How To Eat Out Less Often

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Recently, I wrote an article that showed you how you can go back through your records to determine how much money you waste by eating out.  In it I revealed that my family wasted an estimated $6,000 over the past year by eating out.  If you are on a tight budget like we are, this is totally unacceptable. That article was great for showing you how to determine whether or not your affinity for eating out is blowing your budget.  This article takes a look at why you might be eating out so much and offers some suggestions on how to eat out less often.

I’m not talking about the 10% of the time that you have planned to eat out with friends or for a special occasion. Those instances rarely break the bank or knock you off of your budget.  Instead, I want to address the other 90% of the time where you decide last minute to eat out.  This hiccup often centers around the dinnertime meal in the midst of a busy or stressful week.  You may be working late, or perhaps you are stressed out and want some comfort food, and that’s when the cravings begin.   In this article, I want to address what I think are five of the most common reasons why you decide to eat out and offer some possible solutions.

There’s Nothing Left In The House To Make Dinner

Once this has happened you pretty much don’t have much of a choice but to eat out or shop and eat a super late dinner. Eating out almost always wins. I can’t tell you how many times, poor planning on my part lead us to have run out and pick up something that was both unhealthy and not within our budget.

You can avoid this situation by doing the following:

  • Keep a throw down meal in your pantry.  Noodles, spaghetti sauce and canned green beans are going to save you at least $30 over eating out.
  • Keep an emergency meal in the freezer for such an occasion.

You Are Too Tired To Cook Dinner Tonight

How many times have been on your way home and you realized that you so tired that the thought of cooking makes you anxious. You want to just pull through the drive thru.  Before kids, my wife and I both taught high school theatre together. I did all the cooking, and she did the dishes.  After long days including rehearsals, we’d both get in the car, look at each other and jointly exclaim our desire to just eat out so that I didn’t have to cook and she wouldn’t have to do the dishes.  We were DINKs (Dual Income No Kids) back then, and spending money on food was no big deal.  Now that we are on a budget, we have to look to other solutions.  Here are a couple of them.

  • Make enough when you cook so that you can have leftover night on those days when you know you are going to be super busy or tired.
  • If you know you are going to have one of those days that’s going to leave you dog tired you can make a slow cooker meal.  Do the prep the night before and start it in the morning.
  • Cook and store several meals at one time.  Have your spouse and or kids heat it up in the microwave.  

You Hate Doing Dishes

Who doesn’t?  I know for a fact that we have eaten out many times simply because we didn’t want to do the dishes afterwards (or before we could even start cooking).  Here are a couple of solutions for that problem.

  • That’s why my children do the dishes.  All six of them get their turn.
  • Make more one pot meals like casseroles, stews, and soups.
  • Use paper plates and bowls for most of your meals.  We do! Some folks may think of this as wasteful, but the what we save on running the dishwasher and buying dishwasher soap probably equals what we spend on paper plates.  And the use of extra water versus extra paper so of even themselves out, too.

You Are So Hungry, You Just Want To Eat Now!

This is the hardest one for me.  Sometimes hunger rushes over me and I want to eat now!  This is my most likely moment to make a bad decision and eat out. Some of the above solutions will work here, but sometimes I need just a little bit more motivation. I have created a narrative for myself that you can use as well.

  • An hour after I eat I will not care what it was, I can no longer taste it.  It is gone, forever.
  • Five hours from now, I will have moved on to planning on and thinking about my next meal.
  • Tomorrow I will strain to remember what I ate today.
  • Just think how much money I’ll be wasting if I give in and eat out.

These moments of weakness are really make it or break it when it comes to your budget and the dreams that depend on it.  Be strong and take the long view!

You Are Craving Something Else

Five days ago when you went shopping, tonight’s scheduled meal appealed to you. Now, for the past five hours, you have been sitting at your desk dreaming about something else. You have a craving. This happens to everyone and it happens often enough, that if you give in to your cravings every time it will be much more difficult for you to stay within your budget.  My go to craving is Mexican food.  I seriously could eat it four or five times a week.  Not only is eating out at the Mexican restaurant a budget buster, it’s a belt buster too! So what do you do?

  • What is your favorite meal that you make and absolutely love.  Mine is enchiladas.  Fortunately, enchiladas are very good frozen and reheated.  Is there something that you can go to in times of craving? Make it and freeze it for that time when you are craving something extra special.
  • If the food you are craving is something that you can make, and you have time to make it yourself you should do that.  You can almost always make something for less than half the cost of eating out.  You can also make a healthier version of it if you so wish.
  • Most kids only like a few foods anyway, so don’t waste your money taking them out to your favorite restaurant. Make them some hotdogs and macaroni and then get the food you have been craving, curbside and take it home.  I know it sounds selfish, but think about how much you do give to them and consider how valuable your mental health is to your ability to be a good parent.  If a certain meal will help with that then go for it.  Blowing $15 or $20 going curbside, your favorite meal will be a lot cheaper then dragging your whole family to the restaurant and spending $100.

I hope you find some of these suggestions to be helpful.  These are the exact techniques we use and will continue to use as we try our darnedest to stay within our budget.  I wish you success as you try to stay within yours.  If you have any questions or suggestions on how to eat out less often, please feel free to share. We are always looking for new strategies for ourselves!


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Julia Johnson
Julia Johnson
5 years ago

Along the lines of your last tip, when we go out for fast food, we don’t eat to fill up. I always tell them to choose one thing (off the dollar menu if you’re at the right place) and then we’ll eat more at home. You pay so much for that tiny cup of fruit at chick-fil-a, and I know I have some fruit I got on sale at home!

Diane Cooney
Diane Cooney
5 years ago

Another thing that can help is to have things at home that can reduce prep and cooking time, such as frozen fries, tator tots or frozen pizza or instant potatoes. Not gourmet choices, but they work. I was surprised when our daughters came home from college and some of the meals they wanted were my inexpensive standbys- like corn chowder, english muffin pizzas & apple pancakes. Breakfast for dinner is fast, cheap and delicious. My problem now is that I still cook for 4 when it’s just the two of us now.

Diane Cooney
Diane Cooney
5 years ago
Reply to  Brian

Yes, I often bring these meals to school for lunch or freeze for busy days.

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