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How We Are Saving Over $2600 Per Year By Not Eating Out


Testimony from Crystal of Serving Joyfully

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!

Do you eat out? If so, what are your tips and and suggestions for saving money on eating out?

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.

photo source

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  • Laura Jane says:

    It can cost a lot to eat out. I have no problem with spending a little extra on things like eating out if your budget allows. However, my problem is that I rarely actually like eating out. It can be nice occasionally or if we eat somewhere really tasty, but usually it’s not even all that enjoyable. When I have extra money for luxuries like that, I’d enjoy spending it on some other things a lot more than eating out. Therefore, I’m trying a new thing this month with our budget. I’m combining the money in my eating out and fun categories and so if I don’t use it for eating out, I’ll get to use for other fun things. (For me that’s usually crafty items, online classes for scrapbooking and digital designing, or home decor and organizing items.) It helps me to think, “Would I rather spend five dollars on Arby’s food that I don’t even love or would I prefer to spend that money on one of my hobbies?”

    • I agree!!! I’d much rather spend my money on something that I really want.

    • See, my problem was that we LOVED to eat out! However, I think it’s a “learned” thing that we can unlearn because honestly, after I gave it up I haven’t missed it, except for one bad week.

    • ksenia says:

      You just weren’t eating the right food when you went out 🙂

      We have a local, natural foods store three blocks away that makes all their food from scratch — from local, organic ingredients. It is incredibly delicious. They have an eating area with two dozen different condiments, filtered water, high chairs, real glasses and silverware. You don’t have to pay for “service” or a tip, and the prices are extremely reasonable. It’s incredibly difficult to resist going out to places like that. Fast food is DEFINITELY not worth the money or your health.

  • Jessica says:

    That’s great that you are saving so much money. 🙂 We actually love eating out, especially my husband. So, although I am trying to cook more meals at home, we still like to eat out a couple times per week.
    We use a lot of coupons when we eat out, saving around $5 that way. Also, we don’t usually eat fast food, as it only ends up being a few dollars less than a sit down restaurant, and the food is junk! We have 2 little boys who can share with us at a sit down restaurant (unless it’s free kids night). 😉

  • Amie says:

    My husband and I eat out a few times a year. Usually, we buy McDs for our kids or pick up the $5 Little Caesar pizza if we’re not feeling well or running really late. Before kids, my husband and I ate out all the time and it was such a waste of money! The times that I usually splurge are when I am out around meal times so I try to pack snacks and have a meal planned. Yesterday, I had to do fasting blood work so I packed a can of soda and an energy bar for after my appointment. It wasn’t the breakfast I wanted, but it saved me a few bucks. Today, I was craving chicken tenders. My husband had to run to the store so I asked him to buy them if they weren’t too expensive (no coupon, no sale). He picked up a bag for about $5 and reminded me, as I winced, that it was still cheaper than fast food. We have started doing dinners at home after we put the boys to bed for special date nights. I pulled some manager’s special beef from my freezer, took out some buttery rolls which I’d previously baked and frozen, baked a few potatoes, steamed some brocolli, steamed snow crab, and had a glass of wine. It was delicious and the only special purchase for the meal was the $7 snow crab. I have to remind myself that it is okay to do a few additional purchases for special meals at home. It is so worth it to me.

  • Lerin says:

    We got a handle on eating out by saying that we were only going to eat out 1 time every other week. Honestly it took us awhile (my hubby still says “$1 menu’s don’t count” YES THEY DO!) It was tough intially with the kids being used to a fast food lunch or 2 each week. We always used to eat out with my mom on Fridays to go to the warehouse club to shop and use her account (saves me $45 a year to not have to have my own membership YAY!) but I spent way more than that eating fast food every week with her. So now I give my list to her and we just don’t go. Gives us more time at home.

  • Esther says:

    I found a blog called which gives free printables and ideas for affordable dates! My husband looks forward to our next “adventure” together. We’ve saved so much money doing things together that cost pennies on the dollar.

  • Amy says:

    We try to take advantage of coupons or lower/free kids meals when we go out. We definitely eat out more than we should.
    I used to go out with my mom for lunch once a week(with kids) and wanted to change that without hurting her feelings. Well, when we decided to save for Disney(which she was coming and needed to save too) it was easy to start sharing lunch at home.

  • Joanna says:

    My husband and I love cooking. A year ago my sister bought me America’s Test Kitchen 10 year cookbook. There’s a whole chapter on diner favorites, another chapter on take-out classics, and they turn out better than restaurant dishes. When we want a special meal, we shop for the ingredients together, and one of us will be in charge of preparing the meal with the other as the sous chef. For instance, we made a Thai curry for my Mothers Day dinner, and everyone agreed it was better than any Thai restaurant.

    Usually when the grandparents visit us or we visit them, they take us out to eat because they know we never (I really mean never) spend the money to eat out on our grad student income. And every time my husband and I look at each other and say, “Yeah. That was kind of fun to have someone bring us our food and not have to clean up afterward. But it didn’t taste very good, did it? We totally make better ourselves.”

  • anne says:

    We used to eat out quite often on our ‘date night’ and i was pretty much constantly disappointed with the quality of the food. Instead we decided to eat dinner at home and go out for dessert and coffee. We always split a dessert and i’m the only coffee drinker, my dh sticks to water and our bill with tip is almost always less than ten dollars! We never never feel guilty spending and still thoroughly enjoy our night out! Plus if you split a dessert you feel much less guilty…

  • Erin says:

    I’ve found “food” to be the biggest area I have control over in my budget. If I can keep my food budget down, everything else seems to fall into place. Making eating out a rare things has been one of the best decisions for our budget.

  • We love eating out and have made room for it in our budget now that we are completely debt free. We almost always get water to drink, avoid appetizers and desserts, use coupons when possible, get free meals for birthdays, and know which nights are best for kid discounts. We have started getting our kids in on the planning now, too. We tell them that we have “X” amt of $$ to eat out for the month. How should we spend it? We estimate how much it will cost for our family of 7 to eat at each restaurant, then vote on which restaurants we will visit that month.

  • Karen says:

    I suggest you explore free or low-cost options for date night. In the winter, we might go to the planetarium show at the museum, affiliated with the local Big-12 university. In the summer, the Ranching Heritage Center, part of the same university.

    All year round, the First Friday Art Trail is an option. Of course, only the first Friday evening of each month. These places and events are reasons a nice-sized university town is a great place to live.

  • Steve says:

    I never eat out aside from the occasional work holiday lunch where you’re expected to attend. Otherwise I just find it too costly and questionable for keeping the waistline.

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