Tips on Dining Out For Families on a Budget

Even on tight budgets, it’s really nice once in a while to eat out. Enjoying that occasional treat without breaking your budget is entirely possible, especially if you plan ahead. Even a family of more than one—and with kids—can both partake and prepare as a family.


Set a target date and one alternate date after it: That’s your Dine Out Night. How far in advance that might be can be determined by how many are in your at-home family, how many ways you can save up for it, where you go and what you order.

For family participation, let different members of the family set the restaurant for outings. Set spending limits, so the fancy-schmancy restaurant won’t upset the apple cart, but if every member eventually gets to choose, each member will be more inclined to help the family afford it.

Savings Techniques

Put a special container—an empty coffee can or plastic tub, for instance—where everyone can add to the Dine Out Night funds.

Save your change each day and empty all of it into this DON savings bank. Encourage children who receive allowances, for instance, or have part-time jobs to contribute their daily change as well. For younger children, contribute a dollar or two a week on his or her behalf. You can make a game of it: If the child learns something in school or takes care of feeding the family pet or something like it, “reward” the child by giving the child the dollar bill then immediately helping the child put it in the DON “account.” By the time Dine Out Night rolls around, he or she has “contributed” meal costs, and you’ve instilled early the idea of saving money.

If your bank has the plan, enroll in the “round up” plan and note the money total each month. Contribute that amount as well.

Coupons and other discounts are great crowd draws for restaurants, which is why they use them. Look for them. While some specials are intended for the busy times of the week, the best times for most family dining specials are on Tuesdays and Thursdays. People aren’t often schmoozing clients or celebrating the weekend on those days. Call your family’s favorite restaurants to find out their weeknight specials and discount offers.


Take-out food counts. You don’t sit in the dining room, but people usually don’t eat as much at home as they do in a restaurant, which means you might have left-overs to help with other meals, reducing your grocery bills.

Sure, it’s nice to have a glass of wine or a beer before, with or after dinner, but if you really want one, wait until you’re at home: Alcohol served in a restaurant has an extremely high mark-up rate over what you purchase almost anywhere else—a grocery store or a liquor store. Save the drink for when you’re not driving!

Save the dessert course for home. Like alcohol charges, desserts are atrociously priced. You can make several desserts at home for the equivalent price as restaurants’ prices. Even if you buy it at a bakery or a store, it’s still cheaper.


If possible, choose restaurants that are close to home: Gasoline costs money. If your family chooses take-out for the next Dining Out Night, try to head to the location closest to your home and save those miles.

If delivery is possible, balance any delivery charge against gasoline costs: If it’s close enough for the pizza place or the Chinese food to be delivered, it’s probably cheaper to go get it. If there’s no delivery charge, though, make them use their gas!

This post was authored by John Walker from  John works as a financial analyst in London, United Kingdom.

Karla Urwitz
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