Friday, January 19, 2007

Cooking at Home Again

One of the best things about having moved into my condo and having all my stuff back out of storage has been being able to cook proper dinners at home again. My dining spending is already showing it-- I've been under budget ever since moving in. Cooking for yourself is such a great way to save money. It's not always an easy habit to get into, though, and so many urbanites like myself just never do it.
When I was younger, I used to hate cooking. It just made me despondent every time I tried-- I would burn something or drop something or just generally do things wrong, and end up with something that I really didn't enjoy eating, if I could choke it down at all. And it's not like I am really that picky. I am someone who loves to eat, believe me! I have been known to pick up a pork chop with my bare hands, tear every bit of meat off the bone like a wild animal, wipe my face with the back of my hand and actually lick the plate afterwards. When I'm not on a job interview it's even worse. But seriously, I love good food, and it always bothered me that "good food" had to be food cooked by someone else.
The problem was that my parents never really taught me to cook. My mother made the day to day meals but she never tried to get me involved. My dad is really into cooking but when I was growing up, his kitchen efforts were always more recreational, like making pastries on the weekends. I learned a few tips from him about proper chopping techniques and things like that, but nothing that would help me put a meal on the table.
It wasn't until living with roommates in college and later adult life that I started to pick up a few ideas on how to actually prepare food. But I was still afraid to really tackle it myself. I found myself in living situations where the kitchen labor was divided: one person cooked and the other did dishes. I was perfectly happy to do dishes.
It was only when I moved into my own studio about 7 years ago that I finally discovered that I'd taken in a lot of information over the years, and could finally use it! I started to discover that it was possible for me to broil or sauté various kinds of meat and fish, and steam a vegetable, and actually end up with something I really enjoyed eating. It probably helped that I was going through a bit of a rough spot at that time and was feeling anti-social and a little depressed. I didn't want to go out to restaurants, and I could only eat so much Chinese food, so I easily got into the habit of staying in to cook most nights of the week. Once you get used to doing it, cooking becomes a very pleasant ritual-- a glass of wine, some nice music, nice smells in a nice warm kitchen: it makes your home feel like home, as the Apartment Therapy guy would agree.
And it saves you money. I never wanted to feel negative and deprived about food, so I told myself that if I was going to be saving money by not eating out or ordering takeout, I'd allow myself not to worry about penny-pinching on groceries. I buy the cuts of meat I like, even if there are cheaper ones available. I'll splurge a little on good ingredients, and I make sure I have good quality pots and pans. You can be very liberal on these things and still spend far less than you would if you went to a restaurant every night.
So if you think you can't deal with cooking for yourself, think again. Don't go crazy looking at fancy recipes, just start with quick, simple things from a basic cookbook like Fannie Farmer, or ask people whose cooking you enjoy to show you how to make a few things. You can also check out my "Fabulous Food from Frugal Folk" post, a collection of recipes from other personal finance bloggers. Try cooking one night a week at first and plan your week around it. Then try to get to two nights a week, then three. Make cooking a social activity if that helps-- for a long time I had a regular once-a-week date to cook dinner with a friend, which was much more fun and relaxing than being in a crowded restaurant. Before long, you just may find that you prefer your own cooking to anyone else's, and happily eat at home every night of the week! The only possible drawback? If you enjoy your cooking TOO much, you might have to spend all that saved money on a gym membership to work it all off!


Anonymous said...

I am RIGHT here with you (I'm pointing to my eyes with two fingers and then directing them to your eyes) on the cooking thing. My boyfriend and I moved in together a couple of months ago and I cook five nights a week, and we "hodge podge" one night. That means we take the leftovers and that's dinner for the night. We're on a budet, so Saturday is the only night we treat ourselves to dinner out. When I lived alone I didn't have the motivation - not to mention the skills - to cook an entire meal just for one person, but now I have a man to feed so it's fun and I'm actually becoming quite good at it! Have a great weekend, Madame X!

English Major said...

Hear, hear!

My boyfriend and I did a huge shopping trip at Fairway on Wednesday--I was feeling pretty guilty about the amount we spent until I realized that we'd bought enough food to cook dinner and pack lunches for a full week, and I was actually spending less than I would by cutting back on the groceries but buying lunch in Midtown.

SF Money Musings said...

I totally agree with you on the cooking. It's actually quite theraputic and relaxing just to sit back and enjoy what you just made.

Your post reminded me it's okay to spend more money on food. It beats sitting in a crowded restaurant where you can't hear a thing. And it's amazing how much you save.

Donna said...

Oh yes, I am so with you on cooking at home. For the last year I have been on a diet for my health and I cook almost everything from scratch. With a little planning it works just fine into my schedule. Sunday is my prep day, for example I bake bread for the week(bread machine)and portion it out and freeze it. It's so much better than store bought bread! Home cooked food is sooo much better for you too!

Tiredbuthappy said...

Hmm, I enjoy cooking occasionally, but wish I didn't have to do it as much as I do. Luckily my spouse is a pretty creative cook and makes most things from scratch.

I do allow myself to buy some premade foods, even tho they're more expensive. I figure if a $4 bag of vegetable potstickers, plus $1 worth of tofu and maybe $2 worth of nice organic veggies equals dinner for the 3 of us, it's not super cheap but it's still cheaper than the $15-20 we'd spend on the same meal from a Chinese takeout place. And I don't cook with all that grease, either, so it's healthier.