How to Stop Eating Out and Slash Your Food Bill

Eating out is easy. But it’s expensive. Since food takes up a large chunk of most people’s monthly budget, breaking the fast food habit is one of the easiest ways to cut costs.

Consider this: It’s common to spend $7-8 on a single meal at a fast food restaurant. Let’s say you only eat out for lunches during the workweek. This still adds up to $40 a week, and about $172 a monthly. This is just for one person, for one meal. If you eat out more often than workday lunches, have children, or like to spend more, than you can easily double or triple this number.

But it’s possible to cut back and still eat well in order to save money. Additionally, you may have to cut back on eating out due to an unexpected pay cut or job loss.

If you are spending a lot of money on eating meals out, you may be surprised at just how much money you can free up by kicking the fast-food habit. In addition to saving money, you may experience health benefits since you can choose healthier options to eat at home.

The key is to have a plan in place to avoid eating out. These suggestions will help you kick your fast food habit and save money in the process.

Plan Your Menu

Planning ahead is the most important step if you are trying to stop eating out. If you do not know what you are having for dinner that night, it’s much easier to stop at a restaurant on the way home.

  • Menu planning cuts down on the number of times you need to go to a grocery store during the week, saving you money at the grocery store and giving you more time to prepare food.
  • If you plan carefully, you can plan to use similar ingredients in your menus each week, saving even more money.
  • Plan your menu for the month and break it down by week for your grocery list. You can repeat your menu each month with minimum planning.
  • Another option is to use a menu planning service. There are several available online for around $5/month.
  • If you are looking for even more ways to save you may consider extreme couponing.

Food Prep Is Key

Cleaning string beans
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Many people struggle with cooking when they come home after a long day of work. Preparing the ingredients, reading the recipe, cooking dinner, and cleaning up can take a lot of time. But, when you do as much preparation as you can before work, it becomes a lot easier to cook each night. Here are some food prep tips to save you time and money.

  • Try using a crockpot or slow cooker while you are at work. When you come home, dinner is ready and waiting for you.
  • If you are planning to grill out, put the meat in the refrigerator to marinate before you go to work. If you are planning a casserole, you can put the ingredients together and pop in the fridge the night before.
  • If you are planning meals that have similar ingredients, you may prep an additional meal or two while you are making one. For example, if you are having sloppy joes, beef enchiladas, and lasagna in one week, you can brown the beef and prep the enchiladas and lasagna at the same time you finish up the sloppy joes. This saves time in the long run.
  • You can also chop up a batch of onions for the week or grate all of the cheese you need for the week. This can also help you stay motivated so you are not tempted to stop at a restaurant on the way home.

Take Advantage of Convenience Food

Frozen food section
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You can save money by not always cooking your food from scratch. It can be healthier to use fresh vegetables rather than frozen, but choosing to use convenience foods can save you money. You may start cooking using a wide variety of convenience foods and wean off of them as you get used to cooking and planning.

  • Some typical convenience foods are grated cheese, frozen chopped onions, frozen vegetables for stirfry, and pre-cooked meat for recipes.
  • If you are cooking for just yourself, these options may be easier than preparing an individual meal each night.
  • Another option is to cook ahead and divide the meals into smaller portions and freeze them to use throughout the month. By doing this, you create your own healthier option of convenience food.

Have a Back-Up Plan

Spaghetti on a plate on the table
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Another trick to help you stay on track with your budget is to buy ready-to-eat foods for the nights when you are too tired to cook. These meals should be easy to put together and should cook quickly.

  • These may be frozen meals or meals in the bag.
  • Spaghetti or another pasta dish is an easy food to prepare, and easy to store in your pantry, as well.
  • Mixes for meals, like Hamburger Helper or macaroni and cheese, can fill in the gaps.
  • Pre-cooked meats or deli meat can be used to put together a quick meal or snack when you don’t have the time or energy to cook.

Avoid the Lunch Temptation

Box lunches
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Many people struggle to avoid eating out for lunch during the workweek, even if they are committed to cooking and eating in for dinner. But there are several strategies to help make packing lunches easier ​and save you money.

  • Pack your lunch the night before to save time in the mornings.
  • Eat leftovers from dinner, and don’t be afraid to get creative. For example, you can use the chicken breasts you grilled the night before to make a chicken salad. Or you can make a taco salad out of leftover taco meat.
  • Frozen dinners and soup are a good fallback for the days you didn't have time to prep a lunch.
  • Practice keeping track of the days you don’t eat out for lunch. That way at the end of the month, you can calculate how much you saved for motivation.

Updated by Rachel Morgan Cautero.