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How we broke our dining-out habit

A family uses a clever frugal Jedi mind trick to slash the number of times they eat out each month.

By MSN Money Partner Feb 2, 2012 9:58AM

This guest post comes from Lindy at Minting Nickels.

 

The last time we spoke, I talked about a topic that is decidedly NOT fun: cutting a beloved activity from our budget.

 

Who wants to do that?

 

Not us.

 

In this case, it was our dinners out. We like eating out. We do it a lot. But we realized we were spending entirely too much money on it, and something had to be done.


So we decided to limit our eating out to once per week.

 

But we know that if we take something away, we have to replace it with something equally fun. It's a frugal Jedi mind trick we've learned, a necessary skill for surviving financial responsibility without depression. It also helps eliminate cheating.

 

The key was finding a way to make eating at home fun, easy, and satisfying for all parties. That way, it wouldn't be like we were losing a night out, but gaining a fun night in. See how that works?

 

But first, we had to set some ground rules.

 

We decided on a monthly budget for eating out. For us, that number came to $160 per month. This allows us to eat out about once a week, and the amount nestles nicely into our budget spreadsheet.

 

We figured out how we were going to keep track of it. Cash. It's the easiest choice.

 

We discussed our definition of eating out. Any time two or more family members join to eat at an establishment that serves food counts as eating out

  • Does that include one parent and one child going to lunch on a Saturday? Yes.
  • Does that include husband and wife going to dinner on date night? Yes.
  • Is the cost of the baby sitter for date night included in the eating-out budget? Um, no. But we don't go on dates very often, so we'll categorize that expense as "entertainment" when it comes up.

Once we had the nitty-gritty details out of the way, we were free to start crafting our plans for the nights wewouldn'tbe eating out. Remember the goal: easy, fun and satisfies everyone. Here's what we came up with. Post continues below.

The food

1. Breakfast for dinner!

Though I've professed to not be the greatest cook, I make a mean Mickey Mouse-shaped chocolate chip pancake.

 

French toast, scrambled eggs, homemade hash browns, waffles, muffins -- all things that are relatively easy to make. Happy mom making fun dinner, happy kids eating it.


I've enjoyed exploring new breakfast recipes too, like crème brûlée French toast. For the meat eaters, I throw a few sausage links on their plates, and all are happy. Really, what's not happy about breakfast for dinner?

 

2. Homemade fancy pizzas.

I've been making my own pizza dough for a few years now. It's really easy to do, and I love how it only takes a few minutes to assemble all the ingredients and bake up a pie.

 

But I've always kept our pizzas fairly basic, until now. Did I mention the Internet  gave me a pizza stone for Christmas? Well, it's inspired me to start making fancier pizzas. Like, date pizza.

 

I've also been honing my dough-tossing skills with this handy tutorial from YouTube.

 

Pizza night on weekends works great with our kids' varied tastes, since I can make their pizzas to order. Baby Rock likes his with cheese, pine nuts and no sauce. I don't blame him.

 

3.Dinners I don't have time to make during a regular weeknight.

I have a great recipe for chicken (or vegetarian) pot pie. But I stopped making it because it was too much work for a weeknight. Enter a Saturday night, and hey, I have time to make it again. I'm sure I'll come across other time-intensive recipes that were long ago abandoned. If so, I know where to put them.

 

The environment

Music. Check.

Bottle of wine. Check.

 

The activities

As little as possible. We eat dinner in the family room while watching a movie from Redbox.

 

And we leave the dishes until the next day.

 

So that about sums up how we sacrificed one of our favorite things to do, while still doing it sometimes -- just not all the time -- and replaced it with something fun instead.

 

More on Minting Nickels and MSN Money:

4Comments
Feb 8, 2012 2:50PM
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One way we broke the "Expensive" habit of eating out often. This year after reading up extensively on them I purchased a highly rated electric pressure cooker. Meal cooking time is reduced dramatically. Items like beef stew soups,, chili's, pot roasts etc. are ready in a fraction of the time. Not only are cooking times much faster but they are tastier and healthier for you and clean-up is a breeze too.

Feb 12, 2012 5:15AM
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What I want to know is where you can eat out 4 times a month for 160 bucks? ha
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My wife and I were in the habit of eating out at least 4  nights a week, we enjoyed some of these, but, we found we were

enjoying less and less and paying more ea. time. The restaurant business is now the worst it's ever been than any time in Los Angeles. The kitchens are turning out food that is tasteless, & expensive, some restaurants are insulting with the portions that they serve, coffee prices in more & more of these "clip joints" are $3.50 and up.

 

One of these, recently raised prices to $5.00 a cup, we dropped them like a hot rock, dinner for two,with 81/2% tax & tip in a medium priced restaurant comes to between $68.00 & $80.00, and you leave with a feeling you've been had.

 

We now eat out occasionally & are doing more dining at home with other couples, the savings are considerable.

                                                                                                  H.Flax

Feb 12, 2012 8:07AM
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We started making a menu at the time we go grocery shopping, with all the items we'll need on the list for the week. Not only does that cut down on spending at the store, it helps pin down what is for dinner. That way the meat is thawed and you have all the ingredients. Otherwise it's easy to say "oh let's just go out"
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