The average American eats out around four to five times per week. Whether it’s a morning coffee and bagel or swinging into a drive-thru, it all adds up. Even if you’re not dining at upscale restaurants, eating out makes it hard to stick to a budget. If you’re trying to save money, it helps to avoid the restaurants. Yet, that’s easier said than done when you have a busy family. Let these tips help you figure out how to save money.

Plan Ahead

Planning ahead is essential if you want to avoid eating out. Sit down and figure out a meal plan for the upcoming days. That way, when hunger strikes, you have a meal ready and waiting. You’re not stuck at square one wondering what to make when it’s already dinner time.


Break it Down

The biggest reason people fail at meal planning is that it becomes too much. There’s too much thinking and preparing and the routine gets away from them. Some individuals are great at planning out the entire month. Others can’t imagine what they’ll want to eat in 20 days from now. So, break it down.

  • When do you have free time? Do you usually have Saturday mornings free? Sunday nights? Friday afternoons? Schedule that as your planning time.
  • What do you already have? Do you have meat in the freezer to use up? Do you have a lot of miscellaneous vegetables in the refrigerator? The best way to save money is to use what you already have. Use a website like to find recipes that work with what you already have in the house. Or, if you know you want to use shrimp, simply Google “recipes with shrimp” and see what jumps out at you.
  • Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Start small by planning one week at a time. Maybe it’s only one big meal you cook on the weekend, but you can eat leftovers all week. Once you have that routine down, plan your lunches.


Make a List

After you take inventory of what you already have in the house, make a grocery list. Also, stick to it! If you only need four things to make a meal, just get those four things. Many people are switching to grocery delivery systems because of this. You can’t impulsively buy things if you’re not actually wandering around the store.


Get Machines to Do the Cooking

One of the top reasons people eat out is because they are short on time. If you are rushing in from the kids’ sports practice at 7 pm, there isn’t any time left to cook. Cue the machines.

With a little advanced planning, you can easily have a beef stew, soups, pulled chicken, lentil curry or your favorite recipe ready in the crock pot when you get home. Just do the prep work the night before, pop the ingredients in the crock pot before leaving for work, and set the machine on low.

Instapots and pressure cookers can also help. You can make roast chicken in a pressure cooker in less than half an hour. Plus, there are all kinds of other tasty dishes you can make. Invest in a pressure cooker that has a delayed setting, or prep the ingredients the night before so everything is ready to go as soon as you get home.


Cook Double

Regardless of what you’re cooking, consider making double. You can freeze the leftovers. If you use individual serving size containers, those frozen meals make a perfect lunch. This is a great way to cut down on eating lunch at restaurants, and you can even thaw these meals for dinners or snacks as needed.


Pack Your Lunch

This may seem like an easy one, but the key is doing it the night before. If you’re packing lunches for kids, pack yours too. Rushing in the morning means there’s no time to think ahead to lunch. However, if your lunch bag is packed the night before, all you have to do is grab it and go.

Do the math. If you cut out just one lunch a week, at an average of $15 each, that’s $60 a month! That’s $720 a year!


Cut Up Veggies

If you’re working on adding more nutrient dense foods into your diet, make it easy on yourself. Cut up vegetables when you buy them! You can store celery and carrots in water to help them stay nice and crispy. Get some good glass containers with leak-proof lids and your veggies will be ready to go when you’re looking for a snack.


Pack Snacks for Kids

After a busy day of school and activities, most children are starving. At that point, it’s incredibly tempting to run to the nearest restaurant or hit the drive-thru of a fast food place. To avoid that, you need to be prepared with snacks.

Anticipate the late afternoon need for food and stock the car with some filling treats. In the morning, pack some extra snacks.

  • Apples and peanut butter
  • Cheese sticks and grapes
  • Granola bars
  • Almonds or cashews
  • Whole-grain pretzels
  • Cut-up veggies and dip
  • Deli meat roll-ups
  • Pre-made smoothies or yogurt pouches
  • Applesauce

If you really want to save money, consider making your own granola bars or even going for something a bit sweeter like Rice Krispies bars. Having snacks on hand will buy you some time to get dinner ready.


Convenience Foods are Still an Option to Save Money

When you’re trying to stick to a budget at the grocery store, you may just focus on whole foods and ingredients for cooking. But, if you’re trying to avoid eating out in particular, you may want to invest in some convenience foods. Packaged food is more expensive than cooking from scratch, but compared to eating out, it will save you money. Browse the frozen food section to see what looks good to you. There are frozen pizzas, burritos, pre-made meals, chicken strips, and more.


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Each individual’s financial situation is unique and readers are encouraged to contact the Credit Union when seeking financial advice on the products and services discussed. This article is for educational purposes only; the authors assume no legal responsibility for the completeness or accuracy of the contents.