Friday, January 21, 2011

Working to lower our spending on Dining Out

 As I mentioned last week Ken and I recently went through records, going over last years budget and figuring out one for this year. When we were looking things over one of the categories that I was surprised on how much we spent was eating out. We have never gone out to eat a lot, I would guess much less than the average but still when you have a family of 6, any eating out can add up quickly. It isn't that we don't have enough money to go out to eat some but when I saw how much we did spend on this my reaction was "I would rather spend less on that category and instead be able to pay off Ken's Business and our home faster." That is simply my priority.

 So I started thinking about reasons we do go out to eat some. I thought I would share them with you:
  • Traveling. We nearly always pack the first meal that we need to eat while traveling but after that we usually go through a drive through or stop somewhere. This might not change a lot according to Ken's wishes.
  • We have a meeting at a restaurant.
  • It is a special event like Our Anniversary or Valentines Day. (And I don't mind doing this some- but there are other alternatives as well.)
  • We are already out and about, it is meal time and I don't have anything easy planned. Also once and a while we aren't out and about but I simply am not in the mood for cooking and I might be very tired from some big event earlier or from working on my wedding business.
  • Either Ken or I sleep in a bit and I don't get his breakfast or lunch made before he has to leave for work (sometimes he has really early morning meetings and that is when this will sometimes happen) or he doesn't have time to eat breakfast before he leaves and so he picks something up later instead.
  • We go in order to socialize with others.
  • We are not going to be home when it is mealtime.
So that is the potential temptations for going out to eat and spending a bunch of money. How about some solutions? Most of these solutions I have used and they have worked, I just need to be more consistent. There are also a few things that I want to try. Lets take the problems one by one.

1. Traveling. Here are some ideas for solutions. 
  •  We do already pack the first meal out, that can be a challenge at times when I am running late to get ready to leave but it works. I previously posted a list of foods that we have enjoyed eating while traveling.
  • We also are pretty careful to make sure we have water bottles along so that we don't need to buy beverages.
  •  One thing that could help to save money is making sure I have cold Mt. Dew packed for Ken as that is a necessity for him and I often don't remember it.
  • I also think I will try to have more food items packed that will keep well for trips home.
  • Another thing to try for us is to have more coupons collected to use at fast food restaurants when we do eat out on our trips home.
  • Many of our trips are either staying with family or friends, camping or going to a place where we can do our own cooking. We pack our own foods (or our family and friends feed us) and that saves a ton!
2. Meetings at Restaurants Most of the time I probably won't worry about this as it is just once a month for me but these are some options I could chose:
  • I could eat before I go.
  • I can eat soup.
3. Special Events.
  • We could plan a special meal date at home.
  • We could plan a fun picnic date.
  • We could go on a date that doesn't involve eating.
  • We could plan ahead and buy discount gift certificates that they auction off on our Christian Radio station.
4.Being tired, unprepared and don't have a plan.
  • Have a menu- this is something I have done for many years but at times I will have a slump of not menu planning- this can lead to trouble!
  • Cook ahead and Freeze meals.(I just double or triple a meal that I am already making and then freeze the extra)  I am getting better at this! This method will come in handy this weekend when I have a booth at a bridal show.
  • Have a list of easy and quick things that you can make with ingredients you usually have on hand. For us that list includes: Tuna Melts with popcorn and sliced apples, Spaghetti and canned green beans, Mac and Cheese and fruit.
5. Not getting Ken's breakfast ready or lunch packed on time. Thankfully this is fairly rare but I still want to work on it. Here are some things I am working on.
  • Making sure I know when he has an early meeting so that I can get up earlier.
  • Remind him of the time so he will get up to breakfast on time.
  • Have breakfast and his lunch figured out the night before so I can just get busy and make it- not have to figure out what to do.
6. Socializing with others. Other options besides going out to eat:
  • Invite people over to our house. (This is actually what we does happen most often but it might as well happen all of the time- it saves everybody money and is more comfortable!)
  • Have quick snacks and meals easily available when we want to have a spur of the moment party. Perhaps cookies (or cookie dough) in the freezer, always popcorn to pop and the ingredients for an easy meal.
  • Get -together to play volleyball or broomball or bike riding and things like that rather than eating.
7. We are not going to be home at mealtime.
  • Pack a picnic.
  • Decide to eat early or late. If we decide to eat late maybe pack or eat a snack earlier.

Do you have any ideas to add to the ones above? What causes you to eat out most often? Do you have a solution figured out?

What about when we do want to go out to eat? How can we do that less expensively? Here are some ideas that I have but I would love to hear your input as well...

  • Drink Water. Beverages can add up fast and they usually aren't very good for you either. Water works fine.
  • Clip Coupons. I know we get quite a few in our paper- I never seem to have the right one at the right time but I hope to get better at this.
  • Chose less expensive items. This is just comment sense but it is something to remember when looking over the menu.
  • Split a meal if you know that it will be more than enough.
  • Eat soup. This is usually a fairly inexpensive alternative (though when you think about how little it costs to make soup this will still seem spendy) but not one that I always want.
  • Earn Gift Cards on Swagbucks . You can fairly cheaply get a gift card for there and then you can buy discounted gift cards for restaurants in your area. This doesn't work real well for us as we are fairly rural but for those living in a city I am sure it would work better.
  • Supplement with you own food. This is NOT something I would recommend in most instances but I thought I would share a couple situations that we have done this. Last time we went downhill skiing I decided to bring a thermos of hot chocolate along. We get chilly while skiing and like to have that but it costs something like $2 a cup at the Chalet. At the Chalet it is perfectly acceptable to bring stuff in they just request no large coolers or crockpots. We did order some food there but drank our own hot chocolate and saved around $10 in the process. Another example with this is if you decide you really need to order pizza (to eat at home because you are so tired)- don't order quite as much and don't order anything else but see if you can find the energy to make a salad or cut up some fruit to go with it.
Those are my ideas and suggestions. Can you share yours please too? I would love to hear them!

