This guest post from Michelle is part of the “reader stories” feature at Get Rich Slowly. This seems like a natural follow-up to Friday’s reader question about when to start a family. Some stories contain general advice; others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success — or failure. These stories feature folks from all levels of financial maturity and with all sorts of incomes.

My family just finished a month-long hiatus from eating in restaurants. The idea for this adventure sprang from some budget-busting car repairs combined with an acknowledgement that we’re getting a little lazy about our food choices.

We have a history of eating out too much. When it was just me and my husband, we ate out a lot because we don’t like to cook and we could afford it. After we had kids though, this problem rectified itself for awhile because:

  • We had less money, and
  • It’s really not very much fun to eat in a restaurant with toddlers.

But now that my kids are older and can sit still long enough for a waiter to serve a meal, we’ve gotten lazy. At the end of a long day, it’s easier and more fun to say, “Let’s go to Red Robin,” instead of, “Let’s go figure out what hasn’t expired yet in the refrigerator.”

So we decided to test ourselves with the “no eating out” rule for 30 days. There were a few exceptions. When my husband was on travel on the East coast, he had a pass, of course. Plus we decided that Dutch Bros. coffee does not count as eating out, because you are technically just drinking. (But we did limit coffee drinking excursions to two per week, with bonus points for going less than that.)

It was harder than we thought it would be.

We discovered, however, that the benefits were more than financial. Here’s a few other things we learned during this experiment.

  • We can cook. Sometimes we don’t want to cook. But both parents in this household are perfectly capable of making a decent meal. We traded off — I cooked on even days, hubby cooked on odd days. It helped us both expand our cooking skills.
  • Our kids will eat our cooking. Most of the time, anyway. Things our kids have eaten and enjoyed, much to our surprise: fajitas, my husband’s chicken and rice concoction, Hawaiian pizza and pork chops. Not every meal was a success. But our kids can enjoy food that doesn’t start with the letter “p”: pasta, pizza and peanut butter.
  • We ate out a lot because we were bored. Mixing it up by trying new recipes really made a difference. Hubby made a lovely roast dinner one night. I had a successful French onion soup. Plus, I dusted off the cookbooks to find new recipes involving baked chicken to curb my appetite for a similar dish at one of our favorite restaurants.
  • We have a lot of food in this house. This experiment enabled us to use up things that normally would have gone bad before we got to them. I used up leftover cheese and potatoes that normally would sit and get moldy. I also made my kids eat the cereal we had left in the cupboard, instead of rushing out to replace the empty box of Rice Krispies.
  • Leftovers aren’t so bad. My husband repeatedly has stated his dislike for leftovers again and again over the 20+ years that I’ve known him. Turns out, leftovers can be tasty when it’s your night to cook. I also started a new tradition of Leftover Night, where we empty out the fridge and everyone chooses the leftovers they want to heat up for dinner.
  • If you cut down on your eating out budget, you can buy more interesting things at the grocery store. I’ve got my eye on some (normally budget-busting) scallops for next month. Yet I can still feed four of us a scallop dinner at home for less than a casual meal at our favorite family restaurant.

What’s next? We’re extending our 30-Day No Eating Out Trial for another month. No one was more surprised than we were. But the numbers don’t lie. The money we saved was significant and we were happy to see our credit report in good shape. Plus the fringe benefits to our family are simply priceless.

Reminder: This is a story from one of your fellow readers. Please be nice. After more than a decade of blogging, I have a thick skin, but it can be scary to put your story out in public for the first time. Remember that this guest author isn’t a professional writer, and is just learning about money like you are. Henceforth, unduly nasty comments on readers stories will be removed or edited.

Also see our previous post on how to eat healthy while keeping it cheap.

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