SAN ANTONIO — You might notice it in your own budget: Texans are spending more money eating out since the pandemic began. Takeout food is convenient, but it can clean out your wallet.
“Spending on food away from home such as spending at restaurants or on takeout, increased a lot more than spending on groceries,” said Erika Giovanetti, who wrote a report on takeout for LendingTree.
She found some Texas households spent almost $440 a month on takeout. It is a convenience you will pay for, but experts said there are ways to keep your stomach and wallet full.
First, try to scale back on your orders.
“If you order takeout five nights a week, maybe cut back to just three nights a week,” said Andrea Woroch, a money-saving expert. “I like to say start small, and then once you adopt and adopt to the next habit you can continue to reduce it from there.
Food for delivery can come with higher prices and extra fees. Instead, do the pickup yourself.
“Just order through your local restaurant and then choose pickup,” Woroch said. “This is an easy way to avoid those fees. I know it’s $3 or $5 charges here and there doesn’t sound like a lot and maybe won’t bust your budget, but, again, if you’re doing this on a regular basis, those small fees add up. Pick up whenever possible and arrange it with an errand so it doesn’t feel like you’re going out of your way just to go get that order of takeout.”
“A lot of small restaurants, family-owned places are struggling right now,” Giovanetti said. “They probably would really like it if you just called them up and ordered food for takeout rather than going through a third party service.”
Or save by buying more frozen, prepared foods at the grocery store for quick meals. Woroch likes to keep a frozen pizza on hand at all times so a meal can be made quickly.
“I also stock my freezer with things that are easy to heat up in the microwave or in the oven for those nights that I don’t want to order takeout. It still costs a little bit more than cooking yourself, but not as much a takeout,” Woroch said. “Have things like frozen vegetables on hand or frozen chicken. This way you have something that’s easy to thaw and cook quickly. You don’t have to worry about going to the grocery store. I think that tends to be the biggest reason why people end up ordering takeout. You think, 'Oh, now I have to go to the grocery store and get all these ingredients and then cook.' If you just have it at home and ready to go in the freezer, then it’s that one less step you need to take to cook your own meals and prevent takeout.”
Order a main meal only.
“Everything looks good when you are hungry,” Woroch said. “If you can make a small appetizer at home, whether that’s humus and carrots or crackers and cheese, this might put some of that hunger at bay.”
A budget can also help reign in food spending. Let technology do the hard work for you.
“Budgeting apps for your smartphone can set up automatic alerts if you’re spending too much in a certain category like restaurants or takeout,” Giovanetti said.
She recommended using Mint.
Get money off delivery orders by using coupon codes.
“There are sites like CouponCabin.com that will have deals to these different ordering sites,” said Woroch. “Also, if you meet a certain spending threshold, so say if you order $30 worth of food from a restaurant, then maybe you’ll get 10 percent off. In that case, maybe you’re ordering lunch for yourself for the next day. Then you can get that discount and you’re prepared for a couple of meals.”
Cash back apps like Fetch Rewards will allow you to get more meals for free.
“This will earn you points that are good towards free gift cards," said Woroch. "You can get free gift cards to restaurants or retailers or even to Instacart and that can then offset other food purchase.”
Plus, make larger meals when you do cook and freeze the leftovers so they are easy to reheat on another night.
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