How We Chopped Our Restaurant Expense In Half By Using Blue Apron

After posting our Q2 Net Worth article last week, I have received a few emails asking how we are managing to more than double our post-tax savings rate this year. Similar to how we cut our grocery bill by 55%, this post will highlight how we used Blue Apron to cut our monthly restaurant expense by more than 50%.

My girlfriend and I love going out, grabbing a drink or two and having a nice meal. We appreciate trying new food in a relaxing setting, and she really loves her wine and cheese.

We live in the heart of Chicago so there are plenty of great restaurants within walking distance. The temptations are real and they have been biting away at our budget for years.

The reality is that we often go out nearly once a week. When you add in appetizers, a bottle of wine or a few beers, taxes and tip, the costs quickly pass $100 for one dinner.

Of course, we could save even more money by avoiding this delicious and decadent hobby of ours, but we both come to the conclusion years ago that this is something we value enough to indulge in for the time being.

That didn’t change the fact that our restaurant expense is typically the biggest “luxury” item in our budget, and as someone who’s pursuing financial independence, I’m always looking for ways to optimize our budget.

With that in mind, we started to develop a way to reduce our restaurant bill by more than half.

We stole a page from Elon Musk’s playbook and applied a first principles approach to our restaurant budget.

We started to identify what the value was that we were receiving in exchange for those $100+ meals.

We began to realize the full experience of a dinner out would take 2-3 hours. This included waiting to be seated, waiting to review the menu, waiting for appetizers, waiting for our meals, waiting to ask for the check, and then waiting to be able to sign for the check.

That’s a lot of waiting.

However, waiting for 75% of the dinner experience doesn’t sound that bad when you consider the amount of time and prep that goes into preparing your meals, including the time it takes to source the ingredients.

If you read my post about commonly purchased grocery items, then you know that I’m not the most creative guy in the kitchen. This was another advantage to eating at nice restaurants; we got to try exciting new foods.

So, then we looked at the cost of the meal itself.

I would venture to say about 25% of the price of the meal is there to pay for the ingredients themselves. The rest of the money goes towards rent, utilities, taxes, labor for everyone involved from the host, to the chef, to the waiter.

We still wanted to try new foods and we wanted to spend the extra money to enjoy ourselves.

So, after wrapping up Elon Musk’s approach to analyzing our situation, we decided to try something different.

Introducing Blue Apron. Their mission is, “to make incredible home meals accessible to everyone.”

And, yes, “incredible” is the perfect word.

Blue Apron is the first product I’m promoting by writing a post about and it isn’t even a sponsored post.

I just actually think this is a great investment in our diet and our relationship. Not to mention the fact that, so far, every meal has been delicious.

If you’re interested in checking out the service yourself, then click through the link below this paragraph to receive your first three meals free. That’s the equivalent of receiving a $30 discount on your first order.

3 Meals Free on Your First Blue Apron Order via this Exclusive Link

Blue Apron provides everything you need to cook your own delicious meals (assuming you have a kitchen stove, pots, pans,utensils, and salt and pepper!)

Here’s an example of what a box looks like when you open it up:

Inside a Blue Apron Box

Preparing the meals is smooth because they walk through every step in the right order. The instructions tell you to preheat the oven before preparing the vegetables to make sure you’re preparing your food in the most efficient way. By the time the oven is hot, you’ve got everything chopped and ready to go.

The quality and the variety are top notch; fresh and sustainably sourced. We have received postcards letting us know which ingredients have been substituted due to shortages or seasonal reasons.

Every meal so far is something we would never have been able to cook on our own.

We are now able to cook a delicious and exotic meal, all while saving money AND time.

The other night, we spent one hour from start to finish (including clean up) to cook a fancy Peruvian Chicken. The result, was this master piece:

Blue Apron - Peruvian Chicken

Then, we spent 90 minutes enjoying ourselves on a walk along the river and Lake Michigan.

Here’s a few more of the meals we managed to cook up.

