The Frugal Jedi Mind Trick

by Lindy on January 25, 2012

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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?

Not us.

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.

But I’ve always kept our pizzas fairly basic, until now. Did I mention the Internet gave me a pizza stone for Christmas?  Well, it’s inspired me to start making fancier pizzas. Like, date pizza.

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.


Music. Check.

Bottle of Wine. Check.

Wine Zinfandel


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.

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  • Great ideas! We like making something fancy on one weekend day too. (And often freeze leftovers for a fancy mid-week meal later on.)

  • We love breakfast for dinner. Here we like grits and eggs! Great ideas!

  • Keeping it fun has been our trick so far. We like to try new things and I like Pinterest, which always seems to find something new for me to make, that and Foodgawker.

    I think having a nice freezer supply helps too. Some nights I don’t feel like doing anything, it’s nice to just pull something out of the freezer, besides chicken nuggets. :)

    • Lindy

      Funny that you mention Pinterest. Come back Friday and you’ll find out why. ;)

  • $160?! We (I’ve) got some cutting back to do! We (I) spend $310 a month on eating out. I spend at least $80 a month just on coffee and a treat…

    • Lindy

      Well, $160 only covers our family dinners out. Fast food and coffee have categories all their own.

  • Perfect!! I eat out maybe 2x a year…lol! So I always am curious as to how often others eat out… Im a food snob’ and have food allergies to deal with, so it’s much easier eating at home!

  • I think it’s a brilliant idea to keep your monthly eating out budget in cash. I realize that it’s just a variant of the envelope method, but I can see how that would help me not to overspend on meals out (to me, it’s a lot easier to sign money away after using a debit card).

    • Lindy

      We don’t use cash for anything else, because it has a tendency of slipping through our fingers. But with dinners out, I’ve been keeping the cash in a hidden compartment in my wallet. It’s been quite handy so far.

  • I love that you put a geeky name to this! Love! I’m excited to inform The Husband.

    We did this long ago, swapping out our Friday Night sushi, with concentrated laziness, Netflix, cheap wine and homemade pizza. I find its actually more relaxing than leaving the house, waiting at a restaurant, fighting Friday night traffic, etc. A super happy trade off.

    We do our fancy meals Sunday night, so we can eat the leftover for lunch on Monday, and Breakfast for dinner rocks the casbah.

    In general its a good policy. Replace expensive habit with something cheaper, that you may actually love more.

    • Lindy

      I do find I look forward to our new nights in. Laziness for the win!

  • that is an awesome plan to cut the eating out budget down – i’ve been slowly limiting myself in that category as well – i’ve gotten it down to 1 lunch or dinner out per week. This has worked well so far, though I dont have a specific definition like you do – that is a great idea!

  • What great ideas! I know that I, for one, could eat breakfast food for dinner, lunch and er well breakfast!! The best comfort food ever!

    • Lindy

      Comfort food, indeed. Especially when you’re allowed to eat chocolate chips for dinner.

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  • I love you, Lindy, and this is another reason why.

    I do some of the things you mention, particularly make things that take a while on the weekends. I’ll do this with stuffed shells or coconut shrimp. Makes eating at home on the weekends more tolerable.

    • Lindy

      It was a major epiphany when I realized I could cook some of those longer dinners on a Saturday.

  • Oh my goodness, all three of those are some of my favorite foods! Nothing like french toast, waffles or pancakes at dinner. And I love making homemade pizza (but I buy my dough from trader joe’s, maybe you can share your dough recipe?:)) and chicken pot pie!! When I was more strict about not eating meat, I replaced my chicken with angel hair pasta. I’m so hungry now. I have to stop reading your site before lunch.

  • Lisa

    OK, so I’ve been reading your blog for a while and this post made me laugh. We cut eating out completely out of our budget cold turkey about 8 months ago. It was hard the first month or so, but now we hardly notice it. We’ve compensated exactly the same way you have! Our weekends are now about making fun meals that take more preparation than what we have time for during the week. Our kids love making their own pizzas, and breakfast for dinner is one of their favorite things. Amazingly I think our no eating out policy has actually saved us money in other ways too. We can’t spend all that much time out shopping because we need to get home to make lunch, thus we aren’t tempted as much to buy stuff we don’t need. We take picnics with us when we go places like the zoo. So far the kids are so excited with the picnic that they don’t ask us to buy them food when we are out. I guess it is a Jedi mind trick!

    • Lindy

      Great minds think alike. ;) Glad to hear the frugal mind trick works on kids too. Thanks for the comment!

  • How is your pizza dough? We have terrible luck with making our own dough. I usually just go pick up a ball from the local pizza joint for $2 and use that. PM me a good dough recipe. :)

    • Lindy

      I didn’t know you could buy pizza dough from the pizza shop. I actually had a false start with making my own dough. My first three batches never rose, so I gave up and started buying from Trader Joe’s. After we stopped our Trader Joes runs, I decided to give it another whirl and found a recipe that works great. I’ll share the recipe on Sunday.

  • I’m gonna have to try breakfast for dinner now. I’