How We Broke Our Eating Out Habit In 9 Steps

In the past 15 months, Mr. Frugalwoods and I have eaten out exactly twice. To be precise, we’ve paid to eat out exactly twice. We’ve eaten out a handful of other times on someone else’s dime, like work, our generous parents (thanks mom and dad!), or once with a friend who kindly bought us dinner as a thank-you.

A tasty Caprese Salad with homemade bread

A tasty Caprese Salad with homemade bread

But as far as expending Frugalwoods bucks on restaurant meals, we’ve clocked in at a grand total of $51.26 for the year—once for Mr. FW’s 31st birthday and once for our 7th anniversary.

This wasn’t accidental kismet, but rather a concerted alignment with our year of extreme frugality (which, by the way, continues on). Pre-homestead and early retirement aspirations, we ate out fairly often—on average, once a week, which now seems unthinkable to us. But at the time, it was what we were accustomed to.

The Cost Of Eating Out

There’s nothing inherently wrong with eating out and I have no moral opposition to it, in fact, I quite like it! I merely take umbrage with the extreme cost of doing so. Since Mr. FW and I eat from the grocery store for about $330/month for the two of us, a meal out would comprise a disproportionately large percentage of our sustenance budget.

Mr. FW zesting a lemon for homemade hummus

Mr. FW zesting a lemon for homemade hummus

When we outlined our aggressive savings rate goals, to facilitate buying our homestead and retiring to it at 33, we knew–though we were loathe to admit it–that eating out was first on the expenses chopping block, or cutting board, as it were.

And, eating out was a comparatively easy thing to cut with a pretty high pay-off. Since we were eating out about once a week at circa $60 each time, that’s a cool $240 per month (aka $2,880 per year) we now save, just by eating at home. $240/month is pretty substantial for us, considering we only spent $793.90 (minus our mortgage) for the entirety of June.

Plus, when coupled with the savings of all our other extreme frugality regimes–cutting our own hair, drinking cheaper coffee, frugalizing our groceries, and more–it all adds up to create our 71%+ savings rate. I don’t want to sound like a broken frugal record, but, every single line item counts when you’re trying to attain sky-high savings rates and reach financial independence in short order.

The Ease Of A Zero Tolerance Policy

While we certainly could’ve simply reduced the frequency of our eating out–say, to once a month–I often find it’s easier to adopt a zero tolerance policy. Similar to my clothes buying ban (17 months in and still going strong!), I find it easier to follow these self-imposed “bans” when there are either no, or only rare, exceptions.

Frugal Hound gets chicken for Christmas!

Frugal Hound getting a treat

For us, the allowance of one meal out per month would quickly translate into a slippery slope of us “borrowing” nights out from future months and swearing we’d “make it up” in other parts of our budget.

I liken it to the way in which Frugal Hound is never fed human food from the dinner table, and hence, never whines, begs, or is underfoot while we’re eating. Since she doesn’t even know it’s an option, it doesn’t compute in her houndy brian to beg. Similarly, since we know eating out isn’t an option, it doesn’t enter our minds as a possibility when we’re casting about for dinner ideas. Yep, I do indeed think dog psychology works on humans here.

Your individual experience will certainly vary but for us, adopting a policy of never eating out has been our way to ensure that we, well uh, never eat out.

A Note On Special Occasions

Birthday month!

Eating brunch out for my birthday a few years ago

Having just said that, of course we do in fact have exceptions to our ironclad rule because we’re not frugal automatons, but rather weak humans who love french fries. Our very precise exceptions include: our birthdays and our anniversary. However, it’s key to note that we’re not required to eat out on these occasions.

I chose not to go out on my birthday this year, preferring instead to commission a dinner from chef Mr. Frugalwoods. And for our anniversary, we used a gift card to cover the majority of our meal.

We think it’s important to mark noteworthy events in our lives and since we don’t give each other gifts, eating out is a way to share an experience and yummy vittles. I’ll also note that when we do eat out, we go where we want to. We make no effort to choose the cheapest restaurant or the cheapest item on the menu–we go somewhere we know will be excellent.

From Eating Out To Not: A Frugalwoods How-To

Since this line item was all about giving something up, as opposed to substituting a cheaper option or learning a new skill, we had to devise a few strategies to cope with the loss of restaurants from our lives. It might seem overblown to have a “strategy” for not eating out, but here’s the thing–I’ve found that anytime we don’t take a proactive, constructive approach, our resolve falters and the idea doesn’t stick.

Here’s what we did to wean ourselves off the convenience (and expense) of eating out:

1) Commit to the decision.

The carrot cake I baked for July 4th with my friend C's awesome recipe!

The carrot cake I baked for July 4th with my friend C’s recipe

Sounds obvious, but this is actually the most crucial aspect of the whole experiment. If you’re not bought in with your whole heart (and stomach), you’ll fail. And if you have a partner, this goes doubly–you’ve got to both be in it to win it.

2) Define what you mean by “never eating out.”

Sit down (either with self or partner) and articulate your goals for this challenge. Will you never eat out? Eat out only for certain occasions? Do take-out, prepared foods from the grocery store, and coffee shop visits count? (For us, they do–our ban is all in). Be as specific as possible. If Mr. FW and I were to only eat out for say “celebrations,” you better believe we’d be finding something to celebrate every single week.

By outlining specific parameters for our eating out, we’ve found it relatively painless to adhere to them. We don’t debate the merits of eating out vs. staying in and, we look forward to our rare meals out as delightful deviations from the norm.

3) Do it for one month.

If after conducting steps 1 and 2, you’re still a bit on the fence, or unsure of how this’ll play out in your hectic life (which always has more unexpected variables than our simple spreadsheets of frugal intentions), try it for one month. That’s what Mr. FW and I did. We devised the Uber Frugal Month Challenge and decided to go an entire month without eating out–no restaurants, take-out, coffee shops, or prepared grocery store meals. Just us and our kitchen, day in and day out.

What we’ve discovered is that once we commit to anything for a full month, it’s actually rather straightforward to just keep on doing it. There’s something about the month timeframe that feels very doable at the outset, but that’s long enough to actually ingrain a habit.

A week is way too short, and a year feels like an impossible eternity. I can’t tell you how many habits we’ve changed/broken/created through our one-month test horizon. And if you seriously hate the results after a month, go back and recalibrate the decisions you made in #2.

4) Create a rock-solid meal plan.

Making guacamole sandwiches with leftover guac

Making guacamole sandwiches with leftover guac

Once you’ve identified your ideal version of not eating out, get yourself a foolproof, tasty, kick-butt meal plan. When you’re eating at home for three meals a day, seven days a week, it’s kinda tough to wing it (unless of course, wings are on your menu plan. Sidenote: I do love a good chicken wing. Mmmm wing sauce–we buy it at the grocery store and slather it on scrambled egg tortillas. Yum.)

I won’t go into depth on our meal construction plans here since I’ve addressed the topic in several previous posts. Suffice it to say, the top line tenets of our meal plan are that it’s: healthy, easy to execute, inexpensive, and (thus far) totally foolproof.

Check out these posts if you want to see what we eat:

Everybody has their own food predilections and preferences, so it’s vital to figure out what works best for you. For example, don’t put salmon on your weekly plan if you know you don’t actually like salmon. You’ll end up dreading salmon Wednesdays and I bet you’ll find an excuse to either not eat it (ack, food waste!) or succumb to the siren call of the take-out menu. Be honest about what you, 1) enjoy eating, and 2) can reasonably prepare given your other responsibilities in life (work, kids, greyhounds).

5) Keep weekday meals simple to prepare.

A standard, simple weekday meal for us: salmon salad

A standard, simple weekday meal for us: salmon salad

Don’t be putting Beef Wellington on your regular rotation–it takes hours to make, is complicated, and the raw ingredients are freaking expensive.