This is linked to Life as MOM.


SAHMinIL said...

We are guilty of eating out more then I like our main reason has to do with being out and about and not having a plan.

Martha said...

I usually go "marketing' on Tuesdays after we get our school done for the day. That almost always ends up being around 11:0 am. So, I have the kids eat a snack and we plan on having a snack when we get home so we don't eat out or buy snack things we don't need. We also almost always have a jar of nuts or something and water bottles in the car. For times when I just don't feel like cooking I've started keeping frozen pizzas.
But, all that said, I am really trying to do better on this as well.

Nola said...

One thing that we do when we are caught (although thankfully not often for us) out and about and we are going to be late and therefore we aren't going to be home for supper is to stop at the grocery store and buy some things. We've found this to be cheaper than eating out. For example this happened recently and we stopped and bought some corn chips, baby carrots, two tubs of prepared hummus and some bananas at the grocery store. We could have bought something more substantial like maybe bread for the hummus to make sandwhiches but we weren't extremely hungry. Oh and we bought some healthy brand snack bars called Lara bars. We spent about $20...which is more than we would spend on a meal at home but less than a restuarant which we find is hard to do us and two young kids for less than $50.

Another idea is when you are going to be out all day and even if you will be home for supper but will be tired when its time to make it since you are out all day is to use the crock pot. I love the one I have that has a "warm" feature so that when its done cooking it automatically goes to "warm" and doesn't overcook supper especially if I am running late. For me its worth having that kind. Crockpots often go on sale especially in fall and around Christmas time.

You can also use the crock pot for breakfast like make oatmeal in the crockpot and then add frozen berries to it when you serve it in bowls. Or cook with cinnamon and apples..etc. there are recipes online for times and amounts etc. and there are other hot cereals you can also do this way. Preparing things ahead like pancake batter and leaving it in the fridge or cooking the pancakes and freezing them ahead they defrost well in the toaster oven at our house.

What about using the crock pot as well for making freezer meals (I use 2 crockpots, one for the freezer meal and one for supper...its an easier way of making freezer meals for me since its done in the early day when I have more energy).

Also the crock pot could be used to make something thd night before for lunch for the next day and your husband could put some in a thermos or something to take for work to lunch. Some sandwhiches also freeze well, make ahead and then can be thawed in the fridge overnight...or sometimes I put portions of meals into the freezer for lunch portions and pull them out the night before to thaw...I often make crock pot lasagne that way and it does several lunches for my husband.

Having meals that are easy to put together last minute for the times when I am really caught does help too like when I have failed to plan!

What about bringing a cooler with you on some car trips too?

For us it does help that I have some allergies so its actually hard to eat out. Its not much fun when there is little choice.

Anyways hope you like my long-winded ideas.

Mary Ann said...

If we've been out all day and need something quick, I usually do something like heating up soup or having scrambled eggs and toast. Filling but easy and less expensive than eating out.

Sometimes, like on a Friday night, we'll get a sandwich at Subway or similar; splitting a $5 foot long size. (It's just the 2 of us.) We'll bring it home and eat with our own bag of chips ($.99 a bag at Aldi and more than one meals worth) and drink water instead of purchasing drinks and chips there. Inexpensive but a nice break from cooking.

We set up at a lot of festivals and events and always pack our own lunches and snacks. We estimate saving a minimum of $12 each time, especially since most of these days are LONG and a cheap hot dog isn't going to cut it! We also pack lunches when traveling.

I keep a container in the pantry where I put snack items and granola bar samples and the like. Then we can grab from the box when we are heading out. Also, I've been buying canned soups and the above snack items when they are really cheap with sales and coupons. I keep them to use when we'll be out or when we'd be tempted to eat out. It's a lot cheaper!

Lea said...

Can I add that tracking your restaurant prices - fast food, versus chains (like Perkins, Applebee's), local - can pay off. We recently discovered that a local couple of local restaurants both here and in places we travel to or through frequently have better prices on meals than fast food even with coupons.

Yes, it can take a bit more time to eat, but really, we can get a 'real' meal for roughly $12-$15 for four of us versus a fast food meal for $25-ish. I'd rather take the extra 15 minutes or so. And yes, that does include buying a kids meal for each of the two kids. :)

We've also stopped at a grocery store and bought cut-up veggies and a deli sandwich to split when that's not an option. Usually we have things at home to make quickly (canned or frozen soup, chicken nuggets, sandwiches, etc.) so we don't run into that problem at home very much.

For your meeting, can I suggest just ordering a drink? We have Bible Study at a restaurant once a month and several people just order coffee or juice (it's at 8am). We don't think they're weird, and since there are others in our group who order a full breakfast, the waitstaff and management don't mind.


Abbi said...

Thanks so much to all of you for sharing your ideas and thoughts! I love hearing from you!


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