The average American family eats out several times per week — which is something people tend to underestimate until they really examine the numbers.
This is embarrassing, but I’ll confess it — eating out for my family was completely out of hand. We tried to cut back, but there was always justification.
¦We “needed” to eat out for our weekly date.
¦We “needed” to eat out on Sundays after church.
¦We “needed” to eat out Wednesday nights since there was no time to cook.
¦The kids and I “needed” to eat out on Fridays after story time at the library.
The list goes on.
My husband and I live on a meager budget and are trying to get out of debt. We can’t afford all the meals out (we were spending our entire “spending money” budget, plus “borrowing” from other areas to fund it!)
So this year for Lent, we did something drastic — we stopped eating out.
While there are ways to save money when eating out, a meal out for a family of four will typically cost at least $10 for fast food, and $30 for most sit down restaurants. If you are like us, or like the typical American family, just cutting one meal out per week can save you $520-$1560 per year!
Here are some things that have helped us to significantly lower our eating out budget:
1. Plan a Menu.
If you eat out for convenience, you can easily cut out one meal out per week by planning your meals. If you have a roast cooking at home in the crock-pot, it’s easy to skip the fast food on the way home.
I make sure to plan quick meals or leftovers for busy days. Sometimes, just knowing you have a plan gives you the will you need to skip eating out.
2. Don’t Run Errands Right Around Mealtime.
When possible, I plan errands so we’ll be home for mealtimes. I keep snacks in my van so that if we get hungry while out, we can have a healthy snack rather than fast food.
3. Pack a Picnic.
If we can’t be home at mealtimes, we pack a picnic. Now, instead of eating out after story time, we enjoy a picnic at the park. This even allowed me to reach out to some of the other moms and start a weekly playgroup after story time.
4. Have Creative Date Nights.
One of our biggest problem areas was date night. Eating out became our date each week, usually at a sit-down restaurant costing $30+ after taxes and tip. Now, our dates are more creative: we’ll have a movie night at home or do something like a $5 Little Caesar’s Hot & Ready Pizza.
For the occasional splurge, we participate in rewards programs like MyPoints or Swagbucks to earn dining gift cards. By doing this, we are able to limit ourselves to spending no more than $5-$10 per week on eating out, which is within our monthly spending budget.
With these changes, we have nearly eliminated eating out from our budget, saving us around $50 per week, or $2600 in a year!
Crystal Brothers is a daughter of the King, wife to a forest ranger, and full-time mommy to two rambunctious little boys. She blogs at Serving Joyfully — a blog dedicated to encouraging and equipping women to serve God and their families with a joyful spirit.