Save Money By Not Eating Out For an Entire Month

This is another guest post from Les O’Dell as he shares his journey of not eating out for an entire month. Personally, I would fail after a few days, so I give him props for the effort. Enjoy the read. I’m off to get a burger….. :)

Look at the Facts of Eating Out

Sometime ago, my wife came up with a very challenging idea. It stemmed from several facts in our life.

FACT: We both had made a conscious decision to treat our bodies better with more nutritious meals, fewer junk snacks and more exercise.

FACT: We are trying to pay down debt and are diligently budgeting and staying on budget.

FACT: Looking back at where we were spending money was like taking a drive down restaurant row: McDonald’s, Applebee’s, Moe’s, McDonald’s again, Wendy’s, McDonald’s, well you get the idea.

FACT: All told, we were probably eating one breakfast a week in a restaurant, grabbing fast-food lunch a couple times a week and having dinner out two or three more times. It was crazy.

The Decision

Save Money By Not Eating Out For an Entire Month
Creative Commons License photo credit: Tom T

So, we vowed that we would not eat out for an entire month. An entire, 31-day month. The decision meant no restaurants, no late-night drive-throughs for a big Coke, no mid-afternoon ice cream snack run, not even a single purchase from a vending machine.

It was a complete lifestyle modification.

Quickly, several things became apparent. First, we had to actually eat the groceries we bought. Second we had to plan our meals. That meant even thawing items from the freezer instead of saying, “everything’s frozen, let’s go out.” Third, and perhaps most importantly, we discovered a level of personal discipline that came from making a decision and sticking to it.

Surprisingly, we never caved in, despite occasional urges and the temptations of ordering a pizza or exchanging some coins for a Snickers. We made it, and the results were amazing.

The Results

Creative Commons License photo credit: dno1967

Midway through the month, we realized that our decisions were causing us to gain, but that’s a good thing. We were gaining an appreciation for home cooked meals and even better, we were gaining room in our budget. We found that the $40 we used to spend on one meal could pay for several if we bought ingredients and made something at home.

Oh, we lost too. We both lost weight…she dropped more than 10 pounds during the month. When we realized the health and financial aspects of the plan, we decided that we had put our budget on a diet and our diets on a budget.

To my wife’s credit, each Friday she planned the next week’s meals. We made a trip to the grocery store on Saturday and only bought the items on the menu. Each morning she’d make sure that necessary foods for the evening were thawing and on the days where we had evening activities planned, she made sure the plan called for something quick and easy or a slow-cooker meal that would be ready when we were.

It was really strange. Since we had a plan, we didn’t need to make trips to the store during the week. We ate what we had and only had what we planned on eating. Of course, we planned for some (healthy) snacks, so there was no room for error. I was amazed by watching the level of groceries in our pantry and refrigerator decrease during the week—and on trash day, I didn’t have to throw out expired food that we never ate.

By the end of the month we both had lost weight, felt better and our budget was healthier. Interestingly enough, restaurant food didn’t even sound appealing any more. I’m sure some of the fast food restaurants, though, are going through economic hard times since we’ve stopped our frequent visits.

More than a week after the month had passed, we finally went out to eat. You know what? It was a disappointment. I think I would have rather had something at home.

Les O’Dell is a freelance writer living in Carbondale, Ill. His work can be seen in a number of newspapers, magazines, publications and websites. He is co-author of the popular “He Said, She Said” newspaper column. He can be found on the web at www.lesodell.net. Les is not affiliated or endorsed by LPL Financial.

Creative Commons License photo credit: abroadjz

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Comments | 6 Responses

  1. says

    Les,
    Thanks for allowing us to walk through the “no eat out” month with you. And congrats on keeping your commitments!

    I think your closing paragraph is very insightful. When we discipline ourselves to go without something we think is very important in our lives (even a new car), we often discover that the perceived value is not nearly as great as we thought it was.

  2. says

    Articles like this make eating at home seem like such a chore! I eat out 4 times a month (we get take out on Saturday’s) and never meal plan. I go grocery shopping once a month (pick up eggs and milk from a small grocery in the middle of the month but nothing else). Going once a week and planning meals out sounds really time consuming. Maybe it is the wording, because I don’t consider taking chicken out of the freezer in the morning to be meal planning. I suppose it is though. The key to those busy weeknights is pasta! It is quick, simple, reheats great and takes no planning!

  3. says

    It’s amazing that Americans eat out so much they congratulate themselves when they figure out they can eat better (to say nothing of cheaper) at home. Most restaurant food is poor in quality, oversalted, oversugared, and full of fake ingredients, and it’s hideously overpriced.

    I lived for some years with a man who was a multi-award-winning investigative reporter. For one series, he reported what goes on in kitchens of several prominent and popular restaurants in what is now the sixth-largest city in the nation. As a result, he refused ever to eat in a restaurant again. You can’t MAKE him eat out — if you insist, he’ll sit there and order a cup of coffee, but he won’t eat the food.

    He taught himself to cook, and he cooks exceptionally well. He also spends a tiny fraction of what most of us spend on food.

    As a result of what I learned from him — that you can eat better at home, and that there are some things about restaurants you’d really rather not know — I almost never go out to eat.

  4. says

    Les, Thanks so much for writing this article. I know too many people trying to save money who still eat out for lunch every day. If you eat out one less time per week, the savings START at $260 per year (assuming a $5 lunch; but when was the last time anyone spent JUST $5 on lunch?).

  5. Alisha says

    After reading your experience, you’ve inspired my husband and I to try the 30-day challenge! No eating out for the whole month of July! We just realized that we spend $350 this month on eating out, and we were ashamed of ourselves. We can’t wait to have that money put toward the credit card we are paying off after July-we can do it!

  6. Trish Smith says

    I’m a huge believer in eating home-cooked meals instead of eating out, but I’m curious about one thing – who did the cooking? Was it shared, or did one person bear most of the burden? I ask because for most people, they’re more likely to succeed if the cooking/shopping chores are shared, instead of one person having to take it all on (says the resident cook and meal-planner :)).

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