Author Topic: How to reduce eating out expenses significantly? [College student]  (Read 4910 times)

skchamp

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Hi,

I am a college student and a part time freelancer. I am a big foodie and love eating out. In fact, I spend a lot of money everyday on eating out and fast food. I also eat out daily in restaurants and canteens during lunch hour at my college.

I would like to cut it down significantly. The main reason being health problems and financial concerns as the amount spent is very large with respect to my income.

After going through several articles and threads at MMM, I guess the best way to reduce is tracking it via a spreadsheet or an app. If I track it down on a daily basis, I believe I would be able to cut down significantly once I see the total amount I spend on eating out.

Please do tell me some mustachian ways to cut down on my eating out expenses. Please suggest keeping in mind that I am a college student with relatively less income and staying at home with my parents.

Also, can anyone suggest me a damn simple easy Android app just for tracking my food expenses? I don't want added features like allocating budget etc. Just a simple app to track my daily food expenses and show the total amount spent would be helpful.

Please do guide me.

« Last Edit: July 05, 2015, 08:24:41 AM by skchamp »

thedayisbrave

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Re: How to reduce eating out expenses significantly? [College student]
« Reply #1 on: July 05, 2015, 08:55:03 AM »
Honestly it's a matter of just exercising self control.  Tough at first, but once you get in the habit it'll become a lot easier.

Which one do you enjoy more -- eating out at restaurants, or eating at the school's cafeteria? Choose one, and replace the other with cheaper options - make a PB&J and bring it with you.  I was in college only a few years ago and that's what I did after freshman year.. meal plans came out to be $8-$9 per meal which is ridiculous. 

As far as tracking expenses, you don't need a fancy app for it... just write it down in 'Inkpad' (Android).

MsPeacock

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Re: How to reduce eating out expenses significantly? [College student]
« Reply #2 on: July 05, 2015, 08:59:21 AM »
I think tracking just lets you track what you've spent. The tracking needs to be accompanied by some change in your spending behavior.  In order to cut down on your spending you'll need to make other arrangements to feed yourself. E.g. pack a lunch, learn to cook some of your favorite dishes that you normally get when you eat out, etc. It is very easy to develop a meal plan for packing your lunches and purchases the supplies once a week or so - e.g. loaf of bread, mayo, lunch meat (or pbJ), chips, apple, bottle of water, etc.

GizmoTX

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Re: How to reduce eating out expenses significantly? [College student]
« Reply #3 on: July 05, 2015, 09:04:53 AM »
You need a weekly meal plan that helps you with the future, not just what you've spent. However, planning & tracking all your income & expenses is imperative. Look into YNAB.com (You Need A Budget). It's free for college students; search for this on the YNAB blog.

Do you know how to cook? If not, now is the time to learn, especially since you have access to a home kitchen. Start with easy skills. Cooking classes are a great way to meet people, learn skills, & get fed. Whole Foods & Central Market have inexpensive ones.

http://www.onlinecollege.org/2009/10/13/100-delicious-dirt-cheap-recipes-for-the-starving-student/

Packing a lunch will save you considerable money & be more nutritional. This can be planned leftovers that you reheat in a microwave, not just a sandwich. Prep your lunch the night before.

My college son uses a commuter meal plan for some of his meals (fixed cost), & makes breakfast & dinner at his apt. Sometimes these are pre-made dishes that come out of the freezer to be baked. He also uses an Instant Pot, which is an electric pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, & popcorn maker in one appliance.

asiljoy

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Re: How to reduce eating out expenses significantly? [College student]
« Reply #4 on: July 05, 2015, 09:07:32 AM »
Learn some recipes that are 1) tasty 2) easy 3) cheap. Memorize them and make sure you have all the ingredients on hand at any given time. It makes it much more difficult to justify 'fast food' because if you know a recipe you can make in 15 mins and it takes 15 mins just to get to the restaurant... you get the drift.

I know I've linked her before, but once we started down this path, we more or less adopted the Budget Bytes principles here: http://www.budgetbytes.com/2010/01/budget-byting-principles/

She's got good starter recipes for college students here: http://www.budgetbytes.com/2014/08/top-10-recipes-for-college-students/

You may even want to check out her prepare ahead meals. I'm a big fan of her frozen burrito recipes(costs more than what you'd buy at a gas station, but they don't taste like butt and they're healthier): http://www.budgetbytes.com/2010/10/freezer-burritos/

Bracken_Joy

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Re: How to reduce eating out expenses significantly? [College student]
« Reply #5 on: July 05, 2015, 09:10:23 AM »
I think tracking just lets you track what you've spent. The tracking needs to be accompanied by some change in your spending behavior.  In order to cut down on your spending you'll need to make other arrangements to feed yourself. E.g. pack a lunch, learn to cook some of your favorite dishes that you normally get when you eat out, etc. It is very easy to develop a meal plan for packing your lunches and purchases the supplies once a week or so - e.g. loaf of bread, mayo, lunch meat (or pbJ), chips, apple, bottle of water, etc.

