Every week, I’m sharing a different way you can save $100 this year. If you do all of these things, you’ll be able to save over $5,000 this year alone! Many of these things will likely be things you’re already doing, but hopefully all of you will pick up at least a few new ideas or some inspiration from this series.
This is one of those ideas that pretty much everyone knows: when you eat at home instead of eating out, you’re going to save money. However, it can be easier said than done — especially when you have busy schedules.
Here are some suggestions to make it easier to eat at home instead of falling back onto restaurant meals:
1. Calculate the Savings
Take a little time to review your budget and see how much you’ve spent on eating out over the last few months. Often, just reviewing these numbers will be enough to encourage you to consider cutting back — because the savings could help you pay down your debt more quickly or to put extra toward your current savings goals.
Crystal from Serving Joyfully wrote a post on how they made the decision to stop eating out. Here’s what she says:
My husband and I live on a meager budget and are trying to get out of debt. We can’t afford all the meals out (we were spending our entire “spending money” budget, plus “borrowing” from other areas to fund it!)
So this year for Lent, we did something drastic — we stopped eating out.
While there are ways to save money when eating out, a meal out for a family of four will typically cost at least $10 for fast food, and $30 for most sit down restaurants. If you are like us, or like the typical American family, just cutting one meal out per week can save you $520-$1560 per year!
Read her full post for details on how they are saving $2600 per year by not eating out.
2. Plan Ahead
Taking a little time on the weekends or at the beginning of the week to plan a menu can make a major difference in your success in eating at home more. Because when you have a plan, it’s a whole lot easier to actually work the plan. 🙂
When you have a plan and you have the groceries to carry out that plan, it’s a lot harder to justify ordering pizza at the last minute. I’m pretty sure most of us agree with this in theory, but we have to have more than good intentions if we want to follow through.
So find a set time every week to plan your menu and buy the groceries for it. Put it on your calendar and commit to sticking with it. Find an accountability partner or sign up for a menu plan service like eMeals, if need be.
And then plan ahead at the beginning of the day for what you’re going to make for dinner that evening. Set out the meat to thaw, do any early prep work you can do, dump the ingredients in the crockpot… think about what’s for dinner at breakfast time and you’ll be glad you did when it’s 5 p.m.
3. Keep it Simple
One of the biggest pitfalls to being successful with eating at home is often planning meals that are too time and labor intensive. If you typically don’t have a lot of time and energy at the end of the day, don’t set yourself up for failure by choosing recipes that require a lot of effort.
I’m all about keeping it simple, as you can tell from our weekly menu plans. Why? Because I know that many evenings I’m pretty tired by the time dinner prep time rolls around. So the simpler I can make dinner prep, the better. If I have more time and energy, I can always make an additional recipe.
A few of my favorite really simple recipes are: Homemade Pizza, Italian Chicken, and Southwest Roll-Ups.
4. Use Your Freezer
I don’t know about you, but there are some days at our home when life whizzes by so quickly and all of a sudden, it’s 5 p.m. and dinner isn’t even a figment of my imagination. Before I started regularly cooking ahead and freezing meals, I’d be tempted to call my husband and ask him to bring something home for dinner.
Freezer cooking has solved the 5 p.m. “What’s-For-Dinner” panic. If I forget to pull something out earlier in the day, I’ll just pick a meal from my freezer stash that defrosts quickly — such as meatballs. I pair this with some frozen veggies, rice, and maybe a fruit salad. No one even has to know I forgot about dinner until 30 minutes before it was supposed to happen!
I’ve found that doing mini half-hour or one-hour freezer cooking sessions works really well for this season of our life. And while I might not be making 20 or 30 meals at a time, by consistently cooking ahead once or twice a week, we always have some meals in the freezer for those busy days when I don’t have time or energy for cooking.
Instead of having to make meatloaf three times in six weeks, I just triple the recipe and make meatloaf once and stick the extra two dinners’ worth of meatloaf in the freezer. If I’m going to be making one meatloaf, I might as well double or triple the recipe saving me the effort and mess later on in the month. After all, it really doesn’t take but a few more minutes to make two extra batches of meatloaf — and the clean up time is pretty much the same!
