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How to Break the Expensive Habit of Eating Out

Eating out—whether it’s at nice sit down restaurants or a drive-through window—is one of the biggest leaks in a lot of people’s budgets, including mine. Eating out has always been money-sucker for me. And eating out is hard to stop doing because after a while, where we eat becomes more than a choice—it becomes a habit.

Eating out is an expensive alternative getting food at the grocery store (even if you don’t cook). A single person eating fast food twice daily, five days a week, might spend $60. Add one $25 sit down dinner and you’ve spent $85 in a week. Hit up the store, and the same money could feed you for two weeks or more. Buying for two or more? The savings get bigger. So, how do you stop eating out?

Start small. As with any lifestyle change, the key to lasting success is to take baby steps. If you’re on a steady diet of Big Mac lunches and pizza dinners, try starting by trying to pack your lunch four days out of five. (If you hit all five, great, but allow yourself some wiggle room). The next week, cook dinner for yourself once (or at least avoid ordering or going out). Each subsequent week, do a little more. Pretty soon, you’ll find that eating out is the exception rather than the rule.

Avoid social pressures to eat out. If you spend a lot of money going out to sit-down restaurants, your habit may be more social than gastronomical in nature. Are you eating out with friends or your significant other? If a group of friends is the culprit, suggest dinner parties as an alternative. Or, grab a quick bite at home and meet the group after their meal.

When you do eat out, choose wisely. At sit-down restaurants, alcoholic drinks can cost more than the food, so order them sparingly. Then, choose foods that you can take home with you as a second meal like sandwiches or salads. (The portions are always too big, anyway.

Pack your lunch, but don’t ditch your break. Just because you bring your lunch to work doesn’t mean you should eat at your desk. When I used to eat lunches out almost daily—I savored the 10 minute drive to my favorite sandwich shop as a much-needed chance to get out and see the sun. Eat with coworkers in a common space, go outside, or even take it in your car and eat somewhere quiet if you have to! If you do eat at your desk, take at least 10-15 minutes to walk outside and get some fresh air.

Shop more frequently. One of the problems I run into when trying to eat in more often is that grocery shopping for one is a challenge. I can hardly consume things—even staples like milk and bread—before they go bad. The key is to buy smaller quantities and go shopping more often. Yes, you’ll pay more per gallon for a pint of milk than for a gallon, but if you only drink it once or twice a week, you’ll just waste money on larger sizes.

Love your freezer. Finally, learn to freeze foods. Meats, bread, even milk and some fruits and veggies can be frozen just fine. Doing so will allow you to eat healthier and for a lot less!

Do you struggle with avoiding dining out? What are your strategies for eating in more often?

Published or updated on August 22, 2008

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About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.


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