It might sound like a stellar idea when you’re meal planning on a lazy Sunday afternoon with a cup of coffee in hand and the idyllic sounds of NPR wafting on the radio, but by 6pm on Tuesday night after work, taking out the trash, and walking the dog, you’re not going to want to make it (unless you’re a kitchen superhero or already early retired, in which case the world is your oyster and you can take all the time you want to make dinner).

6) Indulge your culinary creativity on the weekends.

Referring back to the aforementioned Beef Wellington (which to be totally honest, we’ve never made because we don’t buy beef, but it sounds intricate… ), consider putting it–or an analogously involved meal–on your menu for a Saturday night. Mr. FW, who genuinely enjoys the art of cooking, likes to indulge his iron chef tendencies on the weekends when he has the luxury of starting the prep at 4pm if he so desires and we’re in no rush to hustle through dinner and get to bed.

Having intriguing feasts on the weekend keeps things interesting and spicy in our home-eating regimen and allows my chef man to flex his culinary muscles. He might bake a tricky bread recipe, try out a new method for grilling asparagus, or otherwise invent a delectable new concoction.

7) Have treat meals.

Pancakes for dinner! A great weekend option.

Pancakes for dinner! A great weekend option.

Containing elaborate fare to the weekend has the side benefit of limiting our caloric intake for the week while still building in treat meals. Our weekday food is pretty ruthlessly healthy, so the weekends are our time to indulge in more ways than one. We eat quite a few more carbs and calories for our Friday and Saturday night dinners, which are much appreciated! Who doesn’t like to eat?!

These repasts give us something scrumptious to look forward to and help limit our cravings for the unhealthy during the week. Sometimes I’ll even bake up something sweet to add to festivity. Since we frequently have friends over for dinner on weekend nights, this makes for the perfect synchronization of fancier meals and socialization.

8) Learn to love “frugal takeout”–aka the leftover.

Mr. FW and I are leftover connoisseurs. After all, what’s not to love? Leftovers are the literal experience of reaping what you’ve sowed. You’ve already gone through the hassle of buying the food and cooking the food—all you have to do now is eat the food! I cannot imagine a more perfect situation.

Frugal Hound scouts out the glass tupperware

Frugal Hound scouts out some leftovers. P.S. I forgot how ugly our cabinets were before we refinished them!

We view leftovers as “frugal take-out.” You just take it out of the fridge and eat it! Nothing could be easier. I’ll be totally honest with you, if you want to succeed in lowering your grocery bill, eliminating food waste, and avoiding eating out, you’ve got to embrace the leftover.

Some folks are devotees of the freezing method, but we prefer to just eat everything in the days immediately following preparation. We feel this way for several reasons:

  • We’ve already paid for that food, so to freeze it and buy more would just add unnecessarily to that week’s grocery bill.
  • Food doesn’t always come out of the freezer tasting as divine as it did when it went in. Some things are just not meant to freeze.
  • It’s possible to forget about frozen food. We’ve totally done this and excavated well-meaning tupperware months later, after the food has passed its prime.

If you have a legit technique for freezing and then actually consuming food, go for it! But if you kinda think in the back of your mind that your freezer contents are destined for the trash… don’t do it.

9) Keep emergency frozen pizzas on hand.

Our Costco pizza in all its glory

Our Costco pizza in all its glory

I saved the most imperative point for last. It’s rare that I’ll tell you something is non-negotiable, but folks, this is non-negotiable. You don’t have to keep frozen pizzas in your freezer, per se, but you must have some sort of easily prepped, pre-made dinner on hand in your home. Frozen dinners, frozen pizzas, frozen calzones (not sure if that’s a thing, but it sounds good)–basically something that requires nothing more than the application of heat to prepare.

This could be the most pivotal element of the success of this entire no-eating-out operation. Why? Because we all have stressful, long, frustrating, unexpected days where multiple things go wrong and we get home late and hangry.

A few recent examples that spring to mind for us: getting home late from the airport after a trip due to a delayed flight, being hit by a car while biking, and arriving home at 8pm after a day of hiking that started at 4:30am. These are all times when we (before we were the Frugalwoods) would’ve ordered take-out so fast, Frugal Hound’s head would spin.

Mr. FW gives the Costco 'za two thumbs up

Mr. FW gives the Costco ‘za two thumbs up

Let’s be honest, there’s no way we were going to cook a full meal after any one of those experiences. But a frozen pizza? No problem. We just pop that puppy in the oven and relax. At $3 per ‘za from Costco, our frozen pizzas are cheap and quite delicious.

They’re not healthy in the least, but that’s OK. An occasional very unhealthy pizza isn’t going to kill us and I happen to think it probably helps to reset the metabolism. Also, pizza. Full disclosure: I love pizza. I’d eat it every day if I could (but I shouldn’t and I don’t).

Keeping these pizzas in reserve ensures that we don’t cave to the convenience of food made by others. Plus, they give my full-time chef (Mr. FW) a way out. When he’s sick, tired, or fresh off a bike accident, he has a viable option for still feeding us that doesn’t involve breaking our budget. These pizzas are our insurance policy that we’ll succeed in our challenge no matter what.

And yes, we know how to make dough from scratch. And yes, Mr. FW has made many a fabulous homemade pizza, but that’s not the point here–the point is to have a super simple, so easy a greyhound could make it (well, maybe a greyhound smarter than Frugal Hound…) meal ready at hand (or paw).

Dessert Thoughts

Homemade cookies!

Homemade cookies!

By following this methodology, we’ve found it’s fairly elementary to avoid eating out. We don’t feel deprived, we enjoy the foods we eat every week, and we have our frozen pizza option for emergency situations.

All in all, we’re thrilled we’ve been able to save this additional $2,880 per year. And the best part is–we don’t miss eating out at all. Once we got into the habit of eating at home, it became our second frugal nature. It’s very similar to the absence of desire we feel to buy a ton of stuff–it’s just one more thing that costs money and that we don’t need in our lives.

How often do you eat out? What are your strategies for successful at-home eating?

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153 Responses

  1. Vicki says:

    My secret to not eating out is location, location, location. We lived in Vancouver, Canada and ate out ( usually cheap sushi) once a week. 2 years later we live in small town Australia where there are maybe 3 restaurants and since we are vegans there is nothing for us on the menu. I cook and like to cook so that is what we do and this is how we save money on eating out 🙂 The carrot cake looks tasty BTW 🙂

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Hey that’s a pretty good strategy :)! And, it’s wonderful that you like to cook–a true frugal blessing. The carrot cake is pretty darn good… I may or may not be eating some right now… 😉

  2. Great post! I definitely need to find myself a good backup meal for when I’m feeling too lazy to cook.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thanks! The emergency back-up meal is pretty crucial. Our pizzas have saved our frugal selves a number of times :)!

    • Kate says:

      Breakfast for dinner is an old standby at The Chez. The kids love it, and it is easy to prepare, especially if you put frozen waffles in the toaster instead of making waffles from scratch… which doesn’t take THAT long!

  3. Jeff says:

    We eat out a few times per month, and like you point out it’s typically when something goes haywire with the plans. Have been working on lowering this slowly but surely.

    Also, That was a good cake! Thanks again for having us!

  4. My husband likes to go out a lot. I would prefer to not eat out so often for health reasons. Plus, when you only go out a few times a year, it really makes the experience that much more special.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Very true–the rarity really does make it feel special. And, you make a good point about health concerns. Definitely healthier to eat at home (most of the time)!

  5. Kalie says:

    Your change in dining truly impressive! And so are the savings. We’ve dialed it back from eating out once a week when we were first married, to about once a month when we go on a date. Enjoying one meal a month without kids is worth the price to us (we often split an entree). But restaurant eating is essentially a rip-off and cutting it is a great way to increase your savings rate, as you said.

