What’s the biggest budget blowout item regardless of your income bracket? Eating out! Today’s society is always on the go, and most working age adults consume at least one meal away from home.   Social gatherings are also focused on food or drink – date nights at restaurants, girls’ night out at the bar, or an after work happy hour, to name a few. Unless you are the rare person who eats only from a storage closet full of Costco 24-packs of canned and frozen goods, every day you pull out your wallet and purchase a food item outside of your home.

We have devised a three-part blog on how to combat the eat-out budget blowout. Part 1, presented here, centers around your normal life eating habits, while Part 2 demonstrates how to confront the daily splurges that really add up – without sacrificing. Finally, Part 3 tackles the social side of spending money on food.

Part 1: Planning meals (where and what).

If you’re like me, you can easily find yourself famished at 6:30pm on a random weekday evening, and without an appealing quick meal in the fridge. Items in the freezer at that moment seem appear than thrilling, and the 20 minutes to thaw seem oh-so-long. Suddenly you’re ordering Thai take-out… and BAM! You’ve spent more than $25 to feed two people.

But planning is boring, you say! Or maybe you’re sick of your recipes, you don’t have time, or you think cooking is too hard. Luckily there are a host of FREE resources to combat each of these arguments. My personal favorite method that hits on all of these areas is a cross between Buzzfeed and Pinterest. Tons of cooking professionals and amateurs alike spend hours of their time looking up and testing recipes, so the rest of us don’t have to. These awesome human beings have curated every list you can think of: quick meals, vegan desserts, Asian dinners with no carbs, healthy salads, budget meals, 10 minute dishes, etc. You can find them online and use Pinterest as your readily accessible online recipe box.

The first thing to do is to spend 5 minutes signing up for a newsletter from a food blogger with affinity to your dietary requirements, and another 5 minutes signing up for Buzzfeed food newsletters. Almost everyone will send weekly recipe lists to your inbox. For inspiration, this Huffington Post search has several articles highlighting food bloggers [see here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/top-food-bloggers/]. Likewise, Buzzfeed’s Tasty section can keep you busy for hours of food browsing with newsletter options [click here: (https://www.buzzfeed.com/tasty)].

Personally, every few weeks I open up these newsletters, and scan through for appealing pictures with a variety of advertised prep times. With one click of the Pinterest “P” icon on the image, I can pin the good ones to my own personal board, and create a virtual recipe box. Pinterest itself has a plethora of food topic boards that you can get (happily) lost in and inspired by. I follow several (like Healthy Recipes and Fast Recipes). You can also follow particular people and/or companies. As an example, I eagerly peer through the boards of BizzyChick’s own Julia Myall, who is a personal chef, caterer and cookbook author and has picked many delicious dishes to try that are quick and easy for any ability level. (see: https://www.pinterest.com/juliamyall/). Food oriented companies such as Bon Appetit magazine also offer some great ideas. (https://www.pinterest.com/bonappetitmag/).

Armed with my own “curated” board, on weekends I load my Pinterest account onto my phone and hand it to my family members and ask them to pick 3-4 images that look tasty (to check out my board, see www.pinterest.com/sarazervos/ ).  With the results, I create a shopping list for the week and get the shopping done by Sunday afternoon. I target a complicated recipe for a day where I think I will finish work early, and try to choose another that can provide leftovers for the following day’s lunch. My boyfriend and I have taken to attempting a semi- exotic meal each Sunday, and accompanied by a bottle of wine we have a grand old time for 2 hours that afternoon.

We still eat out, and allow for spontaneity in the week. By picking 4-5 dinners in advance, we are able to control our expenses, eat delicious and decently healthy meals, and have fun in the kitchen. I reckon we have saved around $50-75 a week by eliminating our regular 1-2 take-out dinners. Annually, this savings can fund a spectacular vacation, or even better, a large additional flow into our investment accounts which will fund our future.