Help! How Do You Save When You’re Eating Out?

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If you’ve hung out on Passionate Penny Pincher for any length of time, you know that spending lots of money on food (which just gets eaten and then is gone . . . ), is something I just don’t enjoy (at all!)  However, as I looked at our schedule this fall, I realized that there was no way that we could eat at home on Monday nights.  (Between just three children, we have up to six activities between 4 PM and 9 PM . . . crazy.)

 

Last year we struggled through and tried to grab sandwiches in a mad dash early in the afternoon, but as the 3-4 o’clock hour is now taken over with homework, there’s no (reasonable!) way that I can manage dinner at home this one day of the week . . . anyone else have one of those nights on their schedule?

 

While we don’t eat out much, and certainly not very extravagantly, even two to three meals out per week can really hit a budget when you’re feeding a family of five (especially when one of them is an 13 year old boy!) And, while I know that fast food isn’t always the healthiest option and wouldn’t be my first choice most nights, by limiting the number of meals that we do eat out I feel like it’s occasionally worth the splurge to save my sanity.

 

So, I’ve been trying to come up with a few inexpensive restaurant meals on the cheap those nights that dinner at home just isn’t going to happen.  Here are a few we’ve far:

 

  • Little Caesar’s Pizza and Crazy Bread (using $1.99 Crazy Bread coupon):  Paid $7.02 for dinner by bringing drinks from home.
  • Subway $5 Fotlongs:  Paid $10.24 for 2 footlong Subs by bringing a can of Pringles along with drinks from home
  • Jack’s (using Buy One Get One Free coupons from Enjoy the City booklets): Paid $12 for 4 cheeseburgers, fries & drinks
  • Sam’s Club (everyday low price!):  Paid $12.45 for 5 slices of pizza with drinks

 

And here are a few more restaurant deals to try on our list . . .

 

We’ve really watched our dining out expenses these last few weeks, and have managed to save $75 in just two weeks by planning our meals out in advance, always ordering water (which is hard some days, but saves almost $10 per meal!), and trying to eat at home on nights when we don’t have a crazy schedule. I was pretty shocked when I saw just how much money we saved just by changing a few habits; which means maybe my hubby and I can enjoy a movie night out with our savings! :)

 

What tips do you have for saving on your family’s budget while eating out?  Please leave a comment to share (I need all the help I can get on this one!)


Looking for more budgeting tips? Check out this post on how we’ve found financial counsel using Dave Ramsey’s ELP program ~ read more HERE.

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Comments

  1. Shawna Vermillion says:

    Our Chick Fil A doesn't do free kids nights anymore! I was very bummed!

  2. Leslie Bard says:

    On those busy nights we opt for car picnics. We load up a cooler with picnic style food and lots of veggies and head out. On colder days thermoses help keep us and our food warm. We save tons of money and they kids love it. This way we can keep it healthier and prepare it ahead of time as well.

  3. Simone says:

    We have the same struggle with time issues. The nights that we are really pressed for time are nights that we either do sandwiches that we can prepare in the morning and pack a cooler to take with us. Or we use the slow cooker and pack up some Tupperware containers so they can eat in the car. That way we save money.

    • Laurie says:

      Eating sandwiches while you’re out can save so much ~ I need to work on trying that again (we used to do it, especially during baseball season, but I’ve gotten lazier about it and haven’t planned as well.)

  4. Jaime says:

    It may seem silly, but when Kroger has the 4x fuel points on gift cards, we load up on places we can usually find kids free nights or coupons for. That way when those days come that there is no other choice, it’s paid for and we saved some on gas too!

    • Laurie says:

      That’s such a good tip Jaime! We don’t get fuel points in Alabama, but I’ve heard those are a great way to save. Thanks so much for sharing!

      • Emily says:

        In the Columbus, Ohio area Giant Eagle fuel points
        are the best! I prefer to do my grocery shopping at Meijer
        (love the Meijer perks program) but any time we need to make a
        large purchase like a car seat, etc. we make sure to buy a gift card
        from Giant Eagle first. We almost never eat out (2 kids under 3)
        but it’s great for restaurant gift cards too.

