Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Day 306 - Easy Living Expense Cuts: #2 Eating Out

For everyone out there trying to figure out what expenses can easily  be cut out of your budget, this series is dedicated to you. Each week, I will explore a different type of living expense and attempt to convince you that you can live without it - or at least cut back significantly. So let's get rid of......

Eating Out
This is probably one of the most obvious things to include in an expense cutting list, yet from my personal experience, also one of the most difficult to actually follow through with. So rather than explain to you why you should not be eating out (duh, it's expensive!), I would rather spend the time discussing the benefits received from eating out less (or not at all) and also some tips on helping you achieve this goal.

I went into the Wayback Machine and pulled some bank statements from the time before I started The $60K Project and also before I started using Dave Ramsey's envelope system to pay cash for everything (circa 2008). I added up the total amount of money spent on food - including both groceries and eating out and here are the results. 

It's all over the board. Clearly I didn't care how much I spent on food. In the good months, I would spend about $250 but many months approached north of $500. Keep in mind that Mike and I split everything 50/50 at the time so double the amount I spent to get a more accurate monthly budget.
I bought lots of coffee and smoothies in 2008. Apparently I love to spend a significant amount of money on beverages. More specifically, I tend to purchase some sort of breakfast paraphernalia as part of my morning routine at the office.
Eating out at lunch. Another frequent expense included eating out during my office lunch break a few times a week.
Dinners out were no holds barred. Mike and I love to eat out so when we went out we didn't hold back. Most of our dinners out approached $75 - $100 for just the two of us. 

What Do Your Bank Statements Say About You?
Take the time to perform this same exercise using your old bank statements and see if you can detect any spending patterns when it comes to your eating habits. Make sure to pick a time period prior to when you became aware of the need to cut back. And don't overanalyze - I only spent about 10 minutes looking at six months worth of statements (many banks will allow you to access them online). Once you are done with your analysis, write down your thoughts just like I did above. No seriously - stop reading and go do some writing. I'll wait.... 

Are there any potential money saving ideas that pop out at you? For me, I clearly spent too much money eating out during work hours so I need to get off my lazy butt and prepare breakfast and lunch during the week. In addition, Mike and I ate out way too much for dinner given our financial situation - and at high falutin' restaurants (my Okie tends to come out when I feel passionate about something....that or I've had too many margaritas). Spend some time jotting down your money saving ideas. 

Life Is Too Crazy To Cook Dinner Every Night
For those of us juggling work, kids, social responsibilities and a general attempt to stay at least a stone's throw from insanity, the end of the day comes way too soon. Preparing dinner becomes an overwhelming thought. Here are some tips to help combat that anxiety.

Plan your menu for the week. At a minimum, you should head to the grocery store on the weekend knowing exactly what you will be eating for dinner for the next five or six days. Base the complexity of your meals on your evening schedule. For example, if Mike has soccer one night, we usually end up eating sandwiches or pasta - quick and easy. By planning for the week, you remove the stress that begins around 3pm everyday when you say to yourself, "OMG, what are we going to have for dinner?"
Introduce variety. I'm pretty sure Mike and I have eaten pasta for dinner at least once a week for the past year. It's easy to make, inexpensive and usually results in leftovers for lunch the next day. Since we eat it so often, we make an effort to mix it up. One week we have whole wheat capellini with tomato sauce; the next it's fusilli with basil pesto sauce, sundried tomatoes and spinach; the next week it could be baked ziti. The possibilities are endless. Keep it interesting so you aren't tempted to make a run to Wendy's instead.
Don't cut corners. Many people head to the store and buy the blandest and cheapest food options so they can save some money. How are you going to quit eating out when your alternative at home is a subpar version of the sandwich you can buy at the deli for $9? Rather than slapping a few pieces of turkey between some Wonder Bread and calling it a day, look for some better quality ingredients. Buy freshly sliced meat from the grocer's deli (our favorite right now is Dietz & Watson Buffalo Chicken - yummmmm). Look for some freshly baked ciabatta or 9-grain bread. Explore some great tasting spreads: hummus, dijon mustard, oil & vinegar. And don't forget to load up on veggies to get a satisfying crunch factor: cucumbers, lettuce/spinach, tomato, sprouts. Finally, stick that sandwich under the broiler and you will achieve toasty perfection. Yes, your grocery bill may slightly increase, but creating great tasting food at home is one of the best ways to reduce your eating out bill in the long run.

Stay tuned,

So are you convinced you can stop eating out, or at least significantly reduce this spending habit? What other tips can you share when it comes to saving money in this tricky area?

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