Restaurant hamburger and fries good enough to eaat

How to Break the Habit That’s Eating Up Your Future

Let’s not beat around the bush. Eating out is eating up your future. It’s gobbling down your present and keeping you stuck in the past. That heavy debt you’re hauling around didn’t happen while you were asleep. Chances are pretty good that you’re eating your way into debt. 

Breaking the eating out habit isn’t easy to do, but it can be done. What it takes is motivation, determination, and perseverance.

Restaurant hamburger and fries good enough to eaat


Let this exercise act as a quick-start motivator: For one week, track your household spending on every form of eating out including coffee, donuts, restaurants, cafes, diners, street vendors, food trucks, fast food … all of it.

Once you have that number, multiply by 52. But wait, there’s more. Estimate the cost of all of the food that you throw in the garbage every week because you buy it, then eat out instead. You may be looking at the reason you aren’t saving for retirement, building an emergency fund, or stuck in debt.

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Gross factor

I don’t want to get too graphic here describing a negative motivation that might persuade you to eat at home more often, so let me allow the CDC to do that: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that one in five restaurant workers admit coming to work while sick with diarrhea and vomiting—two main symptoms of the stubborn norovirus, which understandably is now running rampant.

The problem lies with these sick workers who take a bathroom break, do not wash their hands with soap then return to prepare and serve our food. Not only is it expensive to eat out, but your chances of getting sick are also increasing.


The best way to break the eating out habit is to never let yourself get too hungry. This is the big one for me. If I have not planned ahead and then crossed the line into emergency territory where I must eat right this minute, I’m doomed. I can’t think straight. I need food and I need it now.

Plan ahead

Create menu plans, prepare lunches, post a dinner meal schedule on the fridge. When everyone in the family knows what’s coming up for the next meal, you’ll stop defaulting to McDonald’s so often.

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Anyone can learn how to make tasty meals. It requires commitment, good recipes, fresh ingredients, and practice. There is no shortage of teachers and training on the Internet. Check and for videos, recipes, and tutorials. If you’re a fan of Asian fast food, as I am, check out Food blogger Nagi will teach you how to make the most amazing fast meals with everyday ingredients.

Keep it special

Make eating out rare—something you choose to do on important occasions. Mark it on the calendar so you can look forward to this as a special treat. Anticipate, celebrate. Choose a cuisine that you cannot make yourself and you’ll enjoy it even more.

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If eating out has become part of the fabric of your life, you’re not alone. And it’s not likely you can break the eating out habit overnight. But you can get started. One step after another, if you will just keep moving in the right direction, even the baby steps will count. Soon you’ll notice a significant change and your bottom-line will be better for it.

First published: 6-9-14; Revised & Updated 7-18-19

Question: How often do you pay others to cook and serve you a meal? 

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11 replies
  1. Cathy down on the farm says:

    Oh, and one more thing about the GROSS factor. I have a friend who is a waitress and she – and her husband – told me, if you knew what went on in restaurants you would never eat there again. I said to her, do you mean food falling on the floor? She said “NO, much worse!” I knew of a popular fast food chain restaurant – Mexican – that my son told me about. He knew of someone who was bored one night working there and for grins and giggle defecated in the Taco Sauce mix and they just laughed and laughed. Mary, I bet you won’t print this one. That turned me off forever!.

  2. Richard Rorex says:

    The main reason I eat out is to combat loneliness. Ever since my wife of 57 years passed away, I do not relish eating by myself. When I go to restaurants (not fast food joints) the staff knows me and interacts like family would. I rarely eat more than one meal out in a day, and many times I bring home leftovers for another meal at home the next day. I know it costs me more to have someone else prepare and serve me, however, I do not have to clean up the mess I would make in cooking. My wife and I would usually eat out on Sunday afternoons after church so we could get to he evening services.

  3. North Texas says:

    We used to eat out frequently. Then the economy hit, this was one of the first things to go. Now that things are better, we still are frugal when dining out, Coupons, 2-fers, water instead of soft drinks, dining out at lunch instead of dinner, etc. My biggest “cheapskate” trick – pay cash! If we do not have the cash (no debit or credit allowed) then no dining out.

  4. Karen says:

    One of the ways I battle the impulse to eat out is to cook in advance. Some people do “freezer” or “once a month” cooking but that didn’t appeal to me. When I cook, I have some meals (main dishes) that freeze well and those I make double, or extra, and freeze the extras. I am an avid menu planner, sale flyer stalker, and shopping list maker, and I cook most nights. However, there are always those days where I’m just too busy or too tired. Having something to fall back on, on those nights is wonderful.

  5. crabbyoldlady says:

    I should have added that I am retired, the children are long grown and gone, and that I cook meals every other night of the week. Neither one of us eats lunches out or even buys coffee out.

  6. Judith D Sherling says:

    Mary – you are absolutely right how expensive eating out is these days. We are generally out of town every Saturday visiting family. Here are some of the ways we try to save: we don’t order beverages, almost always, just ice water. Most restaurants are charging $2.50 per drink (4 people x 2.50 = $10 extra on your bill + tip % and tax and now you are up to almost $13). Too tired to cook, then do takeout. That eliminates the big tips. And don’t buy drinks at the restaurant. Coupons are great too but most of them really aren’t a lot. By the way, you’ve recommended Gift Card Granny and I use them too. I have never had a problem with one of them.

  7. Jenn says:

    We eat out as a family maybe once a month. It is, and will remain, a treat. I watch Groupon, Living Social, and Amazon Local for deals, and we use those. Considering that we have a toddler and have been hosting a teenage exchange student who’s a bottomless pit, it’s considerably cheaper, easier, and less stressful to eat at home.

    I’ve started a “temptations avoided” spreadsheet. Instead of eating out or succumbing to impulse buys, I log it on the spreadsheet and transfer the amount to my savings. It’s helping me keep my focus on getting new gutters for my house this summer.

  8. AJ says:

    I’ll fess that this is a huge problem for us. We have noticed though how much food we end up wasting which is really frustrating. This is one of the big goals we are working on. I’m convinced that we could actually save up for that vacation we want to take if we’d stop eating out…

  9. Linda Pries says:

    This one’s a no-brainer. I think if I added up all of my eat out expenses for a week it MIGHT come up to about $5. Maybe I am the exception to the rule, but eating out is something to be done only for special occasions (birthday, new job, etc.) I can’t begin to imagine wasting my money eating out when I could buy two or three times as much food for that cost.

  10. crabbyoldlady says:

    My husband and I enjoy eating out and do it every Saturday and usually Sunday too. Since we don’t go to movies or indulge in any other entertainment, we feel this expense is justified. One way we keep costs down is to watch for BOGO coupons in the mail and newspaper, and watch for Groupons, etc. for restaurants we like. We also purchase Metro Dining Club cards which give us a choice of about 200 restaurants that will give us a free entree when one is purchased. Two or three uses and the cards pay for themselves. Since portions are often way more than we can eat, we take the rest home and enjoy the leftovers another day.


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