|Jill Cooper and
Tawra Kellam are frugal living experts and the editors of
LivingOnADime.com. 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.
At this time of year, there are usually three
things people are panicking about: how to lose weight, how to save money, and
how to get organized. We have already touched on losing weight, so this week I
would like to touch on saving money.
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, although a lot of people do it anyway. But that is not what I
want to deal with today. The Bible talks about the little foxes that spoil the
vine. What that is talking about is the little things that sneak into our lives
without us realizing it. They start picking away at the vines in our lives until
it destroys us. One of those "little foxes" is eating out.
Eating out is among the top causes of personal
debt. Most of us hunt for the best interest rates on our mortgages, and we
complain about the awful price of gas the whole time we are pumping it.
Interestingly enough though, I have yet to hear
one person groan about the awful prices they had to pay for lunch today or tell
how they were "duped" into having to pay such high prices at their favorite
restaurant. I mean really, the government should step in and make all
restaurants take steak off of their menus so I won't be tempted to order it. Of
course then there are those fast food places. They shouldn't be allowed to build
so close to the road and make it so convenient for me to drive in there each
day. They have a lot of nerve expecting me to be a responsible adult who knows
what I can or can't afford and should or shouldn't do.
Tut, tut. I had better behave or I will have to
fire myself. HA! HA! But I do feel so much better for getting that off of my
Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes -- saving money and
eating out. I know most of the excuses we use to justify eating out when it
doesn't really fit in the budget: "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 take care of my yard, so I will hire a crew of
gardeners to do it. I, too, don't have time to clean my house, so I will have a
housekeeper come in every day and do it for me. I don't know how to cook, so I
need a chef (the best French one, of course), and it is so much easier to hit my
garage sales if I am chauffeur driven.
Obviously, my examples are tongue in cheek. But, as
ridiculous as that all sounds, that really is what a lot of us are doing. In the
same way that I can't afford a gardener, housekeeper, or chauffeur (and I would be
pretty foolish to go hire them), many of us can't afford to go out to eat, but do
it anyway. I don't think most people really realize how much they spend dining
out each month and would be shocked to find that they could probably hire a
housekeeper or a gardener for that same amount.
Take one week and write down how much you spend
dining out. That includes all those coffees, soft drinks, things from the
vending machines, and snacks you buy throughout the day. Be sure to write down
the amount of anything that goes into you and your family's mouths for an
average week. I'm afraid you may be unpleasantly surprised. Multiply it by 4 to
get a monthly estimate, and I think you would be just plain shocked.
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. Even when we know that
a habit is destructive to us (physically, financially and even emotionally), we
still do it.
What is the difference between other people's
destructive habits and our repeatedly going out to eat and charging it? We know
the food isn't as good for our families, we know we don't have the money to pay
for it, and we know on bill-paying day we will be so stressed that we will take
it out on everyone around us. We so proudly display our bumper stickers that say,
"Say no to drugs." but how many of us could proudly display a bumper sticker
that says "Say no to debt, I'm debt free".
I know those words may sound harsh to some, but
if you have seen and dealt with as many families as I have, whose homes have
been or are being destroyed because of financial irresponsibility, you would
understand why I can't always sugar-coat things. We sink into a fog of apathy,
hopelessness, and discouragement and just give up trying. I really want you to
understand that you can fix your finances, but it will take a little bit of work and
effort on your part. Don't just throw up your hands and give up.
There is a story in the Bible (John 5) that tells
about a man who couldn't walk. He had laid by a healing pool for 38 years. If he
could dip in the pool when the water stirred, he would be healed. Jesus asks him
what he is doing there and he says "Well, I just don't have anyone who will
carry me and put me in the pool" (Poor little old me.) Jesus then asks him, "Do
you really want to get healed?" This might seem to us a strange question but, as
I once heard a woman speaker point out, if he really wanted to get healed
wouldn't he have tried some way to inch his way over to that pool even if he
could only make it a half an inch a day no matter how hard it was?
