How To Eat On A Budget Without Giving Up Takeout

There are tons of reasons why cooking at home is a great idea, and I can recite them all. Home-cooked food is almost always healthier than anything you’ll get in a takeout container, it’s better for the environment, and it can be a mindful, meditative way to spend an evening. Last, but certainly not least, home cooking will definitely be easier on your bank account than the GrubHub app.

But while I strive to cook at home as often as possible, sometimes I want — no, need — to just have a plate or bowl of fully prepared food handed to me. In a month like January, that makes me feel extra guilty because I’ve already spent way too much money during the busy holiday season.

In an effort to spend less on food this month and in the coming months of 2024, I decided to talk to financial experts to get their best tips for eating on a budget without cooking all the time. Here are their top budget-friendly food tips that involve as little cooking as possible.

Check out the prepared foods section at your local grocery store

While this tip does involve a little bit of cooking, it really is just a little bit. According to Shinobu Hindert, a certified financial planner (CFP), the prepared foods section of your local grocery store can be your best friend.

“You can buy a pre-made chicken salad and add it to a pre-made salad mix that you toss together,” Hindert told HuffPost. “You can have that for two nights, depending on the size of the chicken salad you get. Trader Joe’s has great pre-made options, too. For example, you can buy a pre-made salad mix or burrito. This is more expensive than buying it all together, but you save money by not wasting any food you’re not eating and it’s less expensive than going out.”

Make a list of budget-friendly takeout restaurants near you

While takeout is more expensive than eating at home, every takeout order doesn’t have to make a huge dent in your credit card. “Make a list of local places you like to have takeout from that are under your budget,” Hindert said. “Tier them into two categories: Budget-friendly and splurge. If you know cooking a typical meal at home costs you about $10 per person then grabbing takeout from Chipotle, for example, won’t break the bank.”

But, she said, if you have a favorite takeout place where dishes run $15-plus, this becomes an expensive habit. “If you have restaurants pre-picked and budget out what you can comfortably spend, it minimizes any hangry splurges,” Hindert noted. “Maybe you skip the appetizers and use the leftovers for lunch the next day to make this budget-friendly. Get creative!”

Julien McRoberts via Getty Images

The prepared foods section at your grocery store can actually help you waste fewer ingredients.

Try a DashPass Subscription

As with most things in life, there is a way to save money on takeout. Tori Dunlap, the author of ”The Financial Feminist,” says she’s all about the DashPass, which offers $0 delivery fees, lower service fees, and 5% DoorDash credits back on pickup orders, and much more. “One of my favorite strategies is using the free DashPass subscription that comes with my credit card to cut down on costs,” she said.

Get creative with your takeout orders

Dunlap also suggests thinking through our takeout orders before you place them. “What can you order that will last?” Dunlap said. “Ordering meals that are larger that you can split up, for example, can be a smart move. A pizza can be dinner then lunch the next day. I also try to order things I know will keep for a day or two — sushi, for example, is so yummy but hard to keep as a leftover.”

Give yourself a takeout budget

One of the best ways to limit what you spend on takeout (or restaurants in general) is to make a plan for it. While we all go over budget sometimes, having a rough guideline for how much you want to or able to spend on takeout can be helpful. “Carve out time to sit down and budget what you really spend on take-out,” Hindert said. “It may be more or less than you think. Once you see your bottom-line number you can make choices.”

If you want to continue spending at the same rate, Hindert added, where can you cut back? “It could be on your daily morning latte or maybe the weekend brunch with friends,” she said.

If you carve out space in your budget for ordering takeout, you don’t need to cut it out of your life. You need to make lifestyle choices of what is most important to you.”

One point both Dunlap and Hindert make is that when it comes to budgeting, as long as your needs are met, you should focus on spending your money in a way that makes you happy. So hey, if takeout or eating out at restaurants makes you happy, create a budget that accommodates that want. Just be forewarned that you’ll probably need to put a limit on how many impulsive Amazon purchases you make, but that’s not so bad, right?

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