My girlfriend is an excellent cook.
I’m an accomplished eater.
Eventually, this dynamic caused a push and pull in our relationship and on our wallets. She was doing more than her fair share in the kitchen, so we found ourselves eating out more and more often.
We needed a solution — and fast.
How we created a cooking schedule
Borrowing from the experience of my sister and her husband, my girlfriend and I agreed to divvy up the labor of making dinner — the one meal we sat down for together each day.
She was slated to cook on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Sundays. I was on the hook for Tuesdays and Thursdays. Friday and Saturday nights were for cooking together or splurging at a restaurant.
Here’s what we did: The designated chef scrounged up all the ingredients, set the table, and had the meal ready by an agreed-upon time. We found it was good to give the other person a heads-up on the night’s menu in case they had an insatiable craving.
We also rated each other’s efforts on taste (to keep it fun) and on price (to keep it budget-friendly). In our first couple of weeks of using this system, we found that star ratings and “bad,” “good,” or “great” ratings caused hurt feelings. Instead, we focused on the data point that would further our goal of saving money.
So, at the conclusion of each meal, we checked our receipts and wrote down how much money the dinner cost to make. My girlfriend once spent less than $15 on a delicious combo of breadcrumb chicken and couscous, for example. We rewarded brownie points (but no actual brownies, unfortunately) for lower-cost meals.
Oh, and we instituted one rule: If you cooked, the other person cleaned up.
4 benefits of sharing cooking responsibilities
We created our cooking schedule because we had a problem that needed a solution.
We’ve kept it in place because it yields many benefits. It keeps us sane and cost-efficient.
If any of these results sound appealing to you, you might consider adopting a similar schedule.
1. Save time by not debating about dinner
Before the schedule, my girlfriend felt burdened. After a long day of work, she needed to come up with an idea, from tasty sauteed squid to pan-seared lamb chops, and then execute it.
Whereas that might have resulted in frustrating indecision over the phone or at home, the schedule gives her days off. She can spend some post-work weeknights doing things that are more important or more fun.
There’s also shared responsibility, so we feel more like a team and less like one person serving the other.
2. Save money by eating in more often
We used to go out to dinner at least three nights a week without giving it much thought — despite the fact that we live in New York City, where the average cost of a three-course meal for two people at a midrange restaurant is $69, according to 2017 study performed by SpareRoom.
Now we eat out a maximum of two nights (Fridays and Saturdays) per week. We decided to leave those nights open because our friends are more likely to be free for dinner.
If we keep to ourselves, we cook at home on these nights too. We built flexibility into the schedule so we can swap nights if something comes up. I was invited to dinner with ex-co-workers on my night to cook, for example, so I traded a Wednesday shift for the previously vacant Friday shift.
3. Limit waste by economizing meals
The money we save on restaurants goes to the grocery store — but not all of it. Even though we now cook at home more often than we did before, our grocery bill has remained about the same.
That fact is made possible by our friendly competition to see who can make the best meal at the lowest price. Although we make exceptions for small extravagances — the $4 English cucumber is worth every penny — we try to be more economical in every aisle of the store.
This mindset extends to our apartment. We can report a lower cost for a meal if we use something sitting in our fridge or pantry before it goes to waste. A box of pasta here, a can of beans there, and so on.
We opted for this cooking schedule over money-saving meal-kit services like Blue Apron, for example, because we wanted to make the most of the ingredients we had at home.
4. Improve your cooking skills and your relationship
There are many ways to learn how to cook on a budget. I’m still learning all of them. Because we discourage ourselves from repeating meals, I’ve also been forced to become more versatile. I’m slated for flounder and farro salad next.
The schedule also has made me realize that, although I expressed gratitude in the past, I took my girlfriend’s cooking for granted. Now when I sit down to a meal she’s made, I have a better understanding of how much went into it — which makes it taste even better.
How to start your cooking schedule
If you think you and your significant other, roommate, or relative could benefit from a cooking schedule, you don’t have to get too technical. My girlfriend and I keep track of four pieces of information using a pen and pad in our kitchen:
- The date
- The name of the cook
- The meal (and whether we’d want to eat it again)
- The cost
- Come up with dinner ideas
- Find recipes based on your preferences
- Create grocery shopping lists
- Track calories or other dietary goals
- Plan a balanced week of meals
Other than that, all you need is a day-by-day schedule that fits your work and social routines. You might opt to alternate shifts so you never have to cook on back-to-back Mondays, for example.
Follow the money — into the kitchen
Use your cooking schedule to set a savings goal. My girlfriend and I estimate that by replacing a night out with a night in, we save between $60 and $80 per week. That’s extra money we can put toward our far-off goal of saving to buy a house. Every little bit helps.
Run the numbers to see much you could save and where you might use the extra money. You could make a larger student loan payment or throw it into a money market account, to name a couple of options. Just don’t blow it all on one fancy dinner.
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