Let’s settle it: does cooking at home really save you money? 

SPONSORED CONTENT DECLARATION: This content is brought to you by Giant, courtesy of their Low Prices that Last Campaign. This article discusses who should or should not cook – heavy math ahead. 

Last month, we polled our audience on Instagram about cooking at home to save more money. 

Turns out, cooking (or not cooking) is something people feel extremely passionate about. Our audience was split 50/50 between those who do, and those who don’t. 

To solve these questions once and for all, we decided to do the math ourselves, taking into account the many considerations that our community highlighted.  

The ‘cooking to save money’ factor

On a surface inspection, it seems like cooking at home would save the most money because you are saving on:

1.   ingredient cost and

2.   the skill/labour cost of someone cooking it for you.

Restaurants and cafes in Singapore also have to cover stuff like rent, utilities and staff costs.

For reference: ingredients and raw materials accounted for up to 30% of the business costs for F&B outlets in 2018. By cooking the meals yourself, you’re effectively not paying the remaining 70%.

So, do you save money cooking at home? If you’re comparing the food you would eat at a cafe or restaurant. then yes.  

What’s wrong with it: One major consideration is missing from this equation – hawker centres.

If you’re looking to spend as little as possible on food, hawker fare would usually be your go-to. Of course, there are things you sacrifice when you eat at a hawker. 

Which brings us to our next point.

The health factor

It’s no secret that our cheap and affordable hawker fare isn’t exactly a nutritionist’s dream.

Neither is the other cheap option: Fast food. 

Apart from a few exceptions, healthy meals don’t come cheap; according to our IG poll, eating healthy outside can cost you $10 or more.

Therefore, if you’re trying to eat healthy or prepare healthier meals for your family, cooking at home is often a better choice. You can: 

1.   Control your nutritional intake not just for yourself, but for your family

2.   Save approximately $7 per meal (If you prep a salad at home, that’s $3 – $4, compared to $11 at a fancy cafe.) 

 The caveat: Of course, it’s completely possible that someone cooks unhealthy meals by adding too much sodium, sugar, etc etc. So it totally depends on the person that’s cooking.

The Opportunity Cost argument  

Here’s a slightly more complex argument. We talk a lot about money on this website, but really, the most precious resource is time.

Let’s not pretend that cooking and its related activities don’t take effort and time. Yes, you need time to queue for takeouts, travel to-and-fro from hawkers and restaurants etc. But cooking also takes up time, including cleaning and washing up.

 The idea of opportunity cost is this:

Let’s say it takes you one hour to cook (including buying, washing etc). You also have the choice to give tuition with that hour and earn $40. Unless you can save $40 or more by cooking, you will actually save more money giving tuition.

 The Caveat: The opportunity cost argument sounds extremely intelligent on paper, but it assumes the person: 

Has side hustles on a regular basis, which is not the norm for most people. Most people spend their after-work hours not earning income; there is no opportunity cost if they don’t use the opportunity to earn money.

Works so intensely that they are forced to pick between cooking and hustling. Unless you spend every waking moment working, it’s likely you can do both cooking and have a side hustle. 

Finally, the economies of scale argument

Before you hustlers write off cooking as a waste of time, we’d like to bring economies of scale into this.

Which is, in simple terms means that if you cook efficiently, there are opportunities to save. 

Here are some examples of economies of scale doing its thing when it comes to cooking:

  • You do your grocery shopping every week, not every day because it’s more efficient. 
  • You cook for an entire family of five, instead of cooking five separate meals individually. 
  • You meal prep; cook your entire meals for the week on Sunday, then unfreeze them 

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What does this all mean? 

So to cook or not to cook? Here’s a summary:

  • If your priority is to spend as little as possible (and you’re most likely living alone), then hawker food is the way to go for most meals.
  • The more people you cook for each meal, the more money you save. The more meals you cook in one sitting week, the more money you save.
  • If you want healthier meals for you and/or family, you can often cook your own for far less money. A healthy meal costs at least $11 outside, fyi.
  • The more expensive your dish is outside, the more you can save from cooking it. Prawn aglio olio for 4 pax can cost you at least $60 outside, but cooking it at home will probably only cost you less than $10.
  • If you do side hustles, cooking at home might not save you that much money since you are better off working to earn more money.

Not everything is about optimising to save the most money 

Look, at the end of the day, we’re all different people with different opportunities, circumstances and preferences. 

What we’ve not mentioned in this article is that cooking your own food has many benefits that are less tangible. 

Some people take pride in taking charge of their own nutrition. 

Some find it fun or cathartic as an outlet for emotional release.

And others do it as a way to express their affection to their loved ones. 

As the saying goes, there are indeed some things that money can’t buy. 

Stay Woke, Salaryman 

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6 replies to “Let’s settle it: does cooking at home really save you money? 

  1. Best article ever about this matter. Your perspective is exactly the same with me. Saving money is good but please take time factor into consideration!

  2. I like the spirit, but you didn’t go far enough. If you’re going to explore opportunity costs, why not also explore knock-on effects? The alternative to eating healthy is eating unhealthily. Being unhealthy is expensive in the long run, and being healthier is worth far more than a few dollars a day.

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