Have you been spending too much money on dining out and delivery? It’s almost always easier to go to a restaurant than it is to cook a meal at home, but you end up paying for that convenience.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2020 American consumers, businesses, and government entities spent $813.4 billion on food away from home, meaning food purchased from restaurants, fast food spots, schools, and other dining options other than our own kitchens.
That’s a ton of money! But what does it mean on an individual level? In 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the average American spent $67 a week, or $3,459 per year, on food away from home. If you reduced your spending in this area, you could probably save up to $3,000 a year, which is nothing to sneeze at!
While it may not be as exciting as going to a restaurant or as convenient as having food dropped off at your doorstep, making your own meals and drinks can help you save big over time. Here are five tips you can follow to start saving more on your food and drink expenses.
Be A Copycat
Do you go to the same restaurant multiple times a month (or even a week…) and order the same meal every time? If so, then it’s time to be a copycat.
For example, say that you really love a pasta dish at one of your favorite dinner spots. Look up a recipe for the dish online, write down the ingredients, and pick them up the next time you’re at the grocery store. Copycat the recipe and see how your version measures up against the restaurant’s!
Make sure you record how much you spend on the ingredients so that you can find out exactly how much less you’re spending. You’ll copycat more dishes if you can see in black and white just how much you’re saving by making the meal at home.
However, if there’s a dish that you just can’t copy in your own kitchen, then don’t worry about trying to make a copycat version on your own. Save going to that restaurant to buy that meal for special occasions only.
Prepare to Snack
Junk food is everywhere. While some vending machines make it a point to offer healthy options, most of them are primarily filled with overpriced junk food. Gas station convenience stores and pharmacies also offer plenty of snack food options – but at an even higher price. Many grocery stores also try to tempt you with chocolates and candies while you wait in line at the register.
Prepare yourself so you don’t have to purchase your snacks from these places. Make a plan to pick up the snacks you like at a grocery store, and store them in your work bag or purse the night before so that you’re not frantically searching for your snacks in the morning.
While planning ahead takes extra effort, the prices on granola bars, trail mix, chips, and most popular packaged snacks are much better at the grocery store than anywhere else. Ideally, if you can buy them from a bulk store, then purchase your snacks there – you’ll save even more. Best of all, consider making bulk batches of healthy snack options at home.
Pack a Lunch
It’s nice to get out of the office for lunch. The change of scenery gives your brain a break, and stretching your legs by getting up and walking around is a bonus, too.
But buying lunch out every day is an easy way to burn a hole in your wallet, fast. When you spend money every day at a restaurant, your spending will quickly go above the $67/week the average American spent on eating out in 2018.
Plan ahead of time and pack your lunches. You don’t have to eat the same thing every day. Change it up by making different kinds of sandwiches, bringing a can of soup, or doing the most cost-effective thing of all and bringing leftovers from the previous night’s dinner.
Don’t be confine yourself to the desk or the break room, either. You can still enjoy a change of scenery and the chance to stretch your legs by eating lunch in a park, or, if you’re in a pinch, eating in your car.
Also, see if you can save room in your budget to eat lunch out with your coworkers once a month (or, if possible, once a week). If you’re worried about missing out on the social aspect of getting together with your coworkers, then it will help to know that at least once a week or month you’ll go out to lunch with them.
Plan ahead of time, pack a lunch, and treat yourself once in a while to a meal out with coworkers. You’ll appreciate the savings!
Buy Less Meat
There’s no doubt about it: Meat is expensive. The average U.S. consumer spent $961 on meat eaten at home in 2018. That doesn’t even include meals with meat at restaurants, which are always more expensive.
You probably don’t need to or have to include meat in your diet, so try to save by avoiding it. Vegetables, grains, and fruits are much less expensive than meat products. Plan meals that focus on vegetables and grains. Shift your thinking. You don’t need side dishes that go with meat; you need to prep meals that put vegetables first.
Limiting how much meat you eat can sound like an impossible task, but it isn’t. You don’t have to go completely meat-free. Start by removing one meal that includes meat from your meal plan for the week, and then a month down the line, see if you can remove another one. Do this until you’re rarely (or never!) eating meat. You can also buy plant-based versions of certain meats that taste just like the real thing! The savings will make it worth it.
Make It Easy on Yourself
It’s easy to see why many people choose to eat out or have meals delivered – the convenience is fantastic. You don’t have to spend time cooking or doing the dishes once the meal is over.
However, if you do a cost-benefit analysis, you’ll probably find out that the convenience isn’t worth the damage to your bank account.
Make it easier to eat at home by learning how to cook simple meals. Take the time to research meals that you think you might like, shop for the ingredients, and then cook them in your own kitchen. There are many lists of quick and easy recipes to choose from online.
Read More: Splurge or Save: Kitchen Essentials
Once you start cooking more, you might find out that you actually enjoy it. You’ll be looking forward to your favorite meals instead of feeling guilty about spending money at a restaurant.
Your wallet will thank you, and chances are, your body will, too. Many restaurants (and especially fast food places) operate with the number one goal of making a profit. That means they don’t care what goes into their dishes – they just want them to taste good so that you keep coming back for more.
Learning how to make simple meals is a fantastic step you can take to save. Try making a vegetarian casserole, a lasagna flatbread, or even spice up some mac and cheese. Find what works for you and stick to it until you get tired of it!
Avoid frozen meals, which can add up quickly and don’t always taste the best. Plan ahead and take the time to learn how to make tasty meals at home!
Here’s a pro tip: Unsubscribe from emails and notifications from delivery services that may tempt you to order out. Those emails and notifications may seem useful, but you don’t need them, especially if you already packed a lunch or have a plan for dinner.
Experiment with Coffee
While going out for coffee is going to hurt your wallet a lot less than going out for dinner (or even lunch), the money you spend on coffee drinks can also add up over time.
You can do the math yourself: if your favorite coffee drink is $4 and you tip $1, then you’re spending $25 a week on coffee if you buy a drink every day. That’s at least a hundred dollars a month (since most coffee drinks cost more than $4, and some people like to tip more than $1) that could go to savings or anywhere else you might need it.
So whether you like flavored lattes or you take your coffee black, you’ll save by skipping the run to the coffee shop. Instead, experiment with your own coffee concoctions at home. You might need to spend a little money upfront to buy the tools you need, but as long as you use them, the expense will be worth it.
Read More: Splurge or Save: Coffee Edition
Think about purchasing a steamer, a frother, and syrups in the flavors that you like. Find fun mugs that make you happy, and buy high-quality coffee so you don’t feel like you’re missing out. If you love espresso, research how to prepare your own at home–it’s not as hard as you think.
An added bonus of making your own coffee is that you’ll know exactly how many calories and sugars are in each drink. If you’re worried about your health at all, then preparing your coffee at home will help!
Fixing your own meals and drinks at home can help you save in the short term, and you’ll definitely notice the effects on your bank account down the road. Your future self will thank you!