6 Ways to Avoid the Temptation to Eat Out

by Tracy · 29 comments

eating out
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.

restaurants to eat out2. 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?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Tonya says:

    Several years ago we took the time to really learn to cook. We started with one of those subscription meal services. It was cheaper than dining out and saved us the time of going to the grocery store (but it was still pricy). Over time our kitchen skills became much better. Now, we aren’t nearly as tempted to go out because the food we make at home is BETTER than at most restaurants. We now have a CSA share and have fun planning meals around what is in the box and we use grocery pick up so we spend less time in the store. We plan 3-4 meals for the week and cook the most time consuming ones on the weekends (which we have off). We make sure to cook huge portions so we have leftovers throughout the week and we have a pretty decent collection of crockpot and instant pot recipes for those crazy times of year. We also budget $50-100 a month for dining out and make sure to go somewhere really nice as a treat.

  • Arminius Aurelius says:

    Dinner out with beverage minimum cost, $14.00 to $15.00 each. And don’t forget 15% tip of about $ 2.25……. total $17.25 each.

    Cook the same at home, boneless pork $1.30, vegetable 50 cents, potatoes 40 cents, salad with tomatoes $1.00 and a coke 30 cents….. total cost = $3.50 and NO tip. Save $14.00. For 2 people you save $28.00.

    I get 4 portions of meat out of every pound of meat [4 ounces each]. A beer at home instead of coke would cost 70 cents more. For those who have to go to work every morning, a slow cooker is an easy way to cook a meal. Slow cookers sell for $25.00 to $50.00. For a stew or roast, I cut up the vegetables, potatoes, onions, meat the night before then 10 minutes before I go to work. Everything is thrown into the slow cooker, set the time you want it to cook, 4 hours, 6 hours, 8 hours or 10 hours. When it is finished, the temperature drops enough to keep the food warm until you are ready for dinner. Throw a salad together quickly and it is dinner time…………. NO WORK.

    If you cook a 3 pound roast, it is good for about 10 meals, and you can portion control the roast. You can also put into baggies or a container in the freezer for future meals. Then thaw out and microwave. Again no work.

    P.S. Add on the gas / mileage to drive back and forth and………..

  • Linda says:

    At the end of one recent month, I added up every penny I had spent eating out during that month. I included every latte, snack, etc. I was shocked at the total, which was more than a car payment. Now, when I consider going to a restaurant or stopping for a fast food snack, I remember that number and think more carefully about whether it’s worth it to me. Usually, it isn’t.

  • Bernie says:

    I’m single & HATE cooking, especially for one. Brown-bagging sandwiches with the time it takes to prepare them will never happen. This is what I did: Marie Callendar’s at 5 for $10.00! Great food, decent/healthy portions, quick & easy! I bought an upright freezer from Sears on sale. To fill that puppy up cost me $200, for 100 meals. The savings? $2.29 PER MEAL! Yup, I saved more than I paid! 😉 In one year, I’ve stocked the freezer up 2 times. The $400+ savings covered the cost of the freezer & 1st year’s worth of power. After that it’s all $$$ in the bank & great food to boot!

  • ROse says:

    Unfortunately, a lot of the food at the restaurants we frequent is delicious AND healthy (and expensive)… so a lot of this article is not helpful. I will, however, try to incorporate some of the tips to be more organized or just “assemble” food without the pressure of trying to make something as delicious as restaurant food.

  • Finance Mommy says:

    I really like this one.
    I have mixed feeling with restaurants. I love them cause I hate cooking, but I also hate them because of the greasing food, more calories, and the price tags!

  • Hannah @ HMII says:

    We still eat out a lot but what we have done as of late is just look for the deals. With things such as Groupon and Restaurant.com, it’s not too hard to find 50%, 60% and more. Since we just eat for two half the time, it’s a lot cheaper to eat out than eat at home, PLUS we are still eating rather healthy at the same time. I think while it can be tempting to eat out, I really don’t think it’s that bad if you watch what you eat as well as your wallet.

  • Tricky Dick says:

    We eat out more than we should but we always look for places where kids eat free (we have a ‘schedule’ of them on the fridge) so when we do eat out it’s usually around $20… for a family of four I think that’s pretty good.

  • Jules says:

    Whenever I’m tempted to eat out I remember those decadent meals we’ve had at some pretty fancy-schmancy restaurants. Steak and potatoes aren’t very memorable, but foie gras and black salsify? You don’t forget dinners with ingredients like that.

    Plus, after having had fancy dinners with good wine, you kind of lose your taste for normal restaurant fare–so it saves you money, in the end, because you don’t go to the other places so that you can have the money to go to the nice place 🙂

  • Shenanigans says:

    I just have to remember all our restaurant meals that have been ruined by screaming, out-of-control children – and the oblivious parents that always go along with them. That’s enough to make to my cravings go away. It’s just not worth it to me anymore to spend money and have to listen to that the whole time.

  • Joey says:

    If you are going to eat out, resist the temptation to order a beverage and order water instead. These days, one drink costs over $2.00, which is absolutely ridiculous. For a family of four, you could easily spend $8 or more just on drinks, which is an hour’s worth of work if you are paid minimum wage. Next thing you know, restaurants will be charging customers for water as well.

  • kay hauck says:

    How many restaurants offer you the option of eating in your PJ’s, reclined in your LazyBoy, and watching TV? Reason enough to eat at home, IMHO

  • Jacob @ My Personal Finance Journey says:

    I try to limit going to restaurants to once per week. Furthermore, I try to only go if I am going with a group of friends. One of the things that I think about to discourage me about going out to eat is how much LESS it could be costing me to get the same feeling of “fullness” at home.