Blue Apron - Beef Empinadas

Blue Apron - Cod

Overall, we enjoy learning new cooking techniques because we enjoy cooking together. In a way, I imagine we’ll enjoy a lot more cooking once we reach financial independence, so, in a way, I see our time spent on perfecting our fine chopping skills as an investment towards our future.

You might relabel this expense as “fancier” groceries, but from our perspective, we’ve succeeded in replacing every single benefit a restaurant offers us while saving time AND money.

That’s the bottom line.

If you do end up trying out Blue Apron, be sure to swing back later and leave a comment.

Remember, you’ll receive $30 off your first order, or the equivalent of three free meals, if you sign up using this link.

Do you do any, “fancy” cooking yourself? Have you used services such as Blue Apron to eliminate the need to create and prepare unique meals each week?

Bon appetit!

23 comments… add one
  • Physician on FIRE Jul 13, 2016, 5:55 am

    I got a free trial box a few weeks ago with three meals for two. The food was tasty and easy enough to prepare. You’re definitely paying for the convenience (if you’re paying; mine cost nothing) but I can see the value, particularly if you live in a place like Chicago where it’s not so simple to hop in the car and go to your local supermarket. A friend of mine who has tried several prefers Home Chef, FWIW.

    The other thing I learned is that a meal for two can be consumed by one hungry man. Your mileage may vary.

    • Distilled Dollar Jul 21, 2016, 6:27 am

      Great! I’ll have to check out Home Chef to see how it compares. Has your friend also tried Blue Apron?

      Being a physician must make you very hungry! Hah! We always laugh when some of the meals say, “there may be extra XYZ once you are done,” but we enjoy the dish so much that we’ll split up the 2nd portion. 🙂

  • The Green Swan Jul 13, 2016, 6:07 am

    Blue Apron is great, we get it about once a month but it is more of a splurge for us. We don’t go out to eat much, so this replaces other meals we would normally cook at home. But it is nice to try new meals and different recipes and we enjoy the time cooking together.

    • Distilled Dollar Jul 21, 2016, 6:31 am

      Exactly – if it replaces an already existing restaurant “budget,” then I think it is a perfect introduction to fancier cooking. Not only fancier, but also new types of food as I mentioned above. The convenience is such an important factor in our busy lives. If we decide to quit our jobs in our 30s after reaching FI, then I can easily see a portion of our new free time going towards shopping for healthy ingredients and cooking.

  • Apathy Ends Jul 13, 2016, 6:52 am

    Never heard of Blue Apron, I will have to check it out!

    Our cooking has evolved over the last few years (about the same timeframe we have been cutting expenses and saving more – weird how that works out)

    I have finally mastered salmon on the grill so that is my usually go to fancy at home meal.

    • Distilled Dollar Jul 21, 2016, 6:33 am

      Mmmmm…I’m also a huge fan of salmon on the grill. Not sure what it is, but I find grilling to be the best way to cook salmon.

      Let me know how you like Blue Apron. We just got a new box yesterday and even though its been a few months, we’re still excited each time to check out what recipes are inside. My girlfriend peaks ahead of time online, but I like to see them come out of the box.

  • Jon Jul 13, 2016, 11:41 am

    Sounds cool! I have heard of Blue Apron but never checked it out. We actually spend an embarrassingly large amount of money eating out. It’s usually not too fancy, but with two adults and two kids, it’s still not cheap.

    On the other hand, it is one of the nice family activities that the kids still enjoy with us. This may be a nice option to try for a restaurant quality meal at home and see what the kids think. Thanks for sharing.

    • Distilled Dollar Jul 21, 2016, 6:34 am

      They do have a “family” option where the meals will feed up to 4. That might be a nice option in your case. Let me know if you do try it out and if you enjoy it as much as we do!

  • Matt Spillar Jul 13, 2016, 5:18 pm

    My wife and I have tried free trials from both Blue Apron and Hello Fresh. The meals we made and ate were delicious and relatively easy to cook. We ended up not continuing with the service simply due to the cost per meal. We’ve gotten to the point where we have some “go-to” meals that we make from ingredients from the grocery store that end up being fairly inexpensive. While not right for us at this time, these services definitely appeal to a lot of people. The meals are delicious, creative, and healthy. Some are very quick and some take longer. Having all the ingredients specific to one recipe is convenient and avoids food waste. We definitely had meals that we never would have thought to make on our own and learned new cooking techniques.

