Save your money! Try these alternatives to going out to eat

alternatives to going out to eat

Do you know how much you spend going out to eat? Do you have a sneaking suspicion it’s too much?

Going out to eat can ease stress, save work, provide entertainment and allow you to enjoy great food! But going out isn’t cheap, so if you are working on paying off debt or need to save more, it’s one of the first areas to cut back on.

Calculate how much you spend each time you go out. Now figure up how much you could save if you cut down on the frequency (or even eliminated it)! I bet you’d be surprised how much the savings would add up.

If you plan to cut back on your eating out habit, you need to 1) figure out why you are eating out so much and 2) put a plan in place so you can stop doing it so often.

Why do we go out to eat?

No time to cook

The kids had a game, you worked late, you’re exhausted and it’s getting late.You don’t have the time or energy for cooking a meal or going to the grocery store. It just seems easier to go out or order take-out.

Feeling the crunch of busy days and evenings can play a huge part in our decision to go out to eat, particularly on weekdays. But, keep in mind, it may actually take just as much time (possibly more) to go out to eat as to throw a simple meal together at home.

Here are a few solutions to help ease the stress and keep the temptation of going out to a minimum.


  1. Plan ahead. Look at your schedule at least a week in advance and plan what you are going to eat each day. This doesn’t have to take much time, just take a few minutes to jot down what’s for dinner.

Need some inspiration? Do an online search of quick dinner ideas or flip through your favorite cookbook. Here are my favorite money saving cookbooks:

      1. Prep the weekend or night before. If you know there are evenings you won’t have any time to prepare dinner, plan for that. Plan a slow cooker meal, or prep all ingredients the weekend or night before.
      2. Use the slow cooker. The slow cooker is your friend – use it when time is limited. I’ve often put all the ingredients for a slow cooker meal in the slow cooker crock the night before, place it in the fridge and just stick it in the heating element and turn it on in the morning. By evening, dinner is done!
      3. Keep quick meals on hand. Dinner doesn’t have to be an elaborate, 5 course meal. Keep weeknight dinners simple. Consider making sandwiches or pasta when time is limited (yes, mac and cheese is allowed when you only have 15 minutes!).
      4. Keep back-up meals in the freezer. When you do cook a meal, double it up and put extra in the freezer to be eaten on one of those busy nights. Frozen pizza is also handy in a pinch 😉
      5. Have snacks in the car and house for “emergencies”. You know those times when you or the kids are just starved and need something, anything to hold you over until you can get to some decent food? Rather than stop at the grocery store or gas station on a whim for a quick snack, keep quick snacks on hand. Granola bars, crackers, and nuts are healthy, quick snacks that store well.


Going out to eat can be fun. I mean, what’s better than have someone else cook, wait on you and do the dishes? It’s easier to relax and have good conversation when you’re not the one in the kitchen.

If you’re going out to eat to socialize or as a source of entertainment and want to cut back to save money, consider the alternatives.


        1. Make a meal together. Cooking together can be fun, plus it takes the stress off of having just one person responsible for the meal. Have friends or family contribute ingredients and help put a nice meal together.
        2. Potluck. Host a potluck. You still get to socialize and have a great time and only have to prepare one dish to share.
        3. Have a picnic/cookout. For some reason, eating outdoors is more relaxing. Plan to grill up some tasty food and eat your meal outside for a change. This can turn into a whole evening of good food and drinks in the company of your friends and family, without breaking the bank.
        4. Host byob and app night. Who doesn’t love apps? You don’t have to have an entire meal, just have friends and family bring an app and their beverage of choice.
        5. Order in with friends. Okay, so you really, really don’t want to cook? Order some pizza and eat in. Ordering drinks and appetizers in a restaurant really adds to the cost of a meal, so ordering in can save over eating in the actual restaurant.
        6. Make it about something other than food. If you are eating out just for entertainment, consider alternative entertainment options. Hiking, biking, playing games, renting a movie or sitting around a fire are all entertaining options that cost less than eating out. Here are 35 suggestions of free things to do.
        7. Volunteer. This is the best! Volunteering with friends or family is a fun way to give back to the community and you feel so great when you do it! Serve dinner at a shelter, help take care of animals, or clean up trash in the park.

Good food

Going out to eat typically means eating meals we rarely fix at home. It’s different food, food that can taste remarkably good!

If you are going out to eat just for the great or different food, try buying new ingredients and fixing some great food at home. You can actually make incredible food at home, often just as good or better than most restaurants.  