Freezer Cooking Links to Check Out:
- Start Where You Are and Learn As You Go
- How to Plan a Freezer Cooking Day (and find more ideas here)
- How to Cook for Your Freezer When You Don’t Like Casseroles
- Can You Have a Freezer Cooking Day if You Don’t Have a Lot of Freezer Space?
- How to Store Your Freezer Meals
5. Use Your Crockpot
It’s hard to say whether I love my crockpot or my bread machine more. Both of them are invaluable tools in my kitchen that I use again and again and again.
I love that I can stick the ingredients in the crock pot and then basically forget about it! Plus, there’s something so wonderful about smelling dinner simmering in the crockpot all day long!
One great way to use your crock pot to make dinner preparations easy-peasy is to whip up some Crockpot Freezer Cooking meals:
- Crockpot Freezer Cooking: 40 Meals in 4 Hours
- Crockpot Freezer Cooking from Loving My Nest
- Crockpot Freezer Cooking: 20 Meals in 2 Hours
- One Afternoon of Chopping = 14 Crockpot Freezer Meals
- Printable Crockpot Freezer Meals Weekly Menu
6. Give Yourself Grace
One of the most important things I want to stress, though, is that you need to give yourself grace. If you have the wiggle room in your budget to eat out and it’s something that your family enjoys, I encourage you to budget it in. It can be a fun change of pace and it can be a nice break for mom, too.
Plus, when you budget it in, there is no guilt with enjoying eating out. Maybe that means you budget to go out to eat twice a week, once every other week, every six months, or not at all. Figure out what works for you and your family and then do it!
Carmen from Life Blessons shares ways to save on eating out:
Eat out for lunch instead of dinner. Eating out for lunch can cost considerably less than when you eat out later in the evening. Plus, you’re usually not quite as hungry, so you eat less. That right there will cut down on your spending!
Instead of going out for entire meals, go out for treats. One thing we’ve done to trim our spending is to go out for things like ice-cream or coffee, rather than full-fledged meals. Sure, you can have coffee or ice-cream at home, but when it scratches the eating-out itch at a fraction of the price, it can be well worth the splurge!
Read Carmen’s full post on how to spend less money eating out.
At what point in your bread making process do you freeze it? And how do you prepare it to freeze?
My sis-in-law/babysitter and I started a leftover swap…we cook a meal on Monday and then on Tues when I drop my daughter off we swap the leftovers! We do this on Mondays and Weds. That way we only have to cook 2 meals but eat 4 different things throughout the week. It’s like eating out 2 nights a week for free!
Do you have a recipe for the recipe at the top of the blog — it looks yummy! 🙂
This was one of our new year’s resolutions, and we’ve been doing well with it. However, it’s so cold and snowy, there’s not a lot to get out of the house for besides eating out — I feel the cabin fever!
It’s nice if you’re eating out less to have your husband take a meal or two to give you a break from the kitchen!
Hi Crystal! Would you consider linking to the recipes that you picture in the post? The refried beans at the top and the muffin tin cheesy pastry cups (not sure exactly what they are) look delicious!
I use a site called plantoeat (I think it was a sponsor here once?). It’s a paid site, but I adore it especially because it has a “cook from my pantry” button. I simply push it and it will go through my recipes and tell me what I can make with what I have! I also like to plan new recipes for the weekends when I have more time. Plus, my husband cooks one night a week. That way I always know I have a night off from cooking, which is a major reason for us to eat out.
I also have a few meals that can be made straight from the pantry, and items that I always keep on hand (cheese, milk, etc.). I keep browned butter in the fridge, spaghetti noodles in the pantry, and mizithra and Parmesan cheese in the freezer. Melt the butter while the noodles cook, toss on the cheese, add a veggie and dinner is ready!
