On Being Frugal and Eating Out
This post got me thinking about the changes that we have made over the last 11 years regarding our finances. We have gone from being very in debt spendthrifts who ate out constantly (it was our only “date” type activity other than movies) and bought all kinds of things when we wanted, and who bounced more than a few checks while living paycheck to paycheck them to having no credit card or car debt (and now no hospital debt), almost never eating out, buying all clothing items at the thrift shop, and slowly building up a “cushion”. We don’t use a budget, because neither of us work well with a budget (we naturally overspend when we have a budget) and budgeting doesn’t work well when you are trying to give freely without one hand knowing what the other hand is doing. God is blessing our lack of budget giving and our “keep a general idea how much money is spendable in the bank” attitude. We no longer stress about money and now both of us, together, balance the check book and hold each other accountable about where money is being spent.
That is not really the point of this post but it does explain where we came from and how we got here–a little anyway. So how did we go from obsessively eating out to NEVER eating out?
- The easiest part is that food allergies make eating out more hassle than it is worth. When we discovered our food allergies it was too hard to find someplace everyone could eat. It helped break the habit. Quitting cold turkey for two years REALLY helped.
- When we discovered food enzymes and were able to eat out again we had to be careful and analyze WHY we were eating out.
- Once we understood WHY we could figure out how to replicate those aspects at home. In our case it was having a nice meal together, without a lot of fuss, of our favorite foods in a nice atmosphere. Replicating those aspects at home turned out to be easier (and cheaper) than expected.
Here is how we did it:
- I figured out our favorite types of food then looked for quality, cheap alternatives at Aldi. The kids and I used ethnic foods as a homeschool project and got all kinds of kids ethnic food recipe books out and tried what looked good. We love Mexican, Italian, and Chinese foods which are all cheap and easy to make at home. Figure out what everyone’s favorite eating out foods are then figure out how best to replicate those at home. If it is something that has a special recipe a lot of websites have “secret recipe” copies that are awfully close (I have a GREAT imitation Krispie Kreme recipe if someone wants to try it.) The small amount of work making it is well worth the $20-$40 saved by NOT EATING OUT.
- Changing the atmosphere in the kitchen helped as well. When we do an “eating out” meal we set the table extra nice and make sure the kitchen is really clean. A lot of it a matter of attitude–if you spend some time cleaning up so you can “eat out” at home you will feel great about doing it. Get the kids involved–they LOVE to help when they are thinking of it as “eating out”. (Getting out the Chinese bowls and chopsticks or setting the table like a fancy restaurant or even eating off paper plates changes the feel.
- Make the food ahead. I keep some of our favorite “eating out foods” in the deep freeze for when we are in the mood to go out. Since convenience is part of why eating out is fun, having the foods ready to go makes it easy to switch gears and eat in. If you are into Chinese takeout, Aldi carries a great range of Chinese specialties that taste the same as the restaurant version and cost less than the price of a single meal to feed a family of 5. If you get the whole range they have available you can have a Chinese takeout meal made at home (with everything from egg rolls and stir fry, noodles or rice plus General Tso’s Chicken ) ready within 5-10 minutes with no driving for the price of a single meal of the same from the restaurant– plus have enough leftovers for two whole meals for your family of 5.
- When I realize how much money we save just by staying home then I don’t look at the price of the foods the same–sure the foods are slightly higher priced than what I would normally pay for a homecooked meal–but when you consider that if you went out, by the time you pay for gas, tip, and the restaurant bill that same meal which cost $5 to prepare and 10 minutes time would cost 45 minutes time and $45. The same goes for fast food joints. Keep some quick meals of the sort you enjoy at home in the freezer for those times where you are tempted to go out.
Also, set aside a little for the money you save by NOT going out to purchase something you enjoy doing as a family. One of the best things we did was find something else we enjoyed doing as a family to replace going out–for us it is playing video games together or going to the park or walking around the mall (not buying stuff.) Considering that for us not going out saves enough money to buy one video game that will give the family hours of fun is a pretty good incentive to eat at home. When the kids start bugging to go out we point out that a trip to the Chinese restaurant is the same price as two DS games (which they can play together since they each saved up for a DS) or one computer game (which Daddy plays while they watch) or two purchased DVD’s or a month of free rentals at Netflix puts the going out into perspective. If you don’t like those think about what your family likes to do together, then use those things as an incentive to eat at home and use a little of the saved money to do a fun activity together. One of the cool benefits we found is that by doing this we changed the “feel good” aspect of eating out–if you train your children to associate feeling good and being a family with food you are setting them up for trouble when they are older. Move the focus of family away from food and food becomes just one more way to be together instead of way to feel like family.