        1. Experiment with new ingredients and recipes. We can get into a rut of making the same old meals over and over at home. Switch it up and buy some new ingredients or vow to try one new recipe each week. You may find a new favorite!
        2. Copycat recipes. Have a favorite meal from a popular restaurant? Chances are you can find a recipe to replicate that meal at home. Check out for some of the more popular restaurant meal recipes.
        3. Buy food you don’t normally buy at the grocery store. Try something new and different. Splurge for the steak, seafood, or sushi ingredients to have at home occasionally. You may spend more at the grocery store, but cooking it at home still saves a heap over going out to eat.
        4. Use a grill or deep fryer. Restaurants typically cook food at high temperatures on the grill or deep fryer. Grilling can take meats, veggies and a variety of other foods to a whole new level. Deep frying foods is not a very healthy cooking method, but if you want to treat yourself now and then, consider deep frying your food of choice (we don’t own a deep fryer, but will occasionally use a deep pan to fry french fries, tenderloins and chicken fried steak).

Why do you go out to eat? How much do you think you can save by not going out to eat? What suggestions do you have for those trying to cut back on dining out?


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38 thoughts on “Save your money! Try these alternatives to going out to eat

  1. Going out to eat is definitely something that we need to work on. We just sometimes get so lazy and end up ordering food and going out, instead of just makingit ourselves. We definitely need to work on just keeping quick meals on hand.

    I know some people suggest making yourself a little “menu” of food you can always make at home, with the ingredients always on hand. Doesn’t sound like a bad idea.

    1. I love the home “menu” idea! It’s like meal planning…then you don’t have to come up with a meal idea since you already have a list right there in front of you (and all of the ingredients to make the meals).

  2. I think the easiest way to convince yourself you need not regularly go out to eat is to make simple yet creative recipes that get you excited about the idea of cooking them. And I think the new trend of 30 second recipes we see in short videos online, where they only use 3-4 ingredients, are a pretty exciting solution. They make it look easy and delicious, and let’s not forget frugal!

    1. I love quick recipes that are tasty! I whipped up a pasta last week that the kids loved and it only took about 15-20 minutes (plus it was meatless and frugal!). Many times, I think it’s the idea of spending an entire hour in the kitchen that turns people away from cooking, so those quick recipes are a great solution.

  3. We used to order in all the time. Such a money suck. We have gotten it under control, but I still find cooking during the week to be such a challenge. And unlike you, I am slow-cooker-challenged!) I do love sandwiches for dinner. I’d be happy with a sandwich every night of the week…

    1. Ordering in is convenient and completely understandable for busy parents but, you’re right, the cost adds up. Sandwiches work! You could make a list of your favorite, easy meals and keep the ingredients on hand for weekdays (or even a frozen meal). We eat a lot of the same meals on a rotation during the week. Oh! And the key with the slow cooker is to find some really good recipes.

  4. Great tips! On the point of keeping quick meals on hand – I recently picked up a mini-fridge for my office and keep some food in there. This has really helped keep me from spending money on lunch just because I’m running late in the morning or forget to bring lunch with me.

    1. Thanks, Matt! A mini-fridge at work is a great idea. It would pay for itself in short order with the savings on not going out for lunch!

  5. As with so many ways to save money, planning ahead is huge. We try to keep some easy meals on hand for those busy nights, and also learn to cook different cuisines that we like, so we don’t have to go out anymore. We used to go get Thai food and both order curries for around $15 each. I’ve found a very authentic brand of curry paste at Asian grocery stores, and together with meat, coconut milk, and veggies, the whole meal costs less than $10 for 5-6 servings. And it’s easy!

    1. You’re right, planning is really the key. It’s great that you were able to figure out how to easily make curry at home. I’ve experimented with it – mine is okay, but not fantastic. I guess I need to stop at the Asian grocery store and get a quality curry paste. $10 for a meal that’s quick and tasty is amazing!

  6. When I was still with my old job (& single) I’d eat two meals out each day due to the long hours and convenience. That came to $15-20 per day. After 3 years of that, I look back at how much money could have been used for something else.

    Now my wife & I go out once (maybe twice) each month. It helps she’s a good cook. Our food tastes a lot better than restaurant food, cheaper, and healthier in many instances.

    Having home-cooked food is one reason I have lost 25 pounds over the last two years.

    1. We usually go out once or twice a month as well, but it’s typically a planned meal out. I agree, most of the time the home-cooked food tastes superior to restaurant food (depending on the restaurant). And it’s typically much healthier too! When we got married 19 years ago, I didn’t know how to cook many things, but with a little practice and some good recipes, I was able to develop some good cooking skills (and I’m much faster now than then!).

  7. Great tips Amanda. I especially love using the crock pot in the winter time. Having the whole house smell amazing throughout the day is an added bonus to an awesome meal.

