Food spending: When bad habits attack

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 When bad habits attack

But then we moved.

And when we did, a whole new world of dining options was suddenly within our reach. And, despite our best intentions, we found ourselves falling back into bad habits. All of a sudden, my husband began picking up bean burritos on his way home from work. Or, I would get the kids a $5 Little Caesars pizza through their insanely convenient drive-thru window. We also tried several of the local restaurants, and even fell in love with a Thai spot that serves all of my spicy faves.

I don't know about you, but I absolutely love going out to eat. Even if it's just a baked potato at Wendy's, I feel like I'm living the dream. There's just something luxurious about having someone else cook our dinner and clean up.

Unfortunately, it isn't cheap. And I was quickly reminded of this fact when I was going over our monthly budget details for December. I totally freaked. In fact, I screamed so loud that my husband came rushing in from the next room.

“What's wrong?” he asked.

“We spent $850 on food in December,” I sobbed.

My husband just shook his head.

All of a sudden, all of those spicy Thai dishes and veggie burritos weren't sitting so well.

“We have to do something about this,” I said. “I absolutely hate wasting so much money on food.”

Sure, dining out is awesome, but totally not worth it in the grand scheme of things. I know from experience how quickly that extra $350 per month can turn into a wallet-crushing $4,200 per year if left unchecked. And over five years? Those spicy Thai dishes would run over $21,000 bucks, enough to pay a few years at community college for my kids, a decade of family vacations, or health insurance for ten years.

Nope, $350 per month isn't worth satisfying my desire for food I'm too lazy to cook. $4,200 per year is completely out of the question. And twenty-one grand? You've got to be kidding me. One month off the wagon was more than enough to remind us that we've come too far to let this happen again. We needed to get back to our frugal roots and we needed to do it quickly. Fortunately, we had a war chest of frugal food strategies to fall back on. And once I realized what we were falling back into old habits, we quickly got back into the swing of our old routine.

Keeping bad habits at bay

Eating out is delicious and convenient, but way too expensive for us to do on a regular basis. In order to keep our food spending under $500 per month, we had to get back on the wagon. Here's how we reined in our food spending several years ago, and how we're getting back on track yet again.

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?


More about...Budgeting, Food, Home & Garden

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Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life
Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life
6 years ago

Last year I really struggled with restaurant spending, mostly because I was just out of a relationship and the way people socialize and date in New York is very expensive. When I started dating my current boyfriend, I wasn’t ready to immediately spend nights cooking at home or watching TV on the couch, we had to get to know each other in a public space, and because it was winter, it wasn’t easy to come up with other activities (other than eating).

AMW
AMW
6 years ago

Food is one of those areas that creates large “leaks” in your budget if you aren’t careful. We budget dining out as entertainment. This helps us keep it in persepective, dining out is rarely a sustenance issue. We also employ a lot of the strategies in the article for groceries but because our crazy family schedule is always subject to change, I found that using the “pantry principle” helps us keep from wasting food at home. We keep our pantry and freezer loaded and decide what’s for dinner the next night while we are doing the dishes. This way we… Read more »

Another Beth
Another Beth
6 years ago
Reply to  AMW

We place our restaurant and coffee shop expenditures in “Entertainment,” too. Otherwise, it would all be lumped together, and that makes it difficult to see where you need to buckle down (IME, of course; YMMV).

I like going out to eat, even if it’s to a quick casual place. I like getting a break from the dishes! The only problem, though, is that I usually find myself thinking “I could have made this exact dish at home for a fraction of the cost, and probably made it better.”

Beth
Beth
6 years ago
Reply to  Another Beth

lol! Yes, that’s my problem — by the time I find something that’s allergy-friendly for me, it’s usually something I can make better and for less at home.

For me going out is about the company. I have to eat out occasionally for work functions and dinner/drinks is hard to avoid when you’re dating. I count eating out as entertainment rather than groceries for that reason.

That Career Girl
That Career Girl
6 years ago

We are guilty of over spending on food. We eat out most nights and probably have 2 minute noodles the one night that we eat in. We both can cook, it’s more so laziness from coming home after a long day and wanting to crash out on the couch. It is definitely one of my resolutions to be smarter with food.

Nick
Nick
6 years ago

I was in a similar situation where out family was spending too much money on eating out. We finally got over the addiction by cooking better quality food at home for the fraction of the price. Excellent post, thanks for sharing.

Beth
Beth
6 years ago

Great tips in this post! I think many of us are guilty of backsliding on one area where we’ve previously cut back. (For me, it was clothing)

I find batch cooking keeps me in line. When there’s leftovers for lunches and freezer meals for nights i don’t want to cook, I feel guilty getting takeout!

