The 30-day no-restaurant challenge

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.

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

More about...Frugality, Food

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Jean
Jean

I was feeling all smug while reading this post, knowing I don’t have this particular weakness of dining out. But then, my money is going somewhere every month — if it’s not going to restaurant meals, surely there’s some other unnecessary splurge that could be tamed, if only for a month. And I think I know what it is. Sigh. My beloved bookstores. And I have a perfectly good library right across the street…

Thanks for the kick in the pants, Michelle.

Lauren {Adventures in Flip Flops}
Lauren {Adventures in Flip Flops}

Yeah, that’s me. Too many books. I’ve gotten better at checking books out of the library and only buying the books I want to have (the ones I reaaally like), but that is for sure where my unnecessary spending is. That and coffee. For some reason its just not the same when I make it myself =(.

Jean
Jean

I know what you mean about the coffee, Lauren. My husband makes me wonderful coffee whenever I want it, and there’s good free coffee at work, and yet I STILL buy a cup occasionally as a treat. I tell myself it’s better than buying a candy bar or some other kind of sweet, but why buy anything at all?

Michelle
Michelle

Thanks, Jean! This is actually another area that we could work on too. It’s hard, because I like to support local bookstores and authors. But we have a lovely library that we are trying to use more often too.

Nancy
Nancy

Have you tried paperbackswap dot com? It’s a wonderful free way to get books. I’ve been a member (free) for several years. Today alone I received 8 new to me books!

Samantha
Samantha

Paperbackswap is the place to be!!! It’s not just paperbacks, it’s hardbacks, audiobooks, everything. You get rid of all those books you’re never going to read again and just pay for Media Mail shipping (currently about $2.40), and you get to order books from around the country for free. Its amazing. And its also “green”.

Ash
Ash

For me it’s luxury food items sauces, pickles and nice chocolate that I splurge on. Now what woud I substitute these for??

Roberta
Roberta

You’re probably still spending less than if you were eating out, so maybe your fancy sauces and chocolate are OK!

mike
mike

When I think of all the money spent on eating out. If had the discipline to have eaten all my meals at home, and invested the rest, no question I would be rich today.

Eating out is a waste of money period

Well Heeled Blog
Well Heeled Blog

I wouldn’t say eating out is a waste of money. There is a lot to the social aspects of eating out – it’s a really nice way to catch up with friends or spend a nice evening with my fiance. Plus, it’s wonderful not having to do any post-cooking cleaning up. It’s worth the money if my eating out experiences are truly an experience, either because of the ambiance, or because of the food that I can’t make at home. I am trying to stay away from “convenience” eating out, where I go eat something that’s not very good or… Read more »

Lonnie
Lonnie

Challenging yourself like this is a great way to start better habits. My family needs to do this because we eat out way too much – with a 3 year old and a 5 month old!

One of our problems is the same as yours – we get bored eating the same thing, but our bigger problem is the lack of energy to cook after a long day of juggling with the kids! Eating out is the easy way out, but it burns a hole right through our budget.

I’m going to suggest doing this with my wife.

Lauren {Adventures in Flip Flops}
Lauren {Adventures in Flip Flops}

Y’all need to start using a slow-cooker! I discovered this in grad school and it is STILL my favorite appliance, especially because you put everything together in the MORNING.

Diane
Diane

One of my single, frugal friends calls her slow cooker her “Boyfriend” as in “I’m having dinner with my Boyfriend tonight” or “My Boyfriend is cooking dinner for me…” Always makes me laugh.

Sonja
Sonja

It is awesome to have dinner “done” in the a.m. before you even really get your day going!

This is a great post because it is getting so expensive to eat out. We have young kids and even Chipotle and Panera are $35 for lunch or dinner (without drinks!). That has been incentive enough for us to skip eating out/getting takeout a a group much at all.

Malcom
Malcom

I recently learned how to cook in a slow-cooker. You put dinner in before work and it ready when you return home.

Rosa
Rosa

For those of us not organized or morning-persony enough for the slowcooker, there are two great options:

1) put everything together the night before in the removeable crock and just put it in the slow cooker in the morning (and remember to turn it on…)

2) pressure cooker. Any crockpot recipe will work fine in one, but you can do it when you get home from work instead of in the morning because it will cook in about 20 minutes.

Michelle
Michelle

Lonnie, I think you hit the nail on the head on why we fell into this habit to begin with. Two kids and two working parents (all parents are working parents, whether you have a paying job or not) = exhausting. When you are all tired, a meal you don’t have to cook or clean up after is a very tempting choice. Excellent point!