One of my favorite cookbooks is “Desperation Dinners”. It’s an entire book ended for busy people, with meals that can be made in 30 minutes or less, and typically with ingredients normally on hand. The book advertises 20 minutes, but I find it takes me 10 minutes to gather ingredients, as well as pans or whatever 🙂 I may not like every recipe, but there are a lot of recipes with tips that are awesome! For instance: in the frozen section of the grocery store there are bags of diced onions and diced peppers. If you keep those in your freezer, that saves the time of dicing, and you don’t throw away rotten onions, or spoiled peppers. In my area, in the winter, the frozen bags are close to the same price as fresh, and the extra $.25 is worth it to save me slicing and dicing time.
I get more and more interested in doing freezer cooking every time I see something about it. I’ve just always heard that you can’t freeze certain things like meatloaf if eggs are in it because you can’t freeze eggs?? There are more ingredients other than eggs but I can’t think of them all right now. I’m also interested in crock pot meals. I am a SAHM feeding a family of 7 and my husband eats out everyday for lunch $8-$11 per day and we eat out almost every night $25-$45 per night. So I know we have to slack up on that big time. Even tho I’m home all the time I’m still very busy cleaning and everything and homeschooling our 6yr old triplets (our 2 teenagers are in public school) and time gets away from me so it’s time for hubby to get home and I haven’t even thought of supper. So I just have him to pick something up. This has to stop!! But is there stuff that you can’t freeze?? Is there a good website that can tell me what I can or can’t freeze??
This is a pretty good basic list: http://frostbitefood.blogspot.com/p/can-i-freeze-it-to-z-guide.html for what you can and can’t freeze. Overall, there are very, very few items that won’t freeze. Personally, I think of the grocery store: Have I seen french bread pizzas frozen? Yep. How can I do it?
Maybe you could make a recipe as part of math class or life skills or something one morning? Have each child measure out the recipe, putting one in a pan/crockpot/etc. to eat that night, and the other two into a bag or whatnot for the freezer? There’s a great blog called “Confessions of a Homeschooler and she posts her monthly recipe plan at the beginning of each month. They are pretty easy, although not freezer meals.
Hi Tabitha! I’ve never really gotten into freezer cooking, but like you, I’m interested in trying it. It looks like Crystal has a whole section of her website dedicated to how-tos and recipes for freezer cooking. Hopefully it might help answer your questions? https://moneysavingmom.com/downloads/freezer-cooking-planners
Michelle H. says
I meal plan, but I still try to keep the ingredients for 2-3 last minute on hand at all times -either something made entirely from pantry ingredients, or frozen food that doesn’t have to be thawed first.
When life happens and the meal plan is out the window, I know I can throw together a tuna casserole, spaghetti and meatballs, or baked salmon instead of getting pizza delivered.
Crystal Paine says
I love this idea! Thanks for sharing!
I have thought about this more today and really what limits our eating out is the cash envelope system. We get the cash for eating out on the first of the month and when it is gone we are done eating out until the first of the next month. We have done it that way for so long that I did not think to mention it!
It really is amazing how much money you can spend eating out. When my husband was laid off back in December one of the first things we did was to stop eating out. And not just our Saturday night meals (our tradition was not to cook on Saturday night) but those extra little stops and treats throughout the week. It really brought to light how much we really were spending each month. Going forward, we have already decided that when he starts at his new place of employment, we will only eat out once or at mist twice a month to free up extra money we can either save or donate.
bethany martinez says
The way that we started to stay within our budget is to only eat out on Sundays after church. If we choose to eat out earlier in the week for whatever reason then we eat in on Sundays. Also for our “date night” money which includes dinner I use groupon to stretch our dollar. Also many restaurants will send you coupons when you sign up for their email.
Amy S says
Having a well stocked pantry helps us with this. I generally have weekends off and do some freezer cooking. We also plan a menu each week that is easy and uses items that we have in the pantry or freezer.
Planning is key and I agree with a few other posts. When you’re making lasagna why not make 2 or 3 and stick the extra in the freezer for a later meal. Same with meatballs, meatloaf, etc. Comes in very handy when time is tight or you simply don’t feel like cooking.
