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Everyday Cheapskate: How to Break the Bad Habit Killing Your Finances

Mary Hunt on

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. Face it: You've been eating your way into debt.

Breaking the eating out habit is possible. You can do it. It takes motivation, perseverance and practice. It's all about replacing old habits with a few new ones.

-- Cost. Track how much you spend on food (including groceries, coffee, donuts ... all of it for you and every person in your household) in one week, then multiply by 52. Now factor in all the food that spoils in your kitchen and you throw away because you eat out instead. Could this be the reason you aren't able to save or build an emergency fund?

-- Health. I don't want to get too graphic, but recently the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that one in five restaurant workers admit coming to work while sick with diarrhea and vomiting -- two main symptoms of the stubborn norovirus. If you've ever gotten sick after eating out, you know what I'm talking about. Norovirus is running rampant. The problem lies with sick workers who take a bathroom break, do not wash their hands with soap then return to prepare and serve our food. Is it possible it's healthier to eat at home?

-- Hunger. Do not let yourself or your family get too hungry. This is the big one for me. If I have not planned ahead and cross the line into emergency territory where I must eat right this minute, I'm doomed. I can't think straight.

-- Plan ahead. This requires thinking ahead, meaning strategic grocery shopping. Create menu plans, prepare lunches, post a dinner meal schedule on the fridge. Create menus. When everyone in the family knows what's coming up, no one is going to be thinking McDonald's.


-- Hire help. I know I need help with meal planning because I'm one busy gal. I use eMeals, but there are many options out there. Searching apps for your phone is a good place to start. My meal plan, menus and shopping list show up in my email once a week. Yes, I am a fan. Membership to eMeals is cheap, too, which of course makes me an even bigger fan. Whether you choose to plan your meals yourself or get help, getting into a planning mode is essential for breaking the eating-out habit.

-- Cook. Anyone can learn how to make tasty meals. It takes commitment, good recipes, fresh ingredients and practice. There is no shortage of teachers and training on the internet. Check and for videos, recipes and tutorials. Start slow, and select super easy recipes.

-- Keep it special. Make eating out something for important occasions. Make it rare. Plot it on the calendar so you can look forward to this as a special treat. Anticipate, celebrate. Choose a cuisine you find difficult to make yourself, and you'll enjoy it even more.


Mary invites you to visit her at, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at, "Ask Mary." This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."

Copyright 2024 Creators Syndicate Inc.



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