Trimming the Average Budget: Eating Out

This is part of an ongoing series about how to trim the budget of the average American. As this series focuses on such broad-based tips, some will work for you and some will not. You’re invited to mention in the comments the tips that you found to be the most useful for inclusion in a comprehensive budget trimming guide at the conclusion of this series.

Food – food away from home – $2,668

The average American family spends $225 a month eating away from home – dinners eaten out, quick snacks grabbed, and coffees ordered and consumed on the run.

Much of this spending comes about simply because it’s convenient. Rather than investing the time to get my coffee machine set up, I’ll just stop at Starbucks and get me a cup of some sweet mixture resembling coffee. I don’t have time to make lunch, so I’ll just stop at Mickey D’s and pick up a sandwich to go. It’s been a long day, honey – let’s go out to eat.

In each of those cases, though, you’re often paying for surprisingly inefficient, low quality food. Setting up the coffee pot before you go to bed takes just a moment or two – and you can basically have a cup waiting for you when you’re ready to go in the morning. It’s easy to make convenient lunches for yourself in advance that are much cheaper, tastier, healthier, and just as quick as anything you can get at the drive-thru. The same holds true for going out for dinner – if you know what you’re doing in the kitchen, you can have a great meal on the table in fifteen minutes, giving you a full evening to relax at home.

That’s not to say that one should completely eschew eating outside the home if they enjoy it, but these tips can help trim the costs a bit.

Keep eating out squarely in the “treat” department instead of letting it turn into a tired old habit. Given the huge cost difference between eating out and dining in – and given the special experience that dining out can be – you’re much better off if you save dining out for special occasions and eat at home the rest of the time. If you do this, not only will your food budget thank you, but the occasions when you do eat out will become that much more enjoyable.

Have materials on hand for very impromptu meals. Many people choose to eat out (or order food) because they can’t think of anything simple to make after a hard day of work. Don’t ever allow that to be an excuse. Always keep materials on hand for several simple meals. For example, we always have the materials we need on hand for chicken-broccoli-rice stir fry, spaghetti, homemade pizza, and chili, each of which can be cooked in about half an hour or so. We make sure to always have the things on hand for these meals, even if we don’t make them right away.

Learn how to cook at home. Hand-in-hand with that is the fear many people today have of their kitchen (besides the microwave). It’s really not hard to cook for yourself – it just takes practice. Teach yourself how to cook so that the thought of preparing a meal for yourself in the evening doesn’t feel like an overwhelming potential disaster.

Prepare full meals in advance and freeze them. On a weekend, make three batches of a casserole and freeze two of them as close to finished as you can possibly get away with – or do the same with any other complete meal, like a roasted chicken. This way, you can just stick the meal in the fridge the night before you want to eat it, come home the next day, preheat the oven, toss in the meal, and an hour later, you’re eating.

Prepare convenient breakfasts and lunches in advance and freeze them. Similarly, spend some time on a lazy weekend afternoon making an enormous batch of frozen convenient breakfasts and lunches, such as breakfast sandwiches or delicious lunch burritos. When you’ve made and frozen a big batch of these, making a quick, tasty, healthy breakfast is as easy as yanking the items out of the freezer, wrapping them in a paper towel, and microwaving them for three or four minutes. That’s it – you’re ready to go, and it’s a lot cheaper, faster, and tastier than the old drive-thru.

Brown bag it whenever you can. If you have any sort of a chance to prepare food in advance before you leave for the day, do so. A quick sandwich, vegetable, fruit, and beverage tossed into a bag can serve as lunch for anyone – and that’s just the start of it. There are many, many possibilities for the humble brown bag – and virtually all of them are less expensive than eating out or ordering food into the office.

If you eat for social reasons, host a potluck dinner. Perhaps you eat out regularly with friends. Instead of doing that, why not take turns hosting dinner? You can either handle the entire dinner yourself or you can ask the others to bring side dishes. Do it on a rotating basis so the work is shared and you’ll find that everyone is saving some money and still having all of the social fun.

