This article is by staff writer Holly Johnson.

In 2010, my husband and I were pregnant with our second child. And although we were making plenty of money, we were burning through all we made at lightning speed. Yep, we were wasting it. In fact, we were spending money we didn’t even have by financing cars, miscellaneous purchases, and trips. And, even though we had a baby on the way and two rental properties, we didn’t have much of an emergency fund to speak of either.

Although I can’t put my finger on it, something about having another baby on the way finally prompted us to become weary of the path we were heading down. All of a sudden, we got serious. It was then that we took a hard look at ourselves and our spending habits. We started by sifting through old bank statements in an effort to find out where in the world all of our money was going.

What we found was shocking. Along with the regular ol’ bills like our mortgage and utilities, we were spending massive sums of money on car payments and entertainment. And even worse was the fact that we were spending more than $1,000 on food each month…for three people! Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? I mean, what we were eating? Gold-plated caviar? I’m still not sure, but I know that nothing we were eating was worth that much money. Nothing.

Reining it in

Once we came face to face with the awful truth, we started making the changes that were needed to turn things around. We began by tracking every penny that we spent, and we cut our regular expenses down as low as they could go. We also made drastic cuts to our grocery budget and whittled it down to a manageable $500 per month for our family of four. And since the main culprit of our food overspending was at restaurants, we resigned ourselves to eating mostly at home. And surprisingly, that was all it took. Within a few months, we were spending less than $500 on food with very minimal effort.

Using the posts about batch-cooking in the past, but I had never really gotten into it until recently. This month, I made two batch meals — one giant pot of lentil soup and another pot of vegetarian chili. I simply froze additional portions separately so that we could thaw them out as needed. And so far, so good.

  • We’re planning our meals –– It’s easy to stop for fast food when nothing is planned for dinner, but much harder when you’ve got the ingredients ready for something you can make yourself. So we’re getting back into the habit of planning our meals for the week and making one big trip to the store. This strategy has always worked great for us, and there’s a reason that it has been effective for so many other people as well.
  • We limited restaurant dining to twice per month — Budgeting $500 per month for food usually allowed us to eat out once or twice per month without blowing our budget. Plus, eating out less means that it is more of a special treat.
  • We’re making an effort to eat our leftovers –– In a world where so many people have nothing to eat, food waste is practically unconscionable. Yet, I have found myself throwing away far too much food over the past few months, mostly due to poor planning. I used to go to great lengths to make my family eat leftovers and reuse ingredients, and I’m happy to report that I’m back in the habit of doing just that.
  • Going out to restaurant is, and probably always will be, my guilty pleasure. But, that doesn’t mean that it’s worth sacrificing our long-term financial goals. Not even close. And that $20,000 I could potentially spend over the next five years? Yep, that’s just too hard for me to swallow. So for now, you can find us at home, noshing on thawed-out batch meals, and eating leftovers. There will probably be some hemming and hawing from the peanut gallery, but I can live with that. At the very least, I know that I’m doing what is best for my family.

    Do you have your restaurant spending under control? What are your strategies for saving on food each month?