the kitchen you can start tweaking recipes without fear of ruining them.

    Restaurants and especially fast food joints have to try to have as wide appeal as they can which usually means playing towards the lowest common denominator. When you make your own you can make the food as spicy, as garlicky, as sweet, as tart or whatever as you want. Custom-built food.

  36. deRuiter says:

    One reason you are healthier eating at home is that the help in many restaurants is foreign born, often illegal. These people have not had our standards of sanitation drummed into them since childhood. There is no health examination required for those who cross the border illegally, so many people with communicable diseases and sicknesses work in restaurant kitchens because thse jobs are low end and low paying. If they don’t show up at work they are not paid, so they come in when sick. By cooking and eating at home you keep your food safe from contamination by disease organisms. You’re not going to sneeze in your own kitchen and then “forget” to stop and wash your hands thoroughly. This info comes from one in the food service business for a long time. On a lighter note, buy a pressure cooker ($1./$5. at a yard or house sale) and put all chicken bones and scraps, a chopped onion and water half way up inside pot. Put on lid securely and the pressure valve. On high heat bring to point where pressure valve jiggles. Reduce heat to low/simmer and allow it to perk away for 40 minutes. Turn off heat and allow lose pressure by itself. When pressure is down, strain the contents through cheesecloth. You’ll have wonderful rich yellow chicken broth loaded with calcium, and a mass of soft, mushy stuff which used to be hard bones. This makes excellent dog food. No need to worry about imported dog food loaded with melamine killing your pet. Cats like this also. Works only for chicken bones. You can make broth this way with any other bones, but they will not soften.

  37. deRuiter says:

    CORRECTION TO PREVIOUS POST: Turn off heat and allow PRESSURE COOKER TO lose pressure by itself.

  38. Niki says:

    Look for heirloom variety seeds, and harvest the seeds for the following year. You’ll get the highest quality veg, with seeds that haven’t been tampered with, and won’t have to buy seeds again.

  39. Dan says:

    A nice side benefit is that this makes going out to dinner all the more special.

  40. K. Cook says:

    It took us 2 years to go through a quarter of a beef but it all tasted good. Only thing we’d do differently is get had more stew meat than hamburger – stew meat you can cook up into a meal with biscuits on the side, hamburger needs…help.

  41. Dave says:

    In relation to the statement about not getting sick. I have worked at a restaurant and I have seen many times the waitstaff touching ready to eat foods like salads and bread without washing their hands. Since these employees handled money you can imagine that the transfer of bacteiria and other rather unpleasant microbes to the food happened often which could result in a possible illness. One reason I got out of the restaurant biz.

  42. madisongrrl says:

    deRuiter……have you ever worked in the restaurant industry? What makes you think it is only the foreign born people don’t have proper sanitation techniques? When jobs are low paying it don’t attract the cream of the crop employees….period. Foreign born employees are the back bone of the kitchen. And when people need their jobs they listen to instructions and do what they are supposed to be doing.

    Not only that, it is the executive chef’s job to train and manage his staff properly. If someone isn’t using proper sanitation then it is the exe. chef’s job to correct that. End of story.

  43. Rob Madrid says:

    Trent I have to say you inspired me to cook more. My epiphany moment came one day when I decided to stop at McDonalds for lunch after the market, on a whim I decided to try making lunch at home. It was such an enjoyable experience buying chopping and cooking my own meal that I’ve never looked back.

    One great spot to get new recipe ideas is womens mags, every time my Wife flies she picks up a Womens Own (UK) it’s given me loads of new ideas, stuff I would never have thought of, like garbanzo beans for example. Don’t know if I ever get to Trent’s level but it doesn’t really matter, I do it because I enjoy it.

    Were hoping in the next few years to buy a house with a small garden and then start container gardening.

  44. caryn verell says:

    a few years ago when my husband and i discovered we had no money and lots of debt, we wrote up a budget and found that we were going to pizza hut once a week-and this cost us over $2000. a year…i can cook a lotta food (and really good food at that) for that kinda moolah.