+1. Instead of tracking (or at the very least in addition to tracking) you need a PLAN. You also need to look at the psychology of your behavior. Could it be escapism, since you live with your parents, it's an excuse to leave for a while? Does it give you a sense of community if you go to the same restaurants over and over? Does it give you a sense of identity to feel like a "foodie"? Each of these has it's own solutions. I will say, as a foodie snob myself, that you cannot truly be a foodie unless you are a producer of food as well. Just like someone who has never danced will not appreciate a ballet on the same level, you are skimming the surface of food culture until you begin cooking it yourself. And once you are cooking AND consuming this food, you still don't have as much of an understanding until you learn about how to raise and process it... on and on. This bit of foodie elitism is meant to spur you into wanting to explore your own cooking, by the way, not just me being an a$$hole.

Good luck with everything. For me, it was escapism, so increasing walks to coffee shops and parks to study decreased going out to eat a lot. (Coffee is still an expense, obviously, but a $2.50 drip to sit for 4 hours is way less than a $15-20/day dining out budget!). I have found that understanding WHY I do something is much more powerful than just knowing what I am doing.

skchamp

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Re: How to reduce eating out expenses significantly? [College student]
« Reply #6 on: July 05, 2015, 09:16:57 AM »
Thanks everyone for your replies and suggestions. I will try to incorporate your suggestions. Thanks for help :)

pbkmaine

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Re: How to reduce eating out expenses significantly? [College student]
« Reply #7 on: July 05, 2015, 09:24:30 AM »
For many years I commuted 1.5 hours each way from NJ into NYC. I always took my own food, so you can do it, too. If you have a car, bring a large cooler. If you are walking, biking or taking public transportation, take a cooler bag. (Do you have a desk or locker at school? If so, you can keep a jar of peanut butter, crackers, salt and pepper, oil and vinegar, cutlery and bowl there.) One staple for me was a quart-sized container, like the kind they give you for take out, filled with salad greens. I would add some cheese, oil and vinegar, salt and pepper and have a healthy lunch. Apples and oranges are very portable :). If sitting in a cafeteria or a cafe makes you happy, then I like the suggestion above about buying yourself a beverage.

forummm

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Re: How to reduce eating out expenses significantly? [College student]
« Reply #8 on: July 05, 2015, 09:36:03 AM »
Step 1, never eat out. Just don't do it. There's no reason to.

Since you live with your parents, you should probably be spending around $0 on food each month. If you are buying your own groceries, you can spend up to $100. I double-majored in two very challenging subjects, worked full time, and still did all my own cooking and spent very little. Here's some of what I do now:

http://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/journals/forummm's-journal/msg704138/#msg704138
http://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/journals/forummm's-journal/msg704139/#msg704139

humblefi

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Re: How to reduce eating out expenses significantly? [College student]
« Reply #9 on: July 05, 2015, 09:43:06 AM »
You have got many budgetary options from other folks...I will list my experiences here..hope they are useful to you.

I used to deal with budgetary excesses often and I learnt a few things from trying to fix it. I am not a college student now, but I hope this is helpful in some way.

+ In my school days, it was hard to *pack* lunch because how am I going to carry my lunch everywhere I go? And where am I going to be able to heat food? Long story short, I decided to *NOT* optimize my lunch option. I get to eat whatever the Univ Cafeteria offered and make convenience a priority. If your cafeteria offers a healthy option, I would pick it once or twice a week. For example, Monday lunch is my salad option to overcome the excesses of the weekend. Anyways, I decided to optimize the breakfast and dinner options instead of my lunch option. See if this helps.

+ For breakfast, I loved milk+cereal....still do :-) I used to have 3-4 different cereal boxes at home at any time to avoid boredom and still eat healthy and cheap. If you can fix breakfast before you leave the house, it is the best option!