    1. Thanks! I’m always ready to make slow cooker meals when the weather starts to turn cooler. Yesterday, we had chili for the first time this fall and the house smelled great!

  8. I’m too embarrassed to admit how much money we spend going out to eat. And for us, it’s always about the time crunch. Especially now, with school back in session and activities in full swing, sometimes a home cooked meal is not an option.

    These are great tips – a little pre-planning goes a long way!

    1. The time crunch can make dinner hard to get on the table, especially when kids have activities in the evenings! On evenings like this at my house, I like to prep a meal and stick it in the fridge the day before – we just reheat it when we each get home (these are almost always a pasta or rice bowl meals – easy and cheap!)

  9. Great ideas! We do not eat out much these days, but love to socialize over food and drinks. Instead of going out we occasionally host happy hour at our place. We do it as a potluck and just have one main dish and beer. Friends bring other dishes and more beer. It doesn’t cost us or our friends much, and when you host you’re already home at the end of the night 🙂

    1. Thanks! We like to host “happy hour” too! We have a fire ring in the back yard, so it’s fun to have friends over to sit around the fire for an evening. When everyone brings something, it doesn’t cost much at all – definitely cheaper than a night out!

  10. Planning ahead has had a huge impact on our life. We plan out dinners two weeks in advance, and we plan meals that can be used for lunch the next day as well. We’ve been doing this for a few years now and it’s worked out SO well. I’ve only bought lunch at work about once a year on average.

    1. Planning ahead is where it’s at, DC! You mentioned you plan meals that can be used for lunch the next day as well, which is a fantastic idea. We do the same – my husband and daughter both take leftovers for lunch each day. We also keep a few sandwich fixings on hand for those times when we don’t have many leftovers (or my daughter doesn’t want them).

  11. Hail the deep-fryer, the much maligned tool of food preparation. Now, we don’t whip out the deep-fryer often, but how can you beat homemade mozzarella sticks or hush puppies? And don’t get me started on deep-fried okra! In my humble opinion, no kitchen is complete without a deep-fryer and a slow-cooker. I was so pumped when I saw them included in your very comprehensive list of eating-out alternatives. Made my day, Amanda. Thanks.

    1. Wow, Mr. Groovy! You made my day for your enthusiasm over my mention of the deep-fryer and slow-cooker! And you’re right on the mozzarella sticks, hush puppies and okra. We don’t deep fry often either, but when we get a hankering for deep fried food, it’s cheaper (and often tastier) to make it at home. Yesterday I had a package of hot dogs that needed used up, with no buns in the house – found a recipe for hot dogs wrapped in cheese and a tortilla…and then fried. Not healthy in the least, but it was tasty and definitely a hit with the teenagers.

  12. Oh my goodness, these are great ideas. Planning ahead is key – but I find that goes out the window when I get stressed. “Make it about something other than food” is a real concept. I ALWAYS make it about food.
    My daughter just got hired to work at a fish & chips franchise – and it turns out the owner is a former student of mine. “Miss, this is your restaurant. I won’t ever let you pay,” he said to me. Hmmm… Maybe I’ve found my solution : )

    1. Thanks, Ruth! Planning ahead is crucial, but it doesn’t always happen. That’s why I like having a frozen meal or pantry meal on hand for those days. We used to go out more and plan our get-togethers around food, and we still do sometimes. But we’ve also been doing “other” things. Recently we had friends over for drinks by the fire (with just chips and salsa). Cheap and fun, plus no food to prepare!

      It’s great you have your solution to eating out! 😉 Fish and chips for free – can’t beat that.

  13. Good tips! I think our main reasons for ordering take out is time…and laziness…handling a toddler and newborn are tiring =) Cooking a big batch on the weekend helps and we do have some frozen meals that are easy to make. We did buy a slow cooker but haven’t used it yet! We need to find some good recipes to use that are easy to make.

    1. Thank you! Having two young children is exhausting! I remember those days. Batch cooking is sooo helpful – saves time and money! I am using my slow cooker today – I put a roast in this morning, but I also use it for soups and stews. The possibilities are endless!

  14. We’ve almost completely cut out going out for meals now due to health/lifestyle – it’s impossible to track what they put in the food! Restaurants will always add more salt, sugar and extra naughty things that taste nice. We can avoid all those extra sneaky ingredients, make super tasty things at home AND know what we’re eating!


    1. We go out maybe once or twice a month, usually with other family or for special occasions. It’s a “treat” for the kids. Depending on where you go out to eat, the food is generally much better quality at home, that’s for sure! It’s fun to make great food at home and discover tasty recipes that are better than restaurant food.