If you eat out for social reasons at work, suggest a regular brown-bag day. Many people eat out with coworkers and use the opportunity to touch base about work issues – which is certainly a strong career element. However, why do you always have to eat out to do this? To start changing that culture, suggest a regular brown-bag day once a week for the group. Alternately, you could have one person in your group handle all of the brown bag lunches for everyone once every few weeks. Over the long run, this saves all of you some serious change without disrupting the social flow.

I want your help! In the comments, please let me know which of the tips you find most useful for trimming these costs. I’ll include the top choices in a comprehensive budget trimming guide at the conclusion of the series.

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59 thoughts on “Trimming the Average Budget: Eating Out

  1. chris says:

    Every time we make stir-fry’s at home, they always end up being a bit bland.

    Can you elaborate on the chicken-broccoli-rice stir-fry?

    I’m certain we’re just missing some essential seasonings…

    thanks

  2. Michelle says:

    I would add, learn where the “cheap” places to eat are. When we lived in CA, we would hit the taco truck and eat at a park, for just a few bucks, we could have really tasty Mexican food. Local diners are pretty cheap and tasty too. For about the same price as fast food, and less than a sit down restaurant, you can get food that tastes better and in some cases is better for you.

    To me, eating out should be more about the social aspect, which is the same whether you’re eating taco truck tacos in a park, or at a fancy restaurant.

    But yes, cooking at home is the best option!

  3. Josh says:

    Some good ways to reduce your shelter costs are to live with a roommate(s) or downsize to a smaller location.

  4. spaces says:

    lol Josh.

  5. anna says:

    In my city, food places are so abundant that for my family of 2 it is cheaper to eat out most meals. We can go get a gigantic order of chinese food for $3.50, crab ragoon, fried rice and cashew chicken. That order is enough for 2 people to eat and sometimes even have leftovers, we tried to duplicate the same meal one time and it ended up taking us almost 3 hours to make and at least $15 in groceries. So eating out isn’t always a more expensive option, yes I couldn’t go out and order a huge steak at a 4-Star Restaurant for less than to cook it at home but food in my area, especially Mexican & Chinese are at such an abundance that it is much cheaper and better tasting to eat it out than to cook it at home.

  6. Molly says:

    Favorite tip: Have materials on hand for very impromptu meals.

    Mmm, cheesy mustard lentils….

  7. Kristen says:

    Somewhere between “Prepare meals in advance and freeze them” and going out to eat, I am a fan of picking up a frozen lasagna or frozen dinner when they are on sale. Sometimes it is nice to have a couple levels of options.

    Or maybe that is my excuse for buying Kashi’s Black Bean and Mango Rice meal. I totally love it so I have to be careful and only eat it as a special treat or in an ‘emergency’.

  8. Maureen says:

    A famous saying: failure to plan is a plan to fail.

    In other words, if you don’t plan out your meals, you will end up going out and having it cost you more in the long run.

  9. gardenurse says:

    We used to pack sandwiches for the road trips, but since my daughter & I can’t have wheat we found a way to save on the Mickey D’s thing. Only order 2 things off the Dollar Menu and water. We will do this when on the road, as my daughter & I can’t have the buns or most fries (usually coated in wheat flour) we get 2 McDoubles, no bun (in the same container) or 1 of those & a $1 parfait.
    Its enough calories for a meal to satisfy us, as well as a lot healthier than getting the full meal. It also won’t break the bank since its pretty tough to eat that cold sandwich when you can’t have the bun.

  10. Kristen says:

    Packing sandwiches, leftovers, snacks, candy, energy drinks, caffeinated beverages, etc for a road trip is totally the way to go. Just add them to the list your last grocery trip before you travel.

    You could always use your frozen burritos as ice in your cooler and pop them in the microwave at a gas station. :)

  11. Sarah says:

    @ Chris,

    (sorry bout that, I accidently hit enter early)

    We stir fry often at home. I found that if you use sesame oil and a little red wine to fry with, it helps a lot. As well, if you cook items seperatly…cook only the meat, then put in a bowl, then cook the veggies, that helps with the flavor. To season when everything is cooked, we use soy sauce and vinegar…it always comes out yummy!

  12. Kate says:

    “Have materials on hand for very impromptu meals.”

    Amen to that one.