Nicole
Nicole

What a great idea. Might I suggest getting a french press and trying a no coffee out month? You may find that you don’t want to go back to the coffee shop. (You may even start infusing your own syrup additives, though probably not in a month.) @2 Ash– why give those up? They can’t be all that much of budget busters. I guess if you’re in debt or you really can’t afford grocery splurges you should sacrifice, but the end goal would be to buy whatever you want at the grocery store. Not something I would give up unless… Read more »

Jean
Jean

Thanks for the advice, Nicole. I’ll try that approach. At the moment, I’m trying to resist buying anything on my Amazon wishlist until several weeks have passed — often I find that the book I ‘must have’ is just the book I happen to want to read on that day. The library teaches me another form of patience, as I often have to wait a long time for a new release, which of course I want to read NOW (like the new Karin Slaughter, which I’ve had reserved at the library for months…). And you’re right about supporting local bookstores.… Read more »

Lina
Lina

In my library you can wish that they buy certain books. I have done that with several books that I wish to read and the library has bought almost all of my suggestions. It is a great way to get the books that you want without buying them.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth

Many libraries also offer an interlibrary loan service. I’m impressed with all the improvements my library has made over the years. I love their online hold/request system, not to mention those warnings a couple of days before books are due!

Krista
Krista

I still go to the bookstore and peruse, but when I see something I want, I add it on my list on Goodreads. When I get home, I put a hold on it at the library. It’s worked very well for the past few years.

Samantha
Samantha

I do the exact same thing. I love to browse the New Releases at the huge chain bookstores, and I keep track of what I’m reading, what I’ve read, and what I want to read on Goodreads. But nothing beats my public library for the awesome service, value (hah!), and amazing online request system. I ‘order’ books and movies online and they notify me via email when they come in. I don’t have to stalk the shelves anymore looking for TR768.85!

A-L
A-L

I’ve been trying to use the library more, too. If I read a book at the library and really liked it and know that I’m going to want to reread it, then that’s when I purchase. I’ve only been doing this for a couple of months (excepting some books on cooking that I use as reference), but it’s working so far. But I’d love it if my library e-mailed me when the due dates approached! Though not nearly as much as having to pay for books, I still seem to pay more than I’d like in overdue fines!

DeeBee
DeeBee

Have you asked your local library if this option is possible? Some integrated library systems do offer courtesy emails when the due date is approaching. My library (Free Library of Philadelphia) has this option and it’s wonderful. If your library does not have it, you could ask if perhaps they could consider it in the future if and when they upgrade their software. Librarians are generally really happy to hear suggestions from patrons on how to make their systems better. Since budgets are tight everywhere, upgrades may not be possible, It never hurts to ask nicely. D.B. (Master of Library… Read more »

Stacy
Stacy

If it is not an option at your library (it is at mine but you have to ask about it), check out http://www.libraryelf.com It is a free service where you sign up and enter in your library card info. They will then e-mail you when your books are coming due.

A-L
A-L

Thanks for that website! I’ll have to mention to our library the idea of e-mail reminders, as they currently have e-mail notifications when requested books arrive, and you can go online to request books (and sometimes renew them).

Ramona
Ramona

Smart! I very much enjoy the idea of eating out, but once I get my food, realize I could have cooked it just as well (if not better!) for much less money. I’m curious about the ” bonus points”. Did you set a goal for not eating out – some type of reward?

Michelle
Michelle

Bonus points really were just a pat on the back. We’ve worked on our coffee consumption in the past, cutting down on the amount we’ve spent in that area too. (That’s another story.)

We mostly drink coffee or tea at home, but an occassional treat is okay now that we have that under control. Two is our maximum/per week and we try for only one (or none).

Dan
Dan

Yeah, I cook very well at home. My wife and I are starting to become very particular about where we go out. I can’t stand spending $100 on a mediocre meal + bottle of wine + tax + tip.

Groupon’s been cool because I’ve picked up a ton of groupons for local restaurants. This helps get us exposure to places without paying retail.

Ru
Ru

I liked the last point you made about how you can afford to buy better food when you eat in. I have expensive tastes with food and used to buy really high quality stuff, even when I was living in student accommodation. My friends would come round and question how I could afford the nice bottle of wine, or the jar of stuffed olives, or the good cheese. Hello?! That bottle of wine was less than your usual bill at Starbucks! Coffee and a cake adds up to around £8. A nice bottle of wine can easily come in under… Read more »

bg
bg

Great article. We too love to go out eating, it’s a time to connect and talk about the projects we do.

