My Month of Eating Junk: Is Fast Food Really Cheaper?

The average American eats fast food an estimated three times per week. This month, my family experimented with being normal. We ate fast food during weekend days (Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and a holiday off work) for an entire month. We recorded the effects it had on our wallets (and my waistline). Is fast food really cheaper than homemade meals?

According to the CDC, 37% of adults eat fast food on a given day. Even more surprising is their finding that fast food consumption increases as income increases.

My son was 9 years old when he had McDonald’s for the first time. Needless to say, we don’t eat fast food very often.

But from 9/11/18-10/11/18, we experimented with eating fast food on the weekends. We took note of what day we ate, where we ate, and how much money we spent. I also monitored my daily weight during this same time period. Then, we went to the grocery store and purchased comparable meals to make at home.

The Rules

We stuck to our budget of spending no more than $25 per meal. Deals (such as sales and coupons) were okay. But only food was purchased (no kids meals, no drinks, no delivery).

The Results

From 9/11/18-10/11/18, we ate fast food 14 times!

Monetary costs

We spent a total of $179.74 on fast food. (This put us over my goal of $400 for food by a whopping $171.08.)

This averaged to $12.84 per fast food meal.

The least expensive meal was breakfast at $6.41 (using a coupon).

The most expensive was Chinese food at $24.45 (with a free eggroll).

Physical costs

I gained 5 pounds!

My stomach was upset on many of the days I ate fast food.

I also started to feel depressed.

Is Fast Food Less Expensive?

My kids’ favorite fast food meals are chicken nuggets and pizza. Let’s compare the price for these meals purchased at the fast food restaurant (on sale) and at the grocery store (on sale).

Chicken Nuggets

Saturday we went to McDonald’s and ordered 40 nuggets. They had a 2 for $5.00 deal

  • original price $6.99 for 20 nuggets
  • sale price $5.00 for 20
  • total for 40 nuggets: $10.00 (plus tax)

Wednesday, we made chicken nuggets at home (2 pounds of chicken)

  • original price $12.55 for 2 lbs
  • sale price $6.28 for 2 lbs
  • total for 65 nuggets (dinner plus leftovers): $6.28 (no tax)
Difference: fast food = $3.72 more expensive


Sunday we picked up Pizza Hut and ordered 2 pizzas online.

  • original price $11.99 each
  • sale price was $7.99 each
  • total for 2 pizzas: $15.98 (plus tax)

Thursday we made 2 frozen California Pizza Kitchen pizzas from the store.

  • original price $6.99 each
  • sale price $3.50 each
  • total  for 2 pizzas $6.99 (no tax)
Difference: Fast food = $8.99 more expensive


Just those two meals cost nearly $13 more than I spent on comparable meals from the grocery store. If I had made the pizza from scratch, the difference in savings would have been even greater.

I’ve previously reported what it cost me per serving to make burgers ($0.60 per burger) and burritos with guacamole ( $1.18) at home, which are indisputably also less than what one can buy at a fast food restaurant.


The Verdict

Even when purchasing fast food on sale, it was more expensive (and less healthy) than comparable meals purchased from the grocery store on sale.

Of note, I was surprised how long it took to get the “fast” food. I did not keep track of how long it took to drive to the restaurant, place the order, wait for it to be prepared, then drive back. Some days the lines were quite long! My guess would be that it did not actually save us any time. At least when the pizza’s in the oven I can be doing other things.

I plan to eat at home for a while (at least until I can fit back into my pants).

For more Food Finance Friday Features, check out:

10 Ways to save money eating out

Grocery Haul: $60.34 for a Family of 5!

How to spend $100 per person per month on food

How to save time in the kitchen

The secret ingredient for low cost meals

They Put What in Cheese?

Don’t Throw That Out, I’ll Eat It!


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