If you are here from WFMW you can click here to see more tips.
Excellent tips! I think I’ll bookmark this page and make myself read it anytime I’m tempted to eat out.
I think a deep freeze would help us a lot, and one of my goals is to get one this year. Our problem is trying to figure out where to put it. We have a small house with no garage and no storage. I’m sure I can think of something creative though. 🙂
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GREAT ideas … I need to keep these in mind as we wean off eating out this year ;).
Fabulous post! I so totally agree with you on the price of foods to eat at home. I think I would really want to go out to eat much more if I didn’t have really yummy things to eat at home. Mac & Cheese or other cheap foods aren’t going to cut it all the time. We don’t do much freezing because our freezer is small, but I do see how that would really benefit the situation. Thanks for these ideas. It is something we need to work on more.
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This is a wonderful post! There are so many helpful ideas in here… cutting down on how often we eat out is one of my MAIN goals for 2008!
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Great advice and congrats on becoming debt free! Between us, hubby and I have worked for nearly every chain restaurant–inside information on those secret recipes! We can make nearly identical versions of our favorite dishes from Olive Garden, Elephant Bar, etc. at a fraction of the cost.
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I am printing this out. While we are now debt free except for our home, this is one area that we continually struggle with.
Maybe it is the stage of life we are in now with two athletes in the house and rushing after work to games anywhere from 2 to 100 miles away. Eating out last year got out of hand. This is a goal of mine this year and your tips may help me evaluate the reasons it appears to be easier for us to eat out than to prepare ahead of time.
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I know all this is true, and we do very rarely eat out just for the fun of it. But every now and then it is worth it to me for the following reasons:
I get out of the house and into the community
I get to eat food that someone else cooked
I get it served to me along with everything I need
The kiddies get everything served to them and if we need something else (water, spoon) I can just ask instead of getting up myself
And the real biggie-SOMEONE ELSE CLEANS UP OUR MESS!!!
So, to be honest, I REALLY REALLY like to eat out. But I’m usually a very good girl and cook nutritious home cooked meals and yes, save lots of money!
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So true! We’re trying to figure out my son’s food allergies and we can’t eat out. Even with buying “special” foods for him, we’re still saving and reducing debt. Thanks for the encouragement.
I like the angle of using the money saved on eating out for something fun for the family. We may have to try that!
Our biggest downfall with eating out is that it’s time to spend with friends. We’ll often go out to eat after church. I hate spending the money, but it’s nice to be out with friends. Perhaps I should work harder this year at cooking and having friends over to share the meal.
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I would kill for a Krispy Kreme recipe! Please email me!
The reason our family eats out (although it’s rare) is because I fail to plan ahead or just feel way too tired to prepare anything. Any suggestions for those nights? I haven’t “fed my freezer” in a long time for the same reasons.
As much as I love eating out, nothing tastes as good as when we make it at home.
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I love this post. I have discovered one other thing that has helped me too is to have my hubs get like an appetizer or chips and dip to go along with the meal that I have prepared and it just tops it off. I love the post! Would love to see some recipes and associated with your findings.
The other thing is that sometimes I just don’t feel like cooking . . .and on the occasion I am just honest with my husband and he cooks up something like spaghetti and sometimes he actually cleans it up too! He would much rather do that then have me suggest going out to eat! Way to go!
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Great ideas!! I appreciate your tips!
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We try to keep some favourite convenience foods from the grocery store on hand for eating out urges. Even if it seems expensive to spend however much for a already made casserole or whatever, when you compare the six dollars to what you’d pay for a restaurant? Money well spent. Nearly always, we don’t actually want the specific food, we just want the convenience. (Long day at work, both of us tired, etc etc etc) The ‘pop in oven.. wait’ level of food prep is perfect! 🙂
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Some great ideas for my credit pitfall – eating out. I hate cooking, yet I have to feed three boys 3 times a day, 7 days a week. I married a cook, but he now only cooks on the weekends, as he quit cooking full time due to a on the job injury. On the other hand, I LOVE eating. I agree with everything Rachael said.