DIY AND SAVE BIG
A French bistro staple, steak frites is a meal that many enjoy but few make at home. There aren't many ingredients, making this meal relatively easy to prepare even for novice cooks. The only real expense is the meat itself, with potatoes and seasonings adding up to just a few dollars. This recipe comes in handy if you want to prepare a special occasion dinner instead of a pricey meal out. Then put away the money you saved for that romantic trip to Paris you've been wanting to take.
Recipe: Food Network
The preparation of sushi is an artform, and it costs a pretty penny to have it done for you. Making sushi at home is actually fun, easy, and inexpensive. It can be a creative activity for the whole family, and it may turn into one of your favorite cheap meals. Using cooked fish and veggies is always safe, and if using raw fish, be sure to shop at a reputable fishmonger and look for sushi grade seafood. You might consider putting the money you saved towards a fun fishing trip to your favorite lake.
Recipe: Genius Kitchen
This classic dish often commands one of the highest prices on any menu. While still not a bargain cut, the price for these chops is much more manageable when prepared at home. The money saved from cooking this at home versus eating out just a few times can add up an be used toward better cooking gear to fuel your inner chef.
Recipe: Taste Of Home
As with most soups, beginning with a flavorful broth is key — and time consuming. The labor involved translates into a big ticket price at restaurants, while a homemade version is more of an investment of time than money. Using the shells of the lobster to make the base creates the most flavor for the money spent by using all possible parts. The savings on this sophisticated and decadent dish can be repurposed for a romantic getaway.
Recipe: Immaculate Bites
Many people have never considered making dumplings at home, even though ready-made dumpling wrappers are sold for just a few dollars at most grocery stores. With just a spoonful of filling in each one, the cost of dumplings is very low. The DIY labor that goes into it can be a fun learning experience for family and friends, too. Then you can stash your savings and put them towards the latest tech gadget you've been eyeing.
Recipe: Food & Wine
Tender, fall-off-the-bone ribs take some advance planning, but are simple to make at home. Buying full racks from discount stores like Costco make this dish affordable enough to enjoy on a regular basis. Whether they are sauced or dry rubbed, ribs don't have to be a restaurant-only event. And if you find yourself making them often enough, you can put the cash you saved from not eating out towards upgrading your grill or maybe picking up a few grilling accessories to improve your backyard skills.
Recipe: Inspired Taste
CHICKEN TIKKA MASALA
The quintessential Indian restaurant dish for Americans, chicken tikka masala is surprisingly easy to make at home with everyday ingredients and seasonings you can find at most grocery stores or online. Using a slow cooker makes this meal even more convenient. The cash you save on avoiding takeout or going to a restaurant can be put towards upgrading your kitchen accessories or getting that Instant Pot everyone has been talking about.
Recipe: Cooking Classy
This slowly-braised dish is made delicious by the layers of flavor that develop through the many stages of cooking humble ingredients. Shanks are typically less pricey cuts, which means that this is an ideal dish to learn to master at home. All the money spent on osso bucco at a restaurant would be much better lavished on a trip to a wine region to find the perfect bottle to pair with it.
Recipe: Food & Wine
Crabs are a specialty seafood item that gets heavily marked up at restaurants. Making crab cakes at home is very low cost, and even a meal kit delivery service can walk you through the steps. With the exact amount of each ingredient, a kit means there's no waste of food or money. The savings can go directly into your beach vacation fund.
Recipe: Hello Fresh
A bubbling slice of lasagna is an ultimate form of comfort food, but one slice at a restaurant can equal the cost of an entire dish made at home. Picking up noodles and sauce when they go on sale can bring the overall cost of the dish down even further, making it a major money saver. That money could instead be put toward a fun shopping trip with friends.
Recipe: Cafe Delites
OYSTERS ON THE HALF SHELL
Oysters are expensive at restaurants, even though they're served raw, because they have to be shipped quickly from in-demand regions with limited stocks and require an additional level of skill to prepare. Once you find a good source for fresh oysters, it's just a matter of learning how to shuck them masterfully for them to become an inexpensive treat. Use the savings to head seaside, where you are sure to find even more fresh seafood.
Recipe: Good Housekeeping
SHRIMP FRIED RICE
While shrimp dishes can be pricey at restaurants, frozen shrimp are often very inexpensive and easy to throw into recipes to make them more of a meal. Just defrost before tossing them into the recipe. Using leftover rice and frozen veggies also makes this meal a money saver. The cash you save from not ordering takeout so often could be put towards a hotel upgrade on your next trip.
Recipe: Southern Living
Ramen may still be available under a buck at the grocery store, but it has also become one of the hottest menu items around with far more elaborate — and pricier — preparations. Hacking a pack of instant ramen with homemade broth and fresh toppings turns cheap ingredients into a gourmet meal. By not going out to eat as much, you could use the extra money for those home improvement projects you've been planning.
Recipe: Real Simple
As Mexican food has become trendy, restaurants serving tacos and other Mexican favorites have become more expensive. Like other takeout favorites, making tacos at home is incredibly inexpensive, and allows for ultimate customization. Save now and splurge later on a vacation to alluring destinations in Mexico such as Oaxaca or perhaps Cancún.