+ For dinner, the biggest problem in my case was mental tiredness. When I come home from work tired, my motivation to prepare food is very low. So, what do end up doing? Unhealthy food, here I come....The lesson for me from this was: when you are mentally OR physically tired, it is the wrong time to think about making lunch or dinner. I solved this by identifying the two most busy days in the week and buying (OR cooking) food for those days on the weekend and freezing them. When you do this, you can select a healthy and appetizing option ahead of time and come out ahead on the health and money front.

+ Peer group matters a lot, especially in school. It is hard to be a nay-sayer all the time....see if this is a problem you are facing in your life. If so, stagger your lunch times on a couple days in a week to eat healthy on your own OR eat with a diff crowd.

Attack one option at a time for starters i.e. try fixing breakfast OR lunch or dinner and once you get comfortable, pick another one to attack. Remember, you are a student...so, it is okay to trade off time for a max of one unhealthy option.

Best of luck!

wenchsenior

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Re: How to reduce eating out expenses significantly? [College student]
« Reply #10 on: July 05, 2015, 10:15:33 AM »


Attack one option at a time for starters i.e. try fixing breakfast OR lunch or dinner and once you get comfortable, pick another one to attack. Remember, you are a student...so, it is okay to trade off time for a max of one unhealthy option.

Best of luck!

Yes, this is excellent advice for anyone trying to change a complex behavioral 'problem'. Don't try to change everything all at once. Break the problem down into steps, and tackle each step in turn until you have it mastered, then go on to the next. That way, you will tend not to get overwhelmed or feel totally deprived.

For the same reason, I disagree with forummm's comment to just stop eating out altogether. What you want to do is examine the psychological value you get for you dollar spent. If you truly adore the experience of eating out (I'm not that into it, but a lot of people are), then you can work that into a budget in a reasonable way. If you find that part of your eating-out spending is to achieve experiences that can be obtained in other ways, cheaper, then definitely do those.

It's all about psychological bang for you buck.

Rural

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Re: How to reduce eating out expenses significantly? [College student]
« Reply #11 on: July 05, 2015, 11:12:18 AM »
Since you're a foodie, you're going to want to know how to prepare real food. Pick a recipe and learn that. Try one that's freezeable and put half away for another day. Then pick another. You'll have to practice some, but you'll be amazed soon enough at how much better your own cooking is than restaurant food.

forummm

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Re: How to reduce eating out expenses significantly? [College student]
« Reply #12 on: July 05, 2015, 12:51:05 PM »
Since you're a foodie, you're going to want to know how to prepare real food. Pick a recipe and learn that. Try one that's freezeable and put half away for another day. Then pick another. You'll have to practice some, but you'll be amazed soon enough at how much better your own cooking is than restaurant food.

Yeah, I realized an hour after posting that I should have said this. Once I learned how to cook stuff I realized that I can make it the way I want and as good or better and for a lot less money. There are a lot of kinds of food that I just don't find that interesting in restaurants anymore. Sure it still tastes good, but I could make it myself too.

PMG

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Re: How to reduce eating out expenses significantly? [College student]
« Reply #13 on: July 05, 2015, 01:27:51 PM »
Here are a few things that work for my "on-the-go" lifestyle that might work for you.

I often cook on the weekend to have food for the week, but I also have a favorite assortment of meals that don't require much prep. I'm not fond of sandwiches. My latest favorite is a couple cheese chunks. Crackers.  Black olives.  An apple and a jar of homemade sweet tea.

I have a small cooler lunch bag, but tend to go with things that won't spoil as quickly as deli meat. Yogurt, cottage cheese, pb/j. Carrots and hummus,  celery and pb. Apple and Pb. Salad with nuts and fruit.

I try to always have my water bottle full and a granola bar or cliff bar  or two and some nuts and crackers in my backpack. I don't actually eat cliff bar type things often, but they have been a life saver when my day gets longer than I'd planned or I just don't pack food. I keep a can or two of soup in the office at school.

I use goodbudget app just to track my grocery and fun money, which isn't the full extent of the app.  each month I give myself an allowance, then physically enter the expense each time I buy food. It's totals it for me and I can always see what I spent and what I have left for the month. That's been really helpful.

My food budget averages $120/ month including eating out and alcohol.  The past couple months I've been <$80 while I'm cleaning out the pantry and eating garden veggies.

