Inside: This simple solution will help you stop eating out and wasting hundreds of dollars every month.
Eating out. There’s nothing like the instant gratification of a delicious burrito from Chipotle, or a juicy chicken sandwich from Chick-fil-a, or what used to be my favorite guilty indulgence – a grande vanilla latte, no foam with whip.
In college, I succumbed to the eat-out temptation over and over again, and I did it without giving it a second thought.
Fast forward to the baby years when we had to makeover our finances so we could afford to live on one income. We had to get serious about ditching our bad habit of eating out whenever we felt like it, along with tightening our belt in other budget areas like groceries.
After reading an article in the Boston Globe about a woman named Kathy Spencer who “shopped for free”, I worked hard at getting our grocery budget to a ridiculously low level using coupons and a variety of other tricks. That part of the plan worked (minus the fact that my daughter can still recognize a Cinnamon Toast Crunch box from across the grocery store).
Related Post: Why I Quit Couponing (and maybe you should, too)
But no matter how hard I tried, we always failed to stick to our eating out budget. We just couldn’t stop eating out!
Month after month, I ran the numbers, and we always ended up over budget. I just couldn’t figure out what we were doing wrong. At the end of a particularly bad month, my husband finally unearthed the problem. He came up with the simple solution to saving money on eating out that we’ve been using ever since.
Have you guessed it yet? Here it is: in order to avoid giving into temptation and eating out, you need do this one simple thing:
Have food at home that you like to eat.
Yep, it’s that easy. But you’re thinking, I thought we were trying to save money here? Won’t I blow up my grocery budget that way?
Well, it’s certainly possible, but you can learn to balance that spending.
Here’s the thing, and it’s the God honest truth. If you don’t like what you have to eat at home and nothing you have is easy to make, you WILL get take out and blow that eat-out budget to smithereens the first chance you get.
And in America, that’s as easy as making the right turn into the drive-thru or picking up the telephone.
You can shave money off your grocery budget all you want, and pat yourself on the back about your savings. If you don’t love any of the food you’re buying, I guarantee everything you saved (and then some) will find its way over to your take-out budget line item, instead.
Deprivation will kill your budget. While the biggest budget item everyone can save money on is food, killing yourself to save on groceries is pointless if you’re just going to spend that money elsewhere.
Deprivation will kill your budget.
Personally, I could eat the same simple foods over and over again and live on an extremely lean food budget. My husband? Not so much.
He’s frugal in other ways, but if we are going to deprive ourselves in every other area of our lives (we will never ever get close to seeing the latest iPhone and our TV is just a bit larger than my computer screen), he insists that we at least have some good food to eat. When you’re married and trying to save money, you need to accept both parts of the equation. Figure out how you’re wired – what you can live with and can’t live with. Go from there.
The key step for us to stop eating out was making good substitutions for our former eat out cravings. You’ll need to come up with your own ideas based on the menu items you crave the most, but these examples can help get the ball rolling.
How to Stop Eating Out: 5 Substitutions
My parents gave me this Keurig for Christmas, and it has made it so much easier to say no to Starbucks. K-cups aren’t as affordable as coffee beans or ground coffee, it’s true, but you can still find some decent deals. I order these ones from Amazon every month with my subscribe and save subscription.
Before you protest again about saving money, let me suggest to you that having the ability to brew a piping hot, really good coffee at the touch of a button is a pretty strong deterrent to running out to the local coffee house to pay four times the price (at least).
You will save money in the long run by investing in something that meets that need for instant gratification: it will keep you out of the coffee house and all that latte money in your pocket.
If you or your spouse work outside the home and drink coffee, make sure you get yourself a good travel mug, too.
Related Post: Is Amazon Prime Worth It?
Keep in mind that this advice comes from a frugal woman married to a generally frugal husband (except when it comes to food) who wants something yummy at the exact same time that I have absolutely no desire to cook. Maybe you don’t have the same problem and love to make everything from scratch. I wish that was me!
