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The 30-day no-restaurant challenge

Our savings were significant, and we also learned some interesting things about ourselves.

By MSN Money Partner Dec 5, 2011 9:56AM

This post by Michelle originally appeared as a reader story at partner blog Get Rich Slowly.


My family just finished a month-long hiatus from eating in restaurants. The idea for this adventure sprang from some budget-busting car repairs combined with an acknowledgement that we're getting a little lazy about our food choices.


We have a history of eating out too much. When it was just me and my husband, we ate out a lot because we don't like to cook and we could afford it. After we had kids, though, this problem rectified itself for a while because:

  • We had less money.
  • It's really not very much fun to eat in a restaurant with toddlers.

But now that my kids are older and can sit still long enough for a waiter to serve a meal, we've gotten lazy. At the end of a long day, it's easier and more fun to say "Let's go to Red Robin" instead of "Let's go figure out what hasn't expired yet in the refrigerator."


So we decided to test ourselves with the "no eating out" rule for 30 days. There were a few exceptions. When my husband was on travel on the East Coast, he had a pass, of course. Plus we decided that Dutch Bros. coffee does not count as eating out, because you are technically just drinking. (But we did limit coffee-drinking excursions to two per week, with bonus points for going less than that.)


It was harder than we thought it would be. Post continues below.

We discovered, however, that the benefits were more than financial. Here's a few other things we learned during this experiment:

  • We can cook. Sometimes we don't want to cook. But both parents in this household are perfectly capable of making a decent meal. We traded off -- I cooked on even days, hubby cooked on odd days. It helped us both expand our cooking skills.
  • Our kids will eat our cooking. Most of the time, anyway. Things our kids have eaten and enjoyed, much to our surprise: fajitas, my husband's chicken and rice concoction, Hawaiian pizza and pork chops. Not every meal was a success. But our kids can enjoy food that doesn't start with the letter "p": pasta, pizza and peanut butter.
  • We ate out a lot because we were bored. Mixing it up by trying new recipes really made a difference. Hubby made a lovely roast dinner one night. I had a successful French onion soup. Plus, I dusted off the cookbooks to find new recipes involving baked chicken to curb my appetite for a similar dish at one of our favorite restaurants.
  • We have a lot of food in this house. This experiment enabled us to use up things that normally would have gone bad before we got to them. I used up leftover cheese and potatoes that normally would sit and get moldy. I also made my kids eat the cereal we had left in the cupboard, instead of rushing out to replace the empty box of Rice Krispies.
  • Leftovers aren't so bad. My husband repeatedly has stated his dislike for leftovers over the 20-plus years I've known him. Turns out, leftovers can be tasty when it's your night to cook. I also started a new tradition of Leftover Night, where we empty out the fridge and everyone chooses the leftovers they want to heat up for dinner.
  • If you cut down on your eating-out budget, you can buy more interesting things at the grocery store. I have my eye on some (normally budget-busting) scallops for next month. Yet I can still feed four of us a scallop dinner at home for less than a casual meal at our favorite family restaurant.

What's next? We're extending our 30-day no eating out trial for another month. No one was more surprised than we were. But the numbers don't lie. The money we saved was significant. Plus the fringe benefits to our family are simply priceless.


More on Get Rich Slowly and MSN Money:

Dec 5, 2011 3:53PM

We've given up eating out, not only because of the cost, but for health reasons.  We learned over the years that the main "tasty" thing at most restaurants is... surprise.... lots of grease, and sugar.


We can cook more healthy meals at home.  We have a wonderful, large Chinese recipes cookbook, and the thing you learn about the history of Chinese cooking is that, to put it simply, meat is added mostly for flavoring, not as the substantial part of the meal.


While we're not vegetarian, we've found a diet composed much more of fresh fruits and vegetables, and dishes based more on vegetables and healthy grains with meat just for flavoring, has done wonders for our health, our mood, our ability to taste subtleties in cuisine.... and the fat contribution to the pocketbook is just a nice after-effect after all that.


So yes! Give up on restaurants; they're bad for your health, first, and they're hugely overpriced for what they offer, second.  What you have to pay, for instance, to get a really good steak at a really good steak-house is astronomical; you can get far better cuts yourself, cook them perfectly, and enjoy them without waiters hovering over you and the rudeness/noise/distr​action of other customers around you. :)

Dec 5, 2011 4:10PM
My husband and I are increasingly aware that the food at many chain restaurants, in a word, sucks.  After going on a reduced salt and fat diet, we found out that not only did the food taste better, we weren't spending money on bottles of antacids like we were doing before the diet.  Also, the size of the portions at restaurants is way too large for one single person, but if you purchase only one meal to split between each of you, the establishment doesn't exactly throw good vibes your way.  We've decided that it's really fun to make a salad and soup with an inexpensive bottle of wine of our choosing.  It's more than enough for dinner and we didn't have to buy a glass of house wine for the same price we got the entire bottle for. 
Dec 5, 2011 3:44PM
My wife and I go out to eat about once a week.  Any more than that and we know we are being lazy.  Not only is eating out financially wasteful, the food we make at home tastes better.  All you have to do is learn a little bit about cooking. 

And how can anyone not like leftovers?  Obviously, leftover KFC is disgusting (it's gross when it's fresh).  A lot of home cooked food though actually tastes better the next day. 

