One of the cornerstone pieces of Jenna and me paying off $73,000 of student loans in less than 4 years came from a single decision. We chose to trust Jesus when He asked us to stop going out to eat. It sounded crazy, radical, and downright impossible. But we said yes, and it’s been life changing.

Eating Out vs. Cooking Family Dinners

Eating out is easy, convenient, and much more efficient than cooking meals at home. There’s no preparation and no clean up. However, you’re paying for a service and anytime you do that, it’s going to be more expensive. According to research done by Datafiniti, the cost per serving of basic meals like burgers or spaghetti can cost as much as $9 more than cooking that same meal at home!

That’s a crazy difference! If you eat out for dinner 3-4 times a week, you’re forking over an extra $108-135 a month, and that doesn’t include eating out for lunch! Now imagine that $108-135 was back in your bank account. That’s $1,296-1,620 every year. How could you use it to better your future and reach your goals faster?

Stop Going Out to Eat and Start the Family Dinner Challenge

I was inspired by David over at Zero Day Challenge to start a challenge of my own. I challenge you to stop going out to eat for 30 days. I’m calling it the Family Dinner Challenge, and it’s for anyone who wants to get out of debt and really change your finances.

Here’s how it works. Choose a starting point, then don’t spend any money going out to eat for the next 30 days. Instead of spending money at restaurants, for food or alcohol, put the saved money toward your other financial goals. It can put you on the fast track to get out of debt, save for a house, or build your emergency fund.

Let me lay out some ground rules and tips that helped us stop eating out.

Buy All of Your Food from the Grocery Store

Instead of spending money at restaurants, fast food chains, or gas stations, choose to buy all of your food from the grocery store. It’s really tempting to take the easy way out and get a quick subway or a snack from the gas station. However, prices at gas stations and fast food chains are outrageous compared to grocery store.

If you have a SAMs Club, Costco, Aldi or Walmart near you, you can save even more money. If you buy in bulk, the price per serving really drops! Even if you need to buy a new membership, you will quickly make up the costs with the cheaper prices.

Cook Your Meals at Home and Food Prep

When you buy food in bulk, it’s cheaper. Also, when you cook food in bulk, it’s easier. If you’ve never meal prepped for an entire week, I highly recommend it. It’s one of the reasons we could afford living off $60 a week for all of our meals.

There are tons of crock pot recipes that produce heaping mounds of food. Cook it on Sunday night and put it in tupperware for the rest of the week. Just reheat and enjoy!

Related Post: A Beginner’s Guide to Meal Prepping, Food is Expensive! How We Survive on $60 a Week

Stop Going Out to Eat
Bacon Wrapped Chicken Drummies! Yum!

Embrace the 100% Mindset

I recently read an article about the difference between a 100% mindset vs a 99% mindset. You can read all about it here, but let me give you the Spark Notes version. If you commit to a goal 100%, it’s so much easier to accomplish. It doesn’t give any wiggle room to back out. However, if I’m only 99% committed, I have a 1% option to choose something else.

For example, if you commit 100% to not going out to eat, there’s no decision making. You simply don’t go out to eat. Sure, you can go out with friends and hang out while they order food, but you already made the choice to say no before you even entered the restaurant. It might be a tough adjustment at first, but with practice, saying “no” becomes easy and automatic.

But, if you’re a 99%er, then you always leave yourself a 1% option to say yes to getting a drink or buying an appetizer along with your friends. I’ve often found that this tiny 1% wins out a lot if you give it a chance. Instead, choose 100% to stick to your goal and keep money in your bank account!

Keep Track of Your Progress

I believe creating visuals is crucial for reaching goals. When we were paying off our debt, we drew a giant thermometer and put it on the fridge. Each month we colored it in to show our progress until we were debt free. It was super motivating!

Another great way to track your progress is to mark it on a calendar. Put the calendar where you can see it and mark down each day that you don’t spend money going out to eat or drink. Once you gain momentum for a few days in a row, it will make you more committed to sticking with your goals!

If You Mess Up, That’s Okay

30 days might seem really daunting. Plus if you’re trying to create a new habit, it’s natural for you to forget or have a set back along the way. If you mess up, mark it down and move forward re-committed to your goal. See if you can still get to 30 days in the Family Dinner Challenge.

Changing Your Lifestyle

When we stopped going out to eat in 2013, we had no idea how big of an impact it would have on our lives. It helped us pay off our student loans so much faster and achieve debt freedom in less than 4 years. But it’s done so much more than that.

We chose to trust Jesus through the entire process and watched time and again as He faithfully provided all we needed. It deepened our trust and relationship with Him, we learned much better self-discipline, and how to be better stewards with His money.

It also completely changed our outlook on money and finances. We very rarely spend money impulsively and are always conscious of how our spending impacts our goals. We have become very content and thankful for all we have been given, similar to a minimalist approach.

You might not experience all of this in 30 days, but my hope is that you find lasting change in committing to and achieving your goals.

Wrapping it Up

I challenge you to DO the 30 Day Family Dinner Challenge. If you stick with it, I believe it has the power to completely change your life. Your new found self-discipline will spill into other areas of your life too.

Let Me Know in the Comments

How often do you go out to eat? Do you know how much you spend eating out each month? Are you doing the Family Dinner Challenge?

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12 Responses

  1. I’m joining the challenge for the month of September! I already meal prep and bring my lunch to work everyday, but there are times when I just want something quick and easy after a long day at the office. That will be the real challenge for me! We’ll see how things go!


  2. Now that its back to work I’ve challenged myself to pack a lunch everyday. Its so easy to say I deserve school lunch today. I mean really the school lunch program isn’t what it used to be. I work lunch duty and its going to be difficult not to give in. But I need to remind myself how much money my husband and I saved this summer and not to slip and drop the ball after all our forward momentum. I really need to check into meal prep.

    1. That sounds like a great challenge! And you’ve already had so much success and saved money! Stay strong and keep it up?”!

  3. We eat almost exclusively at home. I enjoy cooking and we’re aware of both the financial and health benefits of having home cooked meals.
    I’ve actually been raised with homemade food, so eating at home is “normal”, so to say. We do go out, of course, but mostly on special occasions or when we remember “hey, it’s been weeks since we’ve gone out to eat” 😀

    1. That’s awesome! Your family has created some pretty awesome eating habits. You’re right, there are so many benefits to eating at home. I’m curious, do you meal prep for the whole week or do you spend time cooking each night just because it’s something you enjoy?

      1. Oh, that depends. I usually cook on a daily basis. There are a lot of quick and easy recipes I find online, they’re ready either in a few minutes or half and hour tops! Sometimes though, I do freeze meals. Not very often though. Freezer meals are all new to me, I still have to figure out what can or cannot be frozen 😀

        1. Good call! It would stink to ruin an awesome meal by freezing it. We have a hard time finding motivation to cook during the week so we make it all on Sunday and just reheat during the week. For me it works great since it means I don’t have to cook ? The meals always do taste better fresh though vs reheated.

          1. Another way, instead of freezing, would be to use a crockpot! That’s one of my favorite ways to have a home-cooked meal that’s easy.

  4. Wife and I are “selectively hardcore” about eating out and only so once a month at most now. We even get Airbnbs on vacation so that we can cook and not eat out. It has been the biggest single thing we have done for our budget and saved us an amazing amount of money.

    1. That’s a really smart way to save money on vacation. It’s fun to eat at local restaurants but I’m guessing you get more out of your vacation since you make your money stretch farther. Thanks for the tip!

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