However, husband and I are currently on a weight-reduction trip so he’s been hacking most of our recipes and cooks lighter versions. Eating out is hard to calculate, so we suddenly end up more at home with him getting better at cooking all the time, trying out more new recipes than ever 🙂

Slackerjo
Slackerjo

Great job. I think you will enjoy going to restaurants in the future because it’s a treat and not the norm.

How much money did you save eating in for 30 days?

Michelle
Michelle

I think you are right about eating out being more special now.

We typically spend $20-$35 on dinner for four eating a casual, family restaurants. We don’t eat fast food (sensitive tummies), so our least expensive option is a local Mexican-style place — similiar to Chipolte. The more “expensive” restaurants include places like Red Robin or BJ’s.

We were aiming to save about $300 during this specific month, which we did. But I’d say some months we could save even more.

Luke
Luke

Great post! My girlfriend and I took the “No Restaurant Challenge” about 2 months ago and it’s been great. When I stopped and added up just how much we were spending on eating out, it was quite eye-opening. $20 here, $30 there… We never went to upscale restaurants, just your average neighborhood place. It didn’t take long to realize that just a few meals in a restaurant (not even an expensive one) quickly equals the price of a weeks worth of groceries, or more! And as you said, the benefits are more than just financial. We really enjoy cooking much… Read more »

Zanne
Zanne

I had to laugh about your statements regarding leftovers – it has long been a dearly held theory of mine, but completely unsupported – that those who hate leftovers don’t cook. Disliking leftovers made no sense to me, as tomato sauce is always better the second day … You have provided me with proof!! Thanks!

Kate
Kate

Not to be cantankerous, but I love to cook, do it everyday (I even make my own cheese), and I hate leftovers. Tomato sauce, some curries, and chili are amongst the very few things I find taste better the second day. Meat is tough to reheat if it was cooked properly the first time, and cheese often gets a funny texture.

If forced to tackle leftovers, I will usually repurpose them into something else to help disguise the texture. Luckily. I don’t have to do that often, since hubby loves leftovers. Hooray!

Sarah
Sarah

Leftovers are better if you don’t try to “reheat” ie recook them. Slice meat for sandwiches. If you must, open face with gravy. Leftovers are the basis for a lot of good and cheap lunches too. Chicken becomes chicken salad or crocquettes, ham, the same, plus a nice hamsteak fried with potatoes, scalloped potatoes, beef turns into meat pie.. I do not understand people who can’t stand leftovers. That’s half the work of cooking gone and double the creativity.

Claudia
Claudia

At our house, “Second-Day Pot Roast” is preferred to the original!

Joe
Joe

My wife and I rarely take the family to restaurants now. I can cook, and my wife is great in the kitchen. A lot of times, we’ve been very disappointed at the quality of the meals out we have gotten. We know we can do just as good a job at home. An example is the other night. My wife felt like steak, so she got filet mignon and we had a great meal. The steaks only cost us $15. That type of meal out is probably double the price. And it’s so easy to do at home. At home,… Read more »

Michael
Michael

My wife and I are good cooks, like cooking, and actually prefer home-cooked most of the time. Where a restaurant shines though in in two aspects: 1) Having all the food ready at the same time. In home cooking if you’re trying to juggle a multi-course meal, you might have competing items needeing the oven at the same time, or something that needs basting wing else needs to be stirred. Restaurants will have different people doing different tasks, and will have adequate prep space. 2) Cleanup! Cooking big or fancy meals often means a big mess. Even just making a… Read more »

A-L
A-L

You hit the mark about cleaning. Cooking some good meals will often increase the dish count, which will often result in a lot of irritation in my husband (who is responsible for the dishes). And my spouse isn’t that interested in leftovers, either. But I’m working on him, as it would definitely save money. I still get shocked how much money we end up spending at very modest places for a meal for two.

shash
shash

This post was very inspiring. Because of an extremely slammed schedule, I try to cook ahead so that I can reheat things during the week for lunch and/or dinner. When I do not do this, both my wallet and my waistline pay– one gets skinnier and one gets fatter. I’ll let you figure out which is which. Realizing of late that I was remiss in cooking, that both my energy level and my body were paying for it– I began to make time for it again lately. One of the cashiers at my work cafeteria asked me “where I’d been”… Read more »

Karina
Karina

My husband and I used to spend about $400 a month on food, because we are foodies and love to eat well. When we realized how much it was for just the two of us, we were shocked. So I sat down one day, and gave myself a budget of $50 a week, and would plan recipes based off what we already had available in the fridge/freezer/pantry, and then build off of that. It was really great. Now we have upped our budget to $65 a week because we have started purchasing mostly organic products, specifically organic meat and eggs,… Read more »

elena
elena

Thanks for the menu. I am envious that you keep your grocery budget so low.

