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I constantly struggle between not having enough time to cook and not having enough money to eat fast food every day. I refuse to eat out often, especially since I am trying to become a healthier me in the midst of My Debt Free Journey. While trying to live a rice, beans, and ramen lifestyle, I am also trying to lose weight and get my butt back into shape. It hasn’t been easy, let me tell you.
Throughout my journey, I have found myself working out more (because it is something free to do). When I workout, I don’t want to eat fast food all of the time because it doesn’t make me feel great. I fuel my body with better foods when I can.
One of the best things I have done is cut down on fast food. The drive thru very rarely means anything healthy and it usually adds up fast. Every time I talk to someone who is struggling with their budget, it usually boils down to spending too much money eating out, when money should be going elsewhere. If you spend even $5 a day on miscellaneous food, you could unknowingly be spending over $1,800 a year on it. That isn’t including the actual times when you eat out for special occasions or with other people. According to Reference.com, Americans as a whole spend 384 million dollars a year on fast food alone. That seems absolutely outrageous!
Here are 13 Tips to Start Avoiding Fast Food Like the Plague.
Make the choice not to eat it
Being intentional about anything can help you reach any goal whether it is physical, financial, or mental. Deciding that you just aren’t going to eat fast food is a huge start to avoiding fast food. Instead of planning to eat out a few nights a week, making a plan to eat at home is the best first start to not eating out so much. Once I decided to be healthier, I found that it was much easier to not want to eat some of that crap. Especially when I started looking up calorie counts on a normal meal from McDonald’s. When you tell yourself that you have food at home, you will gain the willpower to say no.
Stock up on your favorite foods
It doesn’t matter if you are trying to eat healthy or you regularly eat like crap. I always suggest stocking up on some of your favorite “cheat” foods. Mac and cheese, chicken nuggets, a few easy frozen pizzas or whatever it may be. If you by your convenience food, you are way less likely to go get it from a restaurant. Also, if you have a few microwavable meal options, you are much less likely to order a pizza when you are hungry and don’t want to cook. It actually would take more time and effort to get take out than to throw something in the microwave. Check out this list of 6 Things To Keep at Home to Avoid Eating Out!
Prep Breakfast the night before!
This one is SOOO terribly important for me. If you prep your breakfasts for the entire week, there is ZERO reason to get breakfast on your way to work. In fact, if you already have breakfast in your fridge or freezer, it is MORE work to go get breakfast.
I have found some great freezer breakfast burritos that make the morning so simple. I throw all of the ingredients I want into a tortilla, wrap it in a paper towel, and throw all of them in a zip-lock bag. Usually I make at least enough to feed me for the week, sometimes more depending on my schedule. These are great because when I am ready to eat one, I can throw it in the microwave, add some salsa and out the door I go! Or I take it to work with me and eat it at my desk! It doesn’t get simpler than that!
Pinterest has a million “on the go” breakfast ideas, but the burritos are my favorite. Other ideas are oatmeal, breakfast bowls, and breakfast sandwiches.
Set your coffee maker the night before.
If you are a coffee addict like I am, prepping your coffee maker the night before makes it excuse proof. I have a Keurig, which I absolutely LOVE (Thanks Mom and Dad!). I add water to it and pick out my k-cup (or add coffee grounds to my plastic reusable “k-cup”) and place the coffee mug under the spout. In the morning, I turn it on and hit the brew button before I go to the bathroom for my morning routine. By the time I am done brushing my teeth and taking my vitamins, my coffee is ready to go!
Morning is usually the worst for me for food because if I don’t plan it out, I usually end up in a drive through for coffee and a breakfast sandwich. Prepping my coffee maker the night before makes it that much harder to say no to Starbucks when you are running late. Making this one of your daily money saving habits can be a HUGE money saver!
Sub Tip: Stock up on great creamers (or make your own)
I truly wish I liked black coffee, but I absolutely cannot stand it. I stock up on a few creamers to make my coffee a little more lovable. If you are a latte person, stop forcing yourself to drink black coffee if you are just going to buy a latte when you are out and about anyway. Learn to make a few great coffee recipes at home so you don’t feel like you are missing out.
I got two HUGE things of creamer from Sam’s Club for 6 bucks and it lasted me forever! I add a little French Vanilla or Caramel creamer to my morning coffee and it makes me feel like I am sitting in a coffee shop while I work on my blog in the mornings before work.
Learn to Cook
Pinterest is FULL of great “copycat” recipes. If you find that you are truly craving something, try learning to make it on your own. 9 times out of 10, it will probably be for a fraction of the price of going out. If it is calling for spices that you will never use again, consider just getting this one item from a restaurant instead. Spices get super expensive quick.
I have been learning to grill this summer and I have found myself eating at home so much more. It is so easy to throw something on the grill and walk away. I can get a few other small tasks done and then go back to my food!
Even if it starts off as perfecting spaghetti, everyone should have one meal that they can wow anyone with. Mine is homemade chicken fettuccine, but I don’t make it often because it is a little bit more work. I have made some homemade potpies, anything pasta related, and my go to salsa chicken. Learning to cook instead of going out for every meal can save you THOUSANDS of dollars a year.
