UNITED STATES—In the past two years I have discovered something about my spending habits that I never paid much attention to: food is costly. That especially holds true if you’re one who indulges in eating out. I will not say I eat out every day of the week because I don’t and I know it would NOT be healthy to do so. However, I would argue I eat out at least 2 times a week, preferably on the weekends.

The thing about eating out is that you want variety, but at the same time you want to ensure you’re getting a meal that is tasty, and you feel like you get your money’s worth. If you’re hitting up these fast-food restaurants for the most part that is not the case! You eat, and maybe an hour or two later you’re still hungry. Why is that? Look at the key terminology: fast-food!

The goal is not to ensure that you are full after eating, it’s to satisfy that craving, that hunger that you have. As a result you may have just dropped $6-$15 on a meal, consumed anywhere from 800-2000 calories and your body is telling you that you want more. It places you in pickle because not only are you still not satiated, but you’ve wasted money.

So what is the solution? Get in the kitchen and prep a meal. I’ve come to the realization that when you make a home cooked meal it stretches your budget. What you spend on a meal at a restaurant or a fast-food chain could have been spent at the grocery store where you could make 2-3 meals for the week that could be consumed over a number of days.

Not only are you not eating something healthy, you’re preventing yourself from wasting money. Here’s the great thing about cooking: you get to bond with family, you are 10x likely to get full from a meal that you prepared versus dining out. In addition, you are likely to utilize that money that you may have spent outside of the home and place back into the home.

The key to having money is to not spend it wastefully. I’ve come to the conclusion that eating out is wasteful spending of money. It’s ok to do it maybe once a week, but to do it, 3-7 days a week is excessive and just tally up your receipts if you think I’m misleading you. Calculate what you spent and imagine if you had taken those funds and utilized them at the grocery store. How much money might you have saved? It’s a stark reality; one that is quite difficult for many of us to fathom at first glimpse, but it does exist America. You cannot run for it, you cannot hide from it; we are spending more eating out then we spend on probably anything else.

Why not focus that energy on aiming to cook meals, stock up the pantry, the fridge, the freezer and the cabinets in the home with items that are not deep fried or heavily processed. Just consider my challenge to you. Keep all the receipts on fast-food or dining out that you do for 1 week. At the end of the week, tally them and ask yourself the question: Man, what could I have done with that money?

Written By Kelsey Thomas