Also, with food allergies/intolerances, I have to do a lot of my own cooking. It’s pricey to buy allergy-safe foods, so I save a lot of money baking. (Though sometimes I do by that insanely expensive box of cookies for a treat…)

Jon @ MoneySmartGuides
Jon @ MoneySmartGuides
6 years ago

I love going out to eat as well. It is probably the one thing in my budget that I overspend on regularly. I’ve started to use the envelope method of budgeting just to try it out and so far, so good. I see at a glance what I can spend and that helps to keep me in check. When I have the desire to eat out, I just remind myself that I can’t – I have no money.

Katy
Katy
6 years ago

What if your food budget is huge and you’re NOT eating out all the time? We regularly spend more than $1000 on food in a month for a family of five. Is this normal? At the end of the week we don’t have much food left over and we don’t throw much away. We also try to eat as healthy as possible–lots of fruits and veggies, and my husband eats Paleo-style. Other than clipping coupons (which doesn’t help much since we mostly buy generic brands), what are we doing wrong? This is the largest item in our budget after our… Read more »

Holly@ClubThrifty
6 years ago
Reply to  Katy

That sounds like a lot, Katy. Our baseline food budget is $500 per month and there are four of us. Are you buying all organic? I’ve started buying organic fruits/veggies from the dirty dozen list, and buying regular produce for the rest. I think it helps.
http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/recipes/healthy/dirty-dozen-foods#slide-1

Have you tried eating super cheap meals a few days a week? That is one strategy that usually helps keep our spending in check. On the “cheap” nights, we’ll eat something like tomato soup and grilled cheese, scrambled eggs and toast with fruit (the kids), or vegetarian spaghetti.

Teresa
Teresa
6 years ago

The food costs where you live are also a factor. We feed a family of 5, 3 adults and 2 boys 5 and 7, for around $850 a month. We don’t eat meat or dairy and we eat whole foods, not processed or prepackaged. But we live in northern British Columbia and our food costs are quite a bit higher than some other places.

Jane
Jane
6 years ago
Reply to  Katy

How old are your children, Katy? That might explain why the number is a lot higher than Holly’s. I have two young boys and another on the way, and I have heard that in the future when they are teenage boys they will likely eat me out of house and home. If you are eating everything you buy, I wouldn’t worry too much about it if your kids are older. At a certain point, they eat the equivalent of an adult. A regular, middle class amount for two adults to spend on groceries is $300-$400. If you add three others… Read more »

Holly@ClubThrifty
6 years ago
Reply to  Jane

That’s a great point, Jane. I distinctly remember my brother eating whole boxes of cereal in one sitting when he was a teenager!

PB
PB
6 years ago
Reply to  Jane

My grandson, at 15 months, easily eats twice what his five year old sister does. Feeding boys is just a lot different than feeding girls.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
6 years ago
Reply to  PB

“Feeding boys is just a lot different than feeding girls.”
I respectfully disagree. ALL boys ALWAYS eat more than ALL girls? No.
Feeding SOME boys is different than feeding SOME girls.

Kat
Kat
6 years ago
Reply to  Katy

One trick I use is to buy in bulk whenever non-perishable items we need are on sale. If giant boxes of Cheerios are on sale for $2 each, then I’ll buy 10 boxes at once even though it’s just me and my husband right now. It might take us 3 months to finish those boxes, but that means 3 months without the need to buy cereal. I also second eating less meat, especially red meat. Not only is beef more expensive than chicken, it is also supposedly less healthy for you. I’ve slimmed down a bit since we started limiting… Read more »

Waverly
Waverly
6 years ago
Reply to  Kat

Kat, buying 10 boxes of Cheerios is a really good suggestion. But (why is there always a but?) it’s not really going to work for apartment dwellers. Not enough space to put 10 boxes of Cheerios.

I am sure, if I ever buy an actual honest-to-g*d-house that has a pantry and plenty of storage, I’ll be jointing Costco pronto. Until then, though, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Rachel Davis
Rachel Davis
6 years ago
Reply to  Waverly

We lived in 900 square feet with three kids (two bedrooms) and to save money, we bought in bulk. And I have stored food in places other than the kitchen…. be creative. 🙂

cherie
cherie
6 years ago
Reply to  Waverly

Indeed, even when I lived in a manhattan apt I found storage in unlikely places

Carla
Carla
6 years ago
Reply to  Waverly

Yes, Waverly, I have this strange desire to life in a home (small apartment) that actually feels like a home and not a large pantry. Having excess anything in our space was getting out of hand and home it no longer felt comfortable.