Maybe Jesus asked this question because He too
thought here was a man, like so many do these days, making excuses, being a
victim, and waiting for someone else to fix his problem for him. What did Jesus
tell him to do? GET UP! (stand on your own two feet), TAKE UP YOUR BED (start
being responsible for your own things), and WALK (become active in solving your
own problems which may mean physical labor, or doing without some things).
You need to be like the lame man and GET UP, TAKE
UP YOUR BED, and WALK. If you know you are going out to eat too much, then stop
saying you're a victim of these "hard economic times". Be responsible for the
"bed" (or the debts that you have now), and actively start doing something about
it today. It isn't as hard as you think. I can take every excuse for eating out
that I mentioned above and prove that they're not really valid.
"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.
If I sound like I don't have patience with that
excuse, it's because I don't. I was a single mom with 2 teens, working 60 -70
hours a week, doing all my own yard work, home repairs, and on and on and guess
what? Except when I was ill, I always found time to make breakfast and dinner.
"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. There are simple enough instructions on the back of a
package of spaghetti noodles that, once again, even a child can read and do.
Warm up a jar of sauce and dinner is served. You now have 2 main dishes that
take less than 10 minutes to prepare.
I understand that man can't live on hot dogs
alone (although I think kids can), but don't worry -- after a week or two of
simple dishes, you can move on to more complicated things like frozen French
fries and frying hamburgers. Plus, if you really get stuck, I just happen to know
of this really good cookbook called Dining on A Dime that can help you.
"It's so much easier." I guess that depends on
your definition of easy. To me, going to a restaurant, sitting and listening to
loud music for 30 minutes with fussy, hungry, complaining kids is not my idea of
fun. Going to a drive-thru is, at times, not much better. Lately, it seems as if
the line of cars wraps around the whole building at every fast food joint that I
drive by. I was amazed to see every restaurant's parking lot jam-packed two days
after Christmas. (Must be that all those people who couldn't afford Christmas
had gotten a windfall.) Sorry, once again, I digress.
You may say "The restaurant where I 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
If you are in debt, it would be 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. This is very important
because I notice a lot of people make a bigger mess than necessary when they
Instead of messing up the whole stove by
repeatedly laying a sticky spoon on it, use a spoon holder or cup. It is a
simple thing that makes clean up so much easier.
Keep some hot soapy water in the sink while you
are cooking and wash things as you're finished with them.
Don't set that carton of milk down on the counter
after you pour it. While it is still in your hand, put it back in the fridge.
Keep the amount of utensils you use to a minimum.
You don't need to put a lid on a pot every time you cook something.
Don't always think gourmet. Most families are so
excited to get a homemade meal that they don't care what you serve them.
Besides, almost any meal can be made to look "gourmet". Fruit sliced and
arranged nicely on a plate, muffins keeping warm and nestled in a napkin inside
a basket or mashed potatoes mounded high with a chunk of golden butter melting
down the sides all have eye appeal. All right -- I made myself hungry! Maybe
it's time to quit for lunch.
Clean up is one of the main reasons people hate
to eat at home. But if you clean as you go like I mentioned earlier 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 crock-pots. 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 2 minutes? How hard is
that to cook?
You could also have sloppy joes simmering in a
crock pot 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.
I don't know who set the standard that cooking a
meal in 30 minutes is fast. If I took that long to cook a meal every night, I
would never get anything done. There are tons of meals out there that require 15
minutes or less prep time.
If you don't know where to start, then drag out
our cookbook or go to our website. We have lots of ideas there to get you
started. Sometimes we like to make things more complicated than they really are
because that gives us a good excuse not to do them. Where there is a will, there
is a way.
Do you really want to get out of debt? Then GET
UP, STOP CHARGING, and GET COOKING!
I think you hit the nail on
the head! How many times do I stop at a fast food place
and "grab dinner" on the way home only to waste time
waiting in line? Or When your family says this isn't
what I wanted or this isn't so great and you know you
could have made better in less time. Then, when it is
time to pay the bills, I cannot believe how much I have
spent at restraunts in just one month. Thank you for
this article, it really put things into perspective for
a lot of us."
It makes you stop and
think. What a simple way to get along. Years ago, this
was a way of life. We need to get back to basics and a
simple good pure life."