    We’ve accepted that there are always going to be THOSE days where you get home late and all you want to do is crash.

    I always keep stuff in the fridge, freezer, or cupboard for those days. Usually pizza stuff, refried beans, pasta, and the makings of homemade McMuffins. Cures the fast-food craving.

  13. Evita says:

    This entry is a bit disappointing…… the main tip being that to cut the costs of eating out, DONT’T DO IT!
    I somewhat expected more…..

  14. Sarah says:

    Continuing on the theme of making eating out a special occasion – plan for it. If you really like to eat out, plan for it in your spending. Planning around special meals out means you are less likely to feel guilty, and will enjoy it all the more.

    When we eat out, we get what we want and don’t skimp just to save money. That’s because we cut out wasteful food spending on routine-type things that are less enjoyable (fast food, a regular old diner, etc). We prefer to route any money we spend on outside food into conscious meal experiences.

    PS. Trent – unfortunately the boilerplate at the end of all of these Trimming costs articles still asks readers for tips on trimming shelter costs. I assume that’s not intentional.

  15. Jane says:

    I also agree that a post on eating out should include more suggestions on how to lower the cost when eating out.

    I would suggest getting the entertainment book, or restaurant.com gift certificates. If you want to eat fast food, you can always find coupons to make it even cheaper. They usually come in the junk mail/ ads in your mailbox every week. If you have a favorite chain restaurant, join their e-club and get printable coupons. We love Sweet Tomatoes, and we pretty never go when we don’t have a buy one get one free coupon. I’ve also noticed that local restaurants have coupons printed on the back of your grocery receipts. That is a great place to find coupons for casual restaurants.

    And if you have children, look into the nights that local family friendly restaurants have free food for kids. We’re not to that point yet (just a toddler who doesn’t eat much and one on the way), but I imagine this will come into play in the future for us.

  16. Ruth says:

    A little more specifics about breakfast to go… for my family a batch of homemade pancakes is way too much food and way too much work for one breakfast, since we will only eat 4 to 5 pancakes total. I found that you can just cook them all up, layer them one pancake, one layer of waxed paper, one pancake, etc, put them in a plastic container or ziplock, and freeze them. Heat the frozen pancakes in a frying pan or in a toaster and they are as good as they were the first day. I prefer pancakes, but I expect this would work for waffles and would be much healthier and cheaper than an Eggo in the morning.

  17. Kristen says:

    @Evita

    Good point!

    My favorite eating out tricks to save money are to share my meal with my husband (order an extra side salad if necessary) and drink water.

  18. Steven says:

    @chris + @sarah

    The key to stir fry is high heat and little amounts of food. You shouldn’t over crowd the pan, otherwise, the food will get soggy. Stir fry is best made in individual sized portions, unless you’re got a restaurant range.

    Like Sarah said, you pre-cook the meat, make sure frozen vegetables are thawed, etc.

    Make sure you’re putting in aromatics as well. A little garlic and onion will go a long way. After everything is preped and pre-cooked, toss a coat the bottom of the pan with oil and toss in onions and garlic for 30 seconds or so, then toss in whatever you’re mixing up for a couple minutes, soy sauce, pepper, and whatever else you like for flavor.

    Also, sesame oil will add good flavor to the food, but it should not be the cooking oil. It’s smoke point is too low and burns easily. Plus, keeping the heat low enough to prevent sesame oil from losing potency means you’re basically steaming while swimming in oil. Sesame oil is best used as a flavoring agent. I’ve been to far too many “awesome” chinese restaurants where the food just reeks of sesame oil.

  19. Amy B. says:

    Ditto to the folks who still actually would like to eat out once in awhile! Good tips on kid’s nights (#17) You might check with local restaurants on promotions, too. Our MOMS club received a bunch (and I mean a bunch) of free kids meal coupons from one of our local fast food restaurant groups.

    Has anyone tried the restaurant.com gift certificates? My understanding is that you can purchase these for about $.40 on the dollar. In my area the restaurant choices are somewhat limited.

    After the holidays, I often see some gift certificates on craigslist at pennies on the dollar from those trying to convert gift cards to needed cash.