Jamie@SoyMilkMustache
6 years ago
Reply to  Katy

I don’t think $1000 for a family of five sounds unreasonable– That’s right on average of what a family of 4 spent per month this time last year: http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/Publications/FoodPlans/2013/CostofFoodJan2013.pdf

Since your husband is Paleo, I bet you get all organic produce, grass-fed beef, etc. You also don’t reap the financial benefits of cheap grains and crockpot legumes since those aren’t part of his diet.

Because of your family’s diet, you are probably saving in other areas– Gym costs, medical bills, etc. Try to take those savings into consideration!

cathleen
cathleen
6 years ago
Reply to  Katy

One way to approach this is how a restaurant would look at it. You need to hit a certain food cost to be profitable. Take your receipts and calculate how many meals/servings etc. that you get for each item you’re purchasing. For instance, if you pay $7 (example) for a whole chicken or $15 for a pack of chicken breasts you may be feeding the same number of people/servings. Do this for everything (boxes of cereals, loaves of bread, etc) and you can sometimes find your “leaks” as someone else called them. Boxed organic broth is $3 at most of… Read more »

Patty
Patty
6 years ago
Reply to  Katy

Hi Katy,
We are a family of 5, with 3 teens (2 of them are boys). $1000 would be a very expensive month for us, and that would include a couple of pizza parties and other entertaining. We use meat as a “side” most of the time, and we make a lot of soups and salads with meat in them as opposed to having the meat be the main thing. I try to plan our meals out the week beforehand, and I am a fan of using dried beans, lentils, etc. to help bulk up a meal.

Julie
Julie
6 years ago
Reply to  Patty

I have a 6’3″ 21 year old water polo playing son away at college, a 6’5″ year old football playing son attending our local JC and a 14 year old basketball playing daughter. All of my children are slim and my sons are always trying to bulk up. When everyone is home, we easily spend more than $1,200/month on food. We rarely eat out, not because we can’t afford it but we chose not to. I shop at Costco. Lunches are packed at home. Just our milk bill alone runs over $150/month. My sons eat a lot of meat, while… Read more »

cherie
cherie
6 years ago
Reply to  Katy

Katy I think it’s high. I feed a teenage boy who eats a shocking amount of food [this is new in the last year] plus a teenage girl and a tween, plus myself [my husband doesn’t eat at home very often during the week – works much and his meal spending is in another column – he does eat home more saturday and sunday] My budget is around $800 and I buy ONLY organic or local free range type natural meats [from a farmer]. mostly organic produce and organic milk/eggs etc. So I would start writing down what you’re doing… Read more »

Dave @ The New York Budget
Dave @ The New York Budget
6 years ago

For me, restaurants can be a hassle. From getting a reservation to waiting (to be seated, to order, to get your drinks, to get your food, to get the check, to get your credit card back), it’s less of an amazing experience to me than I used to view it. That makes it easier for me to cook most meals at home. Of course, I still like changing it up and eating interesting food every once in a while, but always as a special treat and always for the sake of the food, not the convenience. Oh, and to get… Read more »

Jen
Jen
6 years ago

This is a huge item for us too–I took a look at this a couple of months ago and was shocked that we were spending just shy of $1K/mo. on food–for TWO people. While the eating out is part of it (two nights a week, generally Friday and Saturday nights), a careful look at the grocery bills shows that it is in part diet-related. For medical reasons we eat low-carb, which means no rice, no pasta, no “plate filler” type foods. The cost of a protein and fresh vegetable focused diet is not cheap. Even beans are fairly high in… Read more »

Emily @ evolvingPF
Emily @ evolvingPF
6 years ago
Reply to  Jen

I can relate. I eat low-carb/whole foods so I do a lot of cooking and buy very little in the way of processed food. I don’t even buy organic/grass-fed most of the time and it’s still pretty expensive. My husband eats rice, beans, bread, cereal, etc. – all that cheap filler stuff – every day. My part of our food spending is much higher than my husband’s, and we barely keep it under $450 or $500 most months. I want him to start eating more like I do but it would require a serious budget adjustment.

Amanda @ Passionately Simple Life
Amanda @ Passionately Simple Life
6 years ago

Food is one of the hardest categories for us. We tend to fall into cycles of eating well and always eating at home, to eating poorly and constantly eating out. It happens when we are both working busy schedules and don’t plan our meals. But we are trying to make a conscious effort of catching ourselves and having more meals planned out like we used to!

Brian @ Luke1428
Brian @ Luke1428
6 years ago

We have our restaurant spending under control, save for a few times during the year. Our daughter plays basketball and we often find ourselves traveling to away games during the week. So basketball season sees us eating out a bit more than at other times during the year.