Invest in a great crockpot or Insta-cooker. I absolutely love my crockpot (and crock pot bags).
Stop eating out alone.
This is seriously the hardest thing for me. Usually if I am eating out alone, it is because I completely failed to plan for a meal or my plan fell through (the food went bad and I didn’t notice until lunch time). When you eat alone, you are spending money that you would otherwise have to go out with friends when they invite you to go out!
If you can stop eating out alone, you can save your budgeted money for going out with friends, instead of turning them down. If you can stop driving through to get lunch, you will probably cut $100-300 in no time! I love when I actually meal prep for myself and find that I have so much more money to get food.
Don’t take your wallet to work
This is probably the thing that has changed my eating the most. When I stopped bringing my wallet with me to work, I stopped giving in to eating lunches out with everyone. I can no longer abandon my food for fast food because I don’t have any source of money one me. I bring my ID and I keep change for parking meters if I need to run errands.
I started packing a few snacks for the day. I usually have one mid-morning, mid-afternoon, and then a few hours before bed time. The better I do with my snacking, the better decisions I make when it comes to actually eating meals. I actually have less food cravings throughout the day if I am making sure I am getting enough food.
Granola bars, almonds, cheese and crackers, cottage cheese, and fruit are my main go to snacks because they are pretty portable. If I have snacks right before my drive home, I am less likely to swing through somewhere and it buys me a little time to get home and make something instead.
Take note of when and where you are eating out the most.
Notice if you are eating out on the same day of every week for the same meal. If every Wednesday you find yourself eating out because you just don’t have enough time in between commitments, start planning. Pack a PB&J or something easy for on the go. Meals do not have to be super complicated, but if you don’t plan for the simple ones, it can add up quickly. Packing a PB&J when you are on the go can save you $8-$12 for every single sandwich you eat instead of getting food! That could add up quick!
For me, I know it is weekday breakfasts and Sunday lunches. If I don’t plan, I don’t have the motivation to make anything sometimes or I wake up late. I’m not perfect. Sunday lunches are usually when I plan on eating out because I go after church (when I go).
Meal Prep and Leftovers
I understand that some people have more of a problem with this than others, but I try to cook for a 4-6 days at a time. I will make two or three different meals and portion it out. This makes it almost impossible to not bring my lunch to work or to pick up food on the way home. If I know I just need to microwave something when I get home from a long day at work, I am way more likely to actually eat whatever I have made. Usually they are super simple.
My meal prepping for 5 breakfasts, 6 meals, and 4 snacks takes me about 1 hour to get it all cooked, weighed, and put away. I use a food scale to portion out my food. I got my food scale on Amazon for less than $15 and it has been a lifesaver for eating just a little healthier and getting the best portion sizes.
Take a different route home
This one can be a little more extreme because it may take more time or more gas. I started taking a route home from work that doesn’t have any restaurants on the route. There is a Walgreen’s and a gas station, but otherwise it is all residential areas. My old route home included Raising Cane’s, Pepperjack’s Grill, McDonald’s, Taco Johns, and a whole bunch more. That is without counting the 4 grocery stores and 3 clothing stores.
By choosing to take a little bit longer, but less traveled road home, you can save yourself a ton of money throughout your working years. I started taking a different route home and it is now an inconvenience to have to pick something up on my way home because there is hardly anything around.
This is something I recently figured out! Wal-Mart lets you order your groceries online and then pick them up at the store! It is my new favorite. When order them online, you set a time window to pick up up your groceries. This works so great for me because I can schedule to pick them up in between my two jobs! Once they are ordered, you can download the Wal-mart grocery app. When your window opens, you will be able to “check in” with the app. This lets the employees know that you are on the way and lets them know when you get there. They bring out your groceries and you are done!
I haven’t found something so efficient in forever. The only time I really have to go grocery shopping is on Sunday afternoons and I absolutely hate going to the store then! It is always so crazy busy with everyone else trying to get their groceries. With the new pickup, I don’t even have to go into the store, so I don’t have to worry about dealing with other people after a long week! There is also no impulse buying because it is already set up and ready to go with what I choose online!
If you use this referral link you get $10 off $50 on your first pickup order! I will probably never go grocery shopping on a regular basis again!
Let yourself eat out.
Don’t deny yourself all together. If you truly want something from a specific restaurant, get it. Eating out once a week probably isn’t going to kill your budget completely, but you have to plan for it instead of expecting to just find the money. Know what you want to eat regularly and don’t waste your money on foods that are just “okay.”
Splurge every once in a while and don’t worry about the rest. You will figure it out the more you budget. When you eat out, plan to eat something you can’t really make at home.
Overall, you can apply all of these tips, but you will be miserable if you aren’t ultimately happy with your choice to cut it out. Let yourself enjoy life every once in a while and don’t be completely miserable. If you planned/budget for it, don’t be upset about it.