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How to chop your bills ... by cooking

  • Chef Chris Nugent plates the Angus beef dish on a plate in the kitchen. Nugent and his wife Nina have opened the fine dining and BYOB restaurant Goosefoot on Lawrence Ave in Chicago.
Chef Chris Nugent plates the Angus beef dish on a plate in the kitchen. Nugent… (Nancy Stone/Tribune )
May 17, 2012|By Megan Crepeau, For RedEye

I have a theory about why I haven't gone utterly broke over the past couple years. It's not my judicious use of credit cards. It's not a budget spreadsheet, or even really a budget. I don't do math. I don't live in a hovel.

What I do is cook.

Not that I'm actually good at it, mind you. I and my loved ones shall not soon forget the pumpkin bread fiasco of fall '11, or that one time I put eggplant in everything because I contracted temporary amnesia and forgot that it is disgusting.

But even factoring in the time spent and the inevitable kitchen fails, cooking for yourself is so much cheaper than eating out all the time.

Okay, it won't seem like that at first. That's because unless you want to be a walking cliché and live on microwaved Ramen, you're going to incur a few upfront costs. Worry not! It will be worth it. Buy onions and garlic a lot, and put them in everything. Get a few things of spices – seriously they cost like $3 apiece and you will not be able to make things taste good without them. Get some pots and pans. Nothing fancy, just whatever won't fall apart.

Now let's try a cost breakdown here. I won't cheat and compare home cooking to, like,Alinea,or even the Italian place down the block. Let's compare it to something a little more fast-food-y, say, a certain ubiquitous downtown chain that rhymes with Shmorner Shmakery. Their Pesto Cavatappi will run you $8.49. Here's what you'll need to (approximately) recreate two servings of that at home:

Half a box of pasta, give or take - $0.95

¼ of a tub of pre-made pesto - $1.17

A few grape tomatoes - $0.75

A handful of mushrooms - $0.40

An ounce of heavy cream - $0.25

Chicken thighs - $1.49

Parmesan cheese to taste, not the pricey stuff, because who are we, the Rockefellers? - $0.66

Water - $0.00

TOTAL - $5.67, or about $2.84 per person. Guys, you just saved five bucks, and you probably have leftovers to boot. If you do this, let's say, five times a week for one month? That's more than $100 in savings. That's car payment money. That's new shoes money. That's DVD money. And you did it all yourself. Doesn't that taste good?

Megan Crepeau is a RedEye special contributor. She's a twenty-something college grad navigating this dumpy job market just like the rest of us.

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