We have a rule in the house that we cannot go out to eat unless we have a coupon. Not only does this save us money because we have a coupon, but it also saves us money because we are always reevaluating our choice to eat out.
I always have a problem with freezer burn. I have tried so many different wats can someone give me some hints? I see some people just put things in a freezer bag and it works fine.
I use reusable containers or saved containers from sour cream etc, and have very little trouble. I have found Dollar Tree to be a great source for containers . For a raw meatloaf I wrap in plastic wrap and then into a freezer bag. For any type of bread product I double bag in freezer bags. For meat like steaks I wrap the entire package in freezer paper before freezing. The top of a container of soup or pasta sauce will develop some ice crystals but it is not freezer burnt or off in flavor. When I freeze a batch of soup or other foods I put them into the containers and refrigerate them overnight to get them cold before I put them into the freezer. It would seem that less ice crystals would form in the food since it is already cold. I hope this is helpful!
Is it ice crystals on the top, or actual freezer burn? Big difference! Usually freezer burn will only set in after months and months in the freezer, and causes discoloration and weird dried out looking spots. Ice crystals are fine and won’t affect anything, and will appear as soon as it freezes (just from water vapor coming off the foods in the container). Just be sure to eat it within a month or two and you’ll be fine.
Anne Marie @ The Oklahoma Texan says
Are you removing the air when you freeze things? If I use a freezer bag, I use a straw to suck out the excess air. If I put something in a container, I place a piece of plastic wrap on top to the air between the food and the lid from affecting the food. This helps tremendously.
My suggestion is pair up with friends! There are a couple ways this can happen:
1) A dinner club where you take turns cooking (or prepping) for each other. I’ve seen this with four families who have similar tastes; each Wednesday one family cooks for the other three and drops off (or the others pick up) dinner. Sure, one week a month you have a big dinner prep, but the other three you have the night off–and get to enjoy someone else’s cooking!
2) Invite people over for dinner. Sometimes what you want is a social experience. You get to bless them, and get good company to boot! It doesn’t have to be fancy (or if you want, it can be :)) but it’s sometimes more fun than eating out. The kids can get up and play while the adults enjoy each other’s company.
Instead of eating out we usually will have a gourmet eating night where we make one of our favorite restaurant meals at home. We all love Costa Vida and Cafe Rio, but they cost about $8-$9 per person. So every now and then we will make our own burrito salads with cilantro lime ranch dressing.
After reading this article I went to my online banking and decided to bring up my statement and look at my family of 3 eating out…. in 30 days we spend $200 in eating out! $200!!! and thats not even calculating one of my regularly used credit cards. I feel sick to my stomach thinking im spending so much on food outside the home when im already spending about $250 on food inside the home a month. So my question is I do live a very busy life style we basically were living for conviencnce (but not for long im putting my foot down), what is a good eating out budget???
Crystal Paine says
Could you try shaving off 10-20% of that price this month and then another 5% for the next few months? That might be a doable way to start lowering it while still allowing yourself some breathing room.
If you’re looking for a budget guideline, the USDA publishes costs for families of various sizes: http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/Publications/FoodPlans/2013/CostofFoodJun2013.pdf . For a family of three (making a wild guess about your child’s age, but it’s middling), the “thrifty” plan would be $450/mo, and the “low cost” would be $570/mo. Our family of 5 eats pretty well–local grass fed meat for the most part, lots of produce, $250/mo eating out and we’re close to the “low cost” plan. So that might be a good starting goal. The other guideline people tend to use is a percentage of their income; 10% is Larry Burkett’s goal, I believe.
Anne Marie @ The Oklahoma Texan says
We had to cut back when we moved to Oklahoma nearly 2 years ago for my husband to work for a Christian non-profit. He gets paid a lot less working for a non-profit than he did when he worked in the corporate world. We used to eat out a lot. Now we eat out once a week, at most. He gets paid twice a month, and I budget $60 each pay period for entertainment, which for us is almost exclusively going to restaurants. So, about $30/week for our family of 3. While our son is only 2, the boy can EAT, so we usually order him his own food.