    • Kalie says:

      I forgot to ask, how do you handle when friends want to go out? Do you simply decline, citing your ban? We usually “pre-game” by eating at home and then ordering the cheapest thing on the menu, like fries or a drink.

      • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

        Splitting an entree once a month sounds like a pretty frugal approach to me! Good question on socializing. Our strategy with friends is to counter an invite out to a restaurant with an invite to our home. We have folks over for dinner quite often–we enjoy hosting and cooking. And, we’ve discovered that our friends are happy to return the favor and have us over to their place. Plus, our friends know by now that we’re the frugal ones, so they’ll usually down with having a less expensive night :).

  6. I send that–your cake looks excellent! For us, going to restaurants was the easy button and hardest habit to break. One day, Garrett said we should just eat what is beneficial and cut out things that aren’t healthy. And that was all she wrote. We haven’t been back to a restaurant since. Also, I would say that reading restaurant inspection reports helps. Ha!

    • *second that…need coffee…merely human without coffee

      • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

        Coffee is always a must ;). And, the cake really is quite good if I do say so myself… That’s a great point about eating what’s healthy–definitely healthier to dine at home. “Reading restaurant inspection reports” cracked me up! Talk about a deterrent!

  7. We probably eat out or get takeout twice a month, and my husband and I go out for a nice dinner every other month. (You have to add the cost of a babysitter in, too.) I do not enjoy cooking, but do it almost every night to keep costs down and ensure that we’re not eating horrendously unhealthy meals on a regular basis. But since I dislike cooking, going out to dinner is not only a chance to eat wonderful food, it’s a break from cooking and cleaning up for me, and ensures an evening of adult conversation for my husband and me, without having to repeatedly say, “Eat over your plate,” to our 5 year old. 🙂

    I create a meal plan every week, cook at home, and use leftovers. I shudder to think of how much I used to toss before I got serious about food waste. That said, I buy a lot of produce and we’re eating more fish these days, so I tend to spend about $430 per month on groceries for our family of three.

    • Marcia says:

      ha ha ha!! I STILL have to say “eat over your plate” to my 9 year old! Sadly, the 2 year old is better at it than the older boy!

      • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

        Hah! I have you both beat–Mr. FW has to tell ME to eat over my plate… I’m seriously pretty messy when I’m not paying attention. Like when I’m replying to comments and eating leftover carrot cake at the same time… ;).

        Amy–sounds like you have a good system in place for enjoying meals out occasionally but still keeping costs low. And, $430 on groceries for three people is awesome!

  8. We eat out so rarely anymore – for a few reasons really. With three little ones, the cost not only adds up but it’s just not worth the hassle. It’s much easier to just have meals at home so we can do what we want. The other main reason is due to finances and health. While we do and can afford to eat out, we see it as money we’re borrowing from somewhere else. I’d much rather have the money go elsewhere. The health aspect is somewhat self-explanatory. 🙂 Thinking over the past year, the few times we have eaten out (other than paid for by a client or thanks to a gift card) have been for our anniversary or while on a vacation. We usually have a pretty solid, though flexible, meal plan and have a few things on hand for those evenings where making a big meal isn’t the most practical.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      You make great points about health and the hassle of going out with kids. Eating at home is just easier, healthier and cheaper all around. The solid meal plan is so key–once you’ve got that locked in, it’s pretty easy to just follow it along.

  9. bev says:

    We also eat out rarely, and if we do, it’s almost always a locally owned restaurant, not a chain. Vermont is a big supporter of locally-owned businesses, but chains are moving in more and more. Like you, my husband is a good cook and does all of our cooking at home, and he enjoys it. We eat leftovers for lunch every day, and we also prefer that. Vermont has so many good farmers’ markets and a whole vibe about eating locally and supporting local farms. I always liked that here. Hey…is that “real” maple syrup on your pancakes???

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Definitely real maple syrup! We wouldn’t eat anything else :)! Real maple syrup is one of those things that’s worth the expense :). I agree with you on locally owned places–that’s what we choose for our few meals out.

  10. I heard a tip recently about eating out only when you can’t make the foods at home. Which I thought was pretty good, because most times after eating out I’m underwhelmed or believe I could have made it better myself. I believe the key is planning, meal planning, shopping, and having the emergency meal or quick meals on hand when pressed for time. This will help you avoid let’s just pick up some “take out” tonight.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      You’re so right–planning really is the crux of success in this area. Once you know what you’re going to eat, it’s pretty easy to stick to the plan.

  11. Kim from Philadelphia says:

    Great post!
    You are so correct- preparedness staves off impulse meal purchasing.
    I’m totally on-board with the Costco pizza concept. Another go- to for me…Costco frozen veggie burritos ( Cedar Lane brand, I believe) One gram of fat per burrito…accompanied by several Sriracha squirts-has saved me many a trip to the hospital cafeteria!

    Currently we eat out about twice per month. We favor international foods that aren’t in our cooking rotation ( Indian and a local family run Polish restaurant are our current faves)
    We are now mindful to eat out as an event, not just because we don’t have anything lined up for dinner.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      I like that concept–eating out as an event, not just as a default. Well said! Mmmm frozen veggie burritos do sound pretty good! But I love my pizza :)!!!!

  12. Zandria says:

    These are great tips. My husband and I never enacted a formal eating-out ban, but we eat out drastically less than we used to. When we were a new couple and living in Washington DC, my then-boyfriend purchased his lunch EVERY DAY (at a cost of around $10 per meal!). We also had a restaurant meal usually once a week or so, plus happy hours with friends after work several times a month. We weren’t tracking our spending then; I’m kind of glad I don’t know now how much money we wasted.

    Nowadays, I prepare a vast majority of our meals at home, and for lunch we eat dinner leftovers from the night before (I’ve learned how much extra I need to prepare for dinner to ensure we have enough left over for our lunches). Restaurant meals are relegated to special occasions (our last meal out was a mother’s day brunch with his parents), and we will also eat at restaurants when we go on vacation.

    I’d like to get our restaurant spending down even further. Thanks, as always, for the inspiration!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Sounds like you two have a good system going with the dinner leftover for lunch! And, that’s great you’re saving restaurant meals for special occasions–nice! I know, I too shudder to think of how much money we wasted eating out over the years. Oh well, it’s in the past! The frugal is our future :)!

  13. Michelle says:

    We still eat out way too much but it is something we are actively working on. Great job on paying for eating out just twice in the past 15 months. That is amazing!

  14. Tawcan says:

    Great stuff, eating out is probably something that we need to review for our household.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      It’s definitely a tough one–it took some work for us to wean ourselves off of it. But now that we have, I’m really glad we did it!

  15. Noemi says:

    I’ve only been reading your blog for a few months so I don’t know if you’ve tackled this topic before (I’m assuming you have) but how do you see your friends without ever eating out? Do you invite them over? Tell them flat out you don’t eat at restaurants? Has it altered any relationships? I have two young kids and can’t invite people for dinner (I live in a small apartment in SF with thin walls and they’d wake up) and I mostly only have time to see friends late at night (it’s a lot to leave two kids with one adult for even 1-2 hours) after they are in bed, so outside activities aren’t available or particularly safe, so I don’t understand how I’m supposed to see friends without eating out. Just curious how you mange that.

    • Rose says:

      Agreed, I would love to see a post about the social aspect of living the frugal life. I try not to eat out too much, but when friends invite me to try a new restaurant with them, it’s hard to pass that up! Or when someone invites us to see a movie in the theater, or check out a new brewery, or go to a music festival. I cherish that time with my friends, so it’s been kinda a tough adjustment. We’re hosting more parties and potlucks at our house, which I love, but fear of missing out is still a challenge sometimes.

      • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

        Great questions on the socializing aspect of frugality. I think for us, there are a few different factors at play. Our strategy with restaurant invites is to counter with an invite to our home. We have folks over for dinner quite often–we enjoy hosting and cooking. And, we’ve discovered that our friends are happy to return the favor and have us over to their place. Plus, our friends know by now that we’re the frugal ones, so they’re usually down with having a less expensive night :).

        Another factor for us is that a lot of our friends are frugal as well. So, they’re similarly interested in having cheap nights in. We host board game nights, potlucks, BBQs, etc. And, we’re big fans of seeking out free entertainment with friends, such as going on walks, on hikes, to free lectures, concerts, and events, etc.

        • Noemi says:

          I wonder if your ability to do that will change as you become parents and getting your kid to sleep (and to stay sleeping) becomes a priority. I will be reading with great curiosity as you become parents. 😉

        • Alexandra Taylor says:

          We have a wonderfully vibrant community of friends who all had kids at around the same time, and we never eat out together anymore! We also live in a very high cost of living area. Only three of the families in our friend group have houses big enough to entertain in, so we all take turns hosting dinner at these three houses. So many potlucks, beach days, and now that the kids are a little older (but still all under 5) we’ve taken to car camping! We used to do a lot of backpacking together but those days are over for a while.

          Pre-kids we all loved to go out to bars, events and restaurants together, but funnily enough now that we’re all dealing with childcare and mortgages, we’ve mutually become major frugalheads.

  16. One of our strategies for successful at-home eating is re-creating a different “restaurant” within our own home for different meals on days where the norm would be to eat out! It may seem silly, but my fiance & I sometimes create a name for the at-home restaurant to create the idea that even though we are doing the cooking ourselves, it feels like we’re dining out. For example, one Valentine’s day my fiance surprised me in the morning with a handwritten menu entitled “Le Petit Oeuf” (it’s one of the only words he knew in French 🙂 – ironically, we did not have any eggs or French dishes for our meal lol)! He found some swordfish steaks on sale at the market, and created our “restaurant” for the night adorned with candles & music. Sounds cheesy, but it allows us to spend time together being creative, surprising one another, and allows us to expand our culinary skills with one another!

  17. Hannah says:

    We also reserve eating out for birthdays, around our anniversary (Valentine’s Day), or travel. Sadly, we don’t look for great food when we eat out. We look for fried chicken sandwiches. My method for eliminating eating out is being sure that I thaw out the meat in the morning- As long as I don’t forget, I feel that meal prep is a snap.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Mmmm, a fried chicken sandwich sounds pretty tasty to me :). Yes to advance prep! Mr. FW cooks batches of stuff for us on the weekend to cut down on his weeknight prep time. Makes such a huge difference!

  18. Mrs. Budgets says:

    Eating out is a line in our budget that we try to keep low, but we don’t eliminate it because we find it entertaining. In fact, it comes out of our entertainment budget. A new thing I have tried is mystery shopping. I actually did a shop yesterday at fancy schmancy restaurant. This helps our budget and lets us still enjoy eating out (especially at restaurants I would never actually pay their ridiculous prices).

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Oooo mystery shopping is a great idea! I’d be all for getting a free meal!

    • Alexandra Taylor says:

      I totally just started mystery shopping! Now my husband and I can reduce our eating out budget to almost $0 and still have some nice dates! However, the shops are not the easiest thing in the world…you really have to work for that meal, I’ve found.

  19. Marcia says:

    This was a great post! I find our eating out goes in fits and spurts. Pre-frugal days, it was a LOT. Lunch several times a week, dinner at least 2x a week (when we couldn’t face the week’s of dishes). Then we had kids and at the age of 2-4, eating out with children is no fun.

    I found that when we are stressed, we tend to do it more often. Jan/Feb this year was BAD. So I actually did a one-month “no eating out” challenge from late Feb until our spring break vacation in March, and it worked really well. Eating out is a slippery slope, and my 9 year old would do it all the time (and then complain that we NEVER go out).

    There are challenges though. I cook all the meals. On top of a full time job. We do love the Costco pizza (same kind you have) for emergency meals. So cooking something “special” on the weekend is sometimes just too much for me. On the weekend I am ruthlessly prepping for the week. Trying to make enough food for 4 people *and* trying to count calories to lose those last stubborn baby pounds (have I mentioned my baby is turning 3?) Same thing for special things like a concert in the park – where I have to cook ahead of time to have a “picnic”. So prepared foods from the grocery store are for sure okay in my house.

    Added to that, my work schedule just changed and I work until 6 pm 3x a week. So husband picks up the kids – that means I have to leave the “easy” meals for his nights or cook way ahead of time so he can reheat. (Not that he can’t cook – he did all the cooking from 1992 to 2002, but then we got fat on his cooking, so I took over. He’s out of practice, and would fall back on grilled cheese. I’m avoiding wheat.)

    My spouse has a tendency to fall back on eating out. Last week our older son was in camp and he took him out to lunch at least twice. Then of course he’s the “fun” parent. I’m the “boring” parent. Sigh.

    I think it’s actually a good time for another eating out ban, until our next vacation in 3 weeks. I find that not eating out, however, is a bit isolating. My friends like to eat out a fair bit. So now two of my friends have found each other – they go out together a lot (as families), and I feel a bit excluded. Haven’t figured out a way around that.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Good luck with the eating out ban! And, I totally get the eating out more when stressed thing–I’ve found that to be true too. I wish you all the very best!

  20. Emily says:

    Great post. Interested to hear how you handle social occasions involving eating out. Like a good friend is having a going away happy hour or a dear colleague is having a birthday brunch, etc. Obviously, you can cut activities that aren’t meaningful, but what about restaurant situations for folks you care about? TIA!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Great question! To circumvent going out with friends, we often counter with an invite over to our house for dinner/lunch/coffee, which seems to work well. We’re able to all hang out, but without the pressure of spending on a restaurant meal. We’ve found that our friends enjoy it and often return the invite to their place–we’re now in a rhythm of eating at each other’s houses with most of our friends.

      For events like happy hours, we’ll go and just drink water. Works well for us and we get to see our friends without the expense. And, I’ve found that nobody ever cares what/if we’re drinking. I luck out with work lunches–we have a cafeteria in our building where you’re allowed to bring your own food, so I just bring my lunch and grab a table while everyone else goes through the cafeteria line. There are also times when we do pay to go out for a friend’s party–sometimes it’s more important to support/see a friend than to save a buck (though I usually do order something super inexpensive) :). Hope that helps–feel free to shoot me more questions!

  21. Great strategies to cut out the eating out habit! I find what you said about making sure to have some frozen, pre-made dinners on hand that require minimal prep to be key in not eating out as much. We all have those crazy days where there’s no way we can prepare a homemade meal from scratch, so it’s always nice to have a little bit of help in that sense to keep us on track with not spending too much on food!

  22. I love this!

    What we really struggle with is when friends ask us to go out with them, we don’t want to say no. Social obligations kill me!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      I hear ya on that! Our strategy is always to counter with an invite over to our house for dinner/lunch/coffee instead. We enjoy hosting people and cooking for them, so it’s a win-win in the end. We’ve found that our friends enjoy it and often return the invite to their place–we’re now in a rhythm of eating at each other’s houses with most of our friends.

  23. We used to have a serious problem with eating out, mostly because we argued that we worked hard and didn’t have the energy to cook at the end of the day. The last three years, though, we have really focused on our home cooking and meal planning and now we are at the point where we hate to eat out. We have adopted my dad’s philosophy of only eating out what you can’t make at home and we have pretty much figured out how to make just about anything from home so there’s not really a big need to eat out anymore.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      That’s awesome, Shannon! You guys have done a tremendous turn-around on your eating out/grocery budget–seriously, inspiring. We used to make that “we work hard and don’t want to cook” argument too… we found it helps to have pretty easy, quick meals to prep on weeknights. Makes all the difference!