  20. Amber says:

    I agree that this post should have included more ways to eat out for less. While some people are eating out purely for ‘convenience’ or lack of cooking knowledge, there are still plenty of times where eating out is required and knowing how to do it cheaply is essential.

    The Entertainment book can be a gold mine as well as the resturant.com gift certificates. I recently bought a monthly club from restaurant.com with a coupon code for 90% off! I paid $6 for $150 worth of gift certificates! It is true that these deals come with some caveats, but with some planning they are not a huge obstacle!

  21. Anne KD says:

    I used to buy a loaf of french bread, eat some with supper with my husband, then slice the rest and turn it into french toast. It didn’t take long to make and freezes very well. It was a matter of seconds to grab a couple of pieces from the freezer and nuke them.

    There’s a vegetarian Indian restaurant near us that we like to visit. Their meals are usually huge and that means leftovers for lunch or dinner the following day.

  22. kristine says:

    How to eat out cheaper:

    Have a glass of wine at home first (not the driver)
    Order what you would never make at home
    Ask for ice water, not “pay for” water, instead of getting beverages.
    Get an entree w/ green veg, instead of separate salad.
    Order a salad, and add a bit of meat from your partners dish.
    Make appetizers the main course.
    Never order coffee, have it when you get home. Ditto desert.
    Bring home the leftovers to amortize the meal.
    Don’t forget the bred! It gets thrown out if you do not take it.

  23. Although I fail miserably at this when it comes to breakfast, I have found something that has made our dinners so much cheaper over the past month, and that is the fresh raviolis from Costco. They’re not incredibly cheap, but they’re not pricey either. We freeze them, and they are so delicious (they have chicken and mozzarella, butternut squash, ricotta and spinach, and probably other flavors), and all we have to do is throw together some sauce and we have a really good meal.

    I’d say this has kept us dining in more than out for the past two months for sure.

  24. Mrs. Money says:

    Trent! I made your Mexican bowls the other night for dinner and it was FABULOUS! I am so not a good cook but this was awesome. Thanks so much for the tips!

    xoxo

  25. cv says:

    Planning is key. We virtually never go out to eat for dinner just because we don’t feel like cooking, but we do end up buying food because we’re hungry when we’re out and about, or at airports and train stations, or we’re going straight from work to some evening event. Thinking far enough ahead to have food on hand that’s portable and doesn’t require refrigeration or a microwave seems to be a challenge for us sometimes.

  26. Sara says:

    I like the tip, “Prepare full meals in advance and freeze them.” It’s nice to have a convenient meal ready to heat and eat at home on days you’re too busy to cook, and much cheaper than going out.

  27. Evita says:

    Since I complained that Trent did not offer real tips for eating out for less, here are my suggestions:
    - if you go out with hungry teens, hit the all-you-can eat buffet
    - be aware of cheap times at your favourite restaurants: lunch specials, “seniors” night, “kiddies” night…. the most expensive times are often Friday and Saturday night, and Sunday noon
    - go for “bring your own wine” restaurants if you care to drink with your meal
    - restaurants in the suburbs are usually quite a bit less expensive than downtown trendy places
    - ethnic places where ethnic people go are usually inexpensive and very good
    I have done all of the above with my family. We go out together about once a month and it is a special outing.

  28. Johanna says:

    If you’re eating out because it’s (socially or professionally) required, you’re probably eating with a large group that includes at least a couple of people who are clueless/selfish enough to order the most expensive thing on the menu and then try to get the group to split the bill evenly. So a tip for saving money there would be to not let them get away with that. I don’t have any particular insights into how best to accomplish this, except to stand your ground and always remember that it is they, not you, who are being unreasonable.

    One thing that might help, if you have any say in picking the restaurant on such an occasion, would be to steer the group toward a place where everyone sticks to their own entree, rather than one where it’s customary to order things for the table and share them. “We all shared everything, so we should certainly all pay the same amount,” the selfish/clueless people will say – never mind that some people had wine and dessert and others didn’t, not everyone was okay with ordering the most expensive things on the menu, etc.

