For most people, eating out is such a normal and acceptable part of daily living, it's like breathing. They go in and out, hardly aware of what they are doing. Unfortunately, for many it's like breathing polluted air for all the damage it's doing to their finances, not to mention their health. As minor as eating out may seem, it is likely one of the biggest drains on your disposable income. It just might be an area of spending ripe for serious reduction without sacrificing the life you love.
Here's the problem in a nutshell: Ready-to-eat food and drinks are so available, it's a no-brainer - literally. You don't even have to think about it. It takes more brainpower and effort to get dinner on the table than to stop for takeout on the way home from work. Packing a lunch at home takes more time and effort than grabbing something on the run.
My definition of "eating out" is paying for food prepared by others instead of eating your meals from the groceries you buy. That makes eating out a very broad category because it refers to doughnut shops, lunches purchased at work and school, coffee breaks, trips to the vending machine, fast food, diners and cafes. It includes picking up takeout, ordering pizza, multiple-course meals in fancy restaurants and everything in between.
To get a handle on this runaway expense, it is best that we divide eating out into two categories: meal replacements and entertainment.
Because you have to? Or for enjoyment?
It is essential to see these as two separate activities - one to be avoided whenever possible and the other treated as one of the good things in life - and to plan accordingly.
Nothing will sabotage your efforts to slash your grocery bill and drain your finances faster than unnecessary meal replacements. You can corral it by making a commitment to eat as many of your meals as humanly possible at home from the groceries you purchase.
Dining out can eat up your entertainment dollars in a hurry, too. The key is to create a strategy that includes ways to stretch your eating-out budget, like coupons and special deals, so that you can enjoy - not eliminate - this important entertainment factor.
To help reduce your meal replacement budget, I've put together a booklet of recipes sent from Everyday Cheapskate readers like you. It's available as a printed booklet for $6 or as an e-booklet for $5. To order either version, visit my website at DebtProofâ Living.com and click on bookstore; call 800-550-3502; or send your check or money order to Debt-Proof Living, P.O. Box 2099, Cypress, CA 90630.