Tracey+H
Tracey+H

Very interesting. My husband dines out at work for business reasons (entertaining), but we very seldom dine out ourselves (less than once/month by far). We might buy coffee out once a year (usually when we’re on a driving vacation). We don’t buy books, DVDs, etc. I’m trying to figure out what our weakness is. We do love to travel, but that’s a mindful decision.

Tracy
Tracy

We did this one month – which happened to be a birtday month for one relative. There was such an uproar because we refused to go the expensive restaurant that he wanted to go to for his birthday. My offer of dinner at home with the family was snubbed. Oh well – all is ok again but it was a rough couple of weeks. My favorite comment at the time was, “Don’t tell me how to spend my money.” By the way – the family that complained is one paycheck away from the poorhouse – perhaps they should try the… Read more »

Sue
Sue

Sometime it’s good to be flexible. When it’s someone’s special day and you can afford it, you should have gone.

Samantha
Samantha

I disagree. When did it become everyone else’s responsibility to spend money on my special day? If I choose to hold a party at a restaurant, I’m picking up the tab. Its different to ask your spouse to take you to your favorite place for your birthday… everyone shouldn’t be required to spend outside their comfort zone for you. At that point, its not about the birthday or spending time together. Its about being spoiled.

Trina
Trina

Nope – completely disagree. Demanding that someone pay for an expensive dinner that is not in their budget is the equivalent of demanding expensive gifts.

thefrugallery
thefrugallery

Thank you for sharing your great article with us! You are absolutely right, often times eating out is used as an entertainment tool, something that you do when you’re bored. I’ve been inspired, I’m going to try this!

Harmony
Harmony

If you are single eating out is more affordable. Cooking generally leads me to tossing half of what I made because I don’t want to eat the same pasta dish for a week. Also, it provides social interaction that staying home by yourself doesn’t.

Liz
Liz

I agree that it can be a challenge to cook for one and deal with the leftovers, plus as you mentioned the social aspect of eating out is nice. Ive found that cooking small portions and taking any leftovers for lunch helps, as does freezing leftovers when possible (soups, etc). As for the social interaction, I’ve found that going out once a week for a drink or dessert at my favorite local place helps with that and is far less expensive than going out for a full meal.

Matt, Tao of Unfear
Matt, Tao of Unfear

Yeah, for me, the social interaction is the biggest thing about not eating out at all, or rarely ever. Working from home kind of sucks, because I have to remind myself to go interact with people… and if I’m not leaving the house for the sake of eating, it can be an easy thing to forget.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman

Cooking-for-one cookbooks abound, and I bet the web is full of single-person-meal recipes.
Or just cook LESS of the pasta.
If you want to eat out, it’s your money. But it’s disingenuous to say that eating out is a frugal choice because it keeps you from wasting money, i.e., that you’ll inevitably “have” to throw out uneaten food.
P.S. I am single and I love to eat in restaurants — I just don’t do it very often.

Nicole
Nicole

We recommend Help! My apartment has a kitchen! As a cookbook that makes about 2-3 servings of any meal.

Maggie, on our blog, has a lot of tips about cooking for one. She’s big at repackaging and freezing. http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2010/08/15/cooking-for-1/
Personally I suck at cooking for one. If I had to do it these days I’d probably live on sandwiches, cereal, and frozen dinners *at best*.

Beth
Beth

I used to think the same thing. Then I started cooking at home and freezing the leftovers. I have saved A TON of money cooking at home. Plus, I get a lot more control over the nutritional value. It’s not even a contest – eating out is much more expensive per meal than cooking your own food. (And by “cooking” I mean actually COOKING. Like, from a recipe. Not buying a bunch of pre-made/packaged meals like those meal-in-a-bag things.)

However, you are right about the social aspect.