  24. Norm says:

    The only times we ever eat out now is when we’re on vacation, or if someone invites us, and maybe birthdays. We were just visiting friends in Rochester yesterday and ate at a Turkish place for lunch. After a few days of not particularly flavorful food with in the in-laws, having some falafel wraps was definitely, super worth it. Otherwise, we’ve gotten serious about Big Pot meals, so there’s always food in the house. And frozen food, which most recently was 18 stuffed clams for $6.99. Weird.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Big Pot meals? Like the baked goods they are selling in Colorado now? Hope you have some homemade cheetos 😉

  25. Alicja says:

    great reading. You know, I just put similar post on my start-up blog today – I investigated savings achieved by replacing lunches at the office cantine with homemade food. Quite some savings 🙂
    The frozen pizzas or other frozen backup meals is an idea I need to accommodate – we had the exact situation yesterday when could have used some and didn’t have any. I went for a sandwich, but my partner went… to McDonalds (ewww – I still have a problem to inspire him to be more frugal, it didn’t work this time).
    Thank you, I look forward to your every post, you inspire me a lot 🙂

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Oh thanks, we’re so glad to hear it’s useful! We have found that the pre-made / frozen treat meal is a lifesaver for those situations where we’re just completely wiped out and hangry. It happens to us all! 🙂

  26. Emily says:

    Just going to add some weight to the request for a “social aspect” post!

    I’d like to cut out eating out, but one time I find that particularly hard is post-game beers. It’s a big part of our team bonding and I love that we spend that extra time together. I guess the easy answer is never ordering food and only drinking water, but it’s hard *whines*.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Maybe for you the post-game beers are a budgeted treat, and you cut back in other areas to make up for it. But I bet you could drastically reduce your post-game spending and still get all of the social fun. Maybe bring a snack to eat on the way from the game to the bar? And nurse those beers! A solid strategy is beer-water-beer-water, both to slow your expensive beer consumption but also to prevent next day hangovers 🙂

  27. We have cut our eating out down to $140 a month. That is for a family of five. One major thing we did was focus only on places whee kids eat free. That was a HUGE savings over paying for two kids meals (the youngest only has two teeth so far so she does not get one).

    My wife just started doing mystery shopping. She jumps on the opportunities to evaluate restaurants. We Just ate a meal at TGI Fridays and after tip it cost us $3 and about 30 minutes of my wife’s time filling out the questionnaire.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Neat! I imagine kid’s meals at restaurants are not normally a very good deal. I do know plenty of folks who just bring a tupperware of food for the little ones to avoid both the ingredients and price of the kids meals.

  28. I get take away for lunch at work a lot, but I avoid the costly dinners out as I get enough of those with work that it quenches my desire to eat out and pay for myself 🙂

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Expense account meals are the best. I never eat so well as when it’s on someone else’s dime 🙂

  29. Thankfully eating out isn’t a slippery slope for me as I know I’d probably weigh a ton more if I did, so for compete vanity reasons I hardly eat out. lol! Hey, whatever works! 🙂 I do enjoy them on occasion though (say once per month). I do think there are certain things where I completely need to abstain (sugar, or more specifically, any kind of sweets) and things that I’m good in moderation (eating out, alcohol, shopping). It’s funny how differently we all operate.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Yep, somewhat unsaid in the post is that even our “treat” homemade meals are likely a lot better for us than a normal restaurant meal. My friends who have worked back of house all say the secret to making restaurant food delicious is just add more butter 🙂

  30. Alison says:

    I’ve been reading your blog for a month or two and just wanted to say hi, and that I love all your posts! Thanks so much for entertaining us, while you educate us. LOVE the Frugalhound pics too.

  31. Marcia says:

    Also, in addition to the frozen pizzas, I used to really really try hard to make sure I had leftovers for Friday. That was most likely the “takeout” night. I have failed lately, but at least this last Friday we had scrambled egg tacos.

    This coming Friday is a date night. So we are paying for a babysitter. We generally get very few date nights, but this year we’ve gotten a bunch more, as our daycare provider has been hosting them. In any event, our most expensive one was a meal out + dessert, at $150 plus $50 for the sitter. That meal was disappointing. (The more we cook, the more disappointing meals out are – I noticed that for sure). The cheapest was a quick burger and a free movie (my spouse traded blood donation points for movie tix). This Friday I think we are going even cheaper, and will aim for a picnic on the beach. I don’t want to spend $$ eating out if it’s a normal thing! Our anniversary is next week, so we are considering this Friday our “anniversary” dinner.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Sounds like a fun date night! Enjoy!

      “The more we cook, the more disappointing meals out are” — I’ve found the same thing too!! Nothing worse than ordering something that you later realize “man, I could have made this at home… and executed it better!”. We’ve definitely had those moments! We now tend to focus our rare eating out events on things that we either can’t make at home (fine southern barbecue, for instance) or cuisines I’m not as familiar with cooking.

  32. We eat out more than I would like–a few times a month, perhaps. Mr. FP likes to do things like go out to lunch as part of a day trip, patronize the excellent taco place across the street, and order pizza.

    I don’t like to spend money on those things, so I work hard at reducing temptations:
    1. I try to leave leftovers, crockpot food, pasta salad, etc. for dinner on nights when I work.
    2. I strive for an interesting rotation of easy-to-prepare dinners that Mr. FP eats.

    The second part is harder than it sounds! My mother (a full-time teacher) pretty much raised us on frozen fried chicken and Hamburger Helper, so made-from-scratch, feed-a-family weeknight meals are something I had to mostly figure out for myself.

    Instead of precooking and freezing whole dinners, I often freeze components: cooked ground beef or taco chicken, cooked rice, cooked beans. Then if we keep a couple of boxes of mac and cheese around, we can. for instance, whip up some cheeseburger macaroni or chicken taco mac on a moment’s notice.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Good call on the pre-prepped dinner components! I’m a huge fan of prepping and portioning protein to be eaten later. It really does reduce, by just enough, the workload of putting together a dinner when we’re both dog tired and home late from work.

  33. Love all the great ideas and photos! Food is definitely one of the toughest aspects of my budget. And I’m pretty sure I’m in good company. Reducing the urges when out and about seems to be one of my biggest problems. I try to pack food and avoid social hangouts at bars and restaurants. If I do go, I tend to get a water and eat beforehand. That tends to reduce cravings when out and about. 🙂

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Good tips Sam! Snacking pre-event is definitely key. I’ve done plenty of “water with lime” cocktail hours 🙂

  34. Eileen says:

    Eating out is certainly one of the big unnecessary expenses at our house! But I really like the strategies you guys are using to keep things under control. I second the convenience food too. I like to make batches of pinto bean burgers or bean and cheese burritos to freeze for that very purpose (on top of freezing other appropriate leftovers). I keep thinking that someday I should make a few pizzas and freeze them for this exact purpose…

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Yep, nothing has prevented more “emergency” takeout calls than the knowledge that tasty pizza in the freezer is only 22 minutes away. 🙂

  35. KRFP says:

    Love this, thank you. We made a July meal plan, it includes some planned eating out but so far it’s been going according to plan at least. Easy meals for week nights is crucial!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Hey there! Your comment the other day on the June Expenses post actually inspired me to write this, so thank you :)!! Best of luck to you with your July meal plan. I totally agree–easy meals on weeknights are the key!

