How I (Finally) Cut Back on Eating Out

I really, really enjoy eating out. For quite some time now, I’d been spending around $200-$250 a month eating out. Just for me. I’d been “trying” (and failing) to cut back for a while, but things really came to a head after our trip to New Zealand.

I spent $320 on eating out that month (food is crazy expensive in NZ) and decided enough was enough. I also wanted to be able to send a little more to our mortgage instead. So that was it. I committed to spending less on eating out. In my case, that meant eating out less often, since I normally ate out nearly every day.

So I put a plan in place, and it actually worked! (Yes, I’m still amazed.)

Here’s how I cut back on eating out:

  • I committed to cooking one meal a week myself
  • My husband and son agreed/got volunteered (respectively) to cook occasional meals
  • We agreed not to eat out on the spur of the moment. We could still eat out whenever, but it had to be planned at least a day in advance (and preferably further in advance.)
  • The rest of the time we’d eat leftovers or food on hand around the house.

The results?

I spent 68% less the first month on eating out, and am on track to maintain that new, lower level of eating out this month.

As an unexpected side benefit, I’m enjoying the eating out that I do do even more. The food actually tastes better when you appreciate it more, instead of being used to it.

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44 comments

  • All very good plans. We meal plan a week at a time so we’ll map out any days (typcially one dinner a week) that we are going to go out. Keeps things well under control.

  • Clifford

    Because meals are so easily accessible, it’s hard to commit to preparing meals at home. Especially when both spouses are working and are gone all day.

    I think the only way we were able to scale back was simply to agree to only one meal out per week. This requires pre-planning in the morning, which can be brutal and also some cooking skills. Fortunately there’s a lot of great resources that can show how to cook meals quickly.

    Eating in is definitely budget friendly.

  • Congrats!! I was in the same boat with my busy life and work. For me it was my health that helped(or forced) I just couldn’t eat out or fast food any more. But most of the money saved now goes to the higher priced health food. But I see it as a win-win :)

    • Improving your health can be a great motivator. I’m hoping that will be one of the side benefits for me too, but despite my regular eating out I didn’t eat *that* much fast food. At least not compared to the other meals I ate out. Hm, maybe I did eat a lot of fast food.

  • Kim

    It is easy for me to eat out, because I get a yearly average of about $250.00 a month worth of free meals. These can be at Taco Time, Arby’s, A nice Italian Restaurant, A nice Grill, An upscale family place. So we do eat out a lot!. But I began to notice that the food is just not that great. Too salty, cold, over seasoned. I am making a conscience effort to cook more. Last night I wanted yo go out, but ended up with grilled cheeses on ww bread and a cucumber/tomato salad fresh from the garden Yum!

  • We generally have dinner out every Friday and Saturday night at relatively inexpensive ($15-25 for 2) restaurants.We take our lunches every day and keep our other expenses low. It is almost a reward for being frugal.and it is a nice break.

  • I’m still tackling this category myself. I originally budgeted a frugal $150 for 2 people each month, but it’s been closer to $200 – $210. Although, the grocery bills have been less, so that’s a plus!

    • $200-$210 for two isn’t bad :)

      Our grocery bills have gone up with eating out less, but not a huge amount. Nowhere near equal to the amount I’ve cut out, that’s for sure.

  • Now that the kids are in school I’m trying to cut back on eating out too. Especially since I’m home alone there is NO reason to go out. So far so good. I haven’t had lunch out in two weeks which is HUGE for me. Two days was a stretch for me before.

    Love the idea of no spur of the moment eating out. That’s a good one!

  • Eating out is our major weakness too. We have cut back from 3 times a week to once a week. Now we want to try to get it to once a month, but without cutting the budget. Which means we will use the entire $100-$150 for one -two meals a month. We figured this would let us try a lot of new expensive restaurants we cannot afford otherwise. But we still go out every week, so we have a long way to go :)

  • Well done on turning more towards home cooking. With the iPod cranking, taking on new recipes can be relaxing and challenging at the same time.

    We had a celebratory restaurant meal yesterday evening that was quite memorable, for both the food and the company. Luckily enough it was on an expense account, since the menu was quite pricey and decadent: Tecate-battered mushrooms and sweet potato fries for appetizers, roasted quail and ribeye steak entree, and blueberry cobbler and ice cream for dessert…

  • Janeen

    Thanks for this post — eating out is a big weakness of mine.

    I think an “all things in moderation” approach works well, because it’s unrealistic to never enjoy the pleasure again. For us, eating out on one weeknight is a nice break.

    We bought “groupon-type” discounts to our two favorite restaurants, which save us about 25% when we do eat out. The rest of the time we take lunches, plan meals at home and cook and freeze.

    I live in a small-ish college town where there really are some great locally-run restaurants which are well-run by local families. They’re the kinds of places where everyone knows your name. I take satisfaction from going to such places because I also think I’m helping our local economy and it turns eating out into a less “faceless” experience. (For instance, the owner of our favorite Mexican place allows us to try out our new Spanish knowledge on her. It’s great!)

    I’m trying to find that happy medium between spending and saving where I can achieve maximum value for the dollars I spend. I do believe in spending to support my local economy — not frivolously or not without thought. I don’t mind cutting off cable TV or magazine subscriptions, but I do mind — for instance — not donating to the Friends of the Public Library… a local benefit I use and truly believe in.

    • It sounds like you’re using your money where it means the most to you :)

      We also go to several local restaurants. As a bonus, they’re inexpensive AND really good.

  • We actually have the opposite problem–we don’t eat out enough! It’s rare, and we might do so more, but we do love to cook from scratch.

    Also, have you tried out restaurants.com?

    • I don’t really see where that would be a problem, since you love to cook from scratch! I have tried restaurants.com in the past but the places we like to go haven’t participated.

  • I like the idea of eating out, but as it turns out I’m often unhappy with the meal for the amount of money spent. I made a commitment to gain health through eating traditional foods (and thereby avoiding almost 100% processed foods), and this requires meal preparation every single day of the week. I find it works best for me when I plan tomorrow’s dinner while making tonight’s – if I don’t get some kind of meat out of the freezer the night prior, it is rarely thawed enough for dinner. Then I’m stuck eating scrambled eggs. I have eaten out 5 or 6 times in the last 22 months. Serious! So when my birthday came this year, I decided to “splurge”… since my diet is heavy on meat, I decided I wanted to go to Fogo de Chão – an all you can eat Brazilian Steakhouse in Scottsdale. Totally loved the experience but it was hands down THE most expensive restaurant I’ve EVER been to in my entire life! I had water, hubby had tea, we didn’t order dessert (which costs extra) and our tab was over $100. We want to go again for my husband’s birthday and are planning to go to lunch since it will cost just over half the dinner meal cost (lunch: $28.50 per person, dinner $46.50 per person). Hubby was reluctant to spend so much money initially, as was I… on the drive there I was chiding myself for even considering spending so much money, but we both really loved the experience. Since we rarely eat out if you consider we spend ~$200 a year to eat at Fogo de Chão for our birthdays, that is considerably less than what some budget in a month to eat out.

    • Sounds like a yummy place to eat. I think there is a Brazilian steakhouse in Chandler too, I wonder if that one would be as good?

  • Tracy

    Food is crazy expensive here in NZ! Especially if you’re hitting up the tourist areas. I hardly ever eat out because I just can’t afford it and often it doesn’t seem worth the money.

    • Yeah, if I lived in New Zealand I would probably almost never eat out. The prices are just not worth it for the experience and taste. I was very surprised at how pricey things were — on average 3-4 times what I would pay at home for something similar.

  • Méla

    Sorry, but I am always blown away by the amount of money people say they spend on eating out–$320 is about our monthly total food/grocery budget (2 adults and a cat). I recently started a new job and can’t believe the amount of money people spend in the food court every day–even more appalling is the number of people who toss the brown bag lunch they brought from home then run to a fast food place to buy something! Eating out for us is always an occasion and I think I want to keep it that way.

    • $320 was the most I’ve ever spent eating out — and 90% of that was while in New Zealand on vacation. Still, I do normally spend a LOT eating out ($200-$250), which does mean we normally spend less on groceries/household items. (Normally about $200-$250 for 2 adults, a teenager, a dog, and a cat.) It is nice to keep eating out as an occasion :)

  • Janeen

    I’d be interested to know if anyone here organizes potlucks with friends as an alternative social event, without the expense and hassle of eating out? I’d love to know if people have thought up creative, fun ways to do these? Theme parties? Local foods only? It’s kind of an old fashioned idea, but I’m interested in buffing it up.

    I’ve done it just a couple of times, as part of a book group event or an after work party. Mostly, though, I’ve stuck to appetizers.

    I’m thinking of doing some after work BYOB parties. ( I still by “3 Buck Chuck” at Trader Joe’s.)

    I have friends that are AMAZING cooks, so I always feel like we’re eating like royalty.

    Also — here’s another variation on eating in: I’m thinking of making my Christmas gifts this year, but feel like I like “know-how.” So, starting in early November I’m going to see if I can organize a few baking/cooking parties with some of my more talented friends. I’ll invite 4-6 people, we’ll do a cooking demonstration, nosh (of course) and tap the real-world expertise of some talented friends. I’m much better learning things “hands on”, so think this might be a great idea.

  • I spend too much money eating outside the house, it’s something I probably enjoy too much:) That said, I enjoy saving money more. So, I can appreciate the accomplishment you had of reducing eating outside expenses by 68%! Nice work.

  • I go through spurts where I go out to eat a lot and then, eventually, I get sick of it. Going out to eat frequently makes me long for home cooking. Even if I have to cook it!

  • Congrats on curbing this extra expense. If you don’t mind me asking, if you cook one meal a week, what are you eating the other times when you don’t go out?

    • Leftovers, or food we’ve got around the house. (Like sandwiches, frozen dinners, soups.) There’s just the 3 of us so leftovers go a long way.

  • Eating in and making your own meals really helps in saving money. My husband and I share ideas on what meals should we cook that is good for a week. We also check the prices so that everything is well budgeted.

  • Learning how to cook good is a great way to stop eating out so often. If you always cook up great meals why would you want to go out and eat? Also, be skeptical about the cleanliness of every restaraut. I have a lot of friends that work in the food industry and have heard their horror stories. At least when you cook for yourself you know it’s clean.

    • You know what’s funny about that is that I do like to cook and can make some good stuff. Apparently I just don’t feel like doing it that often!

  • lana

    Our family has a problem with this area. We love to eat out. It seems we
    primarily eat out to have “face” time. Our conversations are much more
    interesting when we are out of the house. We used to eat out so much, I added it
    up and it was $1583.00 for one month. That was nuts, so we cut it back to
    Lunch after church. That averages out at $50 a week. We still go out occasionally
    for breakfast or lunches usually for two people here and there throughout the
    week, but have cut it back to less than $500 a month. I figure it is cheaper than
    therapy. We have wonderful relationships with our kids and a strong marriage, in part
    because we can communicate easily.

    • I feel the same way about face time. Maybe it’s because when you’re out somewhere, you’re all there in one place until everyone is done? Although I imagine the same thing could be accomplished at home, just by making the rule that you all eat together and stay at the table. But if $500 a month and your eating out frequency works for you, there’s nothing wrong with that :)

  • hayden

    This is just absolutely ridiculous. I never go out to eat and I’ve never had this problem. I eat breakfast at home which is usually instant grits or cereal. I take lunch to work with me, typically jello, yogurt, or a protein shake. I cook dinner or eat a frozen meal. I probably spend $3/day on food, but definitely less than $5, considering that grits is probably .50/pack, jello, yogurt, shakes are around $1/each, and a frozen meal can be .88 cents or I can make a dinner for less than $2. It’s also a lot healthier than stuffing your face with thousands of calories each day. You can make a sandwich for lunch for every day of the week from $2 bread, $3 meat, and $4 condiments…that’s $9 for the whole week. Your condiments will last more than that week and likely so will your bread. You can eat a Skinny Cow or WW’s ice cream for lunch for less than $2.

    • So you typically spend less than $100 on groceries each month, and don’t eat out at all? Never going out to eat explains why you’ve never needed to cut back :)

      I could do that, even for our family of 3, but I wouldn’t want to — and thankfully there’s no longer a reason to be so careful with my grocery money in my case.

      As a side note I rarely eat even 1800 calories a day — let alone thousands — so it wasn’t that I was going out stuffing my face on huge meals. I was just spending more on eating out than I wanted to be, and not enjoying it as much as I used to. So I was happy to cut back in a way that worked for me.