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.