  • Dave@50plusfinance says:

    In any budget you have to set some money aside for a little fun. If your idea of fun is to eat out, by all means, eat out. But be responsible and set an appropriate amount to spend. Also choose a restaurant that is in your price range. You have to have some reward for all your hard work. It’s a balance you must keep in life.

  • Carol Johnson says:

    I made pot roast, potatoes and carrots last night for my grandsons. It cost about $15. Two weeks ago we went to a fast food place and spent around thirty dollars and the food was awful. My grandkids were much happier and fuller with the home made meal. I also buy milk, ice cream and chocolate syrup. They can have as many shakes as they like. Another great savings. I was very happy this weekend with the money I saved.

    • lana says:


      What a good grandma you are!! Your grandchildren are going to remember that more than any restaurant. I looooved my grandma’s pot roast. None could compare. God bless.

  • Randy Addison says:

    Actually, this is a big problem for our family. We really like to eat out and enjoy the night in malls. But now I know the best tip to avoid restaurants. That is to stay full. Chew a gum on your way home so you won’t feel the hunger. By the time you get home, throw the gum and after a few minutes, you’ll get hungry. Then just eat what’s left on the fridge. LOL.

    • Tracy says:

      Hi Randy. One of the best diet tips I ever heard was if you’re in a noshing mood, go and brush your teeth. That way everything you eat afterward will taste just awful.

      I always try to eat before I go shopping. I buy the craziest things grocery shopping on an empty stomach.

  • Carol Johnson says:

    The best resistance I find to avoid restaurants is to imagine that the kitchen is really dirty and employees don’t wash their hands. Yuck. If that doesn’t change your mind, think about the negative value of the food you just paid for. Unless it’s a very special occasion and you feel like treating yourself to a restaurant meal, go to a really nice place with great ambience and enjoy yourself.

  • Squirrelers says:

    For me, it’s about thinking of the negative health aspects of eating out. Realizing that many restaurant meals are loaded with sodium – and in quite a few cases saturated fat as well – should give anybody pause. When you think about your health, and how the meal you eat will not help you feel better but might send your health even incrementally in the other direction, it can help change behaviors.

  • 20 and Engaged says:

    Think of how you feel after you eat out. I don’t know about other people, but even when I eat something really good when I eat out, I feel super gross. I feel much better after eating home cooked meals. Maybe because I’m not piling on the lard and grease.

  • krantcents says:

    Neither my wife nor I eat lunch out. When we do go out, we use coupons, frequent diner programs and earn miles for our dining. Except for an anniversary or birthday, we do not spend more than $25 for dinner.

  • vered says:

    Good tips. Unless it’s a fancy meal at an upscale chef’s restaurant, which my husband and I still love to do, I find that the dining out experience often means eating too-large portions of greasy, salty food – and overpaying for it. So the temptation isn’t too strong. 😉

  • liju philip says:

    The amount of money i need to spend in a restaurant in itself is a deterrent enough for me.

  • indio says:

    I like eating out as much as the next person, but I also know that whatever I make at home is organic. Because I use recipes from epicurious.com that are ranked 90% or higher by users, I’m also reasonably certain that the food will be as delicious as something I can get in a restaurant. For me, eating healthy, pesticide free food is a priority. Whenever I eat out I have to think about what ingredients are in the food I order and recall which vegetables have the most pesticides. If I’m in the mood for broccoli, I won’t order it since it has high levels of pesticides in it.
    When I was on a business trip to Vegas, I came across an all organic, locally source restaurant, called Bradley Ogden. It’s hard to get local seafood in Vegas, but the food was delicious. Fortunately, I wasn’t buying, otherwise I wouldn’t have made the splurge.

  • RK says:

    As #3 suggests, I have started making menus for each week. I look to see what our schedule is going to be, what is on sale at the grocery store, and what I already have on hand. I come up with my meals based on these things. If I know I’ll have limited time the following evening, I’ll chop, brown, fry, slice, etc., things the night before so it is mostly just mixing it together the following evening. This has really helped us save on the grocery bill. Also, by having the set menu we know what we are having each night so it doesn’t leave a night open and leave us wondering whether to find something to make, or quick go to a restaurant.

  • Charles says:

    Thanks for the great article. Eating out for us tends to be the path of least resistance — too tired to figure out / prepare for home cooking.

    Bargaineering’s comment is dead on, we’ve taken treats and made them every day things. It’s no longer a treat if we frequent the restaurant 3x/week.

  • Bargaineering says:

    I think what happens to a lot of people is that they get into the habit of going to the restaurant. It should be a treat, not an everyday occurrence. When it’s a treat, you can budget for a good time out and not worry about the cost because it’s already in your budget (and your caloric budget.).

    I think a lot of our problems stem from the fact that we’ve taken treats and made them every day things.

  • KM says:

    I always end up thinking that a place I want to go to is out of the way and I am too lazy or pressed for time to stop by. Perhaps that could be used as a mind trick for other people. Convince yourself that it would be so much easier to just go where you were going. Of course, this would only work for the people who are able to cook once they get home or have a homemade lunch with them, but if your problem is that you like how convenient restaurants are, find a way to make them inconvenient – “I would have to walk that extra block” or “I would have to drive an extra mile, stand at an extra traffic light, etc” or even if it’s on your way, “I would have to turn off the street, park, get out of my car, etc…it’s much easier to just keep going.”

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