  29. Anitra says:

    Planning ahead is key. I don’t have “lazy afternoons” to cook meals ahead, but I have come to accept that stocking up on frozen pizzas saves me from going out to eat because I’m too tired/frazzled/etc. to cook. With a toddler, I always have to make sure that I have food or can get it if we are going to be out when she would normally be eating lunch, snack, or dinner.

    Eating out has become much more expensive for us now that we have an active toddler with a large appetite – she’s not even 2, but we usually have to get her a kid’s meal or an entree, while avoiding foods that are choking hazards. I definitely need to be more aware of which local restaurants have “kids eat free” nights.

    For the social aspect, we regularly meet up with a group of friends for “10 cent tacos” once a week at a local bar. We’ve become regulars, so the staff doesn’t charge us for refills on our (soft) drinks, and they’ve been OK with us bringing our own finger food for the kid (she’s not QUITE ready for the tacos yet). We have a great time, and usually spend $10 – including a healthy tip!

  30. Anitra says:

    Meant to add:

    If you’re eating out with co-workers, doing a “group brown-bag” may not always go over well, but you can simply cut back how often you go out to eat. At my last job, several guys went out to lunch EVERY day. Some of us just couldn’t afford to do that; so we would brown-bag our lunches all week, and then the whole group would go out together on Fridays. It was a nice treat to end the week, and maintained a regular outside-of-work social time.

  31. Jane says:

    I agree with Johanna about those meals where you get stuck having to pay more than your fair share of the bill. It really stinks that people are so oblivious (though sometimes I wonder if they are aware and just pretend), and I never know how to go about it. Just tonight I was out with a friend who left so little that the waiter was going to have a terrible tip. I had already left well over 20% for my part, so I counted up the money and said how much was there. It took her a moment, but she realized that she needed to throw a few more dollars on the pile. I dread situations like this. I actually pretty much stopped going out with a certain group of friends who routinely would leave too little. One time a “friend” had the gall to order a drink and a plate of oysters and bow out early from dinner. She left only $10 for her part (way under once you factor in tax, tip, etc), and we were had to pick up her slack once the bill came. Needless to say, we really don’t hang out anymore.

  32. The most impotant point I think is that a good portion of eating out is “unnecessary spending”. That is, we do it because were too lazy to cook at home, or too tired, or there aren’t enough convenient choices at home.

    Second, I would check for soupons for your favorite restaurant, even if you’ve never seen them before. Lots of major chains have begun couponing because of the economy, you might be surprised at what you can find.

  33. Dave says:

    We don’t eat out often, once every 2-3 months, but what is a lazy weekend? If I ever find one the last thing I want to do is cook up good food and freeze it

  34. deRuiter says:

    Stir fry: season with hoison sauce, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce. Eating out for the social aspect? Have an appetizer instead of a main course, order tap water with lemon (it’s free) and leave a decent tip. Americans tend to eat too much in restaurants and they tend to be overweight. You order little cheap meals and the gluttons want to split the bill equally? That’s easy, GO TO THE BUFFET WHERE YOU CAN EAT WHAT YOU WANT AND PAY THE SAME AMOUNT. Or else SPEAK UP and say this is not fair. They YOU do the math including a reasonable tip.

  35. Shevy says:

    I wonder if some of these things are unique to the US or not common on the West Coast or what.

    For instance, I’ve never had a group of people suggest the bill be split evenly, except in a Chinese restaurant where everyone is eating from every dish ordered. Everybody always spends 10 minutes going, “Let’s see, yours was $5.95 and Stella’s was $7.50 and mine was $6.95″ and so on. The only time you’re subsidizing someone is when they’re leaving the company and it’s their farewell lunch or a special birthday or whatever.

    Bring your own wine to a restaurant (where you haven’t rented the entire place for an event)? Highly illegal. And where you are permitted to purchase your own and provide it, say to a hotel for a gala dinner, there is a very stiff corkage fee. Private clubs may be slightly different.

    And children in a bar? Way to lose your liquor license. They can only be in a restaurant that serves liquor, not a bar. And I can’t imagine wanting to bring children to a bar anyway.

    My suggestions for eating out would be not to do it for convenience purposes (i.e. cut out fast food on the run) and to choose things you would never make at home, either because you don’t have the skills or because buying the ingredients is really pricy or sourcing them is too hard.

