I don’t know about you, but for me, happiness is ordering yummy food at a restaurant and not having to do the dishes later. I seriously get a high from going out to eat. I don’t know what it is, the fact that I can’t cook, can’t clean, or get unlimited bread served to me – but there is nothing that makes this girl quite as happy as going to a restaurant.
That goofy smile on my face fades when we get the bill. Actually, now that a toddler is joining us at dinner, sometimes the smile fades before the drinks even come.
For two adults plus our toddler who usually just picks off of our plates, we can easily spend $30 after tip. We’re not going to extravagant restaurants, I’m talking just Olive Garden and TGI Fridays.
Every time we leave, I have the same guilt. The food was okay, but it definitely wasn’t worth that much and that money would have gone a lot further paying off our debt. Or worse, sometimes our toddler is such a handful that we end up eating in shifts while the other entertains our toddler.
What Worked for Our Food Budget
Even though we were so stressed about money and how much we were spending on food every month, we kept making excuses to go out to eat. Then, we’d feel so guilty when the check came that we’d decide we were never going out to eat again and would instead spend hundreds at the grocery store…only to still have no idea what we were having for dinner.
It took years for us to break this cycle, but we finally found solutions that worked – and we decided we wanted to spend our money on making memories instead of on guilt-ridden trips out to restaurants. I’ve laid out exactly what we did, step-by-step, to finally get a handle on our food budget here.
How to Stop Going to Restaurants
The number one tip I have to break your going out to eat habit is to have a couple of kids and wait for them to turn into toddlers. If you have young kids, you know what I mean.
If you don’t have that luxury, keep reading.
In order to make any big change, you have to start with the end in mind. If you stop going out to eat, what are you going to eventually get? More money to make memories with your family? A healthier lifestyle because you can cook healthier meals at home? Whatever it is, decide on it and really, really want it.
Then, use the single best piece of advice I’ve ever received – string days together. If you say you’re not going out go out to eat at all for the rest of the year, it’s all you’ll think about. Instead, take the battles as they come.
Maybe your spouse worked late tonight, the kids have been out of sorts all day, and you still have dishes from last night in the sink. The easy solution is to load the family in the car and go out to eat or even just order a pizza.
Instead, I challenge you to take this battle and find a solution that doesn’t involve spending money. You don’t have to make a five-course meal, just create a meal at home. String those days together and fight those battles as they come.
Don’t let yourself go out to eat.
The number one thing we’ve done to combat our eating out addiction is to buy this amazing appliance.
When I tell you that our Instant Pot pays for itself every month, I’m not exaggerating.
I know, you’re trying to stop spending money, so why would you want to buy yet another appliance?
That’s exactly what I thought too and is why we didn’t buy one for the longest time.
When I finally gave in and bought an Instant Pot during a black Friday sale, I was skeptical. Now, I’m completely in love with it and can honestly say it saves us enough money each month to pay for itself…and then some.
Check out Instant Pot restaurant copycat recipes on Pinterest, pick up the ingredients, and make your favorite meal at home. I promise you can make even bigger portions for less than half the price that’ll last for multiple meals.
If you are used to going out to eat as much as we used to, it’s honestly hard to break the habit, but it can be done. Instead, you have to create a new habit of finding creative solutions when the easy answer is to pay someone to make food for you.
Plan dinner during breakfast. First thing in the morning, think of something you’d like to have for dinner. If you have a menu plan, take a look at it and see if you honestly feel like eating whatever is on the menu for tonight. If not, be honest about it and adjust as needed.
If you’re not the picky eater in your house, consult with them. If I were you, I wouldn’t be willing to make more than one dinner each night. What I make, is what’s for dinner. 🙂
Go to the Grocery Store Instead
If you do make it to the end of your night and you don’t have what you need to make a meal, don’t let yourself give in and go to a restaurant! Go to the grocery store instead and find a solution.
This happens to us more regularly than I care to admit. We have a huge kitchen full of food, but some nights, nothing sounds good. On those nights, we usually end up running to the grocery store and pick up the ingredients to make something that sounds great.
Remember though, the goal here is to break an expensive habit – not to replace it with another one. Be frugal when you’re shopping and find deals. Don’t spend more on groceries than you’d spend going out to eat. That’s not fixing anything!
Set Yourself Up For Success
Have meals ready for those times when nothing is going right and everyone is hungry. Have frozen pizzas in your freezer ready to go. You don’t even have to have unhealthy prepared pizzas filled with preservatives. You can make your own pizza crust, add your own toppings, and pop them in the freezer.
Make doubles of dinners when you do cook. This isn’t a new tip – it’s the fad right now to make freezer meals weeks in advance. It’s so popular because it works. If you’re making lasagna for dinner, make two or three and freeze the ones you’re not planning on eating tonight.
Don’t make rigid meal plans. When we’ve been determined in the past to break our habit of going out to eat, we’d get all gung ho and make these extravagant plans to fix what I thought was wrong.
We’d make strict meal plans, we’d go shopping for a whole month, come home and put all of our groceries away, and hang the meal plan on the fridge.
It would work great for a couple of days, then a day would come along and neither of us would be in the mood for whatever was on the menu for that day. Over time, we’ve found a meal planning system that works for us. Figure out what works for you and your family. Have a favorite backup on hand for those nights when you just don’t feel like eating what you scheduled to make.
If your favorite meals don’t keep well in the freezer or fridge, make as much of it as you can. For example, a lot of our favorite meals (like lentil tacos and tikka masala) require a bunch of spices.
Maybe it’s my ADD or my amazingly craptastic math skills, but it seriously stresses me out to measure out a million spices with kids screaming and crawling around my feet.
Instead, I measure everything out into little plastic baggies so I at least have the spices ready to go when I decide to make one of those meals. It’s ridiculously easy to get a bunch of them ready to go during nap time one day, and then I’m more motivated to make those meals on a busy weeknight when I’d otherwise be REALLY tempted to order take out.
Accept That You Won’t Be Perfect
As soon as you get into the rhythm of eating at home and breaking your going out to eat habit, something will happen.
One of your loved ones will have a birthday and want to go out to eat to celebrate, friends will come into town, you’ll get invited to dinner. I promise, something will derail your plans.
Going out to eat is supposed to be a special occasion. At least I think so. If you only go out to eat for special events like birthdays or happy hours with friends you don’t see very often, you’ll appreciate the experience so much more.
Enjoy those times when you are going out to eat for a celebration or a meaningful get-together.
Don’t lessen those experiences by going out to eat all the time out of convenience.
Maybe you stumbled upon this post and you don’t see what the big deal is. Maybe you go out to eat all the time and you have no desire to change that.
If you can afford that lifestyle – go for it! We would too if we could.
Instead, we decided to become a one-income family when our Nugget was born, and we had to sacrifice some things to make that happen. Going out to eat was one of them. These are just the things that helped us go from eating out 3 or 4 times a week to maybe once a month – maybe. Nowadays, we don’t even go out to eat that often.
Do you have an addiction to going out to eat that you want to break? How much do you spend eating at restaurants and ordering takeout every month? Let me know in the comments!