Editor’s note: This article was originally published on June 28, 2013 and was updated on August 4, 2015.
If you’re trying to save for a down payment for a mortgage or pay off your mortgage faster, one of the easiest things you can do is to stop eating at restaurants. The average Canadian spends more than $2000 a year on restaurants, and that’s just the average. Chances are if you’re living in an area that has lots of food choices and you’ve got some disposable income, you’re spending more than that.
The average Canadian spends more than $2000 a year on restaurants, and that’s just the average.
A home-cooked meal for a family of four will usually run about $20 or less, unless you’re using gourmet ingredients, in which case it may run up to about $40. A restaurant meal for a family of four can easily approach $150 or more if you’re having drinks and dessert. That cost savings alone should be enough to convince the average Canadian to start cooking at home.
1. Set up a Budget Tool to Track Restaurant Spending
The best tool to track your restaurant spending, and spending of any kind, is Mint.com. It links up to your bank accounts and credit cards and will tell you at the end of the month how much money you spent in a particular category, based on the places that you used your debit and credit cards. It takes a little tweaking to get right, as you may need to identify your expenses as restaurant spending, but you’ll be amazed at how much you spend eating outside of the home that it may shock you into better financial and dietary behavior.
2. Get Into the Habit of Packing Lunch
If you are working in a busy office, it’s tempting to go out and purchase lunch a few times a week, if not every day. There are exceptions to the rule, such as a good employer-subsidized cafeteria program that offers cheap, nutritious meals, but we don’t all live in that world. Draw up a menu on the weekend and make some items ahead that are ready to pack, such as salads and sandwich fillings like tuna or egg salad. Leftovers are also a great lunch choice. A little bit of pre-planning can help you resist the temptation of skipping packing your lunch in the morning. You can also pack it the night before so you can grab it out of the fridge in the morning.
A little bit of pre-planning can help you resist the temptation of skipping packing your lunch in the morning.
3. Make-Ahead Isn’t Just for Lunch
Making meals in advance that you can just throw in the oven helps to save time during the dinner rush. Since most of us dine out to save time during the week, doing this solves that problem. Here’s a handy list of 12 recipes from The Food Network that you can make in 15 minutes or less.
4. Special Occasion? Pack a Picnic.
If you’re celebrating a special occasion like a birthday or anniversary, why not pair an outing to the lake or ski slopes with a special packed lunch or dinner? You can go all out and get gourmet fare and still pay less than you would at a fancy restaurant.
5. Split the Chores
Another big reason we prefer restaurants is the inevitable pile of dirty dishes at the end of preparing and eating a proper meal. If the burden of dishwashing and meal creation is falling on one member of the household, create a chore schedule that sees other people pitching in to help out. if you are short on time and don't want the hassle of cleaning up, paper plates come in handy, don't worry... no one has to know you use them!
6. Get a Little Fancy With It
Once you’ve got yourself into the habit of cooking at home, start having fun with it. Shop at local farmer’s markets. Find the best ingredients you can for your new home-cooked meals. If you’re used to going out for ethnic food, invest in some cooking classes to make your favourite Thai, Indian and Vietnamese dishes in your own kitchen. You’d be surprised how easy items like butter chicken or Pho soup are to make yourself.
Saving for a home is hard, and working to make the money to save is equally tough. Of course you deserve a treat once in a while with a dinner out.