At this time of year, there are usually three things people are panicking about: how to lose weight, how to save money, and how to get organized. We have already touched on losing weight so this week I would like to touch on saving money.
Hopefully most of you realize that you can get into deep debt if you buy a house or a car you can’t afford. That seems to be pretty obvious, although a lot of people do it anyway. But that is not what I want to deal with today. The Bible talks about the little foxes that spoil the vine. What that is talking about is the little things that sneak into our lives without us realizing it. They start picking away at the vines in our lives until it destroys us. One of those “little foxes” is eating out.
Eating out is among the top causes of personal debt. Most of us hunt for the best interest rates on our mortgages and we complain about the terrible price of gas the entire time we are pumping it.
Interestingly enough though, I have yet to hear one person groan about the awful prices they had to pay for lunch today or tell how they were “duped” into having to pay such high prices at their favorite restaurant. I mean really, the government should step in and make all restaurants take steak off of their menus so I won’t be tempted to order it.
Then there are those fast food places. They shouldn’t be allowed to build so close to the road and make it so convenient for me to drive in there each day. They have a lot of nerve expecting me to be a responsible adult who knows what I can or can’t afford and should or shouldn’t do.
(I had better behave, But I do feel so much better for getting that off of my chest.)
Anyway where was I? Oh, yes — saving money and eating out. I know most of the excuses we use to justify eating out when it doesn’t really fit in the budget: “I don’t have time”, “I’m too busy”, “I don’t know how to cook”, and last but not least, “it’s so much easier to eat out”.
I totally understand. I too don’t have time to do things. I don’t have time to take care of my yard, so I will hire a crew of gardeners to do it. I too don’t have time to clean my house so I will have a housekeeper come in every day and do it for me. I don’t know how to cook so I need a chef (the best French one, of course) nand it is so much easier to hit my garage sales if I am chauffeur driven.
Obviously my examples are tongue in cheek but, as ridiculous as that all sounds, that really is what a lot of us are doing. In the same way that I can’t afford a gardener, housekeeper or chauffeur and I would be pretty foolish to go hire them, many of us can’t afford to go out to eat but do it anyway. I don’t think most people really realize how much they spend eating out each month and would be shocked to find that they could probably hire a housekeeper or a gardener for that same amount.
Take one week and write down how much you spend eating out. That includes all those coffees, soft drinks, things from the vending machines and snacks you buy throughout the day. Be sure to write down the amount of anything that goes into you and your family’s
mouths for an average week. I’m afraid you may be unpleasantly surprised. Multiply it by 4 to get a monthly estimate and I think you would be just plain shocked.
I’m beginning to wonder if another reason we eat out so much is that it has just become a habit. Like many bad habits, we get so comfortable with them that we don’t want to change them. Even when we know that a habit is destructive to us (physically, financially and even emotionally), we still do it.
Some of us look down our noses at other people with “bad habits” like drug addicts and alcoholics and can’t understand why they don’t just kick their habits. “Don’t they see what they are doing to their families????”
What is the difference between other people’s destructive habits and our repeatedly going out to eat and charging it? We know the food isn’t as good for our families, we know we don’t have the money to pay for it, and we know on bill paying day we will be so stressed that we will take it out on everyone around us. We so proudly display our bumper stickers that say “Say no to drugs.” but how many of us could proudly display a bumper sticker that says “Say no to debt, I’m debt free”.
(Please do not e-mail me about drug addicts and alcoholics. If you do, you are missing the point of the article and are only making it more clear to me that you are not willing to own up to or face the real issue –your debt.)
I know those words may sound harsh to some, but if you have seen and dealt with as many families as I have, whose homes have been or are being destroyed because of financial irresponsibility, you would understand why I can’t always sugar coat things. We sink into
a fog of apathy, hopelessness and discouragement and just give up trying. I really want you to understand you can fix your finances, but it will take a little bit of work and effort on your part. Don’t just throw up your hands and give up.
There is a story in the Bible (John 5) that tells about a man who couldn’t walk. He had laid by a healing pool for 38 years. If he could dip in the pool when the water stirred, he would be healed. Jesus asks him what he is doing there and he says “Well, I just don’t have anyone who will carry me and put me in the pool” (Poor little old me.) Jesus then asks him, “Do you really want to get healed?” This might seem to us a strange question but, as I once heard a woman speaker point out, if he really wanted to get healed wouldn’t he have tried some way to inch his way over to that pool even if he could only make it a half an inch a day no matter how hard it was?
Maybe Jesus asked this question because He too thought here is a man, like so many do these days, making excuses, being a victim and waiting for someone else to fix his problem for him. What did Jesus tell him to do? GET UP! (stand on your own two feet), TAKE UP YOUR BED (start being responsible for your own things), and WALK (become active in solving your own problems which may mean physical labor, or doing without somethings).
You need to be like the lame man and GET UP, TAKE UP YOUR BED and WALK. If you know you are going out to eat too much then stop saying you’re a victim of “these hard economic times”. Be responsible for the “bed” (or the debts that you have now) and actively start doing something about it today. It isn’t as hard as you think. I can take every excuse for eating out that I mentioned above and prove that they’re not really valid.
