I am not a cook. I’m the type of person who would much rather order out than attempt to cook my own lemon chicken sauté. I’ve tried cooking before and although I have racked up a few favorite recipes, it’s not really my thing. This article is for my fellow non-cooks who love takeout but need to find a way to save money on food. Whether you don’t use your kitchen because you don’t have time or you simply do not know how to turn on your oven, you have found your people. Now… shall we order Seamless?
The truth is, people can save a lot of money by cooking at home. Most of my friends have figured this out and prepare their own delicious dinners for a cheap Trader Joe’s price tag. But if you aren’t inclined to caramelize onions, there are other ways to eat a nice meal without breaking the bank.
I believe that the best way to keep your food finances in check is to be realistic with yourself. If you are more of a pre-washed salad-in-a-bag person, buying the cheaper option — an unwashed head of lettuce — will turn out to be more of a waste if you never take the time to turn that lettuce into a salad.
It might be a challenge to save money on food if you don’t cook — however, it is still very possible. Simply learn your eating habits, time constraints and neighborhood food surroundings, then make smart choices. Here are a few tips to help you along the way.
Pick Up, Don’t Deliver
Most people have their go-to takeout order. I have nothing against ordering out. If you aren’t a cook, sometimes ordering from a restaurant will get you a healthier meal than microwavable food from your freezer. However, picking up the order yourself is a great way to save money by dodging those additional delivery expenses.
My advice is to place your order when you leave the office and pick it up on the way home. All of a sudden, that $17 splurge (after including delivery tips & fees) can decrease to $10, and all it took was a small detour on your commute. “But what if I work from home?” Take the walk and get some bonus exercise! If you pick up your takeout food twice in a row, you’ll probably save enough money to afford a third takeout night.
Finding ways to save money can be as simple as choosing pick-up instead of delivery, but that might not be enough. Remember, purchasing takeout multiple times per week can drain your bank account if you’re not careful. When you’re busy, it’s easy to fall into the trap of ordering takeout from a restaurant every night, and this is not recommended. When you know you have a jam-packed schedule ahead of you, there are alternative ways to get dinner on the table. Which brings me to…
If you own a crockpot that has been taking up storage space in the back of your pantry, it is time to make use of it! For the non-cook, a slow-cooker/crockpot can be an amazing tool in the kitchen. When you know you have back-to-back late nights coming up, you may want to consider cooking up a large batch of food over the weekend that can carry you through the week. Heat up your delicious leftovers when you get home, and voila! Dinner is served!
Here’s my favorite slow-cooker recipe for Jambalaya. It’s sooo simple! (Tip: Shrimp doesn’t keep well, especially if you plan to freeze some of the leftovers. Skip the shrimp in this recipe and you’ll be able to get more meals out of it.)
Satisfy cravings for your favorite delivery dishes by making a delicious slow cooker version of your takeout staples, like Chicken Tikka Masala or Beef & Broccoli. You will be eating healthier AND save money in the process. It’s a win-win!
Lunch At Work
Do you constantly go out to eat with coworkers, but your company isn’t picking up the tab? Have you ever calculated how much money you spend on food and drinks during office hours in an average work week? It can get pricey! It can be tempting to go to lunch with coworkers — having that time to bond and blow off steam during the work day. But keep an eye on how much you’re spending, and think about if it’s really worth the expense. When you’re on a tight budget, you may want to save that money to spend outside of work on the things you really care about.
My advice? Pack your lunch whenever you can. My go-to is sandwiches. I’m not a health expert or a nutritionist, but I can tell you that the ingredients for a turkey and muenster sandwich or a classic PB&J are cheap and filling. You don’t have to turn down every lunch outing with your colleagues, but you can cut back.
Does your department tend to go out to eat on Fridays? Then save money by packing a lunch for the other four days and go to lunch with your team at the end of the week. Chances are that some other coworkers will follow your lead and join you in your money-saving quest! Agree to pack a lunch, then snag an empty conference room or grab a seat at a nearby park and enjoy some coworker bonding time with a much smaller price tag.
Grocery Store Reward Points and Sales
Take time to learn about your local grocery stores. Do any of them offer a customer loyalty card that will let you rack up reward points? Sign up for that card. Is your favorite type of bread on sale every Thursday? Buy that bread on Thursday. Does another store three blocks away sell significantly cheaper orange juice? If you’re on a tight budget, it might be worthwhile to walk those three extra blocks.
It sounds simple — because it is! You can save money by making use of reward points, checking for coupons and paying attention to competitors’ pricing. It may seem insignificant at the start, but the monthly savings will add up.
My biggest piece of advice is to be realistic. For the non-cook, figuring out ways to save on food can be tricky. Making economical changes that fit into your lifestyle, personality type, diet and work schedule will probably take a little trial and error — but once you find a system that clicks, those savings will accumulate week after week. Maybe someday you’ll become a Julia Child-caliber cook who makes dinner from scratch every night, or you’ll have enough money to place bountiful takeout orders for three meals a day…plus dessert. Until then, continue to make small adjustments to save money on food wherever you can. It doesn’t have to be a complete lifestyle change — it can be as simple as a pick-up instead of delivery.
One final note: remember that food isn’t the only thing that can add up — ordering coffee can cost you a lot of money too! Don’t miss these tips for spending less on coffee.