  45. Liz says:

    @deRuiter….Oh please, don’t be so elitist and egocentric….people are people, including those who work in restaurant kitchens. Some are clean and follow sanitary proceedures and some are not. Some may have illnesses and some do not….has nothing to do with whether someone is “illegal” or not. Substitute your term “illegal” for any other term describing any other ethnic minority and see how you sound. I have traveled to many third world countries and been in the cleanest homes imaginable. People are people no matter where they are from. Some good, some bad, some clean, some not, some careful, some not, some sanitary, some not…..most people who work in restaurants(except managment or owners, perhaps) are not paid if they do not show up for work, foreign born or not!
    Please! Ugly Americanism at it’s best. :(

  46. guinness416 says:

    To echo Liz, in the decade or so I’ve been working on and off in North American restaurants and bars I’ve never found the nationality of the staff/owners (and I’m one of those filthy immigrants) has any correlation to the hygiene in the kitchen. Plenty of native-born owners and chefs don’t give a damn about educating on and enforcing hygiene – and really, some of the things I’ve seen would make your hair stand on end. Plenty do, and run a clean shop. Likewise the furriners in the business.

    But your broader point is on the right track – you can’t expect restaurant owners to care too deeply about your health (and I’m more neurotic about the quantity of butter that goes into restaurant food than washed hands). I’m reading Atul Gawande’s “Better” at the moment, and one of his essays is about how and why the professionals in his Boston hospital, nurses and doctors both, ignore the necessity to wash or alcohol-gel their hands between patients. If doctors put their patients at risk and know it, why expect that chefs will care about your health.

  47. A in NC says:

    Wow, once again the comments were about as good as the blog itself.
    We figgered out that eating out was killing our budget and tried the “tightwad gazette approach”. We really cut back and got it down to $40 a week. Our teenager was ready to kill us as a result. Too tight. so we lightened up to $50 a week AND gave each person $10 of “walking around money”. If she wanted expensive cereal it came out of that fund. Great resolution.
    We are all happier cuz sometimes you just WANT that expensive thing at teh grocery store. As long as we aren’t eating in restaurants (my cooking blows those out of the water i learned) and not buying convenience foods, the extras help us keep from losing it and blowing the whole plan.

    One thing a friend who read all the tighwad gazette books and I gleaned was a lot of “frugal” cooking is filled with cream of mushroom soup, white pasta, and hamburger. We just don’t eat that way and aren’t going to in the name of saving money. So a blog on cooking with finances for the New world order would rock!

  48. Ty Brown says:

    The more I watch Food Network the more I appreciate good food and the higher my food spending goes. It’s worth it, though.

  49. Ty Brown says:

    BTW, I thought I read an interview from you where you said you make your living with this blog. In this post you reference a job. Which is it? Maybe I was mistaken.

  50. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    I would like to make this blog full time someday soon (that would give me time to launch the cooking blog and do some other things I’d like to do), but I’ve never been able to live off of the income from this blog and support a family of four.

  51. k12linux says:

    A in NC, good point about “cheap” cooking vs. “frugal” cooking. I’m sure we could cut an extra $50/week from our food budget. We figure if we are going to go through the effort of cooking everything ourseleves then we’re goin

  52. k12linux says:

    A in NC, good point about “cheap” cooking vs. “frugal” cooking. I’m sure we could cut an extra $50/week from our food budget. We figure if we are going to go through the effort of cooking everything ourselves then we’re going to get the most out of it. So quality both in terms of nutrition and taste is important to us. I also try to avoid things like hydrogenated oils and other ingredients that the “experts” say are bad for you and need not be in your diet anyhow.

  53. Ryan Hanser says:

    Regarding the ‘value’ (political, economic, psychological, moral, etc.) of food, I’d recommend Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” as a deeper dive into the benefits of conscious consumption.

  54. John says:

    I’m guessing that even though he has reservations about revealing a cooking blog, Trent has been building up articles like he did when he launched the Simple Dollar. I would not be surprised if within the next year we see “The Simple Kitchen” make it’s debut.

  55. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    John is right about the cooking blog. I feel uncomfortable launching without some material built up and I’m still somewhat struggling to find my “voice” with writing about food.

  56. KMunoz says:

    Have you read Dinner With Dad? The author decided to spend one full school year preparing and eating dinners with his family, something he hadn’t done in years due to his busy Manhattan job. You might find it really interesting… it’s an easy read, but he does come to many of the same realizations as you.

  57. Christine says:


    I’d love to see your recipe for garlic/rosemary chicken. You mentioned getting some great cookbooks recently – care to share titles of your favorites?

    I’m just starting to cook more at home as opposed to going out, but I’m getting bored with the same old stuff each week!

    Thanks for another great and very needed post,


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