Probably the most common piece of personal finance advice out there is to save money by avoiding restaurants. It sounds so simple: just don’t eat out and cook at home or brown bag it. Lots of people do it and have no problem with it.
But, for some people, it can be tough. I touched on this last week on my post about spending frenzies; we all have our own weak spots when it comes to personal finance and what can be no sweat for one person can be a real test of willpower for another.
Here are some suggestions that can help you if you find it difficult to avoid the temptation to eat out. My approach to personal finance is holistic; I believe that other areas of our lives can affect our personal finances and becoming as healthy, balanced and happy as possible as people can empower us to take charge of our money. So bear with me if some of my ideas seem a bit out there.
1. Think about why you like to go out to eat. Is the food more delicious than you can make at home? Do you enjoy the convenience? Are you too tired at the end of the day? Do you find it difficult to cook at home because of a lack of organization and planning? Is it peer pressure or a desire for company?
If you know more about why you like to eat out, it will be easier to find a solution that meets your needs. After all, you can have a fully stocked fridge and pantry and a gourmet kitchen but if you’re too tired to cook, the restaurants will still be calling your name.
2. Try thinking about the little negatives that come with going out to eat the next time you are tempted to stop in and grab a bite. Perhaps you don’t like the noise in restaurants or having to wait for the server to get you another glass of water when you’re thirsty. It can be a hassle to find parking and by the time you’re done half the night is gone. Maybe you always get heartburn or feel stressed about getting back to the office in time.
Take note of the obvious too: restaurants cost a lot of money, the food is often less healthy than homemade and the portions are too large. Remember, it is almost always easier to make a decision based on the short term effects rather than the long term ones, but the long term effects are much more important!
3. Be creative in finding a way to eat home cooked food that works with your schedule, preferences and habits, not against it. For some people, it’s menu planning or once a month cooking. Others stock their freezers with Lean Cuisines or live on sandwiches, salads, fruit and cold cereal.
Don’t feel bad if you have no idea how to organize and plan a week’s worth of meals. It’s definitely a skill and many of us were not taught. You can find a wealth of resources to walk you through it, including shopping lists and recipes.
If you don’t like cooking, there is nothing wrong with assembling. There is no rule that food has to be hot to be nourishing, so why not stock your fridge with fixings for sandwiches and salads? Many Crock pot recipes take very little effort and would work both for those who hate to cook and those who are simply too tired.
Restaurant food is delicious but remember that they generally use much more fat, salt and sugar than we do at home. The more you get used to the more subtle flavors of home cooking, the less you’ll crave your favorite restaurant dishes.
4. Find the right balance in your life. Modern life is exhausting, believe me I get it! That said, there are few things more important than making sure your body has adequate nutrition so it should be a priority. If you don’t have the time or energy to prepare food for yourself and your family, it’s time to look at your schedule and find out what you can cut to get that time and energy back.
Of course, if you are happy with how often you eat at restaurants, then ignore the above.
If you have a partner and older children, there is absolutely no reason why all of the burden should fall on one person. Even if they are not able to cook, they can certainly take on some of the other household chores to give you and let you rest.
5. Take care of yourself. If you’re not getting enough sleep and working too hard, then it’s going to be difficult for you to find the willpower to resist the temptation to eat out and to have the energy to make smart food choices. Many times we look at eating in a restaurant as a small treat for ourselves or a respite from our responsibilities. We don’t have to cook, serve or clean up or do much else besides say our order and pay the bill. It’s not easy to give that up, especially if you’re up to your ears dealing with work, family or school.
It’s important to have things in our lives that make us feel good and taken care of. If restaurants filled that role for you, you’ll want to find something else to take its place. Be aware of that need and make choices that are good for both your wallet and your health.
6. Remember that it’s still okay to go to restaurants. Just in a way that fits into your goals for spending and healthy eating. Knowing that it’s not completely off limits can make it easier to delay gratification.
You’ll get more satisfaction if you choose places that are memorable and offer you a new experience. Don’t settle for eating over-priced reheated food at mediocre restaurants for an inflated price.
Do you have a tip or secret for avoiding the temptation to eat out?
Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk