Food Spending

I have tried several food/cost projects over the course of my adult life.

During my last few semesters of college, I had some spare money from my internship earnings, so I decided to spend more money than I had previously let myself on food. I learned that if I went home to eat dinner, I would end up going goofing off on the computer and not getting as much work done, whereas if I went out for dinner and went back to work, I was significantly more productive. I set a budget of about $500/month for food, buying more time with money. This was awesome and definitely left me far less stressed out.

My first autumn working full-time, I tried to make my lunches and take them to work, often using leftovers for lunch. What I found was that I ended up eating dinner out instead of eating lunch out, which was far more costly and took a lot more time than eating leftovers for dinner. I also ate sandwiches for lunch, but I found that with it just being me eating the meat, cheese, and bread, I was eating sandwiches with stale bread after the first week, still with a half loaf of bread. This reinforced my lunch spending plan.

I’ve learned in the last couple of years that one of my biggest de-motivators to getting anything done is being hungry. I almost always leave work when I’m hungry, so if I don’t have dinner prepped already, I tend to get sad pretty quickly and not do much in the evening. There are several solutions I’ve tried to this problem:

  1. Having dinner prepared that I just have to heat up and I’m ready to eat.
  2. Eating dinner out by myself (cost $7-20)
  3. Eating dinner out with coworkers (cost $20-40)

In January, before I moved, I was trying out option #1. I would cook a lot of food on Sunday night, which gave me leftovers for each night during the week. This was AWESOME. The problem? It requires me to be in town on Sunday afternoon/evening to cook dinner. The cost of cooking 6 nights of food on Sunday? Probably about $20.

Another problem is that my schedule has been unpredictable enough that I’ve ended up wasting quite a bit of food in the last few weeks.

I’m not really sure what to do about this. During moving, sucking it up and just spending the extra money on eating out was certainly far less stressful. I need to stop that at some point though because spending $38 on dinner is really not a priority for me. Sure, I enjoy spending the time hanging out on friends, but I don’t need to do that 3-5 nights per week like I have been.

My April calendar looks a lot less hectic than January, February, and March were, so I’m planning on resetting my routine to a clean slate. I think I’m going to not stress about my food spending for the rest of March, but I need a plan to fix this in April. I am going to work making dinner into my new routine.

But now, it’s the weekend and yet again, I have plans with friends. I hope that everyone has a wonderful weekend!

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18 thoughts on “Food Spending

  1. Try They email me a coupon every day, and it’s always to a local restaurant/business. Most of the restaurant ones are like “Spend $12.50 for $25 worth of food.” We’ve bought a few of them and it usually saves us about 50% of our bills when we eat out.

    • That is a great idea, but I found in practice that the restaurants are completely out of my way which is not the reason I am going out for dinner in the first place. I’ve picked them up on occasion for places that I would go anyways though.

      (First-time commenters can’t post links. You should be fine now.)

    • I used to freeze bread for sandwiches, but it never tasted very good after going into the freezer.

      I should definitely be freezing my leftovers though. I might need more Tupperware to do it in individual portions.

      I think for the vegetables problem, I need to just walk the way home that passes a grocery store (yay for moving) and pick some up each day.

  2. I’m not sure what type of food you eat, but it sounds like you could benefit from having some easier stuff around to have for dinner at home that doesn’t require a lot of prep but you like enough to go home and eat it rather than being tempted to eat out all the time, even if it’s more expensive than the $20 per week dinners you sometimes do. I live alone and although I like cooking, I don’t often feel like spending a ton of time doing it weeknights for just one person. For me, I try to keep around some tastier prepared meals, such as the Bertinelli’s pasta meals. They’re not super cheap (maybe $8 apiece), but pretty much taste like restaurant-quality pasta Italian dishes – they come in a two-serving bag and you cook everything in a skillet on your stove. If I want to make them healthier or tastier, I can chop up extra veggies and throw them in there, or sometimes I add extra cheese. It’s much better than a frozen dinner, and they also heat up quite well for lunch or dinner the next day, and I am not a lover of leftovers myself.