        • Laurie says:

          Since we’re on our way to Columbus Emily, I appreciate the tip (my husband had heard that too from a co-worker – they even buy their Lowe’s cards there!) We definitely need to figure it out – thank so much for sharing! :)

  5. Cecee says:

    Hi. Longtime reader first time commenter. Something my mom did when we were younger is bring the crockpot with bowls. There is an adapter that you can plug in the cigarette lighter thingy. It has an outlet at the other end like on a wall. She would make chili or soup and keep it warm and serve it to us in bowls.

    As far as saving money eating out…. I just use coupons and sign up for loyalty programs as much as possible.

  6. Linda Susan Drennan says:

    I like KFC Grilled Chicken…tasty and good value. Taco Bell has some good options too.
    We are eating out much less, used to eat out a lot more before the economy tanked. But I have a few goto meals that yield multiple meals at low cost, and we aren't dropping big bucks on restaurant meals as much as formerly. Appetizers are now 7-10 each, used to be 4-5. They're pretty much out. Found a bar deal on Coconut Shrimp for 4 at Outback. They got that business. Desserts are now 5-6 each. Those are dead too. We share an entree generally, that helps. Just 2 of us. At a restaurant you're tipping too, servive ranges. Some great, some soso. After a long workday, and we go to a restaurant, I expect good service. Minimum tip nowadays in an urban area is 15%. Have to add that in.
    So, for 2 people, we're looking at 20-30. We make it count.

    • Laurie says:

      Great tips Linda! When our family all goes out to a sit down restaurant I usually order soup (it’s always so much cheaper!) and share some of my husband’s meal because the portions are huge (especially if there’s bread there!) Thanks for sharing your suggestions too … it can add up so quickly!

  7. Molly says:

    I carry a restaurant binder with me. We get alot of coupons in the mail, especially from Burger King! I sign up for all the restaurants email clubs and get coupons from Chili’s the most. We enjoy free kids meals there. At Burger King, we get the $7.99 coupon special and the kids usually get the coupon for Buy One Whopper, Get the 2nd One Free, and because the $7.99 special has two drinks, they share one and me and my husband share the other and also the fries! We have totally maximized our savings that way. I also downloaded the Retail Me Not App and get coupons from there as well. If we go out, we only go to places where the kids eat for free and we usually get water and they get their drinks and we all share from there, because refills are free. Drinks are expensive!

    • Laurie says:

      Keeping a restaurant coupon binder with you is such a good idea Molly! I keep one in my car as well (but am bad about keeping it updated.) Thanks for the tip!

  8. Jennifer G. says:

    I can’t believe you can get away with eating that little dining out! My oldest is only 9, but we are 2 large pizza family at LC and 3 footlongs at Subway, bare minimum! I don’t even want to know what it’s going to be like when they are all a little older! As for eating on the go….I find pasta salad (I just toss noodles, carrots, cucumber, olives, feta, and italian dressing together) with rolls is an easy meal to bring along. Serve in a Solo cup to make even easier!

  9. Lynda says:

    I’m with the others who said to plan picnic food. With just a little advance planning, there is rarely a need to eat fast food. We tended to do that as a special treat, not a necessity for dinner on busy days. When our kids were younger, we often had a night or two a week when eating at home was difficult to impossible. So, making something the night before that works well for leftovers or sandwiches saved us time and money. Then whoever was going to remain at home had supper food already, and we would pack it up for those who were going to be out. For example: fried or roast chicken, pasta combinations, or a pork roast – all yield tasty picnics as is or in sandwiches. And if your side dishes the night before include something like homemade carrot salad or cole slaw you have a ready-made traveling feast. If you have those divided tupperware dinner plates then making ahead and serving quickly is optimized. Milk in a traveling cup and a piece of fruit rounds it out for a complete meal. We actually thought this was fun and took less time than a drive-through, allowing a few minutes to sit down on a bench or table wherever we were for supper.
    Also, to fill the gap if supper was going to be delayed by activities, I would very often put a scoop of peanut butter in a bowl and surround it with slices of apples or pears for car-dipping in transit.

  10. Sharon Hubbard says:

    Do you have a Target debet or credit card, when you church’s se non-target gift cards you save 5 % off the gift car, then if you have your perscriptions filled there and signed up for the rewards 5 scripts filled gets you an additional 5% coupon you use one day of shopping so 5% for your pharmacy rewards then 5% for you Target debet or credit card lots of gift cards to choose from :)

  11. Sharon Hubbard says:

    Oops That was “purchase” non Target gift cards

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