Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Eating Out #3- It's Expensive

I've been writing about eating out and how to keep in mind doing everything to the glory of God as we go (or don't) out. You can catch up with Post 1 and Post 2 by clicking on them. Today I want to talk about the financial side of eating out. If there is one reason I can see to completely eliminate eating out, this is it. But I don't want these posts to be a defense of eating out. Whether or not you should is something you need to carefully weigh with God. We have had seasons where we knew God was calling us to eat at home only and give generously. We had seasons where we could not afford to eat out, so we did not.I guess what I'm trying to say is: I will not try to pretend that eating out is cheap. It's not. But it can be done within budget.

That is where I'll hang for this post: with a budget. We have a line in our budget for food and know that is all we have for the month. We may choose to go out once or twice a month at nice restaurants or several times at cheaper places, but we cannot afford to go beyond our budget. We believe keeping to our budget glorifies God.

Though our income has varied in different seasons of life, God has always provided for all our needs and given sweetly beyond that for us to be able to give generously as well. Those are the priorities to us: give and have our needs met. Anything else is only as God provides within our budget.

I think talking generically about our budget could be confusing, so I'll share an actual glimpse into our spending. Are you ready for our numbers? We are now a family of four, soon to be five. We recently increased from a $2,000 to a $3,000 monthly budget. Maybe that seems low (or high)- but it meets our needs perfectly for the area of the country we live in. Keep in mind that we have no debt to pay off and we rent a home, so this amount is to cover our daily provisions.

We split out our spending first by our giving, then rent/bills (sometimes savings), and finally everything else. We cash out the rest and divide into envelopes to fit our spending. Of that (everything else), we typically allot $400 a month total on food (grocery and out) and usually split it in half. So we spend an average of $200/month of our food budget to eat out- or $50 a week. We are not always faithful and have gone overboard and spent waaay too much on eating out some seasons and had to cut other spending to provide for it. In other seasons, we reduced our spending to $300 and gave the extra $100. Sometimes we have no paycheck and we stay at home eating our of our cupboards! So please know these numbers are accurate, but our consistency varies in seasons.

God has always provided ways for us to stay within our budget and still enjoy eating a variety of foods at home and out. One provision is a GREAT generic food grocery store called Aldi right near our house. We are able to buy meats, produce, and the rest of groceries for $150 a month (usually two trips at $75 ish) there. I can spend the extra $50 on extras we love at Publix or Walmart. If I use coupons and price matching, the savings are even greater. Many of my friends use the CVS extra care card and save incredible amounts. I definitely see the benefits of using that card.

Some ways to keep down costs of eating out:
1) Make expensive places a sometimes treat and limit it, since they blow most of the budget in one meal.

2) Learn when restaurants have special weekly deals you like (special priced adult meals, earlybird pricing, kids eat free nights, etc.)

3) Save money with coupons whenever possible. Many restaurants send coupons in the mail, advertise in flyers/newspaper, or post coupons on their website. I sign up for emails from places we love and typically get coupons from them. Many even give a free meal on your birthday.

4) A friend of mine gets gift cards for her favorite chain restaurants through her monthly  points earned on her credit card. They use the card to pay their monthly bills and get gas- all on budget and paid off in full each month. I LOVE that idea, but only if you're faithful to pay off the credit card each month.

5) Skip over kids menus unless it's a great deal for good food. If we see a great kids deal, we get it to split it between our boys. It's usually cheaper for us to order adult meals and each split ours with our kids.

6) Order appetizers, soup, or just go for dessert after eating at home. It's far cheaper and often still big portions.

7) Eat at lunchtime and get lunch specials. At our favorite Chinese restaurant, we actually buy 2 meals (with drink, rice, eggroll, and soup included) and split them with the kids. This costs about $15 with tip.

8) Eat nearby. This saves gas money as well as time. We like to walk to restaurants or ride our bikes. One of our current favorites is the Wycliffe Bible translators cafeteria in front of our neighborhood.

9) For fast food chains, use the dollar menu. At Taco Bell, We typically buy 1 of the $2 dollar meals and then a few extra tacos, cheese rollups, a burrito, and cinnamon twists. We get water for the kids and share a drink. Our meal averages $7-$9 for the whole family.

10) Account for tipping in your budget- We always tip at least 20%, so this can eat up our funds a bit, but we like to tip well as a thank you. We tip more than 20% in places we eat often as we get to know our servers.

Eating out is an area that can snare us financially if we don't tightly reign it. We also want to be openhanded with this gift and sometimes enjoy seasons of eating in and giving that budget completely to help meet others needs. We pray that God is glorified by eating out within our budget, during seasons that we can afford it!

In my next post I'll share our favorite part of eating out: pouring Christ's love into others intentionally.

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