I was shocked when I learned there are many people living in cities, half of my friends included, who probably haven’t turned on their oven in six months. But that doesn’t mean they can’t and don’t eat healthy and without spending a fortune dining out.
Here’s what you need to know to save on groceries when you don’t cook
Don’t pretend you will change your ways.
Everyone’s bought wishful groceries. Those are the groceries you buy hoping you’ll eat them. For some, these are groceries in case you decide to cook one day. For others, it’s simply vegetables, smoothie ingredients and protein powder, you have every intent of eating but don’t. Look through your fridge, pantry and freezer for what’s wishful. If you have spoiled foods, think carefully before you buy them again. This can also be a time to give into those wishes and eat all those healthy items you bought over the next few days.
Use coupons for dining out.
Restaurant.com and Groupon are great sources for restaurant coupons. You may get up to 80 percent off your order, and you’d be surprised which restaurants offer coupons. An African place I like for brunch is on restaurant.com. So are a million sushi places. I often use restaurant.com as an opportunity to try a restaurant I haven’t tried. When dining by yourself, look for the coupons for $5 for $10 of food ($2 with a good promo code you can often find with an internet search) or a $25 gift certificate requiring a $35 total purchase when dining with someone.
But don’t stop at restaurant coupons. Think about the items you keep in your house that don’t require cooking. For instance, you can use a Groupon for a farm basket of fruits and vegetables. For instance, I found a Groupon for $15 that gave me $30 of groceries at an organic market. I could have used this Groupon for pre-made items, the salad bar, or fruits and vegetables.
Plan your convenience store shopping.
Those who go to the grocery store, need a list to not buy things they won’t eat later or cheeses that are twice the price of what they wanted to spend. If you don’t cook, you often end up at convenience stores. Go in with a daily list and pay attention to what you spend. Even Seven Eleven has sales on kind bars and quest bars. When you star at menus, think about prices. If you tend to regret purchases, write down the items you wish you hadn’t bought on a note on your phone as a reminder to not makes the same mistake in the future.
Also shop with lists at other stores you visit, whether it’s a nutrition shop or a grocery store for items you don’t cook.
Save half of your meal only if you will eat the other the next day.
Bringing home leftovers when you don’t cook for yourself is ideal to save money. However, two problems happen: A. You gain weight if you bring home really good leftovers and use it for a midnight eating spree. B: Not all leftovers taste great next day. Think about whether you’ll eat things like rice the next day.
So how do you make the most of leftovers? Pick food you don’t get midnight cravings for, and if you do, order smaller portions to save money and your waistline. Since you know you won’t bring home leftovers, save money by skipping appetizers or a cocktail. For food you will save, separate rice and other items that may not keep well. You can always buy a loaf of bread that goes with several meals and you still can use your leftovers to avoid cooking.
Separate your grocery dining from your entertainment dining budget.
Really decide whether certain meals are part of your entertainment or grocery budget. For instance, if you are buying Chinese food that’s $6 and you always spend that for lunch, it’s a different budgeting item than $25 you may spend when having dinner with a friend you haven’t seen for a while. Budget for entertainment dining in the same spending basket as going to the movies, ice skating, or anything else you consider part of your entertainment budget.
I think it’s a great idea for many reasons to peruse a menu at home through a restaurant website or via Yelp before going out for dinner. The reason is so many items look great when you see them on a menu, and you may not think about either the price tag or whether you’ll be over filled with the amount you ordered. If you decide what you want ahead of time, takes the surprise out of arriving and asking the server for suggestions, use the preview as a time to gather ideas and narrow down your choices that you can ask the server about. Your decisiveness may even impress your spouse, partner, or new date.
Use a card or track your cash.
Whether you are better at tracking spending with cash or a card varies from person-to-person, even though most people say keeping a set amount of cash on hand that’s spendable helps with budgeting. I tend to spend more with cash then a card. Why? When I use a card, I can go online and look at what I spent later. But if I use cash, it seems to slip through my fingers.
Learn which method works best for you. Then check in with yourself on a weekly basis to make sure it still is a good method for you.
Set a coffee budget if you need one.
It is one of my life mottos to never just drink coffee inside my house. Coffee shops are my favorite place to bring my computer to work and to network with other writers. Half my friends are people I met while writing with my dog at my feet. But that doesn’t mean I should casually buy five coffees per day. When it’s a daily expense, I set a budget for breakfast and coffee. Then most of the coffee I drink during the day is $1 coffee from convenience stores. If you work in an office, more than likely you have coffeemaker and you can build better work relationships by making coffee for everyone.
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