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Everyday Cheapskate: Break the bad habit that’s killing your finances

Let’s not beat around the bush. Eating out is eating up your future. It’s gobbling down your present and keeping you stuck in the past. That heavy debt you’re hauling around didn’t happen while you were asleep. Face it: You’ve been eating your way into debt.

Breaking the eating-out habit is possible. You can do it. It takes motivation, perseverance and practice. It’s all about replacing old habits with a few new ones.

Cost. Track how much you spend on food (including groceries, coffee, donuts ... all of it for you and every person in your household) in one week, and then multiply by 52. Now factor in all the food you throw away that spoils in your kitchen because you buy it and then eat out instead. Could this be the reason you aren’t able to save or build an emergency fund?

Health. I don’t want to get too graphic here, but recently the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that one in every five restaurant workers admit coming to work while sick with diarrhea and vomiting — two main symptoms of the stubborn norovirus. If you’ve ever gotten sick after eating out, you know what I’m talking about. Norovirus is running rampant. The problem lies with sick workers who take a bathroom break, do not wash their hands with soap, and then return to prepare and serve our food. Is it possible that it’s healthier to eat at home?

Hunger. Do not let yourself or your family get too hungry. This is the big one for me. If I have not planned ahead, and then I cross the line into emergency territory where I must eat right this minute, I’m doomed. I can’t think straight.

Plan ahead. This requires thinking ahead, which means strategic grocery shopping. Create menu plans, prepare lunches, post a dinner meal schedule on the fridge. Create menus. When everyone in the family knows what’s coming up, no one is going to be thinking McDonalds.

Hire help. I know I need help with meal planning because I’m one busy gal. I use eMeals (www.everyday

cheapskate.com/emeals15). My meal plan, menus and shopping lists show up in my email box once a week. Yes. I am a fan. An eMeals membership is cheap, too, which of course makes me an even bigger fan. Whether you choose to plan your meals yourself or to get help, getting into a planning mode is essential for breaking the eating-out habit.

Cook. Anyone can learn how to make tasty meals. It takes commitment, good recipes, fresh ingredients and practice. There is no shortage of teachers and training on the Internet. Check Food.com and Allrecipes.com for videos, recipes and tutorials.

Keep it special. Make eating out something you choose to do on important occasions. Plot it on the calendar so you can look forward to this as a special treat. Anticipate, celebrate. Choose a cuisine that you cannot make yourself and you’ll enjoy it even more.

Email Hunt at mary@everyday

cheapskate.com, or write to Everyday Cheapskate, P.O. Box 2099, Cypress, CA 90630.

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