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If you’re looking to save money or pay off debt, avoiding restaurants is the quickest way to put big bucks back in your budget. But instead of depriving yourself, here are some ways you can make eating at home even more enjoyable than going out.
What is it that drives us to revert to eating out when we’re tired or bored? Some people say it’s fun to get dressed up and go to a restaurant or it’s easier to have someone serve you your food and remove the dishes.
If you really think about it, eating at home is just as “fun” as eating out and expends just as much energy. When you go out you drive there, sit down, pick your entrée, second-guess the price, order it anyway, eat, box up leftovers, grimace at the bill, and then drive home.
When you eat at home you have to chop some vegetables and wash some dishes but you spend less, have more leftovers, can customize your dish, eat it in your pajamas while watching a movie, and you learn a skill that gets better every time you practice.
Our fear of cooking and disdain for dishes costs us almost $3,000 every year. That comes down to about $250 per month or $57 per week. Does that sound like a lot or is that conservative for you?
Avocado toast isn’t the problem, the notion that we need to spend money at restaurants to have quality experiences is the problem. What could you do with an extra $3,000? How much faster could you pay off your credit cards, car, or student loans? Is the thought of that enough to make you cut back or quit spending on restaurants altogether?
Not compromising your commitment to a spending freeze on eating/drinking out doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy life or never step inside another restaurant. I enjoy eating out, I’m a mediocre chef who loves Asian food and lattes but can make neither. There are alternatives to that as well.
So here are my methods to avoid spending on eating out that won’t drive you insane with boredom or overwhelm you with work.
The number one reason for eating out is a failure to plan. That’s why I love talking about meal planning. I have a white erase board on my fridge with weekly meals so I know what I’m going to make when I’m going to make it.
I look at the time and prep time each meal is going to take and plan the longer ones for the weekend and quick meals on weeknights.
I search for ingredients I already have on Pinterest to find new ways to use them. It takes me about an hour on Sundays to plan every meal for the week. But I get that hour back throughout the week by knowing what to make and having everything I need to make it.
This is a method I promote when doing a No Spend Challenge. Making 4-6 different freezer meals using similar ingredients can keep healthy meals on your menu without buying fresh produce every week.
I’m very picky about freezer meals. Pasta meals have worked well for me but I find they need 48 hours to thaw in the fridge and always take longer to bake than the instructions say. My favorite freezer meals are slow cooker soups, stews, and chilis.
Put all the chopped and ready ingredients into a gallon Ziploc freezer bag and throw it into the freezer. When you’re ready, cut the bag off and put it frozen block directly into the slow cooker. If you freeze it upright it should fit perfectly, otherwise turn the slow cooker on to melt the size down until you can fit the lid on.
I also use pre-made freezer meals from the grocery store. Wednesday is pizza night in our house because Travis and I both work late. Popping a pizza in the oven is easy and something we look forward to every week. Always keep your freezer full of ready made meals, it makes for easy dinner and lowers your electric bill!
Pack Your Lunch at Dinnertime
While dinner is cooking and you haven’t done dishes yet, go ahead and make lunches for the next day. If you’re making a sandwich or salad make enough for the rest of the week. Separate the soggy elements so they don’t sit on your sandwich for days until you eat it.
And learn to embrace the leftovers. When you’re putting everything away instead of putting it in a single container, portion it out to individual serving Tupperware. I recommend getting glass containers so you can store it, microwave it, and eat it out of the same bowl. #lessdishes
Have Friends Over
During our last No Spend Challenge we ran into friends we hadn’t seen in a long time and wanted to hang out. We didn’t want to wait until the next month so we were open with them about our spending freeze and invited them over. Not only were they excited about, they offered to make dinner and bring it over.
A week later we had another couple agree to have us over at their house to watch a TV show. An hour before we were supposed to go over I got a text saying they were tired so they were just going to go out to eat (at their favorite pricey sit-down restaurant) and lay low after… but we were welcome to join.
Your real friends want to hang out with you. They want to build you up and encourage you in your goals even if their goals are different. The No-Spend Challenge is more than just saving a couple hundred dollars, it transforms your social life.
So if you want to have experiences with your friends don’t be afraid to invite them over for coffee or a meal. Your house isn’t as small, messy, or dingy as you think it is and even if it was your friends wouldn’t mind.
And eventually, you’ll be inviting the friends who stick with you to your dream house with comfy couches, a roomy kitchen and a pool in the backyard.
When you want to get out of the house for a great sunset or cooler weather (something us Floridians always look forward to) you should be able to! But you don’t need to pay for a seat at a restaurant to do it.
Pack all the random snack foods you would’ve eaten for dinner anyways, trust me that day will come, for a relaxing picnic. Enjoy it at a park, beach, or random parking garage rooftop, but use the free street parking.
Picnics are popular in France and Italy so theming your picnic is totally acceptable. One day you’ll be able to afford that European vacation but until then there’s no harm in practicing.
Take Surveys for Gift Cards
Taking surveys is my least favorite way to make money (I’m one-third of the way to cashing out on InboxDollars without taking any surveys.) But survey companies that give out gift cards instead of cash tend to make accumulating “points” a little easier.
Swagbucks is probably my favorite. Every 500 Swagbucks approximates to $5 and you can redeem for gift cards to Olive Garden, Cheesecake Factory, Texas Roadhouse, and Starbucks among others. You can also redeem points for a virtual MasterCard gift card. It’s good anywhere so you don’t technically need to spend it at a restaurant but you totally could.
You can leave their videos on in the background of your computer and earn up to 500 SB per day with no checking in. But be careful, some of the videos are actually entertaining and could distract you to no end.
I love mystery shopping! If you haven’t tried it I highly recommend you read my how to start mystery shopping guide and get on it. Like survey sites, it’s not a lucrative side hustle but you get paid a little and reimbursed up to a certain amount making your dinner or outing free!
I do a lot of restaurant shops to scratch the itch of going out. You might think you won’t be able to enjoy your meal if you’re watching out for everything, but that’s not the case. Companies want you to look like a regular patron so most of the details for your report are gathered at the beginning and end of the meal.
The report and narrative usually take about an hour to complete and it’s best to do it right when you get home, sometimes you’ll get a bonus for turning it in early.
A dining freeze is an effective way to save money and pay off debt faster. Replacing mindless habits with healthy alternatives will make it feel less like giving something up and more like embracing a new way of life.
What stuff do you do to avoid spending money at restaurants and cafes? Let me know in the comments!