One of the things that can drastically affect a household budget is eating out at restaurants.
On the surface, it seems as though a once-a-week cheap meal out (especially if there are just a couple people in your family!) doesn't really amount to any financial strain.
For those who want or need to cut costs, cooking is a huge money-saver.
When Joshua and I were first married, we started "splurging" by going out to eat one evening each week. I hadn't been accustomed to going out to eat, being raised in a family where eating out occurred about once a year.
I enjoyed having a night off from cooking, and it didn't take me long to adjust. ;) We found that over time, it became more of a habit than a special treat, and we found more excuses to eat out, not just once, but occasionally twice in one week.
Yet, we weren't really even enjoying eating out. Yes, it filled a need (a meal), mostly due to lack of planning. It wasn't a special evening out, but instead something to fall back on when I was feeling uninspired in the kitchen. :|
It's easy to get into a habit of resorting to eating out, because, let's face it: Buying ready-made food is easy. Being disciplined and tackling something new takes, well, some work.
It didn't take us too long (thankfully!) to realize that we needed to stop eating out. Not completely, mind you -- we actually never made a decision to never ever eat out.
What I did do, was start planning ahead more. Making a weekly menu helps. I also continued honing my cooking skills. If you feel as though your culinary efforts are inadequate, you may enjoy this article, where I discuss some of the "ingredients" of successful cooking endeavors.
If you're a beginning cook, start with simple dishes. There are a lot of yummy meals that are made entirely from scratch and are also very simple to make! Don't tackle too much all at once. Be sure to read the entire recipe at least once before you begin, so you're not surprised by any of the ingredients it calls for, or the instructions. Allow extra time if it's a new recipe and/or you feel inexperienced.
As I spent more and more time cooking, I learned to make a variety of different meals, and we adjusted the recipes to suit our tastes. I still don't consider myself to be an advanced cook (there is so much I just don't know about cooking/foods!) but I will say that we really enjoy our home-cooked meals.
We enjoy our homemade meals so much, in fact, that when we finally decided to go out to eat for a special date (I think it had been maybe 6 months or so since we had last eaten out/ordered food at/from a restaurant) we were quite disappointed in the food. We were eating at a nicer restaurant, yet we realized that Joshua's grilled meats and my homemade side dishes and desserts tasted far better than the food for which we had just paid $30+.
A few months after that experience, we ordered pizza, and were again disappointed. Not that the pizza was bad -- not at all. But ours was just as good or even better, since we put plenty of our favorite toppings on, and somehow "triple-cheese" still barely covers the sauce when you order a pizza. I also had gotten fast at making homemade pizza, and with getting the cheese on sale, it was costing us about $2.50 for a loaded 16-inch pizza, which took very little time and effort to prepare.*
In the past couple years, we've eaten out just a handful of times. In the past 12 months, I can think of two occasions where we purchased prepared food. At this point, even if we had endless money, we would still eat our own cooking, because we just like it so much better! (Plus, homemade is usually healthier!)
Be sure you aren't replacing eating out with the habit of purchasing expensive groceries. Food Budgeting Tips: How we eat well on less! I also pack my husband a lunch every day, which costs less and is much healthier than anything he could purchase at work.
So, these are my suggestions for beating the eating-out habit! It's no longer a challenge for me to cook every day (although there are days when I do make an extremely simple meal, which we still like better than we would like most restaurant food!) and since we can't afford to eat out, anyway, we save a lot of money without even feeling like we're "sacrificing".
*I use a bread machine to knead most of my homemade bread dough, which is a real time-saver. My homemade pizza takes me about 5-10 minutes on the dough, 10 minutes shredding cheese/preparing toppings, and 5-10 minutes to assemble. Baking time is about 20 minutes. Start to finish, we can have homemade pizza in 60 minutes, with about 20-30 minutes of actually working on it. This time-frame does require using pre-made sauce and pepperoni, both of which I make in large batches to use as needed.
The first time you make homemade pizza, it won't be that quick. It may not even turn out exactly how you like it. But I encourage you to keep experimenting, because with some effort, you can spend less for more, and it'll still be easy. :)