Sam
Sam
6 years ago

The answer is, in part, no. We don’t have our eating out budget under control. We eat out all the time, breakfast, lunch and dinner, I love to eat out and its part of our entertainment. I work like crazy so when I get home I’d rather not cook and I’m not a fan of the grocery store at all. I do think I’ve reduced my during the week eating out, we continue to eat out on the weekend. But, in general we have our overall spending under control, by using the adult allowance and by tracking our spending. So… Read more »

Brian@ Debt Discipline
[email protected] Debt Discipline
6 years ago

Since we make a trip to the store at least once a week we try to nor over shop and end up throwing food away when it goes bad. We have cut back on our weekly purchases and that has saved us in waste.

Emily @ evolvingPF
Emily @ evolvingPF
6 years ago

Our policy is to only eat out when invited by friends (a couple times per month, maybe). If we have some money left in our eating out budget ($80 for both of us) near the end of the month, we might treat ourselves to a restaurant date or get take-out. Eating out for convenience alone is extremely rare.

lmoot
lmoot
6 years ago

I still haven’t gotten the courage up to calculate how much I spend on food. I eat a 90%whole foods diet (tofu and yogurt are the most processed things I eat on a normal day). I only eat processed foods if they are offered to me (I never turn down free food), if someone else cooked, or during a pot luck. Because I don’t buy processed foods, and that’s what’s usually cheaper, my grocery bill I’m sure is high. I did calculate that I ate nearly $50 in avocados last month. eep. Eating a whole foods diet doesn’t mean I… Read more »

lmoot
lmoot
6 years ago
Reply to  lmoot

I want to add that I don’t get anything fancy in terms of organic, free-range, grass-fed etc. I’d like to, but I’m not going to even pretend I can afford that right now. My main purpose in eating as whole as possible is to keep my diet nutrient-dense. I’ve never regularly taken vitamins and don’t plan on it so I have to make sure I get the right balance. Also, I’m lazy and do not want to spend time analyzing nutrition labels to see which companies are taking advantage of my health and lack of consumer knowledge. I studied nutrition… Read more »

Megan
Megan
6 years ago
Reply to  lmoot

$50/month in avocados – my kind of eater! Seriously, avocados are my favorite food and the sole reason I got my Costco membership. We eat a fair amount of fresh produce and for a lot of it, I just go straight to Costco since it is cheap and pretty high quality. Especially if you are focusing on eating a lot of whole foods/fruits/veggies, I find buying them in bulk works really well, even though there are only two of us in our household. I still do get some produce at Trader Joe’s and for Asian veggies we have to go… Read more »

Carla
Carla
6 years ago
Reply to  Megan

I miss Ranch 99 (former Bay Area girl)!

Laura
Laura
6 years ago

This article was a great reminder for me because food (and alcohol!) is the area of my budget where I’m most likely to get out of control. Just thinking out loud here: I have a million excuses (I work late a lot! I don’t have a car so it’s hard to get groceries! Eating out is how people my age socialize!), but the bottom line is that I spent $700 on food and alcohol this month for just me – yikes! I need to keep working on limiting how much I drink at bars, because it’s easy for that spending… Read more »

Amy
Amy
6 years ago

I’m glad people have mentioned that their food spending is a cyclical thing (or constant battle). I live by myself and mostly only cook for me, and can do adhere to cooking most of my meals, packing my lunches, one pot goulash for dinner for a few weeks and then – work flairs up, I get bored with the food I have, I get tired of cooking and cleaning the kitchen,I notice that my coworkers eat Subway or fast food every day (almost) for lunch without a care while I eat season appropriate, homemade cabbage and chicken soup, I start… Read more »

Becky @ RunFunDone
Becky @ RunFunDone
6 years ago

I like what you say about how going out to eat less means that it’s more special when you do it. I think that’s what my friends don’t understand about my frugal ways – I don’t feel like I’m depriving myself, because I now prioritize what I like, and feel so happy and privileged when I get to spend money on the things that I truly love!

Mary
Mary
6 years ago

I really enjoy the articles like this – probably a combination of the day to day decisions we make on spending and the focus on food, which is a priority for me. It’s really important to me to spend my money in ways that promote the kind of world I want to live in, so while I probably spend more than “absolutely necessary” on my food, I buy produce as much as possible and virtually all meat from my local CSA, grow vegetables in my small backyard, and spluge a bit on high quality foods for cooking. It keeps me… Read more »

Ramblin' Ma'am
Ramblin' Ma'am
6 years ago

I buy lunch at work but rarely eat breakfast or dinner out. I would say I go to sit-down restaurants maybe twice a month in a normal month. I might get takeout once a month or so.

