Let's not beat around the bush. Eating out is eating up your future. It's gobbling down your present and keeping you stuck in the past. That heavy debt you're hauling around didn't happen while you were asleep. Chances are pretty good you're eating your way into debt.
Breaking the eating-out habit isn't easy to do, but it can be done. What it takes is motivation, determination and perseverance.
Let this exercise act as a quick-start motivator: For one week, track your spending on every form of eating out including coffee, donuts, restaurants, cafes, diners, street vendors, food trucks, fast food ... all of it.
Once you have that number, multiply by 52. But wait; there's more. Estimate the cost of all of the food that you throw in the garbage every week because you buy it and then eat out instead. You may be looking at the reason you aren't saving for retirement, aren't building an emergency fund or are stuck in debt.
I don't want to get too graphic here describing a negative motivation that might persuade you to eat at home more often, so let me allow the CDC to do that: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 1 in 5 restaurant workers admit to having come to work while sick with diarrhea and vomiting — two main symptoms of the stubborn norovirus.
The problem lies with these sick workers who take a bathroom break, do not wash their hands with soap and then return to prepare and serve our food. Not only is it expensive to eat out but your chances of getting sick are also increasing.
The best way to break the eating-out habit is to never let yourself get too hungry. This is the big one for me. If I have not planned ahead and then crossed the line into emergency territory where I must eat right that minute, I'm doomed. I can't think straight. I need food, and I need it now.
Create menus. Prepare lunches. Post a dinner meal schedule on the fridge. When everyone in the family knows what's coming up for the next meal, you'll stop defaulting to McDonald's so often.
Anyone can learn how to make tasty meals. It requires commitment, good recipes, fresh ingredients and practice. There is no shortage of teachers and training on the internet. Check Food.com and Allrecipes.com for videos, recipes and tutorials. If you're a fan of Asian fast food, as I am, check out RecipeTinEats.com. Food blogger Nagi will teach you how to make the most amazing fast meals with everyday ingredients.
KEEP IT SPECIAL
Make eating out rare — something you choose to do on important occasions. Mark it on the calendar so you can look forward to it as a special treat. Anticipate. Celebrate. Choose a cuisine that you cannot make yourself and you'll enjoy it even more.
If eating out has become part of the fabric of your life, you're not alone. And it's not likely you can break the habit overnight. But you can get started. One step after another, if you just keep moving in the right direction, even the baby steps will count. Soon you'll notice a significant change, and your bottom line will be better for it.
Mary invites questions, comments and tips at EverydayCheapskate.com, "Ask Mary a Question." This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of Debt-Proof Living, a personal finance member website and the author of the book Debt-Proof Living, Revell 2014. To find out more about Mary visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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