  36. Jenessa says:

    We eat out a lot on the weekends. I’ve been trying to cut back on it, but my fiance just really likes going our to eat. During the week I am good about cooking dinner and then we take the leftovers for lunch.
    On the social side of things I find that as we get older (in our 30’s now) our friends are much more interested to get together at people’s houses as opposed to going out. In fact we have a group of us that formed a monthly dinner club this year. On the last weekend of each month one couple will host dinner at their house for the group. Everyone brings along some adult beverages and we have had quite a variety of excellent food.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      We’ve found the same thing with our friends! We’re all much more interested in hanging out at home than we were back in our youngster 20’s ;). Fun and frugal!

  37. Kurt says:

    I broke my eating out habit in one not-so-easy step: I had a health crisis. I don’t recommend it, but the process is effective in concentrating the mind! Nutrition has since become one of my main areas of reading and study, and I’ve learned that nearly all restaurant food is unhealthy food. I can count on two fingers the number of restaurant meals available in the small city where I live that I consider healthy. So I’ve been making fantastic meals at home for nearly three years now. As a result, I lost ~20 lbs, my vital signs are the envy of my friends (all of whom eat bad food nonetheless 🙂 ) , and I feel like I’ve reverse aged the past three years. The benefits of eating healthful food prepared at home are far more than merely economic!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Huge congrats! I think health is a fabulous reason not to eat out. Restaurant meals are almost always less healthy, and, it’s hard to know what’s actually in them too (usually lots of butter!)

  38. We don’t eat out much, but it’s certainly not quite on your level. I estimate we hit up a restaurant twice a month and takeout maybe twice a month. You’ve inspired me to take another look at what I thought was already a really low number.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Your numbers are quite low! I think it’s all about finding that balance between frugality and doing what you enjoy.

  39. By buying a few ‘treats’ at the grocery store, I can stave off the desire to eat out a little better at least. These treat meals help put off my desire to eat out, but it’s definitely not cured!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Treat meals definitely help! That’s what we find with our pizza and other tastier (and less healthy 😉 ) meals–helps curb that desire for eating out.

  40. Dani says:

    two favorite ways to make quick meals: we buy a side of beef every fall when the cows fatten up (it definitely saves on the overall expense of beef throughout the course of the year, and we eat meat with just about every meal; still looking for a way to “stock the larder” with less-expensive chicken; we are adamant that our meat is pasture-raised, and so we go direct to the farmers. Well, our chicken farmers aren’t around anymore, so we are eating more beef because we all pick our hills to die on, and seeing the farming operation is crucial for our satisfaction), and so always have plenty of meat in the freezer. I can make a ginormous pot roast on Sunday and we snack on it all week; we have our own laying hens, so I make deviled eggs by the dozen which turn into quick breakfasts, and my all-time favorite: cook up those 3-lb packages of ground beef, then portion into 3 or 4 freezer bags. That pre-cooked burger comes out of the freezer and goes into about a zillion things, my favorite being the pressure cooker with a pound of uncooked pasta, jar of pasta sauce, and one pasta-sauce-jar of water (or broth, if I happen to have made some recently). Whip that up in the pressure cooker for 8 minutes and there’s just enough time to set the table and crack out salad fixin’s, and BOOM we’re on the table faster than we could have ordered Chinese takeout.
    We definitely need to get our eating out habit under control! It’s difficult when both of us work more than full-time hours and are pretty beat some nights when we get home; not to mention we drive past no fewer than one MILLION restaurants. I will definitely be working with hubby to apply these steps–especially the emergency meal and zero tolerance tips. Cuz right now, we’re ALWAYS going over budget in restaurants, and robbing ourselves to pay for meals.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      All sounds delicious! I love deviled eggs! And, cooking a huge batch on Sundays is a great technique. I wish you all the very best!

  41. Love the post, I travel a ton for work so I get paid to eat out, but when I’m home I strive to not as much as possible. Probably go out with friends once a month to have a dinner which runs about $40. I’ve cut back a ton on this as well and to your point I always have a Home Run Inn pizza sitting in my freezer at all times.

  42. Jessica says:

    We do eat out occasionally, but that amount has been greatly reduced as my cooking skills have improved. There’s been too many times in the past where we’ve gotten food from a restaurant only to be disappointed because I could have made something better at home. I totally agree that having a solid plan and a great set of meals that are quick to prepare is crucial, especially when working a full time job outside of the home. At least once a week I’m too exhausted to make dinner so we’ll rely on something really easy or homemade freezer meals.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Always so disappointing when you could’ve made it better yourself! We’ve had that happen too and it definitely reinforces the desire to just eat in :). And I think easy weekday meals are the golden ticket!

  43. I’m always torn on this issue. I think trading our money for someone else’s cooking is some of the best outsourcing we can do. I think I’m a fine cook, but can admit others are way better at it.

    Even my burritos aren’t as good as Chipotles, and burgers aren’t as good as In and Out. 🙂

    There’s a ton of wiggle in our budget re: meals out…we’d save $3k annually, I think, by taking on the ban.

    I wonder if it’s worth it though.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Yeah, I think it’s all about finding that balance between frugality and what you enjoy. For us right now in “save every dollar” mode, it makes sense. But, there was a time where we were happy to spend that money. Just depends on your preferences/goals for the moment, I think.

  44. Shannon says:

    “How often do you eat out? What are your strategies for successful at-home eating?”

    It’s a challenge for sure! In a perfect world, the previous night’s home cooked dinner provides lunches to reheat at work the following day. I like when this happens. I do cook about every night (husband cooks about 1 night a week). But lots of things can derail that plan (which honestly stresses me out). Getting invited to dinner (ugh no leftovers!), working out too late into the evening (my meals take about 45 minutes to make), tired of cooking in general and going for something quick like egg salad sandwiches (not good or enough leftovers). Sometimes husband will be running late for work, there is no lunch to pull out of the fridge, so it ends up being me who decides to make a quick thrown together lunch for him, or he’ll just go eat out. I try to cook in bulk but it always results in about 6 servings max! I did make 2 gallons of curry once, and we got sick of it. Due to the potatoes, it was not a good freezing candidate. Last month we ate out 3x as a couple (one was a fun night with 3 other couples), H got breakfast one day, and lunch another day. 12% of our food expenses. That was a high month. I go to lunch only when a girlfriend asks me to go and that’s how we catch up because I don’t have time after work. We do not host many dinners (I think we average 1 party every 2 years) because it’s so much work! Cleaning the house (it’s never guest ready), figuring a pleasing menu (one dish curries aren’t going to cut it for guests), preparing it, cleaning up. I just don’t have that kind of time or energy these days. Eating out is just easier.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      It has definitely taken us some time to get into the rhythm of cooking in bulk, etc. And, having super easy weekday dinners has been a lifesaver too. Sounds like you’ve got a good balance of eating out vs. eating at home. I think just knowing the % amount is awesome! All about that conscious spending :).

  45. Kristen says:

    Before we moved to the country we probably ate out 2-3 times per week. Then 2 things happened almost at once – I found out I couldn’t eat gluten (which just makes eating out hard) and we moved to the middle of no where. Not only is the new house far from a restaurant (like a 30 minute drive) but it also has a beautiful kitchen. It has turned my husband into a wonderful cook. Now we eat out only maybe once a month (when we aren’t traveling). I am working to reduce that, but we have a number of friends who celebrate in restaurants and since we don’t do gifts, we eat out. I can live with it.

    Now, my husband eats out his lunch most days. I am slowly working on that. I have asked family to give him a lunch bag for his bday. My goal is to get it to 3 days a week. I am happy to report that this week he gave up going for morning coffee and is packing his own extra tea to heat up at work.

    I am more like you – make the rule appear black and white and then when it is reasonable to be grey, be grey! teehee!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Haha, yes, I like that! Sometimes there just is a grey area! Especially when you have a greyhound in the home ;). Congrats on getting your husband to reduce coffee/lunches out–that’s awesome!

