Do you know how much you spend going out to eat? Do you have a sneaking suspicion it’s too much?
Going out to eat can ease stress, save work, provide entertainment and allow you to enjoy great food! But going out isn’t cheap, so if you are working on paying off debt or need to save more, it’s one of the first areas to cut back on.
Calculate how much you spend each time you go out. Now figure up how much you could save if you cut down on the frequency (or even eliminated it)! I bet you’d be surprised how much the savings would add up.
If you plan to cut back on your eating out habit, you need to 1) figure out why you are eating out so much and 2) put a plan in place so you can stop doing it so often.
Why do we go out to eat?
No time to cook
The kids had a game, you worked late, you’re exhausted and it’s getting late.You don’t have the time or energy for cooking a meal or going to the grocery store. It just seems easier to go out or order take-out.
Feeling the crunch of busy days and evenings can play a huge part in our decision to go out to eat, particularly on weekdays. But, keep in mind, it may actually take just as much time (possibly more) to go out to eat as to throw a simple meal together at home.
Here are a few solutions to help ease the stress and keep the temptation of going out to a minimum.
- Plan ahead. Look at your schedule at least a week in advance and plan what you are going to eat each day. This doesn’t have to take much time, just take a few minutes to jot down what’s for dinner.
Need some inspiration? Do an online search of quick dinner ideas or flip through your favorite cookbook. Here are my favorite money saving cookbooks:
- Prep the weekend or night before. If you know there are evenings you won’t have any time to prepare dinner, plan for that. Plan a slow cooker meal, or prep all ingredients the weekend or night before.
- Use the slow cooker. The slow cooker is your friend – use it when time is limited. I’ve often put all the ingredients for a slow cooker meal in the slow cooker crock the night before, place it in the fridge and just stick it in the heating element and turn it on in the morning. By evening, dinner is done!
- Keep quick meals on hand. Dinner doesn’t have to be an elaborate, 5 course meal. Keep weeknight dinners simple. Consider making sandwiches or pasta when time is limited (yes, mac and cheese is allowed when you only have 15 minutes!).
- Keep back-up meals in the freezer. When you do cook a meal, double it up and put extra in the freezer to be eaten on one of those busy nights. Frozen pizza is also handy in a pinch 😉
- Have snacks in the car and house for “emergencies”. You know those times when you or the kids are just starved and need something, anything to hold you over until you can get to some decent food? Rather than stop at the grocery store or gas station on a whim for a quick snack, keep quick snacks on hand. Granola bars, crackers, and nuts are healthy, quick snacks that store well.
Going out to eat can be fun. I mean, what’s better than have someone else cook, wait on you and do the dishes? It’s easier to relax and have good conversation when you’re not the one in the kitchen.
If you’re going out to eat to socialize or as a source of entertainment and want to cut back to save money, consider the alternatives.
- Make a meal together. Cooking together can be fun, plus it takes the stress off of having just one person responsible for the meal. Have friends or family contribute ingredients and help put a nice meal together.
- Potluck. Host a potluck. You still get to socialize and have a great time and only have to prepare one dish to share.
- Have a picnic/cookout. For some reason, eating outdoors is more relaxing. Plan to grill up some tasty food and eat your meal outside for a change. This can turn into a whole evening of good food and drinks in the company of your friends and family, without breaking the bank.
- Host byob and app night. Who doesn’t love apps? You don’t have to have an entire meal, just have friends and family bring an app and their beverage of choice.
- Order in with friends. Okay, so you really, really don’t want to cook? Order some pizza and eat in. Ordering drinks and appetizers in a restaurant really adds to the cost of a meal, so ordering in can save over eating in the actual restaurant.
- Make it about something other than food. If you are eating out just for entertainment, consider alternative entertainment options. Hiking, biking, playing games, renting a movie or sitting around a fire are all entertaining options that cost less than eating out. Here are 35 suggestions of free things to do.
- Volunteer. This is the best! Volunteering with friends or family is a fun way to give back to the community and you feel so great when you do it! Serve dinner at a shelter, help take care of animals, or clean up trash in the park.
Going out to eat typically means eating meals we rarely fix at home. It’s different food, food that can taste remarkably good!
If you are going out to eat just for the great or different food, try buying new ingredients and fixing some great food at home. You can actually make incredible food at home, often just as good or better than most restaurants.
- Experiment with new ingredients and recipes. We can get into a rut of making the same old meals over and over at home. Switch it up and buy some new ingredients or vow to try one new recipe each week. You may find a new favorite!
- Copycat recipes. Have a favorite meal from a popular restaurant? Chances are you can find a recipe to replicate that meal at home. Check out Copykat.com for some of the more popular restaurant meal recipes.
- Buy food you don’t normally buy at the grocery store. Try something new and different. Splurge for the steak, seafood, or sushi ingredients to have at home occasionally. You may spend more at the grocery store, but cooking it at home still saves a heap over going out to eat.
- Use a grill or deep fryer. Restaurants typically cook food at high temperatures on the grill or deep fryer. Grilling can take meats, veggies and a variety of other foods to a whole new level. Deep frying foods is not a very healthy cooking method, but if you want to treat yourself now and then, consider deep frying your food of choice (we don’t own a deep fryer, but will occasionally use a deep pan to fry french fries, tenderloins and chicken fried steak).
Why do you go out to eat? How much do you think you can save by not going out to eat? What suggestions do you have for those trying to cut back on dining out?
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