Mr. Chiots and I are savers. We hate to spend money, especially on things that can be avoided, like eating out. Restaurant food is expensive and often unhealthy. It’s much cheaper and healthier to prepare food at home. Once you start eating healthful homemade food, often you find that you don’t really like restaurant food either. When you live in a rural area, often running errands takes more than a few minutes. It can take a few hours, especially if you combine a bunch of errands to make good use of the trip. We like to be prepared when we run errands so that we don't end up having to eat out if we get delayed. That being said, there are times when it can’t be avoided or times when you want to eat out. We do eat out on occasion and try to choose restaurants that serve healthy food. We have a set monthly budget for eating out, and if we do not spend it we transfer it to our vacation fund (which is also a deterrent to eating out, I’d prefer a weekend away to meals out).
The main way we manage save money in this area, is by being prepared. We always carry water with us (in stainless steel water bottles), this helps us avoid the need to buy drinks if we get thirsty (and we can refill at a drinking fountain). We also carry apples with us wherever we go. Apples are the perfect portable snack, they’re filling and you can eat them anywhere. We carry nuts and dried fruit as well and other quick snack foods that are high in protein and nutrition. Often a handful or two of nuts and an apple will keep you full until you can get home to eat a proper meal.
How do you find time to make a snack bag every time you go somewhere? I keep a bag with snacks in it by the back door. We simply grab the bag on our way out. We always carry snacks even if we only plan to be gone for an hour or two. It’s amazing how often you get behind or things don’t go as planned and you end up being out longer than anticipated. If we are planning on being gone during a meal time I will often pack sandwiches and more substantial snacks.
Another way we avoid eating out is by having quick meals ready to go at home. I always know that I have a few quick meal options that can be on the table within 15-20 minutes after arriving home. One of our favorite quick meals is homecanned tomato soup. Eggs also make the perfect quick meal, you can prepare them in all kinds of ways that are perfect for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I often have soup or lasagna in the freezer and if I plan ahead I can thaw some out to be ready on short order when I know I'm going to be arriving home close to lunch or dinner time.
Despite our best efforts, we occasionally find ourselves out and about without snacks and starving. What do we do then? Sometimes we just eat out and enjoy it, we have money budgeted for this purpose. Sometimes we buy a small snack and then eat a meal when we get home. Sometimes we go to a grocery store and buy apples, bananas, or nuts for a healthy snack that’s much cheaper than eating out. By doing this we save a lot of money and we eat more healthfully.
What strategies do you have for saving money on eating out?
I can also be found over at Chiot's Run where I blog about organic gardening, local eating, and other weird stuff we do like sugaring maples and keeping bees. I can also be found at Not Dabbling in Normal.