Many personal finance articles talk about how cooking at home in Singapore saves money. While it does in the long run, the initial costs can be high.
By now, you’ve read about a thousand personal finance articles that explain how cooking saves you money. And you’re probably wondering why so many Singaporeans – especially those short on cash – still eat at hawker centres so often.
What a lot of these articles don’t talk about is that cooking involves a lot of initial costs, and may not save you money at first.
How Much Does It Cost to Cook at Home in Singapore?
When most people first work out the cost of a meal, the budget plan goes something like this:
- Mixed vegetables S$5
- Fish (fillet) S$9
- Chicken (whole) S$8
- Cooking oil (2 litres) S$5
- Rice (5kg) S$12
All in, you can have enough food for three or four days for S$39, and the rice and oil will last much longer than that. But here’s the thing: that’s the way it works after you’ve been cooking for a while.
If you have never cooked before, here’s what the budget really looks like at the start:
- Mixed vegetables, which your children refuse eat so you have to toss the previous batch, and buy new vegetables that they will eat – S$10
- Fish, of which you need three fillets, because you burned the previous one – S$27
- Roasted chicken from the coffee shop, because you gave the previous whole chicken to a neighbour, after realising you have no idea how to use that chopper, and would have just end up with badly shredded chicken due to your cutting skills – S$12
- Cooking oil price remains the same, but you’ll probably be using more of it due to errors. Also, you never knew a decent non-stick wok really can cost upwards of S$30
- Rice prices remain the same, but then you realise you’ll need a rice cooker, so you need to fork out an additional S$50
And right when you check the recipe book, you realise you also need six or seven different herbs, a blender, a convection cooker, a toaster-oven, flour, eggs, milk, cut chillies, etc., etc.
Now over time, if you keep cooking, this will be less of a shock. You will gradually accumulate the equipment and spice cabinet that every decent cook has. But at the very beginning, the initial setup cost can be much higher than you imagine.
It’s not as simple as the cooking shows or recipe books would suggest, especially if you’re cooking for a whole family. Some of the key factors to consider are:
Mistakes Cost Money
If you put sugar instead of salt in the soup, or leave a whole salmon on the pan for too long, you need to start from scratch. That’s an expensive mistake.
Your Family Might Not Like Your Cooking (Especially the Children)
It hurts when you bought and roasted a whole chicken, but your family finds your beginner-level cooking to be, well, inedible. Many people often give up because they get tired of trying to force their cooking on the family, especially the children.
Equiment Can Be Expensive, and Discount Versions are Worse
When it comes to cooking equipment, discounts are for those in the know. A cheap knife or wok can end up costing more money, when you throw them out and replace them. It’s more than likely, however, that an amateur chef will overspend on branded equipment.
The Biggest Cost is Time
Cooking is a skill that takes time to learn. It is not like riding a bicycle, which can be managed in a day or two. This is the number one cost that’s often overlooked.
Every dish is different and represents a new learning curve. On top of that, consider that even experienced home cooks can take an hour to prepare a meal. If it’s your first time, you can expect to spend two to three hours on something as simple as lemon chicken and rice.
Yes, you can prepare something quicker like sandwiches, but you can’t be having that for dinner all day, every day. And microwaved food doesn’t count as cooking!
If you’re working, it may not be an option rush home from the office at 4 or 5 pm, in order to get dinner ready by 7:30 pm sharp. Don’t say you can pre-cook it in the morning, because it’s hard to do that also when you need to be at work by 9 am.
Learning to cook also interrupts other opportunities, such as starting a side-business or doing a part-time job.
Those Who Need to Cook are Often the Least Inclined to Do So
If you’re financially stable and can afford the “start up costs”, it’s worth learning to cook. The savings will more than make up for the costs in the long run.
However, families on a tight budget (e.g.S$1,200 a month) might not be able to afford the initial equipment; and they certainly can’t risk wasting food. When your budget for the day is S$3 a meal, a burned beef patty is something you’ll have to choke down, as you can’t afford to make another.
This means that you should learn to cook while you have the time and money. Later on, if you ever get in a dire financial situation, you’ll have the means to save money via home cooked meals.
Cashback Credit Cards Can Help You Save on Home Cooking
If you want to save money on cooking, you can put your purchases on a cashback credit card. This way, you can earn back a small percentage of what you spend, especially if it gives rebates for supermarkets.
The HSBC Advance Credit Card gives you 2.5% cashback on anything if you spend over S$2,000 a month (capped at S$70 per month). Plus, you get a S$150 NTUC voucher when you apply for it through SingSaver.com.sg before 30 June 2017. This goes a long way into helping you offset the initial costs of learning to cook.
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By Ryan Ong
Ryan has been writing about finance for the last 10 years. He also has his fingers in a lot of other pies, having written for publications such as Men’s Health, Her World, Esquire, and Yahoo! Finance.