How can I save money on food when I’m never home?

14-On-the-Go-Make-Ahead-Meal-&-Snack-Ideas

Do you have any tips for saving money on food when you’re never home? I’m spending too much on food while I’m out! -a reader

I was asked the above question on Twitter recently and I thought it was an excellent question — and there was no way I could respond to it in 140 characters. So I promised the reader I’d respond in a post.

Here are some of my thoughts:

1) Evaluate Why You Are Never Home

This might seem like an unnecessary step, but I think it’s very important to consider. Are you always gone because you have to be (i.e. you have a very demanding job or multiple jobs that you need to have in order to pay the bills) or are you always gone because you choose to be (you’ve accepted a lot of extra commitments and responsibilities you don’t have to do, but you want to do or you feel like you have to do out of a sense of obligation or guilt)?

These are vital questions to ask ourselves. Do you love your life? If not, what small steps can you take to start changing it so you have more breathing room, more down time, and more time to be at home?

Could you downsize your home and lifestyle and work hard to pay off all your debt so that you could lower your expenses and take a less demanding job? Could you cut out a few of your extra commitments or scale back in some other way?

In most cases, we have more control over our situation than we realize. But we have to be willing to say no, to make sacrifices, and to set clear boundaries. And then we have to abide by these things, even when it’s tough. In the long run, it will be worth it!

2) Take 15 Minutes Each Day to Plan Ahead

It would be fantastic if you could plan a weekly menu at the beginning of each week, but if your schedule is constantly changing and you’re not sure how the week will pan out, get into the habit of making a daily menu plan instead.

At the start of each day, look at your calendar and to-do list and make a simple plan for what you’re going to eat that day. Then, while you eat breakfast or before you leave for the day, take a few minutes to gather up a few snack items to take with you on the road, make a cup of coffee for yourself for the road, make a sandwich or two for your lunch and dinner, and fill up a big bottle with ice water or iced tea.

Taking 10-15 minutes to put together a plan and then putting together some food and drink items could easily save you $10 to $20 or more each day… and I think that’s well worth the 10 or 15 minutes of time it will take! As an added benefit, you’ll probably end up eating a little healthier, too.

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3) Make Homemade On-The-Go Meals/Snacks

On the weekends or any time during the week when you have an extra 30 minutes, invest that time into making some on-the-go meals and snacks. Here are a few ideas, most that can be prepped ahead of time:

4) Think Outside of the Drive-Thru Lane

The drive-thru lane is quick, easy, and expensive. It’s also usually not  a very healthful option.

If you’re out and about and you really need something to eat and didn’t have a chance to plan ahead, consider going to the grocery store instead. If you have access to a refrigerator and kitchen at your workplace, you could buy a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, and a jar of jelly or buy a bag of salad greens and a rotisserie chicken from the deli.

Buying groceries might cost you a little more than it would cost you to go through the drive-thru lane once, but they’d give you enough food for lunch for at least 3-4 days. Just store the leftovers in the fridge at work and you’ll have lunch for the next few days.

I also encourage you to plan ahead: buy some items you can keep in your desk drawer or fridge at work. Stock your purse and glove compartment of your car with snacks. Keep a cooler with some snack foods in the fridge at home that you can just grab on your way out the door if you end up needing to run out unexpectedly for a few hours.

It takes a little bit of time to plan ahead like this, but when you calculate how much you’ll save in dollars and calories, it will make that little bit of time investment every bit worth it!

Readers: what are your tips and suggestions for this reader? How do those of you who aren’t home a lot save money on food? I’d love to hear!

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Hello, Dallas… and how I save hundreds of dollars on business trips!

How to Save Money on Business TripsThe view from my hotel room this evening

I flew into Dallas this afternoon to speak at a conference here tomorrow and Saturday. And as I was going about my day, I thought it’d be fun to share a few tips I’ve picked up on how to save money on business trips.

Note I said business trips. That’s very important.

You see, if you really want to save money, I recommend taking road trips. They are much less expensive than flying anywhere. Plus, you can bring a cooler and your own food. And well, they are usually just so much more economical in so many different ways.

How to Save Money on a Business Trip

So this post is not written from an ultra-frugal perspective. Because well, business trips in and of themselves don’t tend to be ultra-frugal. And that’s okay. Usually, the value you are providing or receiving in return for the expense paid by your business or another business on your behalf makes it worth the investment.

But I know that many of you do take frequent or occasional business trips, and I thought I’d share a few money-saving tips I employed today that might inspire you or spark an idea to help you save money. Because just these four things combined, save me hundreds of dollars every year.

How to Save Hundreds of Dollars on Business Trips

First off, always bring your own reading material instead of being tempted to buy an overpriced book or magazine from the airport gift shop. In fact, always bring a little more than you think you’ll be able to read. Because this way, if there’s a flight delay or some other delay, it can just become a relaxing reading time, instead of a stressful, twiddle-your-thumbs-with-nothing-to-do time.

I save all the magazines that come in from our five or six current subscriptions in a drawer and then bring a few of them each time I travel. I also bring a few books. Usually a few too many… but hey, if we are stranded somewhere for 12 hours, at least I’ll have plenty of good reading material. ;)

How to Save Money While Traveling

Bring your own tea bags, too. I love hot tea — and it’s so soothing on your throat if you’ve been doing a lot of speaking/talking at events. I usually have a few tea bags in my purse and a few more in my suitcase and then I can make hot tea in the hotel room with the coffee maker or I can ask for hot water on the plane to make my own tea.

Not only is a soothing cup of tea is a great way to unwind at the end of a busy day, but it’s much more convenient and much less expensive when you bring your own tea bags instead of buying a hot drink at the hotel or a nearby restaurant.

How to Save Money While Traveling

When you arrive at your location, if at all possible, find a place nearby to purchase a case of water or even a 6-pack of water bottles (if it’s a short stay). This encourages you to stay hydrated while you’re busy in meetings or at a conference, and it’s also so much cheaper than buying individual water bottles from the hotel or venue where you’re at.

We also often stop by the grocery store and pick up some food for snacks/meals to extend our travel food budget. Not only is this so much less expensive than eating all your meals out or grabbing snacks from the hotel gift shop, but it’s also much more convenient if you’re needing to eat a quick snack (as I often do)  to give you stamina before you go on stage or into that three-hour intensive meeting.

How to save money on business trips

The fourth photo I took today was of my beloved suitcase. I bought this suitcase off of Groupon at a steal and it has traveled many, many miles with me and saved me well over a thousand dollars in the last year.

Why? Because it’s roomy and can fit enough stuff in it for up to an 8-day trip. Which means I never pay for baggage fees — which add up very quickly when you usually travel a few times per month!

When I started traveling regularly, I created a “system” of sorts for packing and have pared down to the essentials I need for trips + a few extras. I typically always pack almost the exact same thing every trip.

(Yes, I don’t have that many outfits so I wear the same progression of 2-3 outfits for almost every trip until those outfits wear out or the seasons change! It might seem really boring, but it actually simplifies things so that packing for a business trip usually takes me very little time.)

You can see a peek into my packed-for-an-8-day-trip suitcase here, if you’re interested.

What advice or tips do you have for saving money on business trips and/or while traveling? I’d love to hear so I can get some new ideas to try!

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