I’ve been sick for the past 2 months, and I was not well enough to cook for a lot of that time. We only got takeout a few times. I tend to stock the freezer with meals for this very purpose (or because I’m just too tired or something else is going on that day and I don’t want to or have time to cook). If you haven’t tried freezer cooking, I highly recommend it. You can try a cookbook specifically for freezer cooking (30 Day Gourmet’s Big Book of Freezer Cooking is my personal favorite) or you can just double your regular recipes and freeze half. Even just precooking meat and freezing it in portions for recipes can help cut your cooking time in half when making meals.
We have been trying to limit our eating out as much as possible too. One thing my family has learned is that sometimes sandwiches with chips or carrots & ranch are ok for supper too! Last night was an accidental sandwich night. Everyone went to bed with full bellies & we didn’t spend the extra $$ eating out- -which I was very tempted to do. We did make it fun though- I put everything in a picnic basket & spread a blanket on the living room floor & we all sat down to eat together & have a “picnic”…the kids loved it & never knew it wasn’t the original plan.
Menu planning is the key for me. I try to think ahead to tomorrow night after supper each night. That way I can move meat to the fridge to thaw or know that I have to load the crock pot in the morning which does not work at 4 PM. Freezer cooking is quite easy for me since there are only the two of us and we have a lot of leftovers to deal with. I just portion them out and freeze them. I can go a whole week and never actually cook from scratch by taking out those frozen entrees.
As empty nesters we do eat an average of 2 inexpensive meals out each week. We have the advantage of paying senior prices or free for coffee at breakfast which makes that a very inexpensive meal out for us. We always use coupons for other meals out or take advantage of specials such as a local Greek restaurant that has BOGO spaghetti dinners on Wednesdays.
Does anyone have suggestions for great, healthy dairy-free and tomato-free freezer cooking? Blogs, Lists, or recipes? I get so discouraged when most of the recipes are either meat/veggies served over rice (which is fine, but once a week or less for us) or have key ingredients we can’t eat.
Just typed “Dairy Free” into pinterest and got this:
Looks like some good ideas that can be altered to leave out tomatoes if needed. I’m doing a yeast elimination diet now so I’m in the process of being diary and yeast free, without most fruit, sugar types, etc. It can be done but it’s an ongoing planning session to keep from eating the same stuff. My personal suggestion is to get lots and lots of vegetables in your diet. I forced myself to do this by using bountifulbaskets.org Good luck to you!
Sarah in Alaska says
Have you looked at any vegan recipes?
How about a mock mac and cheese or “Mac and cheeseless”? Freeze the sauce only.
Or how about soups, split pea soup, beef and barley
Marinated chicken freezer meals served with vegetables?
The thing is, it’s only my one son who can’t have dairy. I do keep vegan cheese in the freezer to throw on grilled ham and cheese or quesadillas, or whatever. But the rest of us want the real thing or not at all! It’s a lot harder when it’s a casserole type thing or in a whole dish. When he was younger we could get away with giving him something else. But while he understands he can’t have it, it just feels cruel to do that more than once in a great while!
I do lots and lots of huge batches of soups in the winter! But again don’t want that every night. Just always looking for new, easy ideas….especially with baby #3 coming soon!
Susan L. @ Full Happy Muffin and Mama says
What about investing in some ramekins or oven-safe crocks and making all of the casserole except for the dairy ingredients, pull some out to be his, put the vegan products in (and mix together) and put in the ramekin or crock. Then, mix the dairy ingredient to the rest of the casserole and divide among the remaining ramekins. Bake on a cookie sheet (finding some way to keep his separate). Everyone gets to eat a cute, individualized casserole that way (and you don’t have to go completely dairy free!). It’s a bit more labor-intensive, but it might work!
I always try to keep some convenience foods at home like frozen pizzas, and I love the Sea Best crusted salmon filets for those days my menu isn’t going to happen. Our grocery store regularly runs these at half price. Also, I’m home most days, so I will usually do as much prep as possible in the mornings or early afternoon when I’m not so tired. Also keeping counters clean and dishes washed up helps my mental state when I’m ready to start cooking.
