The Frugal Oxymoron

by Katy on June 9, 2012 · 25 comments

You all know that I groove on preparing cheap and easy meals for my family. I guess you could say I’m on Team Lentil Soup. (It’s like Team Edward, but gassier better.) But sometimes, I revel in a pricey meal that defies my supposed frugality. Just yesterday I picked up a $20 package of chuck roast for my family, which could hardly be categorized as frugal.

$20 package of meat = not frugal. Right?

However, I was comparing this meal to a restaurant meal, not a bowl of lentil soup. And my family has taken to The Pioneer Woman’s Perfect Pot Roast as our special occasion food faster than Speedy Gonzalez on meth. So pot roast we did eat, and then tonight I prepared french dip sandwiches on homemade rolls, having saved some of the broth from last night. I melted provolone cheese on top and sautéed onions, which may have been a bit of overkill, but damn was it delicious!

So . . .  That $20 package of meat ended up making eight individual meals over a two night period. Two fancy meals, meals that balance out the lentil soup nights. It may seem like an oxymoron, but preparing semi-regular expensive meals at home keeps us from feeling the need to dine out and spend beyond our budget.

Spending money ends up saving us money.

As clear as mud, right? 😉

Do you find yourself preparing restaurant worthy meals to save yourself the expense of eating in restaurants? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Penny's Recipes June 10, 2012 at 12:19 am

I think you are right – I like to buy a free range chicken sometimes and have roast and then have a chicken risotto. The bones can then be used to make a stock – the basis of a soup or stew. So what seems an expensive purchase goes a long way.


Linda in Indiana June 10, 2012 at 3:59 am

Totally agree!


Jennifer G. June 10, 2012 at 5:20 am

YES! I enjoy cooking, and I enjoy eating well.

We do have soup-and-grilled-cheese nights at my house, but we also eat steak sometimes, and I do buy some more expensive ingredients for my home cooking: feta cheese, good vinegars, etc.

But I can eat fancy food without the fancy restaurant price!


Amy June 10, 2012 at 7:48 am

I offset the cost of quality meat by preparing most of our food from scratch. Also, I only buy one expensive meat per week, letting the remaining meals be chicken, hamburger or leftovers.


Kimberly June 10, 2012 at 7:54 am

I love The Pioneer Woman’s recipe for Beef with Snow Peas. The London Broil cut is often expensive, but I wait for it to go on sale/markdown, then grab one and we have our favorite Asian meal at home for around $5 instead of $20 or more at the Chinese place (plus I get to keep the MSG out of it).


Hannah June 10, 2012 at 8:58 am

I love to make an Italian Beef with chuck roast in the crockpot. With homemade bread or rolls it easily serves four of us twice. Also, bagels and lox are outrageous if you have them out, but at home they are a nice splurge.


Madeline June 10, 2012 at 9:15 am

I think good meals at home are one of THE most frugal habits. Even the “fancy” nights.Eating out in a restaurant is outrageously expensive and then there is the tip. And the gas to drive back and forth.I love setting my own table with cloth napkins, candles and putting music I like.. and enjoying either a quiet meal with hubby, or a fun meal with friends.And we can linger AS LONG AS AWE LIKE.Also we get to have a whole BOTTLE of wine for the price of one glass in a restaurant! It helps if you like to cook..and a good meal shared with friends or family feeds the SOUL too!


Krystal June 10, 2012 at 10:37 am

Chuck roast is the way to go, that’s for sure. Hearty meals–small servings fill you up!

I also have good luck with pork shoulder! So much cheaper than pork tenderloin ($6/lb. versus $11/lb), and it cooks the same way as a tenderloin, and is great for stews!


Bauunny June 10, 2012 at 10:48 am

I don’t cook as much as I used to (we have a half empty nest these days) and we rarelyneat out as we live in the country and once we are home, we are home. That said, I do purchase quality meat and produce and feel like that in itself is a treat far better than restaurant food….and healthier too. I will buy fresh berries, organic chicken and produce because I feel that is a good value in the long run.


EcoCatLady June 10, 2012 at 10:54 am

Hey! Who are you callin’ a moron? 🙂

Seriously though, I am TOTALLY with you on this one. I have to cook pretty much everything from scratch due to food allergies, and I think I’d go completely stir crazy if I didn’t allow myself some treats now and then. And trust me, you can make a whole lot of yumminess for the cost of a mediocre meal out!

And for you lucky dogs who don’t have allergies, I think it’s OK to allow yourselves to buy some pre-packaged stuff too – especially if you’re working full time and don’t always have time to cook. It’s MUCH cheaper to cut yourself a break with a frozen pizza now and then than it is to beat a path to the local takeout joint!


Angela June 10, 2012 at 12:02 pm

I made homemade pizza last night with a wonderful crust recipe – it rivaled any take out pizza for sure! My family also LOOOVES Pioneer Woman’s pot roast! I am not a cheap cook and I try not to make the same things very often, I love to try new recipes and tweak them to make them my own. I made my homemade cinnamon rolls for breakfast this morning, they are BY FAR WAY OUT OF THIS WORLD BETTER than any store bought or chain brand, I promise! And I make chicken enchiladas that would rival any mexican restaurant…they are KILLER. We really don’t eat out too much, usually Chick-Fil-A if we do. With 5 kids we don’t go to fancy restaurants, unless it’s a date night just us 2.


Valerie Heck Esmont June 10, 2012 at 1:21 pm

My husband and I love to cook and I guess all this cooking has made eating out hard. We are hard to please and have to go to a very nice restaurant to find food we enjoy. So we may spend more at the grocery store but it’s a lot less than the restaurant would cost. We also love shopping at a little family owned farmers market only a couple of miles away!