  46. Carissa says:

    I’m with you.! While we haven’t enacted a strict rule, my husband and I pretty much only eat out for birthdays and anniversaries, and while traveling.
    I grew up in a very frugal (read money was extremely tight family) and we literally NEVER ate out. Once i wad on my own, i’d go out with friends occasionally, but always ordered side dishes, etc. Then I met my husband who was a chef, and loved to go out to eat and try new places. I was shocked at the expense, but we did fall into a habit of going out every weekend. I’m very grateful that since we’ve started our farming career our priorities have shifted, and we go out very rarely. It really makes it a special event when it DOES happen. (Also, we have all the freshest ingredients and a wonderful chef at home, so unless we go to very expensive places, or specific ethnic food/genres, the food is usually a let down.)
    By the way, didn’t you eat out when you were in New York a few months ago? Are you just counting that as a travel expense, or was it paid for by someone else?

    • Carissa says:

      Gah, sorry for all the typos! I’m not very good at typing on my phone. :/

      • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

        Being married to a chef sounds like an awesome arrangement :)! You have a good memory–we did eat out in NYC, but it was paid for. We were on an all-expenses paid trip to speak about Frugalwoods at NYU, which was awesome. My kinda travel for sure! Plus, I really loved the opportunity to talk about my favorite thing–frugal living.

  47. I eat out less than two times a month. I think it’s due to the nature of work I have and my decision not to because I am saving for my two out of the country travels this year. I basically go out of the office around 5:00 pm and gotta be at home at 6:30 so that I can start working for my side hustle, this is mainly the reason why I don’t eat out. Nice 9 steps Frugalwoods.

  48. Eating out is definitely a financial weak spot for me. Love this list of action steps to take to curb that habit and reduce spending in this area! Thanks for sharing how it works for you guys.. will need to give this a try this month 🙂

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      It was a tough one for us to overcome for sure. The one-month timeframe for testing it out really helped us get the ball rolling. Best of luck to ya :)!

  49. we eat out more than we should. My husband eats meat while I do not and I don’t like the smell of it cooking. So when he get’s the urge for meat, we eat out. I have found being a whole food person I prepare my foods often and eat ‘leftovers’ for breakfast! Just had a boiled potato and baked beans along with a small cucumber. may not be everyone’s idea of breakfast but I enjoyed it!

  50. Van says:

    This is a great and inspiring article. I know my husband and I have a terrible going out habit that we really need to stop. I’m totally going to check out your frugal month challenge.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thanks! I wish you all the very best! We found that the one month timeframe was really effective and not too overwhelming for us.

  51. ARBM says:

    I need this advice right now… but I also need to get my fiance on board… we are both pretty bad with eating out. I tried a “no eating out month” in February, and it worked out pretty well… not 100% successful, but then we let it go, and now it’s getting to be a bit much. Thanks for this, hopefully I can get the fiance on board and we can cut some eating out expenses in the next few months.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Yeah, it’s definitely crucial to both be on board! Best of luck to you–I bet you can do it :)!

  52. Paula R. says:

    Hi Mrs. Frugalwoods,
    I just found your blog thru Jlcollinsnh and it so happens at I told my husband that this month I wanted to cut our grocery budget inhalf and I’m committed to it 100%. I usually buy organic and healthy produce all the time but that needs to stop! there is no way you can save money shopping like that so I’m determined to stop and to find this post today is just what I needed to get more inspired and to start preparing more meals at home. Although we rarely eat out, we do take-out once or twice a week since I’m not a great cook but you have given me inspiration for sure! Can’t wait to read other posts! thank you! Paula

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Hi Paula–thank you so much for reading! I’m so glad you found us :). We actually buy a lot of organic produce as well and we’re able to make it happen on the cheap. The key for us has been to frugalize all other areas of our groceries so that we can spend the money on lots of produce. I think it’s all about finding what you value most for your food and eliminating/economizing on the rest. I wish you all the very best :)!

  53. Eating out is still one of our weaknesses. We limit our eating out, and use coupons and other deals, but it still costs. I could give it up fairly easily I think, but I’d have to convince my wife. A one month trial sounds completely do-able though…I’ll have to try pitching that idea!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Yay! Do the one month trial! We found that timeframe to be very manageable and not too overwhelming. I wish you all the best :)!

  54. Eating at restaurants – even very inexpensive ones – is my biggest weakness. I like your “one month” idea. I think I could do that. I have had the experience of not missing things that I’ve given up in the name of frugality. I just can’t imagine not missing meals out. We’ll see!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      I never thought we could give up meals out either, but it turns out that, over time, we don’t miss it. It’s funny how your perspective can change with new goals/ideas–I’ve certainly surprised myself more than once on this extreme frugality journey :)!

  55. No Waste says:

    Or….just have kids…poof….no more eating out!

  56. We have cut down quite a bit, but still are close to once a week. In addition, I am still eating out close to once a week for lunch (sometimes 0 now though!). We avoid sit down meals, but order pizza sometimes. We also try to take food for meals and snacks when traveling to cut down on eating out as much as possible (unless it is on my work’s dime).

  57. Rachel says:

    The biggest way to cut eating out for us has been access to homegrown beef. We have all sorts of cuts and there is no purpose to eat out when the food at home is going to taste better anyways. But pregnancy cravings have caused a few times where all I want is something grease covered and not healthy… Also another thing that happened that caused a drastic reduction in eating out was my husband’s health and having gall bladder issues at a young age. So he was told to eat better which cuts a lot of eating out.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Very true about the health aspect of not eating out! We definitely eat better by eating at home.

  58. Crazynoiia says:

    We go through spells – we can go a few months with out eating out and other times its 2 or 3 times a week. I can tell you its directly related to if I’ve made a meal plan and if I have a back plan. If I have a plan it will take an act of congress to get me to deviate from my plan – I do not like when things do not go as planned its a fault in many cases…. but in the eating out and as long as I have something (usually frozen pizzas or the good ol’ boxed mac & cheese) that I can easily make and eat – not healthy but its okay once in awhile.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Yeah, the meal plan definitely saves us from going out too. It’s so true that once you’ve spent the time and effort to make the plan, you don’t want to deviate :). And hooray for frozen pizza and mac-n-cheese back-ups!

  59. Kirsten says:

    We’ve been eating out way too often, which is frickib’ expensive for a family of four!! We do it for a reason – church is 40 minutes from home ( and no, there’s not a closer option). We attend three times a week and we often find ourselves stopping for something before our after service. We are moving in the coming weeks – I happen to be sitting at the airport awaiting my flight back home after a visit to our new location. Church will be 10 minutes from home – we could even walk. But the thing that truly scares me is the abundance of places to eat nearby.

    We have tended to use meals out for celebrations, but like you noted, we celebrate everything. Our wallets don’t like this and neither do our waistlines! My goal is to be more explicit and mindful about eating out. Yes we will do it – probably more than twice a year – but it’s going to become a special treat.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      I really like the “special treat” specific designations–that has helped us a lot because we could seriously find a reason to celebrate every single day!

  60. Laura says:

    I definitely subscribe to your tactic of keeping something easy in the freezer! Skillet meals and frozen pizzas are my go-tos there. Skillet meals are, again, not healthy, but I usually add additional frozen veggies to them. And, they will do in a pinch.

    We have a similar grocery budget but eat out more often, and occasionally do takeout when I just can’t even. My husband really doesn’t cook at all, and it’s a heavy burden to carry to be wholly responsible for feeding two people! I just went back to work full-time in an office after a stint of freelancing, and I’m realizing I probably need to simplify and automate my meal planning some to be successful. My office offers breakfast 4 days a week, lunch on Mondays, and has tons of snacks, even some healthy ones, which is great, but I don’t want to get too dependent on that for my sustenance.

