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A few years ago, I was scanning my credit card statement and I was looking at the charges that were over $20 bucks. Most of these charges were from restaurants and they were on average $75 bucks or more per week. But then I looked at charges that were under $20 and saw there were many from when I ate out on my lunch break and ordered take out for dinner which averaged $8-10 bucks a pop.
So after all was said and done I spent over $500 bucks on dining out and take out that month. I couldn’t believe how much money went out the window just for food and drinks.
Living in NYC, it is very easy to go out and spend lots of money when dining out. There are literally endless choices of restaurants and bars and it is what people do with friends and family when you want to hang out. But I knew if I kept spending like I did on dining out, I would eventually be in the poor house.
So I decided to do something about it. For one week I made a very conscious decision not to dine out or order take out. It was tough. I would only drink and hang out with friends during happy hour and just go home afterwards so I wouldn’t have to spend money on going out to dinner.
I went to the grocery store (which I never did back then) and bought the basic stuff that would get me through lunch and dinner. So bread, cold cuts, cheeses, chips and whatever items that were on sale. I must have spent around $35 bucks on groceries that week. I brought my lunch in to work every day that week as well. Again, it was tough. But I made it through the week on only $35 bucks. I also lost a few pounds in the process. So it was a win win for me.
Now I know it is difficult to almost impossible to completely cut dining out and I am not trying to promote that because who doesn’t love going to a restaurant and eating delicious foods where you don’t have to wash the dishes afterwards? But doing much less of it will save you a ton of money. I learned that from bagging my own lunch and eating in for dinner that week instead of going out or ordering take out everyday.
Today I only dine out when it is a very special occasion or when I am on vacation. I still love the experience of dining out, and I now savor it even more. I bag my lunch every day and most nights I have a home cooked meal. Doing this has saved me approximately $500 every single month. Needless to say, cooking at home is so much cheaper and healthier than going out. You also save a ton of money on gas, taxis, subways or whatever transportation you use to get to and from a restaurant.
It also helps to be creative when trying to save money when dining out. Purchase Groupons for restaurants or dine out during restaurant week (I think most cities have this now). What I like to do is look at a menu from a fancy restaurant, if I see a dish I like, I try and reproduce it at home. My partner and I have done this many times at restaurants we love to frequent.
We are big fans of specialty pizzas and burgers and we have our favorite restaurants that serve them. But we have learned to go to the grocery store and try to make these dishes ourselves. They have not always come out as good as what the restaurant serves, but it’s come pretty darn close and for a fraction of the price.
There are plenty of great cooking websites and blogs that can inspire even the worst of cooks (like me). One of my favorite food blogs is mealswithmark.com I can tell you from first hand experience that the recipes on his site are so super easy to follow, not to mention they are very tasty and healthy. If you start making meals at home, you will see immediately just how much money you will save every month.
From all the money I save by not dining out as much as I used to, I put it all in my emergency fund or investment accounts . Now my money is working harder for me and I can eventually put those savings into better use like towards my next vacation or a down payment.
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