The One Rule I Follow When I Eat Out

There are few things I get more excited about than good food and good wine – but I almost never go out to restaurants for them.

Growing up, I was so, so spoiled when it comes to cuisine. To this day, my mom is the best cook I’ve ever met – and I don’t mean that in the typical “oh, the best food is always what your mom makes at home” sense. I mean she uses the freshest ingredients and would make these amazing, elaborate dinners.

And while I probably visit my parents more than most, I’ve had to figure this whole food thing out for myself. For a long time, that meant eating out or eating ho-hum prepackaged foods, for fear of the damage I could cause my taste buds or my kitchen. It felt impossible to save money and eat out.

The Question I Ask Myself

However, the longer I’m on my own, the less I spend eating out and the more I spend on the tools and ingredients that let me eat in. In fact, I find myself at the point where I only treat myself to a professional’s cooking when there’s a special occasion, and when I do eat out, I always ask myself one question:

Can I make it better and cheaper at home?

If so, I’m not getting it. It’s that simple.

What I Won’t Pay For When Eating Out

I’m not going to go out for brunch on the weekends with the girls. I’ll never understand how a restaurant can say two eggs, a slice of toast, some bacon, and hash browns are worth $15+ when I can do the exact same thing at home for less than $5.

I’m not going to order the same salmon I’ve made at home a couple dozen times – even though it’s my favorite. The only things I’ll seek out are the dishes that evade me in my own kitchen now. 

And this goes double for drinks. Why pay $5+ for a glass of orange juice that might be fresh when I can buy a whole bag of oranges from my farmers market for the same amount? Or worse, $12 for a glass of Chardonnay when the bottle costs $8 at my local Ralphs. And my personal pet peeve: $5 for a Tazo-branded tea bag and hot water.

The instant gratification of having them there doesn’t outweigh the annoyance I feel for the crazy increase in cost. It’s ‘deals’ like these that makes people say it’s impossible to save money and eat out.

What I Will Pay For When Eating Out

All that said, there are some things that just aren’t as cost-effective to make in smaller batches.

Do I need to have a ton of perishable ingredients on hand when I just need a pinch of each for that curry? One recipe can easily cost $15+ just in ingredients, so they better be things that I plan on using again before they go bad!

This means the only things I’m treating myself to are the things that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to, well, treat myself to.

It’s a quick check-in to keep my wallet and taste buds happy – while ensuring that I’m only paying for experiences that are worth it.

To recap how I save money and eat out:

Fancy craft cocktails with ingredients I have yet to hear of? Sure, let’s get bougie.

Sushi, curries, or novel combinations of foods I’ve never considered? All fair game.

“Artisanal” grilled cheese in Venice? I think I’m ok… thanks, though.

I want to try the best new things, and I’m happy to pay for the experience! But I almost always walk away thinking, ok, now how do I make this myself?

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