    If you’re going to spend the money for a meal out it shouldn’t be something you could have made at home in half the time for 1/4 of the cost!

  36. Steffie says:

    We cook the majority of our meals at home. 3 kids: 16 yr old boy, 12 and 11yr old girls, do not make going out a fun experience or a cheap one! For my man and I going out to dinner is in the budget at least once every two weeks. Usually payday Friday. It gives us a chance to talk about ‘grown-up’ stuff. We try not to talk about the kids, house,job etc. More along the lines of politics, books, music etc. This adds value for us. We try to go somewhere that serves food that we wouldn’t make at home so we don’t feel like we’re wasting money or time. We also stay away from the chains, they seem rushed and crowded most of the time. Locals want you to come back often and usually take the time to explain the food, suggest wine etc. Try the local radio stations websites for coupons, ours have get $50 for $25 specials for local restaurants as well as the chains.

  37. J says:

    This post is filled with a bunch of people I certainly never would want to go out to eat with. Kristine would be liquoring up in the parking lot and in the car on the way over, then when we started eating, poaching a little something off of everyone’s plate, and would end the meal by stuffing the remaining bread on the table into her purse. The waiter would be annoyed because everyone was just ordering ice water and appetizers. By the time the 20% tip is imposed by Jane, and everyone’s contribution to the meal is computed by Johanna, deRuiter and Jane, and the waiter has to show up with change down to the penny for everyone, I would have probably had a better meal staying back at the office with the brown bag crowd.

    :)

  38. Steffie says:

    To Shevy, we have restaurants that have a license for patrons to bring their own wine. I have also been to ‘bars’ where children were but not allowed to sit at the ‘bar’ but ok to sit at a table. The definition of a ‘bar’ and liquor laws are vastly different across the US. I live in Ohio by the way.

  39. Evita says:

    @Shevy
    “Bring your own wine” restaurants are legal in Canada, they purchase a special licence for this.

  40. DivaJean says:

    I guess I’m lucky- my parner had a gastric bypass so eating out isn’t really a fun thing to do anymore.

    When I do go out with friends or co-workers, it’s a huge treat for me, so I don’t worry very much about cost. It’s also so far and few between, I wouldn’t even say I go once a month.

    That being said, as a family, we do get take out maybe twice a month. And again, we aim for cheaper things like pizza and Chinese food that are more kid friendly. Hubby has taken to teaching herself how to make pizza crust so made at home pizza is a once weekly meal- and take out is less often, but still enjoyed.

  41. Johanna says:

    @Anitra: If you’re eating a lot of frozen pizzas, you could try pita pizzas or English muffin pizzas for a change of pace. Just take the bases (pitas or English muffins, respectively), add sauce (could be traditional pizza sauce, but doesn’t have to be) and toppings, and stick it in the oven or toaster oven until everything is hot. They only take a minute or two to assemble, they can actually cook faster than frozen pizzas, and you have more control over the ingredients – so if you want, say, less cheese and more veggies, you can have that easily. This is something I make a lot for myself when I need a quick meal.

    @J: If you’re one of those people who thinks it’s okay to demand that your meal be subsidized by people who ordered less than you, then I don’t really want to go out to eat with you either.

    :)

  42. Molly says:

    @Ruth (16) – We do this! I never remember that a regular waffle recipe makes 10 waffles, and we only eat 3 for a big breakfast. Then we freeze the rest, and it makes a nice treat later in the week to pop them in the toaster and have homemade waffles. MUCH cheaper (and better, because I use whole wheat flour and such) than the frozen boxes of waffles.

  43. Aevans says:

    I’ve read the number one reason folks don’t want to cook at home is a Dirty Kitchen! Wow. It is true if you come home from a long day and have to first clean up, then cook, then clean up again you just say “forget it” and order pizza.

    We have become relentless about nothing being left in the sink EVER and always cleaning up after a meal immediately. Now when that frazzled day ends, we are much less inclined to eat out.