    The trap we fall into with eating out is social occasions. We have a number of friends who make good salaries and don’t have families or savings goals, and so we’ll end up spending more to hang out with them than we would on our own. I’m okay with that, but I also know it flies in the face of true weirdo frugality. 🙂

    Are you familiar with Gretchen Rubin’s abstainer vs. moderator dichotomy? Sounds like you’re definitely an abstainer. I’m more of a moderator!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      I think it’s all about finding the balance that works best for you. Sounds like I’m an abstainer! It’s just so much easier for my personality if I never do something than if I “sometimes” do something. It’s a real slippery slope for me–for example, “eating a few chips” can quickly turn into “eating the whole bag” so I just don’t buy chips :). I don’t cook at all either, so it has been key for us to find easy to execute meals that Mr. FW can churn out on repeat for weeknights.

  61. Carla says:

    Would you mind sharing some of your most frugal recipes with us? I am eyeing that caprese salad and hummus.

  62. Craig says:

    Our favorite emergency food: Frozen Pierogies. Boil a bag and put them over greens topped with EVOO and parmesan. Boil two bags and you’ll have leftovers for tomorrow! Market Basket carries them for $1.20/bag (I think)

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Yum! We love Pierogies! I’ll have to check that out next time I’m at the ol’ Basket. Thanks for the tip, neighbor. P.S. thanks for reading 😉

  63. We’re also practitioners of the emergency reserve frozen pizza. In fact, we have a slot in our freezer that as far as I can tell is the perfect size, and only useful for storing frozen pizza (

    Our other go-to backup meal is instant ramen. Everybody likes a hot bowl of tasty sodium right?
    We like to spruce it up with frozen veggies and frozen dumplings; the prep work still only involves boiling water, but it comes out tasting and looking like a complete meal:
    (In this case I might have added some left over cooked chicken we had on top)

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Haha, I love the frozen pizza slot! We’ve done ramen emergency meals too…. sooooooo goood.

  64. It’s ridiculous how true the “frozen pizza” tip is. If I come home from a long, stressful day (which is quite frankly most days) the last thing I want to do is stand around the kitchen cooking. It makes a huge difference just to have SOMETHING on hand, just in case!

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Right? For those “hangry” evenings there is nothing like popping a frozen ‘za in the oven and setting the timer. It’s definitely saved us from desperate takeout several times 🙂

  65. Susana says:

    I am a 24yr old recent college grad. I have yet to find a stable “real” job. I currently work at Starbucks and occasionally babysit for a family I used to nanny for. I’m on the hunt currently.
    All that to say, I have a question. How did y’all stop going out for friend’s birthdays or other celebrations that dear friends might be having? I feel bad saying no. Maybe I need to buckle down and just commit?

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      If someone we love is having a get together at a bar, we’ll still definitely go. But we’ll eat beforehand and drink water 🙂 We _love_ spending time with friends and sometimes it is awkward to stick to your savings goals. But I think you can maximize both if you get a little creative. And your friends will totally understand what you are trying to do. If they don’t… then they aren’t acting very friendly!

  66. Sima says:

    I admire your frugal eating habits, many of which are adopted in our household as well. Just like you, I would never compromise the quality of the ingredients that go into my cooking. Hence, I try to buy organic and locally grown as much as I can, since we much prefer home cooked meals made with quality ingredients than restaurant food (going out reserved for special occasions only, if ever). I do extend the same principles when it comes to food quality to my dog. Kibble, even grain free, is subpar, albeit cheap and convenient, pet food choice:(

  67. Michelle says:

    THANK YOU for your suggestion to have emergency meals ready in the freezer! Reading that was like, “Duh. No wonder my husband and I eat out all the time! It’s certainly not because we don’t know how to cook…it’s because it’s 6pm and we’re a lethal combination of ravenous and exhausted.” You can bet this is a tip we’ll be making use of from now on! Thanks again.

  68. Judith Siess says:

    We seldom eat out (expense, plus watching what we eat). I have what I call “cooking fits for the freezer.” I make (and often at the same time): turkey meatload (2 at a time), chili (2 pots at a time), chicken thighs made into something yummy in the crockpot, beef and/or pork roast (beef in the pressure cooker and pork in the oven) and chicken (any way I can). Also, in the summer when we grill out, I always fill the grill.
    Then, I take each food and portion it out into meal-size portions, wrap it in saran and aluminum foil, label it, and freeze. When it comes dinner time, I just yank out a pre-cooked meat, nuke it (4-5 min. on half power), add a bagged salad (filling 1/2 the plate), add a vegetable, and dinner’s on the table in 10 min. (a bit more if I add pasta or rice…).
    I love to cook, just not every night.
    And instead of jarred spaghetti sauce (high in sodium and sugars), I just cut up some veggies, saute for 2-3 min., add a can of low-sodium V-8 or low-sodium tomato sauce (or use paste–regular tomato sauce in super high in sodium). Add parmesan to thicken, and voila–homemade sauce in under 10 min. (how long the pasta takes to cook anyway). Tastes better and better for you and WAY cheaper.
    BTW. You can cook and large pot of regular rice, strain, portion and freeze. Add 2-3 T. water per cup and nuke for 2-1/2 min. Tastes as if you just cooked it and saves lots of time. Dunno if you can do it with pasta, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you can.

  69. Maggie says:

    I have been canning hearty soups and learning to make “meals in a jar” with dehydrated contents – just add water. Yum!

  70. Karen says:

    I am finding that month 2 of cooking meals in is getting to me. The first month was a game – wow we went this long without eating out. The second month is like really it’s only been two months (and I’ve fudged for the two months since we are 7 1/2 weeks truly). What do you do when you hit those moments of throwing in the towel?

  71. Mona says:

    My motivation is HEALTH, not money. I’m in a new relationship and have put on weight due to dining out too much. I would and could never be cheap. Nor can I “counter offer” my friends plans and change their plans due to being cheap. Sorry, just bad form. It works for you, but I couldn’t live like that. I think some meal-planning tips are really all I need. I don’t believe in altering my whole life. Drinks w/ friends are fun. Checking out a new place is exciting. I’m not even sure how much cooking for two is cheaper than going out. Like I said, my motivation is health. Some of your tips are helpful. Mostly, I find are too cheap a lifestyle for me. There’s more to life than saving every time, and changing your entire life and being cheap. Sorry, that’s not me.

    I’m all for cooking at home and freezing and planning. To be healthy. But, I’m not about so substitute boxed, cheap, processed food for healthy ones because they’re cheaper.

  72. Megan says:

    Just found your blog. Love this whole idea. We (as a family of 3) have a horrible habit of eating out. I have many excuses (small, ridiculous kitchen, hating the amount of dishes, not liking leftovers, etc.) and although they’re valid, I really dislike using them. My question is what do you do /recommend for when you know you are going to be out all day? Example: for us, Sundays become very expensive. With church (an hour away) and small group (30 more from church), we find ourselves stuck. We don’t have time to come home and eat before group, but eating out every Sunday is expensive. And, since that usually takes around an hr, we have more time to spend in limbo (from about (1:30-3pm) which usually involves “shopping”… Buying stuff we don’t really need. It’s super frustrating. 😕

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      We pack food anytime we’ll be gone all day. Usually something simple like PB&J, apples, bananas, almonds, and bottles of water. It’s just a part of our routine now and, it’s nice to know we won’t go hungry :). Good luck!

  73. "Alex says:

    Our tip is that when we use our slow cooker (which is often), we automatically double the recipe and freeze half as an “emergency dinner” for those nights where we need something fast. Favourites include lentil sloppy joes, squash soup, and black beans for tacos.

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