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How to Eat at Home to Save Money (Frugal Friday)

Everybody knows that eating at home can save you money. In fact, there are added benefits, such as increased food safety and a chance at healthier ingredients. But, eating at home can be hard to pull off in our busy days.

Ask me how I know.

Monday we all went to the pool, later than usual, and by the time we left we were all starving. I knew that my dinner plan would take a good hour, so we made a detour and picked up Chinese to bring home. We had the money in the budget, but in my efforts to “save time,” we waited an extra 20 minutes since the restaurant didn’t have the items ready. We could have just gone home and continued with Plan A.

While we enjoyed our meal, that’s $30 less in our eating out money for the rest of the month.

Since I am in a constant state of problem solving, I analyzed the situation to see how I could have played that scenario a little better.

Here’s my thinking on how to make eating at home easier:

1. Have a plan.

Planning out meals is the first line of defense against increased spending. I’ve been all over the map with meal planning, planning for a month, planning for a week, but reality is that having a plan helps me know what we have and reminds of what to do earlier in the day to have that plan actually come to fruition.

2. Keep quick fixes in mind.

But, I am also notorious for forgetting to thaw or do other pre-prep ideas in order to fulfill that meal plan. That’s when it’s helpful to keep quick fixes in mind. Beans and rice comes together fairly quickly as do sandwiches. My go-to Pasta with Red Sauce is quick and cheap. Stocking easy pantry meals is also helpful.

3. Be patient.

I wasn’t patient on Monday. I was thinking with my stomach, especially since I’ve been watching what I eat. (Read: I was ravenous by the time we left the pool since I’ve lowered my caloric intake.) But, I still had to be patient while I waited in the car for hubs to pick up Chinese. Either way, I had to be patient.

4. Offer an appetizer.

If we’d headed home and I’d pulled out cheese and crackers or chips and salsa, we probably would have had no problem waiting for me to pull together dinner. But, since our pantry was depleted on those kinds of items, I had a hard time thinking of something like that to tide us over.

5. Remember the end goal.

Your financial goals come into play when you’re making the decision between dining out and eating in. Three years ago, I would not even have considered dropping $30 on a quick Chinese dinner. Being debt-free allows us a bigger budget for “fun food.” However, that doesn’t mean we throw all caution to the wind. There’s a little less cash in the eating out envelope now and there’s a lot of month left on the calendar.

What do YOU do to save money?

Share a creative money saving idea below or in the comments.

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Comments

  1. Julie @ The Family CEO says:

    Planning almost always equals savings, doesn’t it? Your food pictures look scrumptious!

  2. great ideas!

  3. Thanks for hosting.

  4. I agree with meal planning being essential to helping keep us from eating out. We’re most prone to eat out on Sundays because after church we’re always starving. For that reason, I usually try to plan to put something in the slow-cooker or to eat sandwiches to eliminate the temptation to eat out.

  5. totally agree with your whole list! today i was SO hungry after running around all morning with the kids i stopped and got food. Spent money I didn’t have all in the name of my stomach screaming out in hunger!

  6. I like the appetizer idea. I also keep a list of quick fixes (or “emergency meals” as we call them). It’s true that when Mom is also thinking with her stomach, the meal plan can go out the window.

  7. Having a plan definitely helps us eat out less! Thanks for this post!

  8. Having componets of meals cooked and in the freezer helps speed up dinner. Tonight, I used precooked Mexican Rice and grated cheese from the freezer to throw together a casserole.

  9. The appetizer idea is great. In fact, some days all we eat is appetizers – especially when it’s hot. :)

  10. Ooh, I have to deal with a similar situation this afternoon. I had to schedule a doctor’s appointment at 2:50 to get my ear checked. I had planned on making pizza, however, I have no idea how long the appointment will take, plus I anticipate needing to get a prescription filled.

    Enter Plan B: I’m putting together baked ziti this morning to have ready whenever I get home after the appointment. It needs only about 30 minutes to bake, and my 15 year old could put it in the oven if needed.

  11. I’m going to organize my pantry for more “quick fix” meals as the school year starts. Thanks for the reminder!

  12. Great tips as always, Jessica. I particularly love the”appetizers” one. It makes so much sense to have everyone nibble on something while we get a healthier, budget-friendly dinner ready. Thanks for sharing.

  13. We ALWAYS stock our pantry (it comes from living in blizzard country when I was young), so there’s always something to eat while we wait to cook.

