When I was a kid, I would finish lunch and ask what was for dinner. Not because I was hungry, but because I was already looking forward to what I was going to eat next. My Dad often remarks on how my appetite outpaces my brother's. In a culture where women are still supposed to want salads and chardonnay, I want meat and three with a cocktail.
Put it simply: I love food. All kinds: from fast food (Captain D's is my biggest, dirtiest, dirtiest guilty pleasure) to the more high brow restaurants that get written about in magazines, and in a city like Atlanta, trying the newest, hippest restaurant can go from a casual night out to weekend hobby very, very quickly.
Which is why when I was looking for ways to cut costs in my budget, I zeroed in on my largest discretionary expense: Eating Out. In an average month, I spend about $200 on groceries, and $375-$425 on eating out. I'll pause for gasps from the more frugally minded bloggers and folks.
I know these numbers are high so I vowed to do something about it and attempted not to eat out for 30 days.
Why A "No Eating Out Challenge"?
The health benefits and (obvious) money saving advantages were of course considered, but they weren't the real reasons I'm doing this. Mostly, I just wanted to see if I could implement a change in my life to both be healthier and spend more mindfully.
I had to plan more meals and be more consistent with my grocery runs. I had to sit and think for a minute about how to use what I bought instead of just grabbing for the easiest thing in my fridge and pantry. Here's one thing I did that I've never done in my entire LIFE: I saw bananas going really ripe and threw them together to make these awesome muffins to eat for breakfast.
I felt really good about that.
Socially it was hard, especially since I work from home and so much of my time is spent there. As a solopreneur, eating out isn't so much a means to an end as a way to take a break for a little bit and see some folks. But, my lovely friends were accepting of the challenge- we met for drinks or cooked at one another's houses instead of going out for fancy lunches and dinners. It was nice.
But the most remarkable change of all was how much better I got at cooking when I had to practice every day. I started putting together some really, really good meals. And they were delicious. So delicious that I didn't lose any weight. Instead I gained four pounds. If I wanted something or had a craving, I decided to make it myself...which led to lots of delicious experimentation and (I suspect) the extra pounds.
And for all my fellow money nerds... I saved about $225 off my monthly eating budget. I didn't get super frugal with my groceries. Since I knew I was cooking at home, I allowed myself to try new things and buy upgraded products to try and make the transition easier.
The Biggest Shift
It's crazy how much eating out adds up when you're not being conscientious. Seriously, you know this, but it's worth repeating again. Stuff adds up when you're not looking. Failing to make a grocery run could lead to three meals out. Even if they're not expensive, that's $30-40 each week, or around $150 per month.
Now I'm much more aware of how much I'm spending on eating food outside my home.
But the biggest shift of all is how much I want to eat at home now, and in me seeing that eating out isn't a weeknight necessity, but rather a treat to be enjoyed.
For example: I just returned from 3 days at the beach with my family. I must've done a really bad job of ordering at every place we went, because for the exception of one restaurant, I hated every single meal we had out.
"I can make it better at home." I found myself saying. And for the most part, I'm right.