The last time we spoke, I talked about a topic that is decidedly NOT fun: cutting a beloved activity from our budget.
Who wants to do that?
In this case, it was our dinners out. We like eating out. We do it a lot. But we realized we were spending entirely too much on it, and something had to be done.
So we decided to limit our eating out to once per week.
But we know that if we take something away, we have to replace it with something equally fun. It’s a frugal Jedi mind trick we’ve learned, a necessary skill for surviving financial responsibility without depression. It also helps eliminate cheating.
The key was finding a way to make eating at home fun, easy, and satisfying for all parties. That way, it wouldn’t be like we were losing a night out, but gaining a fun night in. See how that works?
But first, we had to set some ground rules.
We decided on a monthly budget for eating out. For us, that number came to $160 per month. This allows us to eat out about once a week, and the amount nestles nicely into our budget spreadsheet.
We figured out how we were going to keep track of it. Cash, it’s the easiest choice.
We discussed our definition of eating out. Any time two or more family members join to eat at an establishment that serves food counts as eating out.
- Does that include one parent and one child going to lunch on a Saturday? Yes.
- Does that include husband and wife going to dinner on date night? Yes.
- Is the cost of the babysitter for date night included in the eating out budget? Uhm, no. But we don’t go on dates very often, so we’ll categorize that as “entertainment” when it comes up.
Once we had the nitty-gritty details out of the way, we were free to start crafting our plans for the nights we wouldn’t be eating out. Remember the goal: easy, fun, and satisfies everyone. Here’s what we came up with.
1. Breakfast for Dinner!
Though I’ve professed to not be the greatest cook, I make a mean Mickey Mouse shaped chocolate chip pancake.
French toast, scrambled eggs, homemade hash browns, waffles, muffins – all things that are relatively easy to make. Happy mom making fun dinner, happy kids eating it.
I’ve enjoyed exploring new breakfast recipes too, like crème brûlée French toast. For the meat eaters, I throw a few sausage links on their plates and all are happy. Really, what’s not happy about breakfast for dinner?
2. Homemade Fancy Pizzas
I’ve been making my own pizza dough for a few years now. It’s really easy to do, and I love how it only takes a few minutes to assemble all the ingredients and bake up a pie.
I’ve also been honing my dough tossing skills with this handy tutorial from YouTube.
Pizza night on weekends works great with our kids’ varied tastes since I can make their pizzas to order. Baby Rock likes his with cheese, pine nuts and no sauce. I don’t blame him.
3. Dinners I don’t have time to make during a regular weeknight
I have a great recipe for chicken (or vegetarian) pot pie. But I stopped making it because it was too much work for a weeknight. Enter a Saturday night, and hey! I have time to make it again. I’m sure I’ll come across other time-intensive recipes that were long ago abandoned. If so, I know where to put them.
Bottle of Wine. Check.
As little as possible. We eat dinner in the family room while watching a movie from Redbox.
And we leave the dishes until the next day.
So that about sums up how we sacrificed one of our favorite things to do, while still doing it sometimes just not all the time, and replaced it with something fun instead.