two women eating in a restaurant

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 are eating your way into even deeper debt. Breaking the eating-out habit isn’t easy to do, but it can be done. What it takes is motivation, determination, and perseverance.

two women eating in a restaurant

The Outrageous Cost

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. Add that in. You may be looking at the reason you aren’t seeing a dent in your student loans, saving for retirement, building an emergency fund, moving into your own place, or stuck in debt.

Consider the 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.

Do Not Cross Hunger

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 cross 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.

Force Yourself to Plan Ahead

Create menu plans, prepare lunches, and 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.

Learn, Practice, Perfect Cooking

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 Food.com and Allrecipes.com for videos, recipes, and tutorials. If you’re a fan of Asian fast food, as I am, check out RecipeTinEats.com. Food blogger Nagi will teach you how to make the most amazing fast meals using 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 you have not yet perfected at home, and you’ll enjoy it even more.

You Can Do This

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. Your bottom line will be better for it.

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9 replies
  1. Ann Marie says:

    Another issue to consider is health. Many (not all) restaurants and fast food chains use cheaper oils and loads of salt and sugar, all of which contribute negatively to our overall health. In fact, I’ve noticed that since I’m dining out less when I do choose to indulge, the food usually tastes much saltier than I prefer. I’ve also noticed that since the recent health issue, with many establishments unable to find good help, food and service have suffered. I feel bad for some restaurant owners but I’ve decided to put the health of my husband and me first.

    Reply
  2. Suzanne says:

    We eat out for free by using the lesson I learned from Mary to pay my credit card bill in full and on time every month. My credit card is the kind that earns points, and since I don’t pay any interest I get the points for free. Then I redeem them for gift cards to our favorite restaurants. We’ve been doing this for years and it’s so nice to be able to go out to eat and not have to worry about the check. It won’t enable us eat out every week, but I think we enjoy it more because it’s an occasional treat that we look forward to.

    Reply
  3. Michele Lyons says:

    I couldn’t agree more! My DJ and I are going on 40 years of marriage. We eat out once every couple of months. Usually Chinese or seafood (things I don’t cook at home.) My Mexican and Italian dishes rival ANY restaurant in town! I know couples that eat out 5-6 times a week, plus lunches, fancy coffees, etc. I can’t imagine spending that much of my income on food. Luckily I love to cook, do creative things with leftovers, and have a big deep freeze to take advantage of grocery sales. My #1 piece of financial advice is to buy a good deep freeze. We were poor when we got ours but it has literally paid for itself dozens of times over!
    And P.S. I don’t beat myself up when occasional poor planning causes me to resort to fast food. Life happens.
    I just don’t let it become a bad expensive habit.

    Reply
  4. Arthur Mantzouris says:

    I really admit that I don’t always plan a meal but when I do it really works for me instead. I’ve planned out to eat this Monday for my meal out but I simply will not do it. I have food at home and I refuse to add more money to the restaurants in my area. I will not spend the extra money. Bur instead I will treat my friend and then I will come back home and fix me a big huge salad with chicken and broccoli with my own salad dressing that I make from good old olive oil and white vinegar and that should seal the deal. I love yr reminders and yes I will make that salad my self with ingredients I already have. Thanks a bunch….

    Reply
  5. Robin says:

    Omgoodness! It is like you watched me today!!! I treated the kiddos to McDonald’s because I took longer to do a tsk than planned and I did not feed them before we left home. That in itself isn’t all that bad, but to make matters worse, I ordered pizza from Costco because I was out shopping for party favors for tomorrow’s birthday party and I was running too late to fix dinner at home… It gets worse! I had asked the hubs if he wanted a meat lover’s pizza before ordering from Costco (because he did not answer me right away) so I felt obligated to pick up a small pizza for him as Costco is limited in choices now. The whole time I was out I thought of the expense I was causing myself because I did not plan ahead 🙁
    (BTW stop following me around and then writing about it please) I am disappointed enough without the help 🙂

    Reply
    • Mary Hunt says:

      My kids swear that I DO have a 6th sense …! Ha. Seriously, the only way I know so much about my readers is that I KNOW MYSELF. Your description of your day? That [used to be] me! It still is left to my natural born tendencies. But (praise God) I have learned to parent my bratty, careless self. It’s an ongoing battle, but the struggle has eased so much with persistence. And now I have to deal with my impulsive over-planning self. Yes, that can be a problem too if I’m not careful. Thanks for the feedback and your willingness to be transparent.

      Reply
  6. Sally Clark says:

    And for those special eating out occasions buy restaurant gift cards thru Costco.com. Usually I get a $100.00 e-Gift card for $75.00.

    Reply

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