As part of my participation here at Financial Highway, I’m on a mission to figure out how to continue to afford for my family to be able to eat at restaurants while making the experience less expensive. This past weekend was my first attempt. And I think I did okay. Let me know what you think:

Money saving strategy #1: Substitute dinner with lunch.

Every weekend, I menu plan for the upcoming week. I usually plan 5 family dinners, one dinner just for me and my daughter (the husband works 1 night per week) and one restaurant meal. After looking at some recipes and our budget, I decided to do something different. I planned 6 family dinners, forgoing one dinner in a restaurant for a meal at home. However, I substituted a lunch at home (we actually only eat lunch at home on weekends) with restaurant meal.  This was a new idea for us since we really enjoy eating lunch at home. Also, whenever we go out to lunch, my daughter wants peanut butter and jelly and I refuse to pay $5+ for something I can make at home for pennies.

Money saving strategy #2: Have a budget

Where we were going to was undecided. It was between a local burger chain (where kids meals are free. Sometimes. It depends on location) or a national chain restaurant that has a location near the mall, where we needed to go anyway. We tried to take a family vote but one temper tantrum later, we wound up at the national chain (California Pizza Kitchen). We had a $30 budget and I made the executive decision that we were not to go over that, including paying the tip. The husband said he would pay extra if necessary. I politely reminded him that if he adds in money, it defeats the purpose of the budget.

Money saving strategy #3: Share food, pay attention to price and adjust accordingly

When we were picking our meals, we paid careful attention to the price. We knew we could not exceed our $30, which made us a lot more strategic in our food choices. My daughter made it very clear that she wanted pizza, so we ordered her the kids’ meal which did include a drink.

That left us with $24.50 for our food and drinks. We agreed that we would both be drinking water—about a $5 savings right there. We also agreed that we would share one of the pizzas and perhaps an appetizer or something from the small cravings menu.  By agreeing to share rather than each of us getting our own main dish, we saved about $12. After much deliberating (my husband eats meat and I do not), we settled on the 5 Cheese pizza and the Mediterranean plate, which came to a total of approximately $15.

Of course, at the end of the meal, our server gave us the dessert menu (even though we didn’t ask for it). Of course, we politely declined because it was a) way too early in the day for tiramisu and b )it would have put us over budget.

When the bill came, it was around $20.50. We left $25, including tip, and we were quite pleased with the $5 we still had in our restaurant budget (we budget $50 every two weeks).

Overall, I think our first attempt at employing some money saving strategies went well. Do you agree? Is there anything we could have done differently?