Dan
Dan

I was single until my late 20’s, and it took me a very long time to build up my kitchen. It seemed that every recipe was a new set of ingredients, and a simple meal would cost $20, especially if I had to buy dried herbs. Then, when I would make it, I’d have the same stuff for a week. Ugh. It was as cheap to go out as it was to cook in. When I got married, it wasn’t much more expensive to cook for two of us. There’s not much difference between making four servings and throwing half… Read more »

Jenny
Jenny

My husband and I were exactly the same before kids. We ate “out” almost every night of the week , revolving between one of the few restaurants near our home. When our son was still very small, we did slightly better, but still ate out at least half of the week. The swift kick in the pants came when my husband took a 3rd shift job so he could be home with our son during the day. Being a one-car family, I HAD to start cooking if we were going to eat. Some lessons from all of this: 1.) I’m… Read more »

APB News
APB News

Another hidden benefit of eating in is that you can actually teach your kids to cook at the same time. This can save them a lot of grief later when they are trying to save money and raise a family on a nutritious diet.

Daisy

Michelle
Michelle

So true!!!

Cat
Cat

On the flip side, I lived in a Midwestern town for two years to be with my partner through grad school. I’m from the northeast and found that there were virtually no restaurants I wanted to eat at. We were also pretty poor (I was making $16,000/year, partner was a student living on loans), so I guess this suited us fine. I was pretty miserable though; we couldn’t even order a pizza or get a decent sandwich at a deli (first world problems!). Now that we’re both making respectable salaries and living in a city with some of the best… Read more »

chris
chris

My sister and her family have a great tradition. Every January they forgo grocery shopping and eat everything from their pantry and freezer. They only spend about $50 on produce and milk. Saves them hundreds of dollars, cleans out the pantry, and is a great start to the new year.

Diane
Diane

I do this too, but in February. I do a complete “No $pending” month. Not even $50. It’s amazing what meals I can come up with from my pantry. Buying nothing all month really makes me aware of where my money goes the rest of the year. Sometimes I just sock the money into savings. Other years, I am able to help out someone in need to a level that I normally wouldn’t be able to afford and in a way that makes a difference to them. Spending nothing (with no stockpiling in advance allowed!) for a month is hard… Read more »

Mo
Mo

Mark Bittman suggests doing this over the summer, while fresh produce is readily available, restocking pasta and other staples in the fall.

Michelle
Michelle

I love this idea, and we’ve talked about doing the same thing. I have friends who do it in January too.

Bella
Bella

our twist on this is to review the pantry – and donate donate donate. We used to get trick or treaters for the food pantry – they seem to have disappeared this year, however, a few years ago when we found out that while the food bank is only open on weekdays when I’m at work – our mission is open for donations ANY time, even on Sunday which is when I get around to cleaning out the pantry.

Anton Roder
Anton Roder

To those single people,
I worked part-time for a psychiatrist once. She worked crazy hours – 7:00 in the morning to 9:00 in the evening would not be a strange day. The result was she had no time for cooking. She got around this by cooking on Sundays (She worked Saturdays too). She would cook large portions of several different vegetables, rice and one or two meat dishes. Then she put them all in little plastic bags of 1 portion each and during the week she would just take out and defrost what she felt like.

Donna
Donna

Love the article-we are chronic restaurant fiends who love to eat out. We are down to once a week-Saturday nights (this is a gross improvement). I love being cooked for and we do it out of boredom. I do not however eat lunch and breakfast out. Coffee was a challenge for my husband so I purchased a k cup coffee maker and he never buys out. I also purchased travel mugs. I buy the coffee in bulk and on sale. Is it cheaper? It may be slightly but as coffee keeps going up probably yes. We also save on time… Read more »

Matt, Tao of Unfear
Matt, Tao of Unfear

While I was in college, friends would really have to twist my arm to get me to go eat out. I simply couldn’t afford it, and I knew I could make something better for a fraction of the cost. When I got my first job out of college, I started eating out a lot more, just because I hadn’t adjusted to the soul-sucking that sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day would do: I simply didn’t have the energy. But, I started reading GRS shortly after I started my job too, and keeping a budget as well. Turned… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo

* restau-

Jen
Jen

This is our family’s big expense too. I can cook, but prefer to do big, exciting meals occasionally rather than the day in and day out cooking. I’m also always so glad to not have to cook or clean up (though hubby does most of that)that I’m happy about most any food served to me! But, just recently I’ve started making myself just make something on the nights I really don’t want to cook. I remind myself that it doesn’t need to be exciting, just nutritious and tasty enough. That has helped some — mostly it gets me to the… Read more »

Bella
Bella

I am also working on the stockpiling thing. For some reason I will freeze something ‘for later’ but later never comes – then it gets thrown out. I am trying ot adjust my thinking that I freeze stuff so I don’t have to eat it NOW, but that later could be as soon as next week.

