Eating out used to be one of my favorite things to do. I loved to relax and be served great food with a minimum of effort on my part.
This was before my husband and I implemented a budget, tracked our spending and were shocked at what we spent on restaurants. We didn’t even remember most of the times we went out.
We could have used some of the money we spent eating out to make an extra payment on the mortgage or knock down the student loans. I know you can’t un-spend money that is already out the door, but you can learn something from the experience.
For instance, I recently went out with my friends to a lovely restaurant. While the main function was to relax together away from our children so we could complete our conversations, we also went to a nice restaurant to have a meal.
The evening was a success; we had a great meal and several complete conversations. The cost was $24 per person. Reasonable, I thought, until I realized later that money could have paid to feed my family three complete meals.
I still reserve the right to eat out for special occasions, such as anniversaries and birthdays, but I’ve found I’d rather have the money than spend it eating out.
Meat is cheaper: It is hard to steer away from meat at restaurants. It is usually the main part of the meal and brings the cost of the bill up. At home I have taken meat out of the center of the meal. It is a complement, rather than the focus. When we do have meat, I buy cheaper cuts when they are on sale and cook them in the slow cooker so they are more tender.
Know your ingredients: I heard on the radio one day that MSG causes health problems. While I’m not certain if that statement carries weight, it gave me pause to think about how I cook for my family. I read food labels and discovered many polysyllabic chemical-sounding words in our pre-packaged seasoning packets, such as those for spaghetti sauce or pot roasts. Now, I buy my spices in bulk to save money and mix to our tastes.
Healthy habits are easier: I find it is so much easier to model healthy eating habits by cooking at home because my family is less likely to choose healthy foods at our favorite restaurants. When I cook at home, I can include a lot of beans, vegetables, brown rice and dairy that we miss when eating out. I can load our crisper with seasonal fruits and vegetables for snacks that we actually eat. When we were going out to eat more often, our fruits and veggies rotted because no one was eating them.
Variety is reasonable: One of the best things about eating out is the ability to enjoy foods from all over the world. I’ve found my variety fix by scouring the Internet for recipes for my new favorite foods – Asian and Indian recipes. Ingredients for these recipes were a little pricey initially since they weren’t staples on my shelves, however I’m amazed that I can find some of these ingredients at our local discount grocery.
Plan convenience: There is really no substitute to the convenience of eating out. There is no need to plan, shop and cook. Cooking at home isn’t so convenient, especially after a long day when everyone is tired, so I’ve had to make it convenient for myself. For me it involves my slow cooker. If I can throw a meal into the slow cooker in the morning, the bulk of the work is done and it’s easier for me to scrape together the energy in the evening to make a salad and cook the rice.
Clean as you cook: Letting someone else cleanup is another benefit of eating out. My naughty cat has helped with that. He was born with a hollow leg and will hover in the kitchen while I’m cooking and steal whatever is left on the counter. The only way to stop him is to clean while I’m cooking. Thanks to him, once the meal is cooked, the kitchen is clean!
Pay yourself for the meal: My husband and I decided to put the money we would have spent on eating out into savings and see how much we save by the end of 2009. I’ll bet we have enough to make a couple mortgage payments.