“I don’t have time.” For the amount of time it takes you to drive to some place, wait for them to take your order and then wait for them to prepare your order, I can give you 10 menus or more that would take less time for you to prepare at home.
“I’m too busy.” If you are too busy to take time to feed your family, something that is a necessity of life, then you are too busy. I have very rarely heard anyone say that they are too busy to get their hair done, go shopping, go to sports activities, talk on the phone or spend time on the computer. You really can find the time.
If I sound like I don’t have patience with that excuse, it’s because I don’t. I was a single mom with 2 teens, working 60 -70 hours a week, doing all my own yard work, home repairs, and on and on and guess what? Except when I was ill, I always found time to make breakfast and dinner.
“I don’t know how to cook.” So learn. Start simple. Even my 9 year old grandson can boil himself a hot dog. You don’t have to produce a gourmet meal to make your family happy and in most cases they would prefer you didn’t. There are simple enough instructions on the back of a package of spaghetti noodles that, once again, even a child can read and follow. Warm up a jar of sauce and dinner is served. You now have two main dishes that take less than 10 minutes to prepare.
I understand that man can’t live on hot dogs alone (although I think kids can), but don’t worry — after a week or two of simple dishes, you can move on to more complicated things like frozen French fries and frying hamburgers 😉 Plus if you really get stuck, I just happen to know of this really good cookbook called Dining on A Dime that can help you. 😉
“It’s so much easier.” I guess that depends on your definition of easy. To me, going to a restaurant, sitting and listening to loud music for 30 minutes with fussy, hungry, complaining kids is not my idea of fun. Going to a drive-thru is, at times, not much better. Lately it seems as if the line of cars wraps around the whole building at every fast food joint that I drive by. I was amazed to see every restaurant’s parking lot jam packed two days after Christmas. (Must be that all those people who couldn’t afford Christmas had gotten a windfall.) Sorry, once again I digress.
You may say “The restaurant where I go isn’t that bad.” but my point is that everything has it’s drawbacks, whether you stay at home to eat or go out to eat. It’s just a matter of what you make up your mind to put up with. Do you want the pain of cooking or the pain of not knowing how to pay your bills.
If you are in debt, it would be wise to start putting up with a few of the drawbacks that come with eating at home. Besides, if you are really serious about saving money, there are ways to make cooking at home much easier.
1. You can use convenience foods. There is nothing wrong with buying things like French bread, canned biscuits or bagged salad. Line the pans you use with foil, or use disposable pans. It’s cheaper in the long run to use these than going out to eat.
2. Clean up as you cook. This is very important because I notice a lot of people make a bigger mess than necessary when they cook.
* Instead of messing up the whole stove by repeatedly laying a sticky spoon on it, use a spoon holder or cup. It is a simple thing that makes clean up so much easier.
* Keep some hot soapy water in the sink while you are cooking and wash things as you finish with them.
* Don’t set that carton of milk down on the counter after you pour it. While it’s still in your hand, put it back in the fridge.
* Keep the number of utensils you use to a minimum. You don’t need to put a lid on a pot every time you cook something.
3. Don’t always think gourmet. Most families are so excited to get a homemade meal that they don’t care what you serve them. Besides, almost any meal can be made to look “gourmet”. Fruit sliced and arranged nicely on a plate, muffins keeping warm and nestled in a napkin inside a basket or mashed potatoes piled high with a chunk of golden butter melting down the sides all have eye appeal. All right — I made myself hungry! Maybe it’s time to quit for lunch.
4. Clean up is one of the main reasons people hate to eat at home, but if you clean as you go like I mentioned earlier and everyone pitches in to help clean up after dinner, it should only take about 15 minutes to get it all put away.* It would take longer than that to drive to a fast food place and return home.
5. Pull out those crockpots. It takes about 5 minutes to throw in a roast, potatoes and carrots. It takes the same amount of time to throw in the ingredients for chili, stew or vegetable soup.
6. If you are dragging the kids to an after school game: Instead of going to a fast food drive in, throw some hot dogs in a thermos and cover with boiling water. They will be cooked and ready to eat by the time you get there. How long does it really take to grab a few pieces of fruit, a bag of cleaned veggies and some chips to go with them? Maybe 2 minutes? How hard is that to cook?
You could also have sloppy joes simmering in a crockpot and pour those into the thermos for an on the run meal. To make it even easier, heat it up from a jar and then pour it in the thermos.
I don’t know who set the standard that cooking a meal in 30 minutes is fast. If I took that long to cook a meal every night I would never get anything done. There are tons of meals out there that require 15 minutes or less prep time.
If you don’t know where to start, then drag out your Dining On A Dime cookbook or check out the Grocery Shopping On A Budget e-books. We share lots of ideas there to get you started. Sometimes we like to make things more complicated than they really are because that gives us a good excuse not to do them. Where there is a will there is a way. Do you really want to get out of debt? Then GET UP, STOP CHARGING, and GET COOKING!
Jill Cooper and Tawra Kellam are frugal living experts and the authors of the Dining On A Dime Cookbook. Dining On A Dime will help you save money on groceries and get out of debt, by cooking quick and simple homemade meals. For free tips & recipes visit: http://www.LivingOnADime.com.