    I will say that having the teenagers grown and out of the house makes this a MUCH easier practice (;

  44. ETF says:

    Another suggestion for social eating – this works especially well when you have friends with kids. Get carry out: there’s not so much pressure on anyone to accommodate tastes/allergies, you save on drinks, tips, dessert (easy to whip up some cookies/fruit at home), and you can have a drink while the kids can shriek and throw stuff on the floor.

  45. Nick says:

    1. Skip the fountain drink and ask for a cup of water.

    2. Don’t order more than you really need for a filling meal. Especially if you’re a stress-eater.

    3. A junior burger at a fast-food joint is a regular burger if you cook at home. Order those.

    4. Cut back on the booze when you go out. It adds up fast.

  46. Karen604 says:

    For the past two weeks everything I ate and most of what the rest of the family ate came from my kitchen. Yesterday my son talked me into eating fast food and last night Hubby waned to go out to an upscale pizza spot. Today I am unbelievably sick. My stomach has been shakey all night and the dawn’s light has not improved it.
    I am not sure what was in the foods I chose yesterday but I bet it is not in my kitchen.
    Between the two meals we spent about $50 total. I get doubly ill when I think of how much $50 would put on the pantry shelves. I guess you know what dining establishment I will be frequenting in the near future.

  47. Amanda says:

    One cheap option I discovered for lunch was a grocery store salad bar. For $2.50 I got a plenty-big container of green salad with all the trimmings I don’t have time to prepare at home, tuna salad, and broccoli salad. I took it home and drank a soda I already had in the fridge. I enjoyed it much more than I would have McDonald’s.

  48. chacha1 says:

    Can’t help but think that, based on the preceding comments, most people who want to do “social eating,” i.e. with friends or groups, and are concerned about the cost of same, really need to set up those potlucks Trent mentioned. Some restaurant behavior we’re hearing about here is pretty … unsocial.

    I do not see the point of going out with a couple of friends and turning the bill into a ten minute math lesson. The friends we eat with most often – if we don’t eat at one of our homes – we just take turns picking up the tab.

    As for work lunches, going out is a tremendous money suck. And believe it or not, if you stop it you won’t miss it after a while, because what you talk about at lunch is generally the same stuff you talk about in the breakroom, bathroom, or elevator. I almost never go out to lunch and yet my co-workers and I manage to get along fine.

    One of my favorite co-workers and I occasionally meet in the breakroom and read while we have our brown-bag lunches. We don’t pre-arrange it but it’s a nice peaceful thing when it happens. Other offices I’ve worked in have lunchtime knitting circles or other craft groups. Eating in can be BETTER for your work/social life than eating out!

  49. Sheila says:

    @AmyB (#19)–I use restaurant.com coupons, but only if they are having an 80-90% off sale (e.g., normally a $10 coupon would be $4, but I won’t pay more than 80 cents). It’s a cheaper way to try out restaurants I wouldn’t normally try, and a great way to enjoy ones that I like.

  50. Gretchen says:

    When I do eat out, it’s a big deal, meaning I’d like it to be nice.

    What I do to save is order from the appetizer menu, since the dinner meals are way too big. You can also ask for the lunch portion at most places (smaller and cheaper) even at dinnertime.

  51. Henry says:

    @#15 Jane If you don’t want to receive those junk flyers, you can do something about it. I was getting those, and the mailman would dump the damn things all over my floor and make one hell of a mess. I got a ps1500 (Application for Listing and/or Prohibitory Order) from the Postal Service’s website, and filled it out naming the junk mailer as the offender. It is meant for sexually explicit material, but the good news is you get to decide what is explicit and what isn’t (after all, how do they know someone in your home isn’t getting turned by the underwear models, or in some extreme cases, {think Law & Order: SVU} pics of big slabs of bacon in the grocery flyer), so you can get an order to prohibit mailing of anything under the sun. No more stooping down to pick up trash to throw out.