Recipe: Bon Appetit
High-quality dried pasta costs a few dollars to feed four, and making your own fresh pasta can be even less expensive. When you pay for pasta at a restaurant it's mostly for the labor, rather than the ingredients. Classic spaghetti and meatballs is a cheap, family-friendly meal. Stash away the cash you saved and start planning that trip to Rome you've always wanted to take, where you'll enjoy some of the best pasta in the world.
A takeout favorite, pad thai is little more than rice noodles with a few veggies, protein, and tangy dressing. Once you make the initial investment into the sauce ingredients, the rest of the dish is made from fridge staples. Skip takeout and maybe the savings can go toward a trip to Thailand or some other far-off destination.
Cakes can be pricey when purchased from bakeries, but the ingredients to make one aren't. Even a freshly-made boxed cake that is thoughtfully decorated can be just as festive. Those who want to try their hand at some homemade baking can invest a little more time and energy to customize their own. The money saved can be used for birthday party decorations.
Recipe: Liv For Cake
BACON, EGG AND CHEESE SANDWICH
This popular breakfast sandwich is a staple for people on the go. Eggs are one of the cheapest sources of nutrition, and can easily and quickly be turned into your favorite breakfast sandwich for a fraction of what you pay at a deli. Save your hard-earned dollars for a trip to New York City, where some of the best bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches can be found.
Recipe: Incredible Egg
Even discounted happy hour nachos cost most than the sum of their parts. Homemade nachos are easy to make, and can be loaded with the flavors and proteins of your choice to make them into a surprisingly nutritious option as a complete meal. Double win.
Recipe: The Kitchn
Many Americans are passionate about wings, be it Buffalo, BBQ, or honey-flavored. Grocery stores often sell just the wings in large, inexpensive packs, which can be crisped up and sauced at home and taste just as delicious as the ones available at your favorite sports bar. Don't forget the veggie sticks and ranch to make it feel authentic — and maybe put your savings toward tickets to a big game.
Recipe: Recipe Tin Eats
Homemade dough is best, but even using store-bought dough, making your own pizza at home is much cheaper than eating out or delivery. Plus, score bonus points for turning family pizza night into a creative cooking activity in which everyone gets to choose their own toppings. Put the saved money in your piggy bank to use for a family trip to an amusement park.
Recipe: King Arthur Flour
One of the ultimate American take-out meals, burgers are a staple for many families. Rather than continue to throw money away on burgers at restaurants, learn how to make your own ultimate burger by blending different cuts of meats and experimenting with toppings. Consider putting the savings away for a rainy day fund or maybe start saving up for a new car.
Recipe: My Recipes
With plenty of specialty and fast food options for fried chicken, many fans have never ventured to make it at home. Using a whole chicken keeps the cost low, as does using only inexpensive parts like thighs. Then consider sprucing up your patio for the next time friends come over to enjoy your excellent homemade fried chicken.
Recipe: Taste Of Home
BEEF & BROCCOLI
Chinese food is an easy way to get dinner on the table. Using a slow cooker to turn favorites like beef and broccoli into convenient and less expensive make-at-home meals is a good habit to adopt. Substitute chicken or tofu to mix things up week to week. Perhaps you could put the savings toward that gym membership you've been thinking about.
Recipe: The Recipe Critic
With rice and beans and main ingredients, there's no need to pay a lot to enjoy burritos. Add to this equation that almost any leftover ingredient can be repurposed into burrito filling, and it makes even more money saving sense to make these cravable meals at home. Then you can walk off those calories by planning a trip to a botanical garden.
Recipe: The Seasoned Mom
It can be intimidating to take on an at-home preparation of a hometown favorite for fear of not getting it quite right. The beautiful thing about investing the effort is that the more you do it, the better you get at it. Loaded with onions and thinly sliced beef, these sandwiches can be a low cost weeknight lunch or dinner. Instead use your money to get some new luggage for your next trip.
Recipe: Dinner, Then Dessert
An overstuffed sub can be a satisfying meal, but when feeding a family the cost of multiple sandwiches at a deli adds up quickly. Buying deli meats and cheeses from the counter at the grocery store allows for bulk volume that can be used for multiple sandwiches. Add-ins like onions, hots, and mayo also get a lot of mileage beyond the one time meal. Then think about making that visit to your favorite craft brewery using the savings.
Recipe: Taste Of Home
One of the most popular cocktails across the Americas, a good margarita is hard to come by -- and usually expensive. Using premium tequila, the average cost to make a margarita from fresh limes and simple syrup is around two dollars. Another round, anyone? The savings can be used to finally upgrade your home bar.
ICE CREAM SUNDAE
Going to the ice cream shop and tasting flavors and picking toppings is part of the fun -- and also part of the expense. Recreate the fun by creating a sundae bar with a few flavors and toppings so everyone can build their own at a fraction of the price. And while you're feeling like a kid again, maybe it's time to plan a trip to Disney.
Recipe: The Spruce
Donuts are just morsels of fried dough with a sweet glaze, and with a little patience and practice they are easy and cheap to make at home. Avoid the steep prices of craft donuts by making your own creations from yeast or cake doughs. And maybe it's finally time to take that trip to Vegas.
Recipe: Bless This Mess