When you freeze something like meatloaf or meatballs, what do you think works better: cooking first, then freezing? Or just mixing it all together, freezing that, and then defrosting and cooking on your dinner night?
Crystal Paine says
I usually freeze meatloaf raw.
I think eating out is one area in the budget where you can get creative. Our budget is really small when it comes to our family of five. But here are things we do to help:
1. Have a favorite restraurant or dish from a restraurant that you absolutely love. Try making it at home. We do this and our kids love it when I say “It’s famous Dave’s night” or “Olive Garden”
2. When the whole family goes out we never buy kids meals, unless they are free. Many restraurants have so many items that come with a meal we usually order two main meals. Just last week we went to Applebee’s and did there 2 for $20 deal. We got an appetizer everyone would eat (it’s included with the 2/20) and then my husband and I got the 9oz. sirloin w/ vegetables and potatoes and split it and then the second meal was the chicken tender basket and split that with the kids.
3. Like someone mentioned go for lunch instead
4. Know what specials different restraurants offer. Like Sonic has .99cent appetizers and 1/2 slurpies from 2-5 everyday. Applebees has 1/2 appetizers etc.
5. Don’t eat the whole meal out. Do an appetizer or a dessert and eat the rest at home
6. For Valentines today I am giving my husband 10 dates for $20. There are 10 slips of paper with $2 wrapped around it. Be creative! One idea is picking up $1 ice cream cones at McD. and going somewhere scenic.
7. If you can get an Entertainment book it is a great value because often you get two meals for the price of one
Groupons are also good…just make sure you read reviews beforehand and make sure it’s somewhere you will go before it expires!
If you don’t mind, could you share the rest of the date ideas you used? This sounds like an AWESOME gift that’s cheap and fun, but really meaningful. 🙂
I can give you my e-mail address if that’d be better.
Elizabeth @ Chick Chat This and That says
One of my goals for the New Year was to cut our budget by 5%. One of the ways that I planned to accomplish that was to cut back on eating out (we were going out a lot!). I’ve been doing a once a week cooking session to help us eat at home more. I wrote about it just this week.
Susan L. @ Full Happy Muffin and Mama says
I tend to focus, like MSM does, on planning a batch of cooking. It’s been a while since I’ve done freezer cooking, but as a teacher, I know I have weekends off (well, where I don’t go into work). I buy groceries early Saturday morning, and then prep the heavy prep meals on Saturday or Sunday for the weekdays. I take advantage of leftovers. My husband has learned that unless he wants to come home from a long day at work to prep and cook the meal that leftovers are the way to go. Also, make the meal plan but be ready to switch it up if things don’t go as planned (not enough/too many leftovers…something doesn’t get thawed, etc.). Remember that breakfast for dinner is absolutely okay (and sometimes a lot of fun)–and cheap!
My husband and I are bad about eating out on the weekends. I think we are tired of cooking, tired of eating the same meals, and ready for cheat days from our mostly-healthy diets. We decided to cut back on restaurants, and what works for us is to have “fun” meals on weekends. Something that might be high-calorie or fried, or something that’s super easy (there is a brand of frozen pizza that we love but it’s not good for the scale.) That way, it’s easy and we still look forward to the meal – and it saves us from going out.
Wow, I wish eating out only cost $10-30/family of 4 here in Seattle like it does for Crystal of Serving Joyfully. We paid off all our debt (except the mortgage) last year and eating out fits into our budget better now, even as we work towards other financial goals. Our trick is combining our grocery budget with our eating out budget. We plan ahead to eat out and eat out of our freezer or pantry to accommodate it. But like I said, we have more flexibility since we worked hard to pay off our debts.
I’ve checked out Todd Wilbur’s Top Secret Recipes books from our library. It’s been fun to make restaurant quality dishes cheaply, and make adjustments for gluten free eating. I currently have 4 bags of Carrabba’s Marsala sauce (from the book) in my freezer!