By Sarah Hall, Consumer Education Services Inc.
If you want to cut your expenses, one obvious place to start is evaluating whether you spend too much eating out.
Whether it’s ordering a pizza on a Friday night or picking up a burger for lunch on a Wednesday, the average American household spends more than 40 percent of their food budget on food away from home. And it’s far too easy to fall into bad habits that leave you reaching for a delivery menu at certain times of the week when you’re too tired to cook.
But, when you start relying on restaurant kitchens — and not your own — on a regular basis, those food costs start adding up quickly, using cash that might be better spent paying off debt, building your emergency fund or saving for retirement.
Here are four ways to avoid eating out too much:
Hone in on your bad habits
What ruts do you seem to be stuck in when it comes to eating out? Pizza delivery every Friday? Your favorite biscuit restaurant after church on Sundays? Take out lunches more often than you’d like to admit during the work week? Make a list of those meals where you always seem to be eating out. That’s the first step toward breaking those patterns.
Create new habits
Replace those bad habits with better ones.
Instead of ordering pizza out every Friday, make your own. Food Network has an easy homemade pizza recipe that will cost you pennies when compared to a delivery pizza.
Instead of going out after church, make an at-home brunch a tradition that your family looks forward to. Some eggs, pancakes and fresh fruit made at home will cost you far less than brunch out.
If you’re running out of time in the morning to pack your own lunch, do it at night. As you’re cleaning up after dinner, toss any leftovers into a container that you can take to work or wrap up a sandwich so that all you have to do each morning is toss everything into your bag.
Make a meal plan
Meal planning can take time — at least in the very beginning — but that hard work can pay off in big dividends. To start, look at what’s on sale at your local grocery store. From there, pick out recipes or easy dishes that you can whip up with items that are discounted.
Then, take a look at your week. Does Sophie have soccer on Monday? Does Jack have karate on Wednesday? Instead of reaching for fast food on those evenings, plan on making a big batch of soup to heat up before you head out. Or pack sandwiches or homemade pasta salad that you can eat in the car.
Then, create your meal plan and a shopping list so that when you head to the grocery store, you’re buying items that you know you’ll need and use. And that’s the critical part: Don’t just create a meal plan, stick to it.
Stock your pantry
A stocked pantry means you won’t be able to eat out using the excuse that “there’s nothing to eat.” A few cans of beans, diced tomatoes and spices will make a hearty bean chili. Whip up a filling dinner with some pasta and sauce. A box of pancake mix makes a great brunch or breakfast-for-dinner addition. A can of soup is easy to take to work. Budget Bytes lists essential pantry items.
As you break these habits, give yourself some grace. Habits can be hard-wired, but, researchers say that making an effort to change and creating substitute plans can be the best way to shatter a bad habit for good.
Consumer Education Services, Inc. (CESI) is a non-profit committed to empowering and inspiring consumers nationwide to make wise financial decisions and live debt free. Speak with a certified counselor for a free debt analysis today.