Written by Spotloan

Would it surprise you to know that the average American eats out over four times each week? Probably not if you’re one of them. But what might surprise you is that Americans spend an average of $936 annually on lunch alone

When you add in breakfasts and dinners, the average family spends roughly $3,000 per year eating out. Food is one of the big three categories when it comes to financial planning, along with housing and transportation. 

Eating out isn’t the enemy. When it’s done strategically, it can be a fun treat, a way to celebrate, or a source of stress relief during a particularly busy week. But when the balance is off, eating out too often can burn a hole through our budgets. 

Take better control of your finances with our tips for eating out less and cooking at home more. 

How to Eat Out Less 

Eating out less starts with being mindful of your habits. Sit down with your bank statements for the last three months and tally up each food-related expense. Every on-the-go coffee cup, lunch ordered at the office, pizza delivered on a Saturday - all of it. 

This step is the eye-opener that most people need to start reigning in their food spending. Once you know your starting point, you can set a goal for the next month. If you eat out a lot, don’t try to cut your number too drastically right off the bat. 

Financial goals should be realistic and measurable. Start by aiming to spend just $20 or $30 less on takeout this month than you did last month. Take it in stages until you get where you need to be. 

And if you’re not sure what the end goal should be, the USDA recommends capping your restaurant budget at no more than 5% of your monthly income.

How to Start Cooking at Home 

Like so many other areas of life, getting your finances in order involves some planning. Thankfully, cooking at home is an area that leaves a lot of room for this. Spend some time acquiring simple recipes, stocking up on groceries, and planning out your meals. 

Once you know what you’re going to make, dust off your old whiteboard or grab one at your local dollar store and use it to write out your dinners for the week. Research shows that visuals are a major component in maintaining our motivation. 

Where to Find Recipes 

Pinterest is a treasure trove of recipes ranging from those that require minimal effort to those worthy of Michelin-starred restaurants. It’s easy to become overwhelmed when you’re not used to cooking at home, but when you know what you’re looking for, it’s easy to simplify your search. 

Look for words like “fast,” and “easy,” in recipe headings, search for crockpot and instant pot meals that require minimal effort, and if you still feel unsure, go straight to Google. Searching for easy recipes for beginners will give you a place to start. 

Where to Buy Groceries 

Shopping at certain higher-end grocery chains can cost almost as much as eating out. Get more bang for your buck while eating at home by getting your groceries from a more affordable source. 

Chains like Aldi and Walmart make it easy to get the grocery items you need at far better prices than you’d find at bigger stores. But we’re not paying for the name on the box; we’re paying to eat well without breaking the bank. 

For bigger families, shopping at Costco, Sam’s Club, or other stores that offer groceries in bulk may offer the highest cost savings. You can easily compare by looking at the unit prices for the different items you buy regularly. 

How to Save Time on Busy Weeknights 

From hitting traffic on the way home to running errands and rotating activities, it can feel like weekdays are too busy to add homemade meals to the list. But we’ve got some hacks for that, too.

Save time on busy weeknights by meal prepping over the weekends or on lighter workdays, choosing dump-and-go crockpot meals or easy instant pot meals, and enlisting grocery hacks. One of our favorite grocery hacks is frozen pizzas. Frozen pizzas cost roughly five dollars, as opposed to the roughly $30 you’d spend ordering pizza for delivery. 

And while they may not always taste as good as your go-to order from your local pizza place, you can easily doctor them up with grated cheese, veggies, hot sauce, or anything else your taste buds desire. The savings is worth the tradeoff. 

And the next time you find room in your budget to order takeout, it’ll taste that much better!