As far as costs go, you can grill up some very nice steaks at home for what it costs to go to Applebee's for burgers and beer.  You can also grill up your own burgers.  They will taste better and cost a lot less. 
Dec 9, 2011 11:31PM
I agee with eating in to save money and eating out,, but maybe the most important aspect is that a family is eating together, whether it be at the dinner table or at a restaurant.  Remember those days when a family always ate together, went over the day's events, discussed problems, etc.... Maybe if we got back to that, then our country would have a foundation to build itself back from the disarray it is in now.  Just an opinion
Dec 9, 2011 8:45PM

Just remember... that little mom-n-pop eatery down the block is very dependent upon your patronage.


I would suggest you stop going to Mickey-D's and Flannigans and Chili's and so many other chain restaurants (altogether), and go just twice per month to your favorite mom-n-pop eatery. Make it your regular place, develop a relationship with those folks. You will be surprised at the return you receive (off-menu specials, complimentary deserts, etc).


There are many ways to save money, and we should just as conscious about where we spend as what (how much) we spend.



Dec 9, 2011 7:01PM
This article and comments are just unbelievable to me.  My wife and I go out to eat on Valentine's Day, our birthdays, and our anniversary.  That's it, and has been for the 10 years of our marriage.  We take a travel mug from home for coffee and we pack a sandwich and yogurt for lunch every day.
   Are you people all that rich?!?!?  I didn't feel poor till reading this article and the comments!
Dec 5, 2011 7:06PM

I don't know how people can stand to eat out so often.  I like to go once or twice a month and otherwise I want to make my own food and really get to enjoy cooking.  There is nothing more relaxing then putting on my favorite show in the background, strapping on an apron and enjoying a glass of wine while throwing together something that everyone loves.  My food is healthier and less fattening then anything on a restaurant menu and I know what I'm putting in the food.  I don't get MSG bloat or some science lab experiment that looks like food but leaves a chemical afterburn. 

Dec 5, 2011 8:21PM
My husband and I, on our grocery shopping day, will make a menu with 12-14 dishes on it. We take them from various cookbooks, internet sites, etc. We make sure they are fairly easy and make a  grocery list based on the menu. The menu is great as it takes away the "what's for dinner" conversation and prevents  chaotic spending at the grocery store. We can also prepare enough for him to take his lunch to work the next day. Not to say we don't hit up a coffee house or fish fry from time to time, but this is always better financially and tastier as well.
Dec 5, 2011 7:46PM
All I can say is if you have a choice of eating out or in, you just aren't that broke yet!  We have finally started a new job but the transition and moving expenses have us very broke.  Eating out just is not an option yet.  Cooking has always been our love and finding new ways to put together our meals is fun!
Dec 6, 2011 1:55PM
Dec 9, 2011 9:25PM
My husband & I are both great cooks!  I cook during the week and he cooks on week-ends. We rarely eat out unless we have gift cards. Our wedding anniversary is Dec 15th and we have gift cards for Bone Fish Grill.  Cook at home folks!  Steaks on the grill are 1/4 the price of a restaurant!  Learn to cook!  Lots of easy cookbooks out there.  I really feel sad for the husband and wife who are bored with each other.  Spice it up!  Good luck! 
Dec 6, 2011 7:26PM
i cooked my way thru college.  organization plays a big key in being able to cook easy and fast.  Keep it simple!   weekdays i do fast meals, pasta, browned hamburger, quick chicken.  weekends for smoker bar-b-q, roasts, more exotic meals.  i hate eating food at restaurants that are not as good as what i can do at home. 
Dec 5, 2011 9:23PM

good idea, keep them kids at home and out of restaurants.

Dec 6, 2011 6:27AM
good idea, keep them kids at home and out of restaurants.


I'm all for that. We didn't eat out at all when the kids were young . Thankfully they were well behaved once we started

Dec 5, 2011 5:42PM

Kept track of eating out one month awhile back for our family of 4. --Found out we spent over $400 that month. Cut back to 2 times a week and now have more money at the end of the month. This was at sit down restaurants mostly so tips are included

Dec 5, 2011 5:48PM
Dec 6, 2011 1:54PM

Unless you find roaches reaching for the Alka Seltzer between dirty dishes after you or your spouse cooks, eating at home is the healthier and more econimical choice.  I think eating out should be a form of entertainment or a way to experience new foods to try cooking at home for those who know how to cook.   Feel free to disagree, I am just offering my opinion, not judgement.

Dec 5, 2011 5:57PM
Um, we never eat out.  We don't even order pizza.  It saves big bucks, but it's a no-brainer.
Dec 5, 2011 8:03PM
I must admit that the way my ex-wife cooked eating out was for survival- she even burned soup! She used the smoke alarm as a timer.
Dec 5, 2011 8:27PM
First off, no one is going to care about this article.  If they want to go out to eat, they will.  I have no problem with it because I can't afford to go out to eat.  Only on very special occasions.  If you can afford it or even if you can't, I say go enjoy yourself.  I can sew pretty good and I'm a damn good cook and I don't have to leave myself a tip or worry about too many cocktails afterwards.  PARTY.  WooooHooooo.  Happy Holidays.
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