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3 Ways to save money at dinner time

One of the expense categories where my wife and I struggle the most is dining out. And I imagine that we are not the only ones. In fact, many of m friends find themselves splurging a little too often on dining out. So why the lack of self control despite having a budget and feeling so committed at the beginning of the month?

Here are my thoughts. Please add your own reasons in the comments.

Commit to a dinner plan before you are hungry

Much like the adage, “Don’t grocery shop while you are hungry,” you should avoid making the “What’s for dinner?” decision while you are hungry. Though don’t just decide early in the day that you will be staying in, actually commit to your decision by putting the meal into action. For some of you stronger willed individuals, committing may mean just getting the chicken out to thaw. For the rest of us, we need to go the extra step and practically make half the meal before getting hungry.

Another reason for committing early in the day is to avoid the temptation after work while you are in the car running errands or driving home. Many of our lapses in judgement are a result of deciding what to do for dinner while we are driving around. Going home, preparing the meal, cleaning up, etc. sounds like so much work when, “Hey, isn’t Cafe Rio just around the corner?”

So at least plan on your meal early in the day or week. It’s even more effective though if you can commit to your plans be beginning your preparations.

Reduce the size of the expensive main dish

Grilled Chicken

I’ll give you an example to illustrate what I mean. I have a family of four. My two little girls don’t eat a lot, so we grilled up only three chicken breasts for dinner last night. My girls shared one breast, my wife and I shared a breast, and the third was stuck in tupperware as my lunch for the following day. Now, half a chicken breast won’t fill many guys, including myself. So we made garlic bread (purchased for $1) and vegetables such as corn (which we buy in bulk from Costco). By the end of the meal, I was full despite having had a small portion of protein (the most expensive part of the meal).

So get creative and add tasty, inexpensive sides to your dinner time meals that allow you to make a smaller portion of the expensive part of the meal. This same tip is also great for losing weight. Controlling portion sizes is one of the biggest factors in a successful, long term diet plan.

Make sure to have leftovers from dinner

Another expense category where many families struggle is work lunch. Your best laid plans to get up early to make sure that you have enough time to make and pack a lunch can easily fall through if you hit the snooze button one too many times. However, if you have leftovers from last night’s dinner already packed and ready to go, then you are much less likely to eat out come lunch time.

This money saving tactic obviously isn’t rocket science but does take some planning and forethought. For example, not all meals re-heat well or a recipe may only serve four but you need it to serve five in order to have one leftover meal.

You also have to practice self-control at dinner time. It’s happened more than once that my wife has made extra but my appetite took over and I ate everything. So stop after your portion is gone. This is also a healthy habit to form as well. Extra servings are rarely needed.

So what other tips do you have for saving money at dinner time?

Tags: , , | Filed under Saving Money, Family, Featured

  • Jenn

    Make things ahead of time and freeze them!! Since you were already grilling up chicken for that night’s dinner, go ahead and grill up another breast or two—it’s no more work for you at the time. Let the chicken cool during dinner and cut it into strips, which you can freeze and have on-hand when you need a quick, easy dinner like a chicken quesadilla or a cesar salad.

    This helps us so much.

    • I like it! We unfortunately rarely think that far ahead. At best, we just plan for my lunch the following day.

  • I think making something for lunch — rather than buying lunch out — is the #1 bang-for-your-buck way to save money on food.

    • I agree. I have a budget category just for my lunch and it’s amazing the difference when I don’t eat out. Though some days, I still just have to get out of the office.

  • I try to grocery shop to set myself up for a cheap week of healthy eats.  I can basically cook dinner with whatever is on hand so I focus my shopping on healthy affordable items and then tell myself for the rest of the week I have to cook from that.  I also make a double batch of dinner to tupperware for lunch. 

    • I like that suggestion. I know that we’ve ended up overspending because we don’t cook out of the pantry or limit ourselves to what’s on hand. A quick trip to the store always turns into a bigger bill than planned. Thanks!

  • Buy canned food ahead of time when it’s on sale. Some people serve
    canned vegetables, such as corn and green beans, at dinner. Instead of
    getting them when you get all of your other items, get them when they’re
    on sale.