Buying lunch definitely adds up, but I’ve found that if I bring something like a sandwich, I’m way too hungry by 3:00 or 4:00. I probably should keep closer track of what I am spending, though.

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
6 years ago

Our grocery budget is $600/month for two people. We struggle with this partly because we have two different diets (Jake is omni and I’m veggie) so there is not a lot of overlap between us. Jake doesn’t really cook much and won’t eat leftovers, so he eats a lot of processed food. I make almost everything I eat from scratch. Holly, if you’re veggie (going on vegan) you should really read up on cheese. Most cheese isn’t actually vegetarian (google rennet). I have a friend who lives in a very rural area and she has started making her own cheese… Read more »

Holly@ClubThrifty
6 years ago
Reply to  Honey Smith

Since we transitioned toward a vegan diet, we started eating Daiya vegan cheese. (The kids still eat regular cheese but they are not vegetarian) I would definitely be interested in any vegan cheese recipes you have. Thanks Honey!

Beth
Beth
6 years ago
Reply to  Honey Smith

i’d love to hear more about making vegan cheese! I can’t eat most brands like Daiya because of the additives/colour. Would love to make my own.

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
6 years ago
Reply to  Beth

The cookbook I use is called the Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook, though there are others. I have done queso, dill havarti, gouda, among others. The gouda was fun because you get to use crazy ingredients like agar agar. I felt like a real chef!

SAHMama
SAHMama
6 years ago

Our family of 5 has an ANNUAL eating out budget of $300. Our kids are young- ages 13 months, 3 1/2 years and 7 years, so the baby often eats free if we’re at a buffet place. We’ve eaten out once so far this year, at a Vietnamese noodles restaurant. We spent $20.96 and had three meals worth of leftovers after our stomachs were filled. My husband and I each chose our own favorite then we got one entree (chicken lo mein) for the kids to share. My real food spending problem is taking advantage of too many of the… Read more »

April
April
6 years ago

My husband and I rarely eat out–not for budget reasons, though. We just like to cook, and 90% of the time we eat sugar- and gluten-free, local, organic, grass-fed, etc. That’s impossible to do if we eat out all the time. Honestly, food is both a need and a want for me, so I don’t care that what I spend is pretty high. And also, I equate what I eat with an investment in my health, so food quality is very important to me. I’m thankful that I can afford to eat the way I eat, though–it’s not cheap. That… Read more »

Carla
Carla
6 years ago

The good news is, I haven’t dined at a fast food restaurant in over a decade for health reasons (and the fact that I “grew” out of it). The bad news is I live in a city and a walkable neighborhood where there’s so many delicious, local places to eat. Fortunately many are gluten free, sugar free, and some feature grass fed meats, organic veggies, etc. Working from home leaves me with cabin fever at the end of my day and I usually have to go out for errands, appointments, etc. I really had to budget how often I eat… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
6 years ago

Eating out is delicious and convenient Maybe. I think this is worth looking deeper a little bit though because eating out can often deceive us. DELICIOUS Most restaurants around me aren’t delicious at all and that’s why I hate eating out these days. At least where I live, restaurants go from meh to worse. Yes, places worthy of a pilgrimage exist (somewhere else), but most times I can cook better at home. What restaurants do for sure is add more salt and sugar and fat to things. So, whenever I cooke for other people, all I do is put more… Read more »

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
6 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

It depends on what kind of food you are likely to eat out, I think. I have made some Thai food at home, for example, but it is VERY time consuming, the spices are expensive, and it never really comes out the way I want. So if I’m craving Thai, I usually get it out. Ditto Indian food. But for a lot of things, especially if you are a decent cook yourself or have dietary restrictions (like not eating meat) then eating out gradually becomes not as attractive. Anyone can heat up a hunk of meat. It’s much harder to… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
6 years ago
Reply to  Honey Smith

Anyone can heat up a hunk of meat.

ha ha– i see what you did there!

anyone can boil rice 😛

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
6 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

I personally don’t care for rice, and it’s usually a side dish, not the main portion of the meal, but yes. Anyone can cook it 😉

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
6 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

I loved rice! Topped with a fish and seafood stew is just sensational. Mmmm-mmmm-mmm!

Carla
Carla
6 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

I love rice, it just doesn’t love me back!

Carla
Carla
6 years ago
Reply to  Honey Smith

YES, honey! I love Thai food and I also love to cook but the two does not mix. You’re so right, Thai food is time consuming (even just to hunt down the ingredients) and can it be difficult. My kitchen is the size of a postage stamp so I don’t have the advantage of the counter space that’s needed.

