5 Ways To Be Frugal When You Love Eating Out

We love eating out. We are well-known frugal cheapos in our circles, but that doesn’t stop us from enjoying eating out. It taught us to strategize so we could still enjoy ourselves without killing our budget.

I grew up in a very poor household. We had a houseful with 4 kids and lots of love, but an empty wallet. So our idea of eating out was bags of .29 cent hamburgers from McDonald’s when my parents had a good week. My dad was and is known for how well he cooks, so we never had a shortage of good food. Our friends even preferred to eat at our house on a Friday night, instead of going out. Which was both good and bad. Well, not bad, just not as much fun as leaving the house on a weekend.  As I got older, I enjoyed eating out more frequently once I had my own money to do so.

Hubs, on the other hand, was an only child and ate out often. Neither of his parents particularly enjoy cooking, so he ate out much more than in. (He actually loves to cook and we have plans to take cooking classes once we hit FI).

Basically, my not getting to eat out combined with his always eating out was a recipe for budget disaster. Once we got together, we ate out almost every night. I may have grocery shopped twice the whole year we were married and still in school. We were broke college kids though, so we had to develop strategies to eat out frugally. This was even more needed once we added our 3 little kiddos to the family.

So here is our guide on how to eat out and stay in budget:

  1. Do NOT get meals.

    Like I said, we were poor college kids. So our main choice of eating out consisted of fast food restaurants.

    We could both fill up on about $7. 

    Yes, that’s total for two grown “adults” (or as adult as you can be at 19-21 years old and in college with no cares in the world). Every restaurant that fits this category has a dollar menu or value menu. At least 90% of the time, you can get all you need from that. We personally see no need to get a meal. The portion size if much more appropriate on the smaller menu and you save money. Plus, we even usually have room in the budget for a frosty to end the meal! (Ice cream is basically a must in my life.)

    After adding our kiddos to the family, when we pay for all 5 of us to eat, we can still get out of the restaurant on about $15 for us all.

    Yes, a family of 5 eating out for $15.

    This leads to my next point.

  2. Do NOT buy kid’s meals.

    Most kid’s meals cost a dollar less than the adult meal. And those meals have half the food. I have absolutely no idea why they cost so much, but it doesn’t matter because you have no reason to buy one.

    How many times have you went to eat, bought a kids meal for you little one, and they ate 3 bites?

    You paid $5.99 for 3 bites of food.

    Yes, that’s what you just did. So, if you go out to eat and decide to buy your kids a meal, here are a couple of options.

    Option 1: If you have multiple kids, buy one adult meal and split it. 9 times out of 10 this is enough food. If you think it’s not, share some off your own plate (I always have some to share) or buy one extra side for less than $2 and you still come out cheaper. *We can almost always do just one meal and feed all 3 of our kids.

    Option 2: If you have 1 kid, one of the parents can pick a meal that the kid will like too. Add that extra side, and you fed your little one for the price of a side.

    Now, these are all the assumption that you want to buy your kids food at the restaurant. If you really like being frugal, you may enjoy the next idea.

  3. Pack a lunch for your kids.

    What? Not buy the kids food from the restaurant?

    No, do not buy them food from the restaurant. Like I mentioned above, you are going to pay $5.99 for your kids to not eat their food. Instead, pack a meal you know your kids like (my boys are currently obsessed with PB&J, for every single meal if I let them). Then, if they decide they don’t want to eat, you pack it back up and take it home for lunch tomorrow.

    When Bee was little, we never even had to pack food for her. She ate so little, she was content to just eat off our plates. When Bud came along, our food budget did a big jump. That boy loves to eat.

    This may seem like an odd plan, to walk into a restaurant with food. But due to allergy issues, I seriously doubt anyone will say anything. I mean, you have to buy food of some sort to be there, of course.

    No picnics at Applebee’s allowed, y’all.

  4. Save coupons.Now, if you read about my love of Aldi, you know I am not a fan of couponing. It takes too much work and time. The one exception is for restaurants. I will save all coupons that come in the mail in case we decide to eat out. I will even go online and search for deals when we are going on a date. (We still end up going to cheaper place because we don’t see the point in an expensive one).

    Check out these other posts on saving money:
    Why You Should Be Shopping At Aldi
    How You Can Be A Shopaholic AND Be Frugal

    Whether it’s a nice place or Wendy’s, I almost always save the coupons. 85% of them never get used. But you never know.

    Quick example: our nephews spent the night unexpectedly last week. I had fish planned for dinner, but didn’t have enough to feed them. I did have some good coupons for Burger King though, so off we went. Spent $15, fed 4 boys and 2 adults with a little left over ( We did get lucky and they randomly gave us an extra burger. I told them and was told to keep it. Win! ) But without the coupons, this would have been $30 easy.

    You just never know when they make be handy.

  5. Plan your eating out nights.

    This is the most important part of it all.

    Use all those tips in #1-4, but this is the biggest-ultra-mega-most-important thing!

    If you enjoy eating out, like we do, you have to plan it into the meals. I have one night a week planned to eat out. I don’t buy food from the grocery store for that night. If you don’t plan it, you will buy food and go out, doubling the cost. Even if you used the tips above, you still wouldn’t be winning in that situation. If we don’t end up eating out, we do leftovers or random things from the freezer/fridge/cupboard.

    You can eat out.You can stay on budget. Just PLAN IT OUT.

To stay within budget, you have to plan. Things don’t just happen. It takes work.

We have a monthly goal of saving 50% of our income.

EVERY MONTH. Now, sometimes we hit it, sometimes we don’t. But we don’t accidentally stumble on it. We work hard at it, making sure we are using our money and time intentionally. We could be like the Frugalwood‘s and not eat out. But we enjoy people watching and being in the atmosphere of restaurants. And honestly, some days I just need to get out of the house. So we have made it a part of our budget and created ways to enjoy our habit while maintaining our frugal nature. Plan and prepare, so you can enjoy the meal, not break the budget.

Do you have a habit that you made into a frugal option? I’d love to hear what it is in the comments!



  1. Tina @ Growing My Pennies

    August 7, 2017 at 9:17 am

    We love eating out, too! We like going during happy hours when the food is cheaper. 😉

    1. Ember

      August 7, 2017 at 9:21 am

      Yes! Great tip! We try to hit the happy hours when Hubs work hours match up. Applebee’s and half off appetizers = delicious! I worked there for 3 years in college, and still love those!

  2. Myfinancekits

    August 9, 2017 at 4:00 pm

    One cannot be frugal in all areas. You still need to give yourself a treat at times. You can be frugal in other areas that don’t matter to you as such

    1. Ember

      August 9, 2017 at 4:20 pm

      I definitely agree. But I also think the frugal mindset helps you be smart even in the areas that matter. You may spend money, but it will be with alot of thought. Frugal becomes a lifestyle, not something that is a sacrifice. Thanks for reading!

Join the community and leave a comment!

%d bloggers like this: