When you finally put pen to paper, you might be shocked at how much you spend on eating out. It’s not uncommon for individuals to hem and haw over purchasing a $50 pair of shoes that will last them a year or more but easily drop the same amount of cash on a single family dinner at a restaurant. If you’re like many Americans, you’re trying to reduce your eating-out budget and just looking for a way to do it.
Here are seven strategies to try.
1. Only Eat Out with Coupons
Plan your restaurant visits by eating out only when you have a coupon. You can find tons of coupons for restaurants online and print them out or download them to your phone to be used throughout the month.
It will make you more inclined to eat out only when it is affordable. If you never pay full price for what you eat, you’re less likely to go over budget during the month.
2. Use the Envelope System
The envelope system is a popular budgeting strategy in which you store cash in envelopes marked for a specific purpose. In this case, your envelope would contain money only for eating out, which might help you stay on budget.
You don’t have to use the envelope system for every budgeting category, especially if you don’t like having that much cash around. But it’s a great way to help you reign in the spending categories that are the most difficult to control, like eating out or your clothing budget.
3. Set a Meal Prep Day
Chances are, you have a couple of days per week that are freer than most. Use your days off of work and extracurriculars with the kids for meal preparation.
You could use this time to prepare freezer meals used at a future time during the week or month. This makes a good backup plan if your other dinner plans fall through one evening.
You could also use one day per week to do all the chopping and defrosting of foods you’ll use for your meal plan. A vegetable-heavy stir fry is now an easy, 15-minute dinner because you’ve already done the labor-intensive parts.
4. Use a Meal Prep App
Meal prep is such a common problem that new apps are coming out daily to ease meal prep for everyone. They give you easy, healthy recipes that can fit your schedule, budget, and tastes each week. Best of all, most of these apps connect with grocery pickup or delivery services, so you don’t even have to grocery shop!
Popular apps include E-meals, Mealime, Plate Joy, Make My Plate, and more. Subscriptions are available for some, while others are free. Research each app and see which can meet your specific needs.
5. Buy Convenience Foods
If you find that you’re eating out because you don’t have time to cook regularly, consider buying convenient, pre-packaged meals that you can make in a few steps. This removes some meal prep pressure, and these convenience meals are significantly cheaper per serving than eating out for your entire family.
6. Pack a Lunch the Night Before
Eating out for evening meals is not the only temptation, especially if you work in an urban area. It’s easy to run to a café or fast food place for a quick bite, and since you’re only buying for one person, it doesn’t seem like a huge hit to your budget. You didn’t have time to pack a lunch this morning, after all, and you have to eat!
But these lunchtime eatery visits can stack up quickly, and you might find yourself struggling to make ends meet as a result. To resist the temptation at lunchtime, pack a lunch before you go to bed the night before. Then you don’t have an excuse!
7. Reward Yourself for Staying on Budget
Creating a budget to reduce restaurant visits is an age-old tactic that can help the goal-oriented stay on track. It’s not always easy, however. You know that if you go over budget, you’ll find a way to make it up later.
Perhaps your budget-keeping is a struggle because there’s not a strong incentive to keep you on track. You could try setting a reward for staying on a budget such as going out for a really nice dinner when you reach your goal. Or you could earmark the funds you would have spent on eating out for something important like an update to your home or a family vacation.
The key challenges in reducing your restaurant budget will manifest at the beginning, but it will get easier with time. Through trial and error, and a dedicated attitude, you’ll create a habit of eating at home and saving money along the way.