Thursday, November 17, 2011

I Spent My 401K at the Olive Garden

I LUV going out to eat. 

I love to eat a delicious, leisurely meal, prepared by someone else, and then (most importantly) leave the mess for someone else to clean up.  It would probably be close to the top of my list of favorite hobbies.  Before we had kids, going out to eat on a daily basis was just a part of life.  Both of us were working, and going out to lunch every day just seemed to be "the thing to do."  We would think nothing of dropping $8 to $10 a day each at some random fast food joint, just on lunch.  Most weeks included dinner out at a place like Chili's or Ruby Tuesday's together at least 3 times a week.  I'd say we'd spend about $25 to $30 a dinner when we'd go out to eat together. 

Here's the breakdown on what we were spending (I'm estimating on the low end here):

$8 a meal   x  2 adults  x  5 lunches out during the work week  x  52 weeks a year = $4,160 annually

$25 a meal (for the both of us)  x  3 dinners out during a week  x  52 weeks a year =  $3,900 annually

Total:  $8,060

Let's face it, that's a LOT of money, and we weren't even having to feed children yet!   On average, I'd say the meals I make at home (lunch or dinner) cost about $3 per serving.  It's probably a lot less than that, but for the sake of argument, I'll go with $3.  Let's do the math on the same number of meals:

$3 a meal   x  2 adults  x  5 lunches a week  x  52 weeks a year = $1,560 annually

$6 a meal (feeding both of us)  x  3 dinners a week  x  52 weeks a year =  $936 annually

Total:  $2,496

That's a yearly savings of $5,564.  (and that's just what we save during the week, not including weekends!!)

Can you imagine what we could have done with that money???  Taken a cruise, bought a cheap used car, saved up for college tuition!   And that was a conservative estimate.  I'm sure we spent much more than than during an average week when we were going out to eat a lot.  I'm CERTAIN that most of the meals I make cost less than $3 per serving. 

So now, I'm sure your question is how do you eat at home so cheaply?  It's a simple matter of planning.  I watch the sale flyers for my local grocery stores and try to plan my meals around what's on sale.  I also stock up if the price is good, utilizing my freezer (I have two stand alone freezers in addition to the one attached to my fridge)  I'm also a couponer.  I am shameless about utilizing coupons to save as much as I possibly can. 

There are also some GREAT websites out there to help you plan:
This site is great!  All the recipes are designed to be made for under $5.  Not $5 per person, but $5 total
This site does charge you to use their services, but I've heard great things about it, and if you're not into meal planning, this does the work for you!  Even though you have to pay for it, it's still a money saver.
I'm in love with my crockpot.  Apparently, so was this lady.  She spent a year cooking from her crockpot every day.  She has some really great, creative recipes.  Most of which can be made pretty inexpensively. 

I'm not saying we never go out to eat, but we've cut down on it drastically.  I'd say we go out about twice a week.  We usually go on Sunday's right after church, and on Wednesday nights to the fellowship dinner at our church.  We're very mindful of what we spend.  The Wednesday night dinner at church costs us $12 for the whole family, about the same as eating at home.  We use coupons and share meals at restaurants on Sundays, usually spending less than $30 for the entire family when we go to a "sit-down" restaurant, and less than $20 for the entire family when we hit up fast food.   My husband takes leftovers to work for his lunch almost every day, and the kids and I eat at home almost exclusively.  There is the occasional trip to Chick-Fil-A for a playdate or dinner out with my hubby, but on the whole, we don't spend a lot on eating at restaurants anymore.

Try evaluating your own numbers sometime.  You'd probably be surprised at how many waitresses you are putting through college, just by the amount of tips you pay out!

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