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Saving Money on Restaurants and Fast Food

Living a Better Life® (from the editor's desk)
by Michelle Jones

With a family of 6, eating out can cause some serious damage to our budget. But over the years we've learned lots of little tricks to save money while eating at restaurants and fast food drive thrus. I hope these tips will help your family save too.
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First thing, WATER!

If money is really tight, or you're on a mission to be as frugal (and healthy) as possible, order water for EVERYONE. You can't order special drinks or sodas for some and not for others (when they want the special drinks and sodas too), so the best thing to do is order water all around. If your family starts to complain, just remind them that water is good for you!

On those days when you really want to have something to drink besides water, try ordering just one large tea or soda, and share with extra straws.


One of my favorite ways to save money at restaurants, and get the most delicious meal for the money, is to order just a salad (or appetizer) and dessert.

Forget the main course, that's often the most expensive part of the meal. Besides, if you order one you won't even have room for dessert and that would be even more tragic.

I'm being quite serious though, this really is a fun way to save money and you'll be saving on calories too. By lowering your total bill, your 20% server tip will also be less. More money saved.

Just please do not attempt to save money at restaurants by not properly tipping your servers. And when they give you a discount, that means you should tip them more, not less. Read more about tipping here.

Fast Food

This one is difficult at times, like when we're rushed and on the go between baseball games and other activities, it's hard to remember exactly which place is the cheapest and what I'm supposed to order to get the spend the least amount of money.

Sometimes I can feed most of us for under $6.00, and sometimes it can cost $15.00 or more. Those $15.00 trips are the ones I try most to avoid.

Taco Bell is a good place to save. We can order tacos for everyone for under $10.00. The cheapest deal I was able to get recently was when there were only 4 of us eating lunch together. We ordered the combo meal that had a chalupa and two tacos, and then ordered one extra taco. The cost was less than $5.00.

Another great deal is the two cheeseburger combo at Burger King, or is it McDonald's? I'm not sure, but you can look for it. And I think it's Wendy's that has chicken nuggets for .99 cents. So instead of ordering Kid's Meals for each child, you could get those and then share one large drink and fries for everyone. That could save you at least $1.00 per person or more. I know it may not seem like much, but the savings add up quick!

The Main Point

Wherever you eat out, the most expensive thing you want to avoid (except for maybe on special occasions), is to order everyone their own full meal. Cut back, order less, and share whatever you can.

When eating out on your own, you can save money by ordering just the sandwich and water, and always skip the fries. French fries are really bad for you anyway. The combo meals are your next best bet, but then you add another $1.00 or more to your order and about 2,000 calories, depending on what you get.

For those of you that are thinking, "Ugh, I can't even afford a $5.00 meal out right now," we've been there too. The great thing is, the money-saving tricks you are learning now, when you don't have any extra spending money, will help you save money in the future, when times are better and you do! :o)

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Copyright 2002 by Michelle Jones. All rights reserved.

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