Japanese food, especially Sushi? Forget it! At the same time Sushi should only be for special occasions so the cost to go out for a quality meal would be factored into the budget.

nicoleandmaggie
nicoleandmaggie
6 years ago
Reply to  Carla

We’re really enjoying Quick and Easy Thai by McDermott. (Not to be confused with Quick and Easy Indian Cooking by Jaffrey, which is also excellent and as advertised.)

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
6 years ago
Reply to  Honey Smith

I love rice, topped with a fish and seafood stew it’s just sensational.

Gman
Gman
6 years ago

I find the Food Network’s show “10 Dollar Dinners” with Melissa d’Arabian to be a fantastic way to save money and have fantastic meals at home. 10 dollars to feed four people for entree, side and usually a desert is cheaper than one entree at a restaurant. Plus, my 10 year old and I love watching, shopping for and then making the meals. Last night we has a wonderful lemony shrimp scampi meal. Highly recommended!

Kristin Wong
Kristin Wong
6 years ago

Argh, this is an ongoing challenge for me. Dining out is my weakness. I love to cook, but somehow I still find myself spending more than I’d like on restaurants. A while back, when I realized just how much I was overspending, I utilized the envelope system. I know some people aren’t a fan of that, but it works for me. And it’s really not that inconvenient. Using cash helped me cut back a lot, because it gave me something tangible to spend with, forcing me to think about my spending. Since then, I’ve been able to reign it in… Read more »

Kay
Kay
6 years ago

Great post! Food can be a massive problem in anyone’s budget. I would find some months I spent 90 bucks just picking up dinner on the way home or treating myself and a friend to brunch. Ridiculous! For me, the best way to ensure I don’t stop on the way home is to have a hearty lunch at work with a fiber or protein bar about an hour before I leave. Then I’m not hungry, so I’m not tempted to stop and waste money.

Nina
Nina
6 years ago

Last year I spent 14.7% of my after tax income on groceries and eating out (I know because I just finished my “where did my money go in 2013” analysis). This excludes spend on bars and lunches at work (although this spend was minimal). Yep, I was shocked too. Me and my partner eat out either once a week in a nice place, or a couple of times somewhere cheap and cheerful. On top of that we order take away a couple of times a month. Foodwise, my biggest expense is groceries. And it’s worth noting that my share is… Read more »

Charlie @ Our Journey To Zero Debt
Charlie @ Our Journey To Zero Debt
6 years ago

I feel like you’re writing about our life.

My wife and I are expecting #2 as well and we’ve always managed to go over our grocery budget. But now we’re using the cash envelope system so we don’t go over. And just last night, I made a big batch of pasta to take to work for the next few days.

stratagic
stratagic
6 years ago

I dont’ find it too hard to stick to a food budget and I feel like I eat like a king on 200 per month food budget. I do this by not buying processed food (mostly shopping the peripheral of the supermarket). Most of my meals include a veggie, a grain, and a meat or protein. For beef, I either buy some to make stew or ground beef for lasagna/pasta/stuffed peppers, etc. I do not buy steaks. The standard organic items I buy are chicken, ready-to-eat salad mix, tomatoes, bananas (it’s only 1 buck for four), and carrots. I treat… Read more »

Erin
Erin
6 years ago

This is a huge issue for my husband and me as well. I am expecting baby #1 and we desperately need to overhaul our food budget. We are currently spending somewhere in the $800-$1000 range per month for two people. I have too many emotions tied into eating out. I often feel like I “deserve” a good meal after working all day. My husband and I are both subpar cooks so it’s difficult to make food we enjoy. We’re also vegetarian (him) and not (me) so it’s hard to find common dishes. It’s great to see that so many people… Read more »

Miriam
Miriam
6 years ago

We don’t eat out more often than a few times a year and generally prefer to spend money on good ingredients to prepare paleo style meals at home.

Even though most of what we buy is organic, we don’t spend more than other couples who eat conventionally. I guess this is because of our emphasis on plain dairy, locally grown vegetables, unusual cuts of meat and the use of bones (marrow, broth).

The containers my husband uses to carry his lunches have significantly decreased in size over the last two years as we have upped the fat in our diet.

Waverly
Waverly
6 years ago

We don’t cook. Period. I loathe it. My husband claims he likes it, yet he never does it. We also live in a neighborhood where there are lots of great restaurants in all different price ranges. We also live right across the street from a grocery store and basically use it as a pantry. I refuse to spend the time buying, chopping, preparing and cleaning for something that’s going to take twenty minutes to inhale. No. My time, and my sense of inner peace are much more valuable to me than the money I spend on eating out. Also: this… Read more »

Holly@ClubThrifty
6 years ago
Reply to  Waverly

Ha!

You are 100% correct that we were not both pregnant. Maybe I should’ve said that we were expecting our second child instead of “we were pregnant.”

