As you may have read in my orginial status report, I like keeping this blog updated with the amounts I spend on various things. Here’s my February check-up. Last month, I spent:
- $600 on Rent
- $160 on Groceries – pretty standard
- $200 on Restaurants – Oops, this is a little high
- $46 on Car-related expenses – Gas and parking for class
- $78 on Shopping – needed a pair of jeans, some miscellaneous items
- $29 on Bills – Didn’t pay electric or water yet for Feb. usage
For someone who claims to be frugal, $200 is a lot to spend on restaurants in just one month. My excuse is that I went back to my alma mater to visit friends, and being away from home really messed up my usual routine. This is definitely one area in which I need to do some damage control in March, and a challenging aspect of the budget for many people, especially young people. You want to be able to go out with your friends (or maybe you just don’t want to cook), but the costs add up pretty quick.
How do you get a handle on restaurant spending? Keep reading for my suggestions.
Learn a Cooking Method You Can Sustain
My mother, wonderful woman that she is, was never a fantastic cook–and never wanted to be. She wasn’t interested in anything that took longer than twenty minutes to prepare. My dad liked to cook, but since my mom didn’t work that household responsibility generally fell on her shoulders. Despite her dislike for the hobby, she managed to have home-cooked food on the table for the majority of my childhood–we very rarely ate out except for birthdays. If she could do it, so can you! Here are some of her strategies:
- Embrace the Microwave: it is an amazing tool that will take your food from cold to hot in the shortest possible amount of time. Pick up a microwave cookbook from Amazon and get started!
- Learn some simple recipes and repeat them on a loop. Trying to get creative when something is a chore to you isn’t always easy. Need ideas? Check out /r/eatcheapandhealthy or Google around for easy college-student recipes. Easy stuff: pasta, casseroles, basic stir fry, soup, sandwiches, grilled cheese, and fried or boiled eggs with a little salt and paprika for flavor.
- Cook multiple servings in one go. Over the summer at one of my internships, I would cook all my food for the week on Sunday, stick it in some tupperware, and heat it in the microwave when it was time to eat.
- Whether it’s weekly or daily, get cooking on your schedule. If you know 6pm is dinner-cooking time, you’ll be less likely to skip it.
- Get in the habit of bringing your lunch. You can do the “cook it all on Sunday” strategy from #3 if you’d prefer something warm, or a simple lunch meat sandwich is a pretty great staple.
Reduce Social Dependence on Restaurants and Bars
Even if they love to cook, many people still go out frequently in order to spend time with coworkers and friends. Now, that’s not all bad, but it can sometimes get out of hand. If you find yourself eating out too much at the behest of those around you, try these tips:
- Try inviting people over to your place for dinner or drinks. If you aren’t much of a chef or bartender, that’s ok! Even the worst among us can put a frozen pizza in the oven, or if you think that’s a little too low-class, you can look up some easy recipes. My go-to is pasta: boiling water is not hard, and neither is heating a bottle of pasta sauce, and you can make a lot with very little effort. Enchiladas are pretty good for this, too! If you want to provide alcohol, simple drinks like beer, or rum and coke will keep it easy. You can even convince your friends to do things potluck-style, where everyone brings something to share. Providing some kind of entertainment can help keep things unintimidating for your guests–maybe center the event around the premiere of Game of Thrones, or watch a classic movie that all will enjoy? Board games work well, too.
- If it’s your romantic interest you’re spending so much money on, there are also a few options. You can try a picnic at a public park, or invite them to the awesome dinner you’re hosting.
- If lunch out during the workday is your problem, start bringing your lunch, and convince your favorite coworker to do the same. Go sit in the breakroom together and eat instead of going to a restaurant. Or, if your coworker can’t be convinced to pack anything, convince them to go pick up their lunch and bring it back to the office to eat together.
- Continuing the workday lunch idea, you might want to pick one day a week where you do go out to eat. My group always goes out on Fridays, and even though I pack my lunch the rest of the week, I let myself go out that day so that I don’t miss being able to socialize with those who truly refuse to eat at work.
Good luck reducing your restaurant spending! Here’s hoping for fewer meals out in March.