Tips For NOT Eating Out

By ERIN TURNER

For me, one benefit of being a grown-up is the ability to go out for dinner whenever I want.  As a kid, eating out had been such a luxury that when I graduated from college and got my first job, I thought I was living the high-life by eating out as often as I could.

Today it is still a treat I enjoy along with my family but with busy schedules and trying to manage a budget, we try to limit going out to eat.  Plus, the more we shift our eating to healthy, whole foods it is getting harder to really appreciate a lot of what is served at restaurants.

With our Pantry Challenge under way this month, we are very conscious of scaling back any trips to eat out.   If you remember from last week’s blog, I talked about being flexible in your Pantry Challenge goals.  Our ultimate goal for eating out is to not do it at all but we want to remain realistic and adaptable so we’ve committed ourselves to eating at home unless a special occasion arises.

Eating dinner out or ordering out costs a lot of money eachmonth.

Choosing to not eat out or order in actually takes some planning and practice for those who have made it a regular habit.  It becomes fairly easy after a long day to say, “Oh, let’s just go out and eat.”  Households fall into this routine because they think: a) “I don’t have time to fix dinner” and b) “We have no food or nothing is prepared.”  If you have ever thought these things (and believe me, I have!), I want you to REALLY think about those statements and see if you can find any truth in them?

Going out to eat doesn’t save any time.  In fact, when we go out to eat we end up spending more time away from home and it ends up being unproductive time—waiting for a table and then waiting for the food.  If we stayed home and we prepared dinner, the kids could work on homework, read or do their chores.   Seems like a good use of time instead of sitting around waiting!

I have to laugh when most people say, “Oh, we went out because we have no food.”  Anyone who can afford to go out to dinner probably has shelves, a freezer and a refrigerator full of food!  What it boils down to is this: we aren’t willing to take the time to prepare the food.  And I get that.  I have days when having someone else do the cooking sounds grand!  But folks, we’re talking about frugal living so relying on restaurants to feed us is not part of our goal.  So, how do we break the Eat-Out habit?

Menu planning is my biggest tool in fighting the “Eating Dinner Out”habit.

First of all, talk with all members of your family about your financial goals and what eating-out does to those goals.  If everyone can understand what you’re striving for then there will be less resistance.  If it would be helpful, keep track of how much you spend on eating out and ordering out for one month.  Show the family how much money was spent.  I think this amount will shock some people!  We are a family of five and an average dinner at a family style restaurant usually runs us $35-40.  If we were to eat out or order out, twice a week for a month we would spend $320.  Holy buckets!  Do you know what I could do with $320 at a grocery store?  I could feed a small army for a month!

Second tip?  Menu plan, menu plan, menu plan!  I’ve talked about it before (Save It with Menu Planning  and Budget Menu Planning) and I can’t tell you how much money, time and stress this will save you!  Everyone has a few minutes each weekend to look at their shelves, refrigerator and freezer to determine what needs to be eaten.   Look at your calendar for the week to decide what nights you need meals already prepared (e.g. frozen, pre-made dinners or crock pot dinners) and what nights you can spend a little time to cook something.  Since Christmas, I have been doubling a lot of my recipes in order to get two meals.  We eat one that night while I freeze the second for those, “I wanna go out to dinner” nights!  It is such a relief for me knowing I have a good, healthy home-cooked meal that just needs to be defrosted!   Menu planning saves you from that dreaded question at 5pm, “What in the world am I going to fix for dinner?!”  For me, menu-planning is my deadliest weapon against the “Eating Out” habit!

A clean sink and kitchen helps make you want to cook athome.

My final tip is keeping your kitchen clean and organized.  This is huge in your goal not eating out!  Who wants to cook when you’re sink is full of dishes, the counters are full of crumbs, school papers and junk mail, your refrigerator is so disorganized you don’t know what’s in there and your oven is so thick with goo that it may catch on fire the next time you turn it on?!  Yeah, I’d be heading out to the nearest restaurant too.

Keeping a clean and organized cooking area makes you actually want to be there and it helps invite you in to cook a good meal.  A little maintenance each day makes it easy to keep that kitchen sparkling: 1)Always keep your sink empty and clean 2) Clear off counters (baskets are wonderful things!) 3)Whenever you have a few spare minutes do extra tasks (like cleaning out the refrigerator, clean the stove and oven, etc).   A fun thing to try is set the timer for 15 minutes to see how much you can clean and organize before the timer goes off!  You’ll be astounded at how much you can do!

So, with the month of February being our family’s Pantry Challenge you can be sure I’m keeping a clean kitchen, menu-planning each week and also making extra meals to freeze AND we’ve talked with the kids about what our financial goals are this month.  We’ve paved the path for success so I’m fairly confident we can limit eating out to only a special occasion or two but maybe even completely eliminating it entirely!

We’ve had great interest in our Pantry Challenge so welcome to all the new readers!  We would love to hear how everyone avoids or limits eating dinners out!  Please share your tips!

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Erin’s got tons of tips for saving money, couponing, sticking to a budget, and living sustainably in her blog archive.

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Erin Eisenman-Turner is proud to be a native Missoulian. Along with her husband and three sons, they raise chickens, pigs, rabbits, and vegetables at Turner Family Farms in the Orchard Homes area. When the farm chores are done, the coupons clipped, and the blog written, you can find Erin exploring Montana, collecting antiques, and trying to maintain a well-run, happy, and organized home for her family.

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