How many times have you abandoned the idea of cooking dinner at home, opting instead for the ease and convenience of the “dollar menu” at your favorite fast-food eatery? Considering food prices now (and over the next decade), experts estimate that Americans will spend more than half of their food budget eating away from home. As more and more women continue to enter the ranks of those working outside the home, the convenience and competitiveness of the restaurant business can make eating out the cheaper, and increasingly more alluring, alternative.
According to the National Restaurant Association, the US currently boasts over 925,000 restaurants, with at least 8,000 added each year. Needless to say, this gives virtually every town and city in the country a wide variety of options from which to choose. McDonald’s and members of the YUM conglomerate (KFC/Taco Bell/Pizza Hut) can now be found in even the sleepiest of burgs across the nation.
For a single person, grabbing a meal out can be cheaper than cooking when you factor in the time involved in shopping and cooking and the amount of waste. Most fast food restaurants have healthy alternatives permeating even the lower ends of the menu, so eating out on a budget does not mean automatically sacrificing sensible eating.
If you have a family, eating out on budget can be a challenge especially as kids develop adult-sized appetites and palates. Many restaurants offer deals like “kids eat free” nights, and if you’re willing to do a little research, you can get great deals on restaurant gift cards. Check out websites like www.restaurant.com for some great finds. You can purchase a $25 gift card for $10. Be sure to read the fine print; some restaurants put conditions on use of the cards. Just do a little smart planning – by combining the $15 card savings with a deal already offered by a restaurant, you’ll realize significant savings on a meal for your family. Be do be realistic. If your kids won’t be confined to the hotdogs, hamburgers, and chicken fingers that show up on many children’s menus, aim for buffets or restaurants that offer more choices for young eaters.
Of course, there are admirable diehards amongst us who are still compelled to serve a hot, home-cooked meal; kudos to them! If you’re one who argues that it is truly preferable to fix your family dinner at home, scour the Internet, your local newspaper, and magazines for bargains. Also watch your favorite grocery store for deals on both foods to prepare and prepared foods. A chain of stores in central Texas posts an unbeatable weekly offer, in which customers purchase one or two items (usually an entree) and get up to eight additional complimentary items completely free. Depending on the size of your family, and factoring in the additional meals or snacks generated by leftovers, cooking at home can be a cheaper alternative to dining out.
The next time you sit down to prepare your weekly food budget, be sure to factor in the value your time, and the actual cost of preparing your favorite meals. Combining the alternatives of cooking at home with occasionally dining out may actually save you some valuable food dollars. Take advantage of the money and time-saving deals available, whether you’re eating at home or sitting down with the family in a restaurant.