  15. Sometimes you gotta get outta the house! And with kids, especially toddlers, date night escapes are huge decompressors. You don’t need more than one night out a week max, and you should minimize your spend by avoiding fancy joints. Now if you’re under a mountain of debt without a FIRE plan, fire up the pressure cooker.

    1. Agreed, getting out of the house is important, particularly when you have young children! I remember those days. My husband and I would plan a night out every almost every week and cash in on half price appetizers and drinks at a local restaurant. I think it depends on the situation with eating out. If it’s planned and budgeted for, go for it, but when it becomes a crutch or is a detriment to debt payoff (or adds to debt), the alternatives should be strongly considered.

  16. AnnieM

    I’ve gotten pretty good at planning and prepping for the week’s meals. But here’s what makes me extra happy: I freeze (Thank You FoodSaver) all leftovers not eaten for lunch at the end of the week. My college son comes come home to fill his freezer w home cooked meals. No shopping/prep/clean up time or cost for him. No waste for us. And we get to see him more often. Win-Win-Win.

    1. Thanks so much for the comment, Annie! Planning and prepping and the key to getting meals on the table! When I don’t plan ahead, dinner doesn’t amount to much. 🙂 That’s so great that your son can use the leftovers for his meals! It’s probably much healthier than he would get otherwise, plus the time and money savings is huge. Getting to see him more often would be a definite benefit. (I’m not looking forward to when my first leaves in 1 1/2 years.)

  17. This is one area that people can’t believe how much I spend and can save. The biggest way to save is making those big crock pot meals like you mentioned. Our next largest optimization was significantly dealing back our consumption of meats. They cost the most and we really don’t need as much as society has decided is the normal way. We do eat out but we try to eat at affordable places that provide good portions . Thanks for reminding people that cooking/groceries is an important place to look.

    1. Yes, Chris! We are so used to cooking/eating meat and, honestly, it has been a challenge for me to cut back on meat consumption. It’s a work in progress, but just last night I made a huge crock pot of vegetarian chili and it was fantastic. Plus, we have leftovers for at least 2 days of lunches.

      Thanks so much for the comment, Chris! 🙂

  18. Jacq

    I was trying to figure out if I could have done today differently but I don’t think so. I had an appointment at 1130 and somewhere else to be at 2, both north of my house, so it didn’t make sense to go home for lunch and I let myself go out. Delish tacos from one of my favorite places in town.
    I cook very tasty food, but still give myself 1-2 per week meals out which I don’t alway use. I bought a 10lb bag of rice on sale so I can always make something with that. I try to keep cans of vegetable Soup around for quick meals.
    I haven’t had frozen meals around in a long time, and got frozen pizza and have demolished 3 of 4 in 3 weeks. This is why I don’t keep them around. 🙂 Lesson re-learned.
    Thanks for the great tips.

    1. Thanks Jacq! It sounds like you have a great plan for balancing going out to eat and cooking at home! I admit, I like to go out to eat, so we typically budget one meal per week that I don’t cook. We usually go out to a restaurant once a month and order pizza or take-out once a week on the other weeks. It works for us and doesn’t break the bank. I think that’s the key!

  19. Jaime

    Agree totally with all of those that are emphasizing the planning ahead element! And planning for the nights where you are exhausted and won’t feel like making ANYTHING is included in that for sure! One simple go to I try to keep on hand is smoked sausage in the freezer and box of shells and cheese in the pantry – not the healthiest but it beats take out! It’s an emergency meal, so to speak! 🙂

    I also do a lot of cooking on the weekends – we always have leftovers for dinner on Monday night as a result. Extras get frozen. I also make double batches of meals and freeze 1/2 or even just make a few freezer meals here and there. Sometimes it is as simple as making a marinade, putting it in a bag with raw meat and freezing that for grilling later. I do more intensive freezer cooking in the fall.

    I really love the CopyCat recipe idea as well! I’ve plugging these into our meal plan rotation occasionally as a “treat”. We’ll have an Olive Garden themed night and so on…

    1. Thanks for the comment, Jaime! Love the emergency meal idea. 🙂 That’s the thing about those emergency meals – they may not be super healthy, but they still beat take-out and they are so much cheaper. I usually always keep mac and cheese and a frozen pizza on hand.

      Yes to cooking on the weekends! Sunday is my cooking day – and really I only spend about 2 hours in the kitchen, but it saves my entire week. I chop veggies, make an extra meal, and plan leftovers. I love freezing extra too! I like the idea of the marinade in the bag of raw meet to freeze. I used to do this, but got away from the habit. With grilling season almost here, I should start doing that again. Thanks again!

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