One of the biggest expenses that people have that cuts into their savings goals and debt paying goals is going out to eat or eating fast food. Some people do it for enjoyment, some because it's fast and easy and others do it because they do not know how to cook. Not knowing how to cook was something that I struggled with in college and so I went out to eat frequently and was always broke and didn't understand why. Now that I'm older and have learned how to cook and not go to Jack in the Box to get a salad and a grilled chicken sandwich everyday, I thought I would pass along what I have learned to save money.
Make Your Own Box Mixes
It's still amazes me that whenever I wanted brownies or a cake, that I would go out and buy a box mix for $1.99 or $2.99 when you can make your own for a lot cheaper just by having things on hand, like flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and baking powder. You can make just about any box mix that you can find on a shelf with these base ingredients. There are a ton of recipes online about how to make your own. I make my own pancake mix, cake mix, cornbread mix and brownie mix and keep it in my pantry when the need to make one of these arises. Then I add the wet ingredients and bake according to the directions of the homemade mix. If you know that something is coming up where you need to bring something, it is good to have these mixes on hand to whip something together instead of buying something pre-made at the store.
Make Your Own Spice Mixes/Marinades/Salad Dressings
You don't have to buy fancy grill seasoning mixes, bottles or ranch dressing or marinades. These are so simple to make and then you can refill your spice bottles and marinade bottles. I make a big thing of ranch dressing and keep it in a plastic container in my fridge. It's usually gone by the end of the week.
Have Snacks Accessible
Make sure that you have snacks that are easily accessible, like fruit, nuts and popcorn. If you buy those 100 calorie bags, just stop doing that. Make your own 100 calorie bags, by counting out snacks and then filling bags with serving sizes.
Make Freezer Meals
We all have days where we are too sick to move, or it's been a long day and cooking is the last thing on your mind. If you are making a lasagna, casserole or another meal that can be frozen, make 3 or 4 extra at the same time and freeze it, so when one of those times happen, you will be prepared and not have to shell out for fast food.
Freeze Leftover Meals
If you have had enough of leftover Thanksgiving food, meatloaf, whatever and know that you aren't going to eat any more of it. Pack the left overs into freezer safe containers and label them with what's inside, so if you are looking for a quick lunch later you can reheat one of those instead of going out.
Make Desserts to Freeze
If you are making cookies or brownies and they are close to the point where they are about to get stale, freeze them to enjoy later.
Create a Master Cookbook
Instead of having several cookbooks taking up space on your shelves, just copy down the recipes that you love and get rid of the cookbooks. Get a binder with sheet protectors and make your own cookbook with your favorite recipes, marinades, spice mixes, dressings, breads, etc.
Make a Meal Plan For The Week
Sit down and make a list of what you want to eat and then buy those things.
Make Time For Meal Prep
Set aside time to chop fruit, vegetables, get meat ready, make spice mixes and make it easy to grab and prepare for a dinner. Also set up an assembly line of breakfasts and lunches and put them in containers in the fridge, so they are easy to grab in the mornings before work. You can make fruit and yogurt parfaits, sandwiches, salads, etc in the assembly line.
Know Your Weaknesses
If you know that you crave pizza on Friday nights, or want ice cream or a milkshake and order in or go out to places that offer what you crave, buy the things to make them, or buy a frozen pizza or take and bake pizza so you are not spending extra money on a tip or delivery fees.
Have a Go Out To Eat Plan
If you like to go out on Saturday nights, make that a part of your meal plan and look at the menu online before you go so you can figure out what you want, order water with dinner, skip the drinks, appetizers and desserts to have a more budget friendly meal.
I know that there will be days that you are just craving a White Castle Cheeseburger and I'm not saying to not give in, but eating out should not be a convenience, but a treat to enjoy occasionally. When you use these tips, you will notice a difference in your grocery bill, I know that I have.