Stop Eating Your Way into Debt!

by Jill Cooper

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Hopefully most of you realize that you can get into deep debt if you buy a house or a car you can't afford. That seems to be pretty obvious. However, a lot of people do it anyway. But today I want to deal with the little things that sneak into our lives without us realizing it. One of them is eating out.

Eating out is among the top causes of personal debt. I know most of the excuses we use to justify eating out when it doesn't really fit in the budget, including "I don't have time," "I'm too busy," "I don't know how to cook," and last but not least, "It's so much easier to eat out."

I totally understand. I, too, don't have time to do things. I don't have time to clean my house so I will have a housekeeper come in and do it for me. Ridiculous as that all sounds, that really is what a lot of us are doing.

Take one week and write down how much you spend eating out. That includes all those coffees, soft drinks, things from the vending machines and snacks you buy throughout the day.

I'm beginning to wonder if another reason we eat out so much is that it has just become a habit. Like many bad habits, we get so comfortable with them that we don't want to change them.

"I don't have time." For the amount of time it takes you to drive to some place, wait for them to take your order and then wait for them to prepare your order, I can give you 10 menus or more that would take less time for you to fix at home.

"I'm too busy." If you are too busy to take time to feed your family, something that is a necessity of life, then you are too busy. I have very rarely heard anyone say that they are too busy to get their hair done, go shopping, go to sports activities, talk on the phone or spend time on the computer. You really can find the time.

"I don't know how to cook." So learn. Start simple. Even my 9-year-old grandson could boil himself a hot dog. You don't have to produce a gourmet meal to make your family happy, and in most cases, they would prefer you didn't.

I understand that man can't live on hot dogs alone, but after a week or two of simple dishes, you can move on to more complicated things like frozen French fries and frying hamburgers.

"It's so much easier." I guess that depends on your definition of easy. To me, going to a restaurant with fussy, hungry, complaining kids is not my idea of fun. Going to a drive-thru is, at times, not much better.

You may say that the restaurant where you go isn't that bad, but my point is that everything has its drawbacks whether you stay at home to eat or go out to eat. It's just a matter of what you make up your mind to put up with. Do you want the pain of cooking or the pain of not knowing how to pay your bills.

If you are in debt, it's wise to start putting up with a few of the drawbacks that come with eating at home. Besides, if you are really serious about saving money, there are ways to make cooking at home much easier.

You can use convenience foods. There is nothing wrong with buying things like French bread, canned biscuits or bagged salad. Line the pans you use with foil or use disposable pans. It's cheaper in the long run to use these than going out to eat.

Clean up as you cook. Instead of messing up the whole stove by repeatedly laying a sticky spoon on it, use a spoon holder or cup. Keep some hot soapy water in the sink while you are cooking and wash things as you finish with them. Don't set that carton of milk down on the counter after you pour it. Keep the amount of utensils you use to a minimum.

Clean up is one of the main reasons people hate to eat at home, but if you clean as you go and everyone pitches in to help clean up after dinner, it should only take about 15 minutes to get it all put away. It would take longer than that to drive to a fast food place and return home.

Pull out those slow cookers. It takes about 5 minutes to throw in a roast, potatoes and carrots. It takes the same amount of time to throw in the ingredients for chili, stew or veggie soup.

If you are dragging the kids to an after school game, instead of going to a fast food drive in, throw some hot dogs in a thermos and cover with boiling water. They will be cooked and ready to eat by the time you get there. How long does it really take to grab a few pieces of fruit, a bag of cleaned veggies and some chips to go with them? Maybe two minutes? How hard is that to cook?

You could also have sloppy joes simmering in a slow cooker and pour those in the thermos for an on-the-run meal. To make it even easier, heat it up from a jar and then pour it in the thermos.

Do you really want to get out of debt? Then get up, stop charging, and get cooking!

Jill Cooper and Tawra Kellam are frugal living experts and the editors of As a single mother of two, Jill Cooper started her own business without any capital and paid off $35,000 debt in 5 years on $1,000 a month income. Tawra and her husband paid off $20,000 debt in 5 years on $22,000 a year income.

Take the Next Step

  • Is it time to start making a few less stops at the drive-thru and get to know your kitchen a little better? Start small and start simple. Maybe start small by cooking at home one or two nights a week and go from there. Or start simple by making hot dogs on your first try as the author suggests.
  • Get cash back on the groceries you buy. Checkout 51 can show you how!
  • Continue to trim food costs by visiting our food & groceries section to get tips and tools for keeping more of your hard-earned dollars in your pocket.

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