When I do cook it's a lot of soups, stew, curry, stir fry.

aschmidt2930

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Re: How to reduce eating out expenses significantly? [College student]
« Reply #14 on: July 05, 2015, 04:04:09 PM »
Learn to cook, and write down your grocery bill each week. Problem solved.

okonomiyaki

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Re: How to reduce eating out expenses significantly? [College student]
« Reply #15 on: July 05, 2015, 10:07:08 PM »
1) If anything, reading other threads in this forum should inspire you to learn to cook - now, while you still have access to your parents' kitchen, including (but not necessarily) a parent or two that can cook and teach you. Now you have the time to learn how to cook - take advantage of it! (So many of us wish we did more of this when we were younger).

2) I'm assuming if you are a foodie, it's not the cafeteria lunches that are making you happy. *Plan* to go out 1-2 times a month (with friends?) to a nicer place if this is important to you, one where you may spend a bit more on a fancy meal, but you will actually get exposure to more cuisines and food of better quality.
(then, if so inclined, try to make the same thing at home - again, this will serve you well in later years, especially for impressing a potential SO or parents in law ;)

Dee18

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Re: How to reduce eating out expenses significantly? [College student]
« Reply #16 on: July 06, 2015, 05:23:08 AM »
Your post brought back memories of my time in grad school.  I found it easiest to have a simple rule:  I let myself buy one lunch (an inexpensive sandwich) and one dinner (again rather cheap, such as my share of a pizza) and prepared the rest of my food each week.  For me defined limits simplified things, and limited my student loan borrowing dramatically...Plan ahead.... And try the cookbook Thug Kitchen for some great ideas for food prep/cooking. 

former player

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Re: How to reduce eating out expenses significantly? [College student]
« Reply #17 on: July 06, 2015, 05:36:57 AM »
Some good advice here.  The other thing I would say is: make sure you are not spending any money on drinks.  Drink tap water in the cafeteria and any restaurants you go to, and take a refillable bottle of tap water with you when you go out for the day.  Cutting out colas, juices and coffees will make a big difference to both health and budget.

If your options for eating out are the cafeteria, a restaurant or fast food, cut out the fast food places first: they will give you the least health options. 

When eating in the cafeteria and restaurants, choosing a main meal which has the least meat and most vegetables in it, and cutting out all the other fripperies (starters, side dishes, puddings, etc.) will help on both cost and health.

Killerbrandt

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Re: How to reduce eating out expenses significantly? [College student]
« Reply #18 on: July 06, 2015, 01:30:22 PM »
The biggest thing is what this previous poster said "Honestly it's a matter of just exercising self control". It took me a bit in college to adjust but then I became a master at finding cheaper food and savings in other areas.

1. I bought a jug of protein powder and would go to the college gym everyday. I would then just chug some water and powder mix. After awhile I got use to being full with that for awhile. ALSO! going to the gym will keep you healthy to eat cheap nasty crap like ramen, starchy foods (actually helps with gaining muscle), pizza at events, ect.. Last thing about the gym, if you go everyday, you could shower there also and get infinite amount of hot water, which I loved abusing, also it will cut your water usage at home a lot! It will also help drop electric bills because you will cool down in the nice gym or school classrooms.

2. Go around campus and look for posting for events. I know my college had them all over for research projects. They invite you to answer a few questions and you get free food or money. Also, my community college had a church near by that fed college kids for free. I use to eat there a lot but also would help clean up and empty all of the trashes in the church to help back a bit. By scavenging for food at school like this, I was able to save tons on eating. It is shocking how many events are going on and how many great people you will meet.

3. Save while eating out with friends. Its hard to avoid your friends all the time that want to go out to drink and eat. Well the way I would save is eat before you go out with them (eat ramen at home are an apple and banana). That way you are there to just chat and interact, my friends never cared. Also, they tend to leave a lot of food leftover and I would gladly finish it for them (whole tenders, entire steaks, ect..,but not nasty chewed food or messed with food). For the drinking part, just try avoid drinking while at a bar or going out. It's very costly, "But hey!! I want to be with friends!!" well you can still go, just do not drink, tell the bar tender that you are the DD and they normally give you free sodas all night. If my friends are really pressuring me to drink, I go to the server and ask them to put the coke in a mug and when they bring it to announce its a rum and coke (it actually works, just tip them a bit for doing that favor).

This is just a small list of what I did back in college a few years ago. If you want to hear anymore, please ask! This advice might sound stupid but it worked and this was before I found MMM.

dantownehall

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Re: How to reduce eating out expenses significantly? [College student]
« Reply #19 on: July 06, 2015, 01:48:09 PM »
I would pick one (preferably cheap & easy) meal you really enjoy and learn how to make it really well, then start replacing a couple of meals out a week with that one, as a starting place.