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How I Fit Eating Out Into My Budget

>> Wednesday, August 27, 2008

With my budget being tight it's really had to justify going out to eat. Not that we do it alot... But we all know that there are times that cooking is just not something you want to do.

As I head to my final FPU class tonight (sniff, sniff) I'm going to share with you how we eat out on the cheap.

First and foremost we rarely- if ever- pay for our children's meals. Why bother? Practically every restaurant has a kid's night. Even the local grocery stores with deli's have a kid's night. To find local restaurants I Googled "kids eat free" and my town. Or try ParentZone for their listing- scroll down for cities and states.

We also split meals quite often. Why not? Most portions are huge. And, if you share it's easier to justify dessert!

A real treat for the girls is a Happy Meal at McDonald's. On Wednesdays those "special meals" are $1.89. I get two and a $1 menu item for me (we split the fries they get) and the girls and I eat for around $7. This comes out of my fun money- it's fun for me because I don't have to figure out what to make for lunch!

If a restaurant you frequent offers a punch card get it! This is especially good at ice cream places like Marble Slab and Cold Stone Creamery. It's an expensive treat.

And then there is my favorite way to eat out- in secret! The secret isn't that we're eating out- the secret is that we are being paid to do so! I am signed up with quite a few mystery shopping companies who pay me to evaluate the food, service and atmosphere of a wide variety of restaurants.

Here's just a small list of restaurant's I've been paid to eat at:

Texas Roadhouse

Fleming's (upscale steakhouse)

Bandana's (BBQ)


Outback Steakhouse

Bonefish Grill

Cheesecake Factory

I've also been paid for oil changes, a Sam's Club membership and eye exams and glasses.


Here are some of the companies I shop for:

A Closer Look

Beyond Hello



Mystery Guest

Customer Impact

Service X

Marketing Endeavors

Even more are listed at Turn2You. Do not pay a company to set you up as a mystery shopper! All these companies are free to sign up with. Be prepared on a dining shop- most will ask for times on food delivery, beverages and waiting. A mall investment of a digital recorder makes the shop easy and enjoyable!

Those are just a few tips that I can think of right now. Anyone else? How do you eat on the cheap?


The Fritz Facts 8:56 PM  

I love kids eat free nights. We also scour the paper for coupons. Some of the restaurants around here will have coupons in the paper, the mail and online. I don't eat out unless we have a good saving in coupons.

Anonymous 10:24 PM  

This is so cool. Thanks for sharing this info.

- Vince

~*~Jenni~*~ 9:06 AM  

One of our ways to eat free is sticking to small town restaurants. One, it saves gas money driving into West Des Moines, and it prevents me from spending lots of money at places like Red Robin and O'Charleys over by Jordan Creek!

And we love the kids eat free nights, too... but people are catching on, and it's becoming too busy at most places!

pjmomof3boys 2:26 PM  

Desmoinesfamilies.com also has "Kids Eat Free" nights posted for the Des Moines area. We frequent these as well! We also like the $1.89 Happy Meal Wednesdays, but I've found that they don't have these everywhere (at least the McDonald's off University in Clive doesn't do it). Thanks for sharing your mystery shopping companies! I've been interested in doing this, but would have to make sure I have the time...Are there certain times of the day or days of the week you have to shop (or eat)? Thanks for all the info, as always!

Tamara B 1:58 PM  

I'm gonna sign up for some of those... I wonder how ell that works if you live in the sticks :)

We save by preparing 2 weeks worth of meals at once. Saves us from going to the store last minute and paying twice the price in small town. I just had left over curry chicken for lunch and it was yummy!

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