Dusti June 10, 2012 at 4:53 pm

I think it makes perfect sense. $20+ the cost of fixings, for 8 restaurant quality meals vs ~$120. Its a great example of what youve been “preaching” all along: Frugal does not have to equal deprived.
In case anybody cares, I’m trying the pot roast this week. The pictures have me drooling.


Shannon June 10, 2012 at 6:35 pm

Every time I make an awesome meal at home I scratch my head and wonder what I ever think is so magical about going out.


Rebecca June 10, 2012 at 7:26 pm

I love this post. I spent $20 on a pound of salmon at the store on Saturday. It served as two entrees for Saturday night and then we put the rest over salad greens for lunch today. As I was making my selection at the store, I almost went with something cheaper or only 1/2 pound, but then thought “hey you’d pay $20 for a salmon entree at a restaurant”. I eat no meat, and eat fish or seafood once or twice a week, so I feel like I can justify getting good quality stuff.

I also get myself to eat tons of greens by splurging on good herbs (basil/parsley) and organic mix-ins like seeds and nuts. I hope to save on my cost for health care in the future, too!


Lynda June 10, 2012 at 8:21 pm

I have had very few restaurant quailty meals that could beat my own cooking…I’m not bragging…just stating a fact! We raise our own meats, fruit and veggies…wheat, rice and honey. I have the freshest ingredients right at my finger-tips. I only go to the grocery store 4 times a year. We have a friend and a son that fish and abalone dive. Yep…not frugal but very inexpensive…most things are FREE. I did have wonderful moules marinieres in Paris I’ve never been able to replicate!


Marianne June 11, 2012 at 1:22 am

There are so many copycat recipes online nowadays that you could make your restaurant favorites at home and not have to go out. 🙂


rosarugosa June 11, 2012 at 2:50 am

Yes, I would say that this is one of our best frugals. Our splurges are generally a couple of lobsters or a nice piece of cod or haddock. Compared to other people we know, we hardly ever go out to eat, perhaps once a month, and we do takeout far less than that.


Meredith @ Slightly Scattered June 11, 2012 at 8:12 am

We used to love to splurge and go to a steakhouse for a nice meal, but my husband has gotten so good at grilling steaks that we can’t find one that we like at a restaurant!

As for roast, I like to use the leftover meat for beef stroganoff. Yum!


Lilypad June 11, 2012 at 9:06 am

I am a vegetarian, so it’s hard to find a good restaurant meal anyway—so few “mainstream” (i.e. not ethnic) places even have a vegetarian option, and if they do, it’s hit or miss as to whether it’s something I’ll like. (Or they take the chicken off a pasta entree but charge me the same amount. I get so angry about that!!) That said, we did just take our first mini family vacation in 5 years and we at a Westin Hotel in Canada. They had a special menu with 3 vegan options. Heavenly! I was so excited.
My husband is a carnivore extraordinaire and he likes grilling his own steaks better than going to an expensive steakhouse. So occasionally, and usually just at this time of year when it’s even possible to grill in Seattle, he’ll get himself a really good quality steak (grass fed, not factory-farmed) and enjoy the hell out of it. He also does this with wild Copper River salmon when it’s available. The rest of the time, he eats vegetarian with me and has no complaints. I think it’s much better to do that than eat craptacular cheap cuts of factory-farmed meat every darn day.


Lilypad June 11, 2012 at 9:07 am

oops, that was we “ate” at the Westin…


Beth B June 11, 2012 at 11:13 am

I love to buy an organic whole chicken (about $12-14 at TJ’s). We first roast it and have a traditional style meal with potatoes and gravy. Then the next day, I make chicken salad and then after that we make broth (I got about 3 quarts last time) and then we use the rest of the chicken for another dish, such as chix curry. We eat a lot of chicken in one week, but I’m always so happy to get so many meals out of my $12.


Robin June 11, 2012 at 3:20 pm

If you’re going to eat meat (we do) it’s best to pay for the wild caught/grass fed/free range organic whatever that’s for sure!
I always buy our meat from WF and get the wild caught/grass fed/finished option. It’s not cheap but that means we eat less of it, it tastes better and cooking it is more of a ‘treat’ than expecting something like that every day.
Two of my favorite bulk meals are brisket and carnitas. You pay a lot up front (especially for the brisket) but the cooked meats freeze fantastically and last for several meals at least! Check out the recipes from for both brisket and carnitas. Heavenly!!


Jean June 11, 2012 at 9:33 pm

We also prepare a lot of “restaurant quality” meals at home–which is still very frugal compared to eating out. Even if we could afford it, eating out has become difficult for us as my husband is a stroke survivor on a low sodium diet. Watch what happens when you ask a server what the lowest sodium choices on their menu are! They don’t have any! So, in defense of his health, we cook at home, and we don’t use packaged/prepared stuff for the same reasons. We could make cheaper food at home, but our aim is healthier food.


Kristin Roach June 21, 2012 at 2:42 pm

I think the big spending treat meal for my partner and I, is getting a wheel of brie from Sam’s Club (about $6) and then a take-n-bake french baguette from Hy-Vee (about $2.50) and dining on it with big slices of tomatoes and some Two-buck-Chuck Merlot. The next morning I make baked brie with jam to accompany poached eggs from are hens sprinkled with dill and toast made from any leftover french bread.

It feels soooo fancy. It’s such a treat. And saves us the desire to go for a big breakfast out OR a fancy date night. Usually it’s an anniversary thing.

I have to make compromises with myself so I can stick with it.


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