PawPrint
PawPrint

Not a comment on the article, which I enjoyed, but I wonder why all the comments have “loading. . .” at the end, and also where did the “like” option go?

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth

Ah, it’s all related. For some reason, the “like” plugin is on the fritz. The technical elves will need to look at it. In the meantime, I’ll turn it off so we don’t see all of the “loading” notes. I hate ’em!

MelodyO
MelodyO

I definitely find that eating in restaurants is almost always disappointing (bad food, bad prices, bad service – sometimes all three of these at once!), but the lure of someone else planning, cooking, and cleaning up is too much to resist some nights. I’m trying to buy and/or prepare a few frozen meals for those nights, which is still less expensive than going out. I’m also thinking that on the nights I’m really tired we should use paper plates and plastic cutlery so there’s less clean-up. I also heartily recommend the slow cooker, which strangely doesn’t work so well when… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo

I think freezing is overkill if you’re cooking for the week. It makes your life more inconvenient with separating portions and freezing and defrosting. I regularly cook big stews on the weekend and eat them through the week– I keep them refrigerated but not frozen, and scoop out what I need. Same with roasted sweet potatoes (or boiled potatoes, which I don’t eat). Same with frittatas (eggs). Cooked food has a longer shelf life than raw, and if a steak will live several days unfrozen then chili should go on for a while longer. I wouldn’t keep it for more… Read more »

Dawn
Dawn

I’m always amazed at the advice given by government sites, food magazines, etc., regarding keeping refrigerated dishes for only two to three days. I don’t even want to imagine how much money we would be wasting if we followed those guidelines (I supposed they need to be very conservative to cover their butts legally). We’ve always had a seven-day rule in our house for leftovers and have never gotten sick from our own food (can’t say the same for restaurant food). It’s three days for seafood, but nobody’s interested in eating the leftover fish anyway, so the lesson there is… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo

I haven’t gone to a restaurant in ages. Where Iive, the good restaurants are out of my league and the rest of them aren’t worth the money– I can cook much better at home. For example, there is a “famous” breakfast place that was highly rated by the populace— so I go there, and I order pancakes, and they have no butter. No butter? Are you kidding me? In a whole restaurant? By “no butter” I mean no churned cream. Because they have something they call “butter”: a greasy yellow “I can’t believe they want to call this crap butter”… Read more »

shash
shash

Wow. You just made me want pancakes. Seriously. Right now. I must be hungrier than I realized.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo

Good! Enjoy!

Diane
Diane

This was a good response (Fivebucks! Funny), but for one thing. Those “snotty” baristas are people just like you and me. They have lives, jobs and families and might be as frugal as the best of us. I don’t partake much in the whole SB thing, but the times I do, the staff is friendly and efficient, despite the fact that they’ve never seen me before. If you linger at all in one of their establishments, you will see that they work their tails off, tip or no tip.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo

That depends. My local Fivebucks has a snotty counterculture and I don’t like it for that reason. Once an “attitude” infests a place, it becomes contagious– sort of like the “cooler than thou” Apple store staff in my town– not sure it’s the same in all Apple stores. There’s another coffee shop near my house where I go to meet people that has the nicest baristas, and we chat and joke and I they treat me nice and I tip generously when I can. Hence I patronize them whenever I get coffee out (not too often, but it happens), and… Read more »

Ren
Ren

GReat aticle and great responses.

Not to get off topic, but I can’t get behind the tipping baristas. I just paid $2.50 for a tea and I’m supposed to throw down a buck just because you asked what I wanted and took my payment.
What do I not “get”? BTW my wife winds up tipping for me.

Carla
Carla

@Ren – Who says the tip has to be a dollar for a $2.50 drink?? I throw down a quarter and call it a day.

Andrea
Andrea

I think that is true- it depends where you go-I used to go to Starbucks a lot- and I’d find places where the staff was nice and places where the staff was lousy. Not snotty(I’m sure that exists too-I’ve seen it at restaurants)- just bad employees- chatting to each other while customers waited. With more time now to make it myself- I have to wonder why I paid over $3 for coffee with some milk and cocoa in it.

Andrew
Andrew

Great link–thanks! I just saved it and will be using the recipe next weekend.

