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Be Prepared: Save Money Eating at Home

A photo of SusyMr. Chiots and I are savers. We hate to spend money, especially on things that can be avoided, like eating out. Restaurant food is expensive and often unhealthy. It’s much cheaper and healthier to prepare food at home. Once you start eating healthful homemade food, often you find that you don’t really like restaurant food either. When you live in a rural area, often running errands takes more than a few minutes. It can take a few hours, especially if you combine a bunch of errands to make good use of the trip. We like to be prepared when we run errands so that we don't end up having to eat out if we get delayed. That being said, there are times when it can’t be avoided or times when you want to eat out. We do eat out on occasion and try to choose restaurants that serve healthy food. We have a set monthly budget for eating out, and if we do not spend it we transfer it to our vacation fund (which is also a deterrent to eating out, I’d prefer a weekend away to meals out).

A snack bag we take with us.

The main way we manage save money in this area, is by being prepared. We always carry water with us (in stainless steel water bottles), this helps us avoid the need to buy drinks if we get thirsty (and we can refill at a drinking fountain). We also carry apples with us wherever we go. Apples are the perfect portable snack, they’re filling and you can eat them anywhere. We carry nuts and dried fruit as well and other quick snack foods that are high in protein and nutrition. Often a handful or two of nuts and an apple will keep you full until you can get home to eat a proper meal.

An apple will keep you full until you can get home.

How do you find time to make a snack bag every time you go somewhere? I keep a bag with snacks in it by the back door. We simply grab the bag on our way out. We always carry snacks even if we only plan to be gone for an hour or two. It’s amazing how often you get behind or things don’t go as planned and you end up being out longer than anticipated. If we are planning on being gone during a meal time I will often pack sandwiches and more substantial snacks.

Snack bag packed with substantial snacks.

Another way we avoid eating out is by having quick meals ready to go at home. I always know that I have a few quick meal options that can be on the table within 15-20 minutes after arriving home. One of our favorite quick meals is homecanned tomato soup. Eggs also make the perfect quick meal, you can prepare them in all kinds of ways that are perfect for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I often have soup or lasagna in the freezer and if I plan ahead I can thaw some out to be ready on short order when I know I'm going to be arriving home close to lunch or dinner time.

Homecanned tomato soup

Despite our best efforts, we occasionally find ourselves out and about without snacks and starving. What do we do then? Sometimes we just eat out and enjoy it, we have money budgeted for this purpose. Sometimes we buy a small snack and then eat a meal when we get home. Sometimes we go to a grocery store and buy apples, bananas, or nuts for a healthy snack that’s much cheaper than eating out. By doing this we save a lot of money and we eat more healthfully.

What strategies do you have for saving money on eating out?

I can also be found over at Chiot's Run where I blog about organic gardening, local eating, and other weird stuff we do like sugaring maples and keeping bees. I can also be found at Not Dabbling in Normal.

mountain woman
4/28/2010 4:13:02 PM

I enjoyed your article because I thought Mountain Man and I were the only ones who didn't eat out. We never go out to dinner because we enjoy our time together at home. Our ritual involves a leisurely cooking of dinner and time spent together after working all day on the farm and okay, well, we too are frugal and when I think of all the money we would spend to put food into our stomachs for one dinner out, I just cringe. We are at home on our farm so we don't need to pack snacks but when we do travel, we always take food we've made with us. A dollar here and there is so very important and it can all go back into the farm. Thanks for your article. Mountain Woman of Red Pine Mountain

chiot's run
4/27/2010 7:29:28 PM

Thanks, I'm frugal to a fault almost. We have set a specific goal to pay off the house ASAP and every small amount I save gets added up and sent in towards that goal. That really helps keep us focused. A dollar here and a dollar there really add up over the course of a few years!

nebraska dave
4/26/2010 7:01:24 PM

Susy, you always have such helpful hints about living more simply on less. It is true that running errands seem to always take longer than expected. I usually buy two bags for a dollar nuts to tide me over if I just can’t wait to get back home. At home I enjoy the entire process of making the meal, eating the meal, and cleaning up after the meal. I must say that I only eat one main meal a day and usually one other smaller meal with snacks through out the day. So the one main meal is a special time for me to relax and enjoy. The whole process for the main meal takes at least 90 minutes to two hours. I understand that not everyone can do that and before I retired neither could I. It’s just one of the benefits of this season of life. It also keeps the food budget way down by not having to buy fast preparation food things. You know I found that I have less heart burn and intestinal issues than all the rest of my life. Imagine that. It is a little more challenging now that my daughter and grandson live with me as well. My grandson is five years old and it quite amazes me that he would rather eat a good apple, orange, raw carrot, or a bowl of plain no dressing lettuce than a French fry, burger, or soda pop. I’ve never seen a kid that is such a natural vegetarian as he is.