    I’ve learned to pack snacks if the kids and I will be out for any length of time: veggie sticks, nuts and raisins, granola bars, corn chips, etc. Especially for me, because I’m the one making the decisions and cooking.

    And I’ve stocked the van with styrofoam cups and plastic cutlery, so that, in a pinch, we can buy yoghurt or V8 from a grocery store for an impromptu picnic. Since we only have plain yoghurt at home, the flavored kind is a super treat. Bananas are also a great tummy filler.

    Now, living gluten-free, the temptation to eat out is even less, but I always pack a gluten-free energy bar in my purse, just in case.

    Blessings,

    Annie Kate

  14. Offer an appetizer? That’s a great idea, and not something I usually think of when I’m pulling together a last minute dinner.

    I keep some super-easy foods around all the time to fight off the urge to call for takeout on busy nights. Hans chicken sausages are everyone’s absolute favorite simple meal (often with canned beans and sliced raw veggies with dip). They’re not a super cheap item to buy, but they are a steal of a deal compared to going out!

  15. Right on target!
    And I have found that if I have a plan, and my hubby *knows* that, he will be less likely to suggest eating out (yes, he’s the restaurant villain in our family!).
    The plan.
    It can change, but boy, it’s nice to have it.

  16. My back up plan usually is breakfast for dinner…

  17. Sometimes it is hard to eat at home on the weekends, but I “sell” it to everyone if we eat at home, after dinner we can go out and do a fun event like mini golf or get ice cream!

  18. Excellent tips, especially for summer. I work through the summer, which means I try to do special things with the kids in the afternoon. Since I get home around 4, if we go out, we’re never home in time for dinner. So, I get my kids used to a late dinner (6:30 or 7PM) during the summer. I give them a big snack in the afternoon (fruit shake, ice cream sundaes, cookies and milk) and that takes the pressure off having dinner ready early. It’s not necessarily the very healthiest eating plan but it helps me keep the mood relaxed in the summer and avoids the need to buy takeout. Most days.

  19. I love your recommendation to offer an appetizer. I do that too, and it is a great help! A lot of times I serve fruit or veggies, so if they fill up, it was at least on something healthy!

  20. Great tips! The patience one in particular. You have to wait for someone to cook the food…might as well save $$ and have it be you!

  21. I can relate to the patience one. I came home dead tired a few nights ago only to find our crockpot dinner burnt to a crisp. I caved in and ordered pizza. It took 30 minutes to come and didn’t even taste that great. I totally could have scrambled a few eggs or something instead.

  22. We have started to focus in on portion sizes more to make sure we aren’t eating too much. That saves money because you don’t go through as much food. We also have a garden this summer and it sure helps on the grocery budget, even though all we are getting right now is lettuce and some raspberries. I would plant more fruit trees to save money if we had space. If we are hungry and dinner isn’t ready yet, I get out leftovers if we have any in the fridge or some fruit. Staying in a budget and planning a menu has really saved me some money. We also don’t waste food at all.

  23. Christine says:

    We save money on nights like the one you described by eating at home and declaring a “YO-YO” dinner. My dad made these up when I was a kid. YO-YO stands for “You’re on your own.” Every person was left to fend for themselves.

    As a kid, we loved YO-YO dinners. We would eat cereal of a granola bar and chips. It wasn’t always healthy. Sometimes we’d pillage leftovers or eat toast. But as an occasional thing, it was probably at least as healthy as fast food, was way less stressful and us kids thought it was quite the treat.

    I use it now. With small kids, it generally means they let us know what they want and we don’t protest. Chips and salsa with slices of cheese? Ok. Toast, ok. It’s a nice relaxing way to hang out, it saves money and it’s a good solution in a pinch.

  24. Great post – I need these reminders, too. My go-to meal is usually scrambled eggs. The kids sometimes complain about it, but it’s ready in less than 5 minutes!

  25. Hi everyone. I posted about using water kefir grains to make a homemade probiotic drink called water kefir. :)

  26. I agree with you on all of this. My husband is always the one who will not wait when he’s hungry, so oftentimes he will get a burger somewhere while I choose to wait until we get home. He and some in his family have a pretty dramatic blood sugar drop if they don’t eat, so I think he just doesn’t want to do that. I don’t agree with his approach, but he is his own person, and I also don’t want to nag him.

    The one thing I would add to what you say above is to always or usually bring snacks with you. I know I only have one kid, so it’s easier, but I really feel like it saves us money and time to bring a cooler bag with some banana, a PBJ sandwich, some milk, and maybe cheese and crackers. They’re all easy and cheap.

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