Gerlinde
Gerlinde

Good luck with the challenge! I hope you will become more enthousiastic about homecooking during this challenge. There is only a lot to win for your health, your kids health and your wallet 🙂 It is great that you are happy to extend the challenge. I think you will inspire a lot of other people with that! We eat out once of twice a year and then we really, really enjoy it. It is really a treat when someone cooks and cleans your dishes. We used to go almost every week with my parents. Since we have kids we do… Read more »

kathleen
kathleen

This is a wonderful post, and an even better idea! One trick I have when I am stuck is to go to Red Robin’s website and read the menu. Then I make whichever burger sounds like the one I most want to order.

Roberta
Roberta

This is a great idea! I’m going to try it with online menus of many different restaurants!

Sara
Sara

I very rarely go out to eat. It helps a lot that there are few restaurants convenient to my home! I work long hours and have little time to cook during the week, but I use some tricks to make things easier for myself so I’m not tempted to go to restaurants. First, I live alone, so when I make, say, a big pan of lasagna or batch of soup, I eat one serving and package the rest in individual servings to put in the freezer for a quick meal. I don’t really consider them “leftovers,” so much as made-ahead… Read more »

Carla
Carla

I did the ‘no eating out’ thing for a month (difficult in Portland!) at one time and didn’t see *much* of a difference between eating out and eating exclusively at home budget wise. It could be because I’m a household of one – I don’t know. I am also a foodie, love to cook and eat a certain diet that is not cheap (no grains, pastas, soy, sugars, legumes, starches, etc.) so its not like I can get away with eating super frugally; but it depends on what I do decide to eat and how much activity I do (gym/weight… Read more »

kathleen
kathleen

gosh Carla, I’m in Portland too, and I eat a similar diet to you — where on earth are you finding places to go where you don’t have to be “that person” that sends the waitress back to the kitchen to find out if there’s flour in the steak sauce?

Carla
Carla

A casual place I like to go to is Dicks on SE Belmont. They are very sensitive to food intolerances (gluten, especially) and are very accommodating.

Blossoming Lotus is another place. Bamboo Sushi has wheat free tamari on request. For the most part, I don’t eat food what would have flour, etc in it in the first place. I guess I’m used to always asking.

Hope this helps somewhat!

Jo
Jo

You can buy one of those “old fashioned” stove top espresso machines. They are super cheap and believe me…coffee will be amazing. I use mine every.single.day.

Carla
Carla

I may look into that! Now if I can find a way to have steamed milk…:)

Jennifer
Jennifer

Great article. I totally get this budget-breaking habit, because I do it all the time. As a single person, it’s really boring to cook one dish and eat it day after day for a full week. It feels like living through the Chinese Water Torture. My other problem is that I have no faith in my own ability to cook given that I don’t do it with any great regularity. I’m trying to change this with cooking classes, though, and hope that I can eventually make it through a all-cook month. To start with, I’m going to try an all-cook… Read more »

Mo
Mo

Thanks for this. Restaurant meals are a place where I find it easy to overspend. My walk home from the office to the subway takes me by many “affordable” good restaurants, so avoiding the temptation is difficult. One thing I realized is that the largest risk factor for me eating out wasn’t no food or being tired, but the kitchen not being clean at home. I’d go home, cook dinner, feel all virtuous, but then be too wiped out to clean up and go to be telling myself I’d finish in the morning. That worked about as well as you’d… Read more »

Bella
Bella

And I can’t stand cleaning in the evening after I’ve cooked. I’m so a morning dishes person – usually I like to get the kitchen ready before I leave the house though – because if I don’t I have to clean before I cook when I get home – which I don’t like either.

Lauren
Lauren

My husband and I rarely eat out. I travel for my job and eat out plenty so it’s become more of a treat for us to both be available to cook together and eat a new recipe at home. In fact, we have to really plan to eat out.

People think we’re crazy that when we finally have a lot of time to spend together, we chose to stay home but it really is quite nice. And we love leftovers!

krantcents
krantcents

I do not like drastic changes such as no restaurant months, but it may work for you. I believe in small changes such as cutting out one day of eating out at a time because I did this nearly 40 years ago. I cut out one day at a time of lunch out until I no longer eat out.