    It sounds like Blue Apron is perfect for you and your wife due to multiple reasons you outlined above. It’s a much better alternative financially, health wise, and time wise than going out to a restaurant. “I just actually think this is a great investment in our diet and our relationship” sums it up really well. Time spent together cooking and eating is time VERY well spent.

    • Distilled Dollar Jul 21, 2016, 6:38 am

      I’m glad you mentioned time well spent because that’s been a huge factor for us. The cost of the meals is a bit high, but makes sense compared to a restaurant meal. The added cherry on top is the activity of cooking together – especially since the meal is healthy and delicious.

      As for those “go-to” meals, we also have our fair share. I recently went through and cut our grocery bill by over 50% as well since that is the bulk of what we actually eat (compared to only three meals each week with Blue Apron).

  • Latoya @ Life and a Budget Jul 13, 2016, 7:43 pm

    Those meals look absolutely delish! We have a restaurant problem too, you’ve got me thinking now! I may have to finally buckle down and give this thing a try:)

    • Distilled Dollar Jul 21, 2016, 6:39 am

      Let me know if you do Latoya! We love it and plan to continue since it has brought our overall spend down.

  • Thias @It Pays Dividends Jul 13, 2016, 9:03 pm

    I love the idea of Blue Apron but I don’t think it fits our lifestyle as well. We don’t eat out that much, maybe 1-2 yes per month. I don’t know if it would work as well as a substitute. I do see the market for it and think it is a great option to help people who go out often drop a couple of those meals to stay in instead. We might have to give it a try sometime though just to see!

    • Distilled Dollar Jul 21, 2016, 6:41 am

      Agreed – in your situation I wouldn’t bother with Blue Apron. If you do give it a try, let me know what you think! At the least, you can get three free meals out of it. 🙂

  • Kevin @ The Financial Panther Jul 15, 2016, 7:58 am

    I’ve been using this same strategy as well to try to reduce my eating out budget (which is one of my guilty pleasures).

    One thing I actually have done is to use all of the big four meal delivery services – Blue Apron, Plated, Hello Fresh, and Home Chef.

    I recommend trying out all four of them, and hey, like with Blue Apron, when you sign up for the first week, you almost always get 1 or 2 meals free.

    • Distilled Dollar Jul 22, 2016, 8:13 am

      Thanks for the recommendation Kevin. I’ll look into each one of those!

      • The Financial Panther Aug 2, 2016, 6:15 pm

        Just remember to cancel or pause them once you get your free meals!

        • Distilled Dollar Aug 2, 2016, 8:22 pm

          Hah, that would be a disaster!

          “Honey, we have 16 prepared meals we need to cook before our next delivery tomorrow!!!”

          Once things settle down after my triathlon training, I’ll start to see which service works the best for us.

  • Dividends Down Under Jul 21, 2016, 10:06 pm

    Hey Matt,

    Great analysis of your restaurant experience! It’s very interesting, we’ve taken to trying to cook more restaurant-worthy meals recently, just from buying the ingredients from the supermarket. It’s going really well! I don’t think this Blue Apron service is available in Australia though, sadly.

    Great cooking takes time and experience 🙂


    • Distilled Dollar Jul 22, 2016, 8:15 am

      Sorry to hear that! Is there anything equivalent to Blue Apron in Australia?

      Our end goal is to copy your plan once we have more time on our hands.

  • Leo Nov 16, 2016, 6:31 pm

    I’m a bit confused as to how you describe the cost savings with blue apron? maybe I missed it

    • Distilled Dollar Nov 16, 2016, 7:11 pm

      I’m also confused haha. Before Blue Apron we used to go out to dinner for nicer meals. Neither of us have a background in the quality cooking that places like Blue Apron offer up. So, instead of spending $100 for a fancy dinner plus drinks, we’re now able to spend $25 for a fancy dinner plus drinks.

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