Unfortunately, I experienced all of the symptoms you described while my husband looked and felt as great as ever =/ I’m glad that’s over with.

Laura
Laura
6 years ago

It comforts me more than any of you know to realize I am not the only one struggling with my eating out budget – the ONLY area we really overspend. (1) I loathe cooking and am only passable at the few dishes I know how to make. (2) DH hates cooking and the few times he makes anything, “inedible” is the kindest word I can think of to describe the mess. He genuinely believes that water can substitute for any missing ingredient. (Hint: when baking, flour + water + water + water makes glue.) (3) Coming from a poor family… Read more »

Jacq
Jacq
6 years ago
Reply to  Laura

I put frozen meat, veggies etc. in the slow cooker all the time when needed to cook things on my away from home time schedule – maybe try that? I also have a digital cooker that turns to warm mode when the time is up. Love it!

Carla
Carla
6 years ago
Reply to  Jacq

Jacq, it might be helpful to list what you would season it with – veggies and meat in a slow cooker sounds kind of gross without anything else in it. Also what kind of veggies? For people who are not “cooks” it may not come naturally.

stratagic
stratagic
6 years ago
Reply to  Laura

I also get home after 8pm most nights from a very stressful job– also in boston, taking the mbta– and grew up poor as well so I know where you’re coming from. I wrote a long post above detailing my cheap and easy meals/cooking. Basically, I cook three times a week but you might find cooking two main dishes on Sundays to be more useful. For slow cooker, a large roast chicken on low after 12+ hours could be moist if you throw in lots of veggies (carrots, potatoes, celery). Once you finish most of the chicken or get tired… Read more »

cathleen
cathleen
6 years ago

We do a combination of things. It helps that my husband is a chef but I like to cook too and could frequently overspend on ingredients and good wines, cheeses, etc. Also, I love to entertain which is where I tend to overspend. For regular workweeks, I generally shop on Friday night or Saturday for any essentials from the pantry we are out of and some items I want to make or prep on Sunday, like a whole chicken, roast, filet, whatever. I buy fish fresh during the week at my local place so I don’t have to keep fish… Read more »

Priswell
Priswell
6 years ago
Reply to  cathleen

>>We don’t have kids but if we did the first thing I’d teach them is how to cook! A great life skill, saves money and makes lots of friends happy <<

I can do a lot of stuff, but I'm so glad that I learned to cook early in life! I don't always want to cook, and I do like to eat out, but I'm grateful that I can take some leftovers and a few additional ingredients, and turn it into dinner.

Sara
Sara
6 years ago

I needed this today! Totally set me straight again with my weekly budget. Thanks!

Lis
Lis
6 years ago

Going out to eat is my budget buster too 🙁 I love to cook, I really do, but I despise cleaning up. There’s also something a bit sad and frustrating to put all this effort into a meal for one person. Right now, I’m at that awkward point in my life where I’m trying to meet new friends in a new place (graduated from college two years ago), and a lot of that time is spent in bars and restaurants. Gahh…

nicoleandmaggie
nicoleandmaggie
6 years ago

Although our monthly challenge next month is cheap meals… just for fun… I don’t think that $4,200/year (the number referenced in the article) is particularly wallet-crushing these days. I’m much much happier making a lot of money and not worrying about the grocery budget getting to eat whatever I want. In fact, I’d even say that I’d rather spend $4,200/year not worrying about food than I would taking a $4,200/year vacation. I’d rather do $4,200 in extra work than cut back my food quantity, quality, or convenience. Food is an every day pleasure. It makes life worth living. And it… Read more »

Holly Thrifty
Holly Thrifty
6 years ago

It’s all about planning and prioritizing. A well stocked pantry and some go-to recipes make it easy to avoid takeout meals. When you eat at home you control the quality and quantity of the food. It’s ok to splurge on that 25 year aged balsamic or a pound of shrimp. Just know how it fits into your overall budget. I’m enjoying fresh berries in the dead of winter. Two boxes of fresh berries cost less than a pizza and are much healthier.

Claire
Claire
6 years ago

Could I just suggest that women stop saying “my husband and I were pregnant.” Pregnant is a physical condition that only applies to the woman actually carrying the baby. “My husband and I were expecting” would be more accurate.