Kurt Fischer
Kurt Fischer

Not to pry, but I’m wondering about the effect on your family’s fitness level of cutting out restaurant food. Eating at home usually translates to increased consumption of healthier, lower fat, less caloric food–or at least it can, if you choose. One small frugality suggestion to add to the mix: Though not always practical in a busy family, the more one individual can do the grocery shopping, the better. A regular grocery shopper will quickly learn the typical prices of items. This person will better know when an item’s truly well priced and whether the price of an item advertised… Read more »

Michelle
Michelle

We haven’t really seen a huge difference in fitness after just a month, but I think if we kept going the way we were going, we could have seen a difference in terms of weight gain, etc. We don’t eat fast food, because both of us have sensitive stomachs — if someone did this same challenge and cut out only fast food restaurants, I bet they would see a difference in such a short amount of time. That said, I think we are eating more healthy meals when we cook at home. I’m quite sure there’s less fat, sugar and… Read more »

Anton Roder
Anton Roder

I thought I’d be the devil’s advocate and mention that I have two friends who are teaching in Hong Kong. We were talking about restaurants and stuff and they mentioned they almost never cook at home. There are apparently local “eating houses” where they can get really good meals almost any time of the day for far less than it would cost them to cook at home.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo

Well… it’s Hong Kong, of all places! I’d go from market stall to market stall until I pass out 😀

Michelle
Michelle

I have two friends teaching English overseas (Korea and Vietnam), and they’ve both told me that eating out is super cheap there. I suppose that’s one of the perks. 🙂

Amanda
Amanda

You’ve inspired me! This is one of the top 5 posts I’ve ever read at GRS!

I’m forwarding it to DH & we will set a time to start this. I’ve let myself get really lazy because I started a new job, IN AUGUST, and I haven’t gotten into a good routine.

I like that your DH helped out. I think mine can cook and he used to once in awhile before I became vegetarian. That word just scared his apron off. 🙂 We’ll need to use this article as a basis for discussion.

Barb
Barb

Great story! My situation is different – but with a similar outcome. I’m a single professional (children raised), and honestly, the restaurant meals have been so disapointing in taste & quality, I decided NO MORE! I’m an experienced cook, and decided other than the ocassional fast food reliables when I’m traveling, my money is better spent on quality basics that I prepare. I’m saving money, and no disappointments. The only thing I still don’t mind paying for is a meal at my favorite Asian restaurent – I just can’t match the taste they provide.

Chase
Chase

Reading this is making me hungry… I’m going to sonic.

mom of five
mom of five

For us, it’s much easier to keep dinners to a minimum if we have plenty of convenience foods on the menu at home. We always keep foods like frozen pizza and salad in a bag on hand. There’s always at least one night where I don’t feel like cooking (or there’s no time since I’m driving kids) and there are no leftovers. Peanut butter sandwiches and some of those bags of organic apple slices are healthier, cheaper, and faster than driving through a McDonalds.

Jonathan
Jonathan

I’m guilty of eating out too much too. The worst part of it is that when you eat out all the time, it’s no longer a treat and you end up spending a bunch of money without feeling like you’ve had a special experience.

Jerry
Jerry

Learning how to cook can lead to making some amazing meals in the kitchen and for your family. Sure, it takes some effort but it can be very satisfying when you learn. It’s insurance for your health and your budget. It’s a no-brainer.

Kim
Kim

It’s all about balance and what works for your lifestyle. I only need to provide food for myself, so I do tend to cook 90% of the time. That said, I’m a huge foodie so I love to try out new restaurants and new ingredients at home. This can get expensive but I limit myself to a few times a month. I live in NYC and the food quality here really is better than other parts of the country, if you do your homework! Food is something I’m truly passionate about, so I cut back in other areas to accommodate.

Maddy Han
Maddy Han

I, too, implemented the leftover night. My family hated it! So I decided to freeze the ingredients from the leftovers to make homemade soups, and it was a big hit!

KM
KM

My thing lately is “no eating out unless it’s worth it”. By which I mean, that if I’m going to go out to eat, it’s going to be a special place for a special occasion. For example, I realized I was spending $45/month just eating lunch at the company cafeteria! I don’t even like the food, and it’s also unhealthy–junk like pizza slices etc. I decided that making peanutbutter sandwiches and bringing them from home is actually something I like well enough, it’s healthier, and I save money too. I also try to avoid getting take out, or going to… Read more »

Robin
Robin

Boy howdy. I was feeling ok (we rarely eat out, I love to cook) when I stopped to think about what I DO spend too much money on. Uh oh. I spend WAY too much on amazon – toys and stuff for my son mostly but it’s an insane amount each month. No debt involved but I could definitely try for a no-amazon month. Or two.

Kristin @ KlingtoCash
Kristin @ KlingtoCash

Wow. Way to go on not eating out for a full month and trying to do it again for a second. The things you learned were great too. Thanks for sharing.

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