    You could also find a few places with take-out you like – you could probably spend closer to $15 on Asian or Thai takeout which might last you two meals as well. I also have found some nicer grocery stores (here, I go to Fresh Market) that have stuff that is prepared and you just take it home to cook, such as a sun dried tomato and feta stuffed chicken breast for $3.50 a piece or pre-made crab cakes that you can just cook up in a skillet – it tastes as good as a restaurant’s. I also will sometimes go to the Whole Foods’ hot bar and get dinner to go – they have a large variety of options, especially if you want to keep it healthy. None of these options are inexpensive compared to making batch food from scratch and freezing, but it’s a lot cheaper than $30 – $40 dinners and can be done without prior planning.

    • I’ve never heard of Bertinelli’s pasta meals – where do you normally buy them? I searched through one of my local grocery stores for them tonight, but I couldn’t find the brand. I have a few different options for grocery stores, two of which are on my walk home from work, so what I think I should do is investigate all of their prepared food sections.

      If I go out for dinner by myself, it is far, far cheaper than going out for dinner with my coworkers. I tend to frequent restaurants with smaller portions and as such, dinner is less expensive. For example, if I go out by myself, I am looking at closer to $10 dinners than the $25-40 out with my coworkers: small pasta amounts, chicken quesadillas, Asian sit-in/take-out, etc.

      It doesn’t help that most of my coworkers seem to not think about how much they’re spending at all and eating with other people on occasion is kind of nice. Being single and living by myself definitely starts to get to me on the eating front sometimes.

      • Oops – I got the name a bit wrong. It’s Bertolli’s. Here’s a link to the products I was talking about:

        http://www.villabertolli.com/products/all-frozen-meals.aspx

        I specifically buy the frozen two-serving meals. My favorite is the Roasted Chicken & Linguine. I thought they were sold pretty widely now, since Bertolli’s is already a popular brand of pasta sauce, but maybe it’s not in all grocery stores. I buy them on sale at Target here when possible, but they are also sold at my local grocery store (Harris Teeter).

        • Wow, I wonder why I couldn’t find those in the store – when I did a store locator, it showed my closest grocery store has having one. Target is way out of my way (8 miles). I’ve never seen their brand of pasta sauce in grocery stores in my area though, so maybe it hasn’t permeated a very large area yet?

          I think their soups look good too! Classy – they even suggest wine pairings!

          Thanks for the suggestion :)

  3. My ideal self would make a big batch of something to have for lunches for the week. I do this a fair amount, but I wish I could do it more. Lately, we’ve been buying a lot of stuff from the deli at our grocery store. The grocery store is sort of like Whole Foods and has a lot of healthy options. Since we’ve been so busy, I find this a nice compromise to eating out but also not having to do a lot of cooking at home. It’s definitely cheaper than other take out.

    I hear you on not wanting to eat by yourself all the time. When I lived by myself I definitely ate out more often for the company. And i think that’s ok.

    • I think it’s okay too, but I’m realizing that I’m not comfortable with the price point of eating out with my coworkers *every* day, despite wanting the company. So I think I’m going to limit myself to dinner once a week with them and the rest by myself. I have a feeling I’m also going to try using the deli/prepared food section at my grocery store. My schedule is a lot less busy in the summers, so food will be one of my projects!

      I definitely feel you on the batch cooking. It is actually way easier to cook in a week’s quantity for me than for 1-2 nights at a time.

  4. I tend to have big lunches and appetizers for dinner. Recently, i’ve tried doing sandwiches for dinner.

    There are two reasons – one I just like having a bigger meal in the middle of the day, the secodn is that food is generally cheaper at lunch time for whatever reason. Maybe it depends on your metro market, but I find that “lunch specials” are still reasonably portioned.

    • I totally agree! That’s another reason why I prefer eating out for lunch than dinner – “normal” dinner portions are just way too big for me and also then cost more. Sandwiches for dinner wouldn’t work on the evenings where I’m playing sports, but otherwise, they might. I should give that a try as well. My April projects are going to revolve around food planning and a new summer active lifestyle with enough sleep.

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