If there was ever a statistic about why modern budgets fail again and again, I am certain that eating out would be on the list, if not the leading act! More than any other habit of the modern American family, eating out is positively the worst thing you can do for your financial and physical well-being.
If you’re ready to break from the habit and kick eating out goodbye, here is my exhaustive list of the best eight ways to go about it, Fiscal Fizzle style:
#1 - Pack Your Lunches
This is fairly common advice for curbing your lunch habits, so why is it so hard to follow? Because not all of us are morning people, and it takes a few minutes to prepare a lunch that we won’t get tired of. It’s also difficult to prepare “wet” dishes or things that need re-heating, unless a microwave is available (which doesn’t always taste very good). Here are some tips if you jump on the brown-bagging bandwagon:
- Prepare as much of your lunch the night before.
- Have 4-5 “standard” lunches in your arsenal so that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every night.
- Pack wet items, like sauces or tomatoes separately and add them just before eating.
- Prepare microwave-friendly foods that won’t taste like rubber coming out.
- If you’re lucky enough to have a stovetop at work, consider packing things to fry up quickly.
For more tips on brown bagging, read my post – Make Brown Bagging Efficient and Fun.
#2 - Learn to Cook Well
One of the main reasons people like to frequent restaurants is because the food simply tastes better. However, if you’re ever been around someone who has spent a little bit of time learning how to cook foods properly, they will probably tell you that they can make better-tasting food than most restaurants (I say most because there are always a few that are just out-of-this-world delicious).
Start slow and develop your own style of cooking. Don’t worry about setting things on fire, food tasting bad, or the dog not wanting to touch what you made – every new skill takes time. Start with recepies that are easy to follow and you’ll pick up the “basics” through repeated experimentation. Some resources:
- Food Network Recipies
- Epicurious – “For People Who Love To Eat”
- Recipe Matcher – Find recepies based on your ingredients
#3 – Take a Lesson From Smoking
If you know someone who has quit “cold turkey,” tell them congratulations! You also probably know that it was an incredible challenge of their willpower and determination. A great alternative to stopping in mid-action is the gradual step-down plan. I recommend this if you’ve been addicted to eating out for a long time.
Consider your average monthly budget for dining out, or the average number of times you eat out every week. Then commit to reduce either number by a set amount each week or month, until you are dining out very infrequently.
#4 - Set a Very Desirable Goal
What’s the one thing you want so badly in your life that you would give up almost anything to get it? That one financial goal that’s so desirable that it can literaly stop you in your tracks when you think about spending money somewhere else.
If you don’t have such a goal, it may be a good idea to sit down and develop one. Maybe it’s a summer vacation in the Keys. Or an engagement ring for your girlfriend. The more emotionally attached you are to the goal, the better it will work! Next time you think about eating out, just bring that one, undeniable goal to mind and say No!
#5 - Start Weight Watchers
I’m serious. I ate out less than I ever had the minute I started Weight Watchers, and continued on the plan for about 6 months. You simply can’t be on a well-structured diet like WW and eat out – most restaurant foods contain so many calories you’ll blow through all your WW “points” immediately.
You can imagine the health benefits of not eating all that calorie and fat-rich food on a daily basis – maintaining a healthy weight becomes a much easier proposition.
#6 - Compare to Your Hourly Rate
One of the best tools I’ve heard of for combatting impulse spending is analyzing the purchase based on your working hourly rate, in order to determine the amount of hours or days required to pay off that purchase. Why not do the same thing for lunch?
If you spend $20 on lunch every single day, and your hourly wage is, for simplicity’s sake, $10/hour – you just used what took 2 hours to earn on lunch. That doesn’t even consider the cost of driving to your destination, or the potential cost of health implications. If you work an 8-hour day, that’s 1/4 of your entire day spent of paying for meal out. Does anyone else think that’s crazy???
#7 - Calculate the Cost of Dinner at Home
This is one of my favorite motivational strategies and one that I use regularly between myself and my wife. Based on the ingriedients used to make my lunch or dinner dish, I will calculate out the total per-person cost of that meal (not taking into account the time it took to make it, of course).
Last night’s dinner cost $3 for each of us…find me a restaurant other than McD’s where I can eat that cheap and I will bow before you!
Bonus: #8 - No Time is No Excuse
Many people complain that there is not enough time in the day to cook dinner at home, particularly in this new day and age of getting everything instantly and working 100-hour weeks. To you I say – if you choose to burn yourself out with work and miss out on the daily pleasures of life, go right ahead. But if you can spare as little as 10 minutes per day, there are ways to make dinner without having to dive into your freezer for a meal pack.
One of the great tools I use regularly to save on cooking time is the slow cooker, or “Crock-Pot.” About a month ago, Squakfox wrote an excellent article on 6 reasons you should use a crock pot; check it out if it’s something you’d like to consider (you should!).
Get To Know Your Family Again
Stop eating out to save your money and save your health. But you’ll also reap the most intangible benefit of all – getting to spend some quality time cooking and eating with the rest of your family. There’s nothing like a regular dinner with loved ones to remind you why you do whatever it is you do.