One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to save more money (and pay off debt). For us, this pursuit began in August rather than January. Calculating how much you spend in a give month on eating out is a really beneficial exercise if this is a goal for you as well. That’s exactly what we did when we made the decision to get serious about our finances.
We didn’t eat out often as a family, but my husband did regularly for lunch. It was shocking to find that he was spending over $200 a month on lunches out during the work week. If you think of that in annual terms, that’s $2600 a year! This is a significant amount that could be put towards debt or savings! It’s helpful to me to think in terms of tradeoffs: either I can eat crappy take out food or I can take that trip…
We decided to reevaluate our dinner meal planning. What could we make for dinner that would warm up well for lunch or be frozen for later? Making better use of leftovers serves three purposes: money saved on lunches, healthier diet, and using up all leftovers to stretch our grocery budget.
That is exactly what we did and I’m happy to report that 5 months later, there is virtually no eating out. Only special occasions escape this ban for now. If you cook nice meals at home, you won’t be so tempted to eat out and when you do, it will feel like such a treat!
Packed Lunches Are Tastier Than You Think
If you think about food quality, there is no question that preparing meals at home is the better option. You are bound to eat far less salt, fat, and preservatives if you cook for yourself, not to mention more fresh fruits and veggies. Luckily, I love to cook, so I was up for the challenge. I have to admit that I was enticed by how much money we could save too (It’s turned into a game for me). If you don’t like to cook, all is not lost. There are tons of crock pot recipes, freezer meals, and one pot dishes that can help you cook more at home.
Packing a lunch doesn’t sentence you to soggy sandwiches or banana-flavored chips; we aren’t in first grade anymore! Invest in a good thermos like this one I have (in pink!) and take warm, savory soups or a satisfying pasta. These kinds of lunches will set you up for success because you’ll actually want to eat them.
The initial investment in a thermos, lunchbox or insulated coffee mug will quickly pay for themselves. I have been using my thermos for ten years. Thanks to careful hand washing, it still looks brand new and I love it!
I tend to do easier meals during the week when we’re busier. On the weekends, I aim for a couple of nicer meals that take more time and sometimes cost a little more (they’re still cheaper than eating out). The weather this weekend was pretty nasty anyway, so it gave us something to do. Sunday night, the hubby and I cooked together, which is something we both enjoy, time allowing. We made chicken kabobs, saffron rice, greek salad and homemade hummus. This dinner was delicious and it provided tons of leftovers that are going to be very tasty indeed!
Planning ahead for meals saves time and money, both when shopping and cooking. We made the marinade for the chicken, cut up the veggies and put dry chickpeas in the crock pot to cook overnight. Starting with dry beans is a super cheap way to save money. Plus – they’re lower in salt too! Doing all this took a few minutes after dinner Saturday night when we were already in the kitchen.
On Sunday morning, I turned off the chickpeas and put the chicken into the marinade. Our prep work meant dinner came together quickly and we had no problem getting things done in time.
Monday’s lunches are ready to go with the leftovers from our dinner. I am going to be one happy girl when I get to munch on sliced red and yellow peppers dipped in hummus! By the way, if you freeze hummus in individual portions, it tastes exactly the same when it thaws! Do yourself a favor – freeze some for later! Here is the recipe I used. It’s so good!
What easy dinner ideas have you come up with? I’d love to hear!