That is the version of myself that only exists in my head. Now back to our reality.
This orange chicken from BJ’s is normally $10.99 and serves four. Now after cupboard crawling the kitchen for the fifty-seventh time, my husband just might go crazy enough to order Chinese. Delivery fees and tip for a dish that serves two? Or the frozen food that takes just as good as takeout. Which do you think is the better choice?
Rice gets popped into the rice cooker (this one is still going strong ten years later) while the chicken cooks in the oven.
Voila! Take out for so much less. Try different varieties of frozen foods until you find something you love.
You might be surprised to learn that some prepared foods are actually extremely cost-effective. We get a 30 oz. container of fresh salsa from BJs for $5.99 that lasts all week and can be used for everything from pita chips to chicken tortilla soup to Mexican omelettes.
If I were to purchase all the ingredients myself to make the same amount of salsa, it would cost more than that plus the labor to chop everything (I’m a reaalllllly slow chopper). Not worth it, and having it available in the fridge stops the eat-out urge in its tracks.
Treats & Cravings
I like to fool myself that I don’t drink soda, but lately, McDonald’s has been seeing a lot more of me with the introduction of $1 any-size beverages. It doesn’t seem like a lot of money at the time, and I really, really enjoy fountain soda over cans.
However, going through the drive-thru for that dollar soda makes me ten times more likely to add something to the order, especially if there are kids clamoring in the back for ice cream cones and fries and nuggets.
Getting real, admitting that I do enjoy the occasional soda, and keeping a case of cokes on hand to satisfy my coke craving is smart and cheaper. But for the longest time I resisted picking up that extra case of coke (my husband has a diet soda habit he’s going to break sometime in the future…preferably when all of our kids sleep through the night). I would tell myself that I didn’t need it, and I was just going to do better and resist going to McDonald’s this week.
You can guess how that went.
You have to be honest with yourself – your cravings and temptations – in order to save money. You’ll quickly realize when you tally up the debits in your bank account that you may be able to fool yourself for a while, but you can’t fool the dollars and cents by living in denial.
I’ll leave you with this last, random example of a substitution.
Every frugal living article you read talks about how cheap it is to make broth. I was using this recipe because it truly made great homemade broth. It calls for a variety of herbs and whole peppercorns and vegetables.
After a particularly awful incident when my husband accidentally knocked over an entire pot of cooling stock in the refrigerator, I decided to do the math. Especially with the cost of the herbs, I wasn’t saving anything.
I could get 6 cartons for $10 or less at BJs: I bought the broth and gave up my dreams of making everything from scratch. Taking out that extra step makes soups and everything else so much easier for me to make, and when meals are easier to make, it saves you money. Maybe for you, it doesn’t take that much time or effort, but the more kids I have, the less time I have.
I want to make sure the things I do to save money are worth the time I invest.
Letting the chicken carcass rot in the fridge and pushing back the meals that require broth further and further into the week just because I thought that making broth from scratch saved money is just stupid. As soon as I made the substitution, meal planning (and making) got so much easier.
Side Note: Skip to the bottom for an awesome resource to make meal planning one hundred times easier!
The Bottom Line on Eating Out
There are so many other ways to save money on food, but that’s the makings of another post.
When it comes to eating out, we try to reserve it for emergencies and for food that we cannot replicate at home. Remember: “everything in moderation, including moderation” (Oscar Wilde).
Eating out is an expensive habit that can kill your budget, especially as a family with kids. Try some of these substitutions and come up with some of your own.
Love what you have to eat at home. It will make resisting the urge to eat out so much easier!
P.S. If you’re going to break your eat out habit, you also need to know how to meal plan. Hate meal planning? Yeah, me too. That’s why I LOVE this new course by my friend Elisa at Meal Planning Blueprints that will teach you a system where you only meal plan 4 times a year. Yes: four! If you hate to meal plan and always feel like you’re wasting food at home, this course is for you.