Teinegurl
Teinegurl
6 years ago

I’ve read all the comments and i didnt see any one referring to this but what if your a single parent? I suppose even in a two parent household one parent would be the primary cook but at least occasionally the other parent could take turns or have 2 incomes so that the other parent could pay for a meal out as well. Even though im a single mom work all day and come home , i cook often. I try to cook at least 3-4 days out of the week. I cook breakfasts some saturdays but lunchtime your own… Read more »

Tina
Tina
6 years ago
Reply to  Teinegurl

Try teaching your kids to cook, if they are old enough. Start with sandwiches, then move gradually on to something more substantial. My boys started cooking dinners when they turned 11. Even if they are too young to cook without supervision, train them to prepare veggies for salads or vietnamese rolls etc. I also found that once they understood the amount of effort that went into cooking, they became a lot more appreciative of my dinners!

Nancy
Nancy
6 years ago

Do folks consider paper goods, food storage supplies as “groceries”? That could make a big difference in one’s food bills.

Carla
Carla
6 years ago
Reply to  Nancy

I always separate paper goods, cleansing products, alcohol, even prepared foods,(salad bars in Whole Foods) in Mint.

Nancy
Nancy
6 years ago
Reply to  Carla

Thanks Carla. My husband and I are going to start tracking paper goods and food storage items separately for a bit just to see what we are spending on those items versus groceries vs entertainment food. Our costs have been creeping up from $750/month for all food and supplies to $1,000/month.

Meghan
Meghan
6 years ago

This is my single-largest failure of 2013. Last year, Mint told me I spent $12,100 on food! Yes, for one person. Yes, I check every transaction for proper categorization. Yes, I still barely fit in to my jeans. Yes, that includes wine. No, I do not need a punch in the face, because I have reeled it in this year. I’ll admit it’s hard because I just moved to a new city and normally you make new friends by going out to eat. This isn’t exactly picnic weather in DC. I spend a lot of time at home alone now… Read more »

Jen
Jen
6 years ago
Reply to  Meghan

DC is an expensive food town, and much of that eating is not just social, it ends up being work-related too. Don’t beat yourself up too much!

Meghan
Meghan
6 years ago
Reply to  Jen

Thanks

Jon @ Increase Credit Limit
Jon @ Increase Credit Limit
6 years ago

One thing we try to do, especially after the holidays, is only eat at restaurants where we have gift cards to. This way we can still eat out, but also do it for “free.” Plus, since our inventory is limited, it makes us pick and choose when we really want to go, and when it’s just for convenience!

Amy
Amy
6 years ago

Anyone tried peapod? I’ve found it helps me not do impulse purchases and meal plan. Also we can add items (quickly and easily to the app) all week. The delivery person brings it too your kitchen so no excuse. Even though there’s a delivery fee, I save that much in avoiding icecream.

HKR
HKR
6 years ago

I used to have a big weakness for Thai food too, but then I found a really easy recipe for peanut pad thai. I tweaked it a bit to tailor it to my tastes- made it a touch spicier and added cabbage just because I love cabbage. There’s only one restaraunt who’s pad thai I like better now, so it’s much easier to choose to make it myself when I get that Must Have Thai craving. I keep all the ingredients on hand for just this reason.

Megan
Megan
6 years ago

This post really resonates with me because we are in a somewhat similar position in terms of spending on food. The difference though is that I don’t know if I have yet made the determination that it isn’t worth the money. We do love to go out to eat and we love good food. We also cook at home and cook fairly well, but we go out to eat the things we can’t make ourselves. We live in such a spectacular rainbow of cultures in the Bay Area that you can get almost any type of cuisine under the sun;… Read more »

Carla
Carla
6 years ago
Reply to  Megan

Is it two hours of continuous labor or two hours including simmering, marinading, etc? If its the former, you’re better off going out, especially since it requires 30 ingredients. I’ve seen recipes that made my eyes water looking at it and I love to cook! With a lot of foods, especially “ethnic” cuisine, I could earn enough in one hour or less to pay for a meal rather than spend 2-4 hours plus the cost of ingredients for it come out not the way I want it. The flip-side is you may have enough for another meal depending on how… Read more »

cherie
cherie
6 years ago

I think your plan is good – batch cooking REALLY helps me avoid unplanned takeout/eating out. I don’t know if it’s true for those without kids at home but dang these kids want to be fed actual meals three times a day – whereas I’d be fine with a bowl of cereal for dinner ;p So for us the real key is having what I call an ‘instant meal’ in the freezer – proteins at least – that I can turn into dinner in a few moments without effort since I’m often in the car for a couple of hours… Read more »

Kelli
Kelli
6 years ago

I found this blog while doing some research for a paper that I am writing. I was so excited! These are all things that I had to learn to do the hard way. Buying in bulk does help curb a lot of your expenses and as noted above you can get really creative if you put your mind to it. My husband and I used to love to go out and have drinks or dinner with friends, then he lost his job and two months later I lost mine. We learned to knuckle down and 15 years later we are… Read more »

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