  52. Shevy says:

    @Evita

    Actually, ‘bring your own wine’ restaurants are only legal in 4 Canadian provinces: Alberta, Quebec, New Brunswick and Ontario (not in BC, where I live). There’s a special licensing procedure for restaurants that wish to do this and there is apparently no restriction on the corkage charge they can levy for the privilege. Typically, corkage runs around $25 according to CBC News, although I’ve been charged as “little” as $17/bottle in a hotel (so we could serve $14/bottle kosher wine). Bringing your own wine is generally marketed towards true wine connoisseurs, not folks who want to save a few bucks on eating out. If you know of a place that doesn’t charge corkage (or only charges a nominal fee) you should publicize it. I’m sure folks wherever you live would be interested.

  53. Evita says:

    @Shevy
    I live and eat in Montreal, province of Queabec. BYOW restaurants are plentiful and good all over the Island. I have never been charged a “corkage” fee. My favourite is “Casa Grecque”.
    Hope this helps!

  54. Evita says:

    @Shevy
    I live and eat in Montreal, province of Quebec. BYOW restaurants are plentiful and good all over the Island. I have never been charged a “corkage” fee. My favourite is “Casa Grecque”.
    Hope this helps!

  55. Bill in Houston says:

    $225 a month? That wouldn’t surprise me. I have coworkers who spend that a month on lunch because they go out every day.

    My last non-brownbag lunch was Tuesday. A friend owed me a “nice lunch” because I wrote a business plan for him. He even stopped by my office and picked me up. My wife and I have gone out to dinner once in the past month (because of the holidays we threw a few get-togethers and attended a few, too). Our bill for the one dinner was $85 with tip. Before that, I used a Free Whataburger coupon the day before Christmas (as did my wife) for lunch. We bought cokes. Our bill was three bucks.

    That’s about average for us, maybe $90 a month. We like to go out every once in a while, but I make sack lunches every day (quite often last night’s leftover curry or chili or kebabs). We’ve done pretty well with holding down our food costs, and like a little treat once in a while. Our dinner out (last week) was a special occasion, so we went to a slightly pricier place than the normal Indian restaurant or Persian cafe. I know, we’re still talking about a thousand bucks a year, but we often combine it with a movie or drinks or a show.

    My advice here to trim the average budget: COUPON, but only coupon stuff you actually use. If you suddenly see this great coupon for three bucks off yogurt but you don’t actually eat yogurt, then you’re just wasting money.

    In addition, find the best prices within reason. We shop at three different stores every week. Costco gives us bulk meats, gasoline, my heart medication, egg beaters and other bulk items. Kroger gives us things like Spam lite, cereal, lunch meat, soaps, and condiments. We coupon at Kroger. We go to H Mart, a small Korean grocery chain, for all of our produce because they are half the price of Kroger. These three stores are a mile apart and we go from Kroger to H Mart to Costco to home. We save 20 bucks a week in produce alone, and 15 bucks in meat because we buy in bulk. 91% lean ground beef is $2.20 a pound at Costco, compared to $4.69 at Kroger. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are $1.99 a pound at Costco and $3.99 at Kroger. Ground beef is in five pound lots and chicken is in ten pound bags… still affordable.

    Write out your grocery list first. Have a snack before you leave to prevent “hunger pang” impulse buys.

  56. anna says:

    I know of several restaurants in Southwest Missouri who don’t have a liquor license and will allow you to BYOB and will even keep in the fridge for you while you are eating so you can enjoy alcohol while eating at their restaurant.

  57. sjw says:

    Because it seems I’m in moderation limbo, I’m going to repost:
    To decrease the cost of eating out (rather than removing it completely as suggested in this article):
    Split an appetizer/dessert, fill up on the bread
    Have two appetizers rather than an appetizer and a main
    Drink water
    Eat ethnic
    Take out instead of eat in (there are often coupons or discount for local takeout rather than delivery, plus no tip required)

  58. Mary says:

    I make a batch of waffles once a month, we each eat one, and freeze the rest. The recipe I use makes 9 waffles. It’s from the Betty Crocker Cookbook.

  59. Mary says:

    My boyfriend and I used to eat out a lot when we first started dating, but once we moved in together we realized how much we were spending, despite our massive debt amounts. Also, as time went on making more meals at home, going out just didn’t seem as appealing anymore. Now we only go out about twice a month (once just him and me, another when we visit family). It makes us really think where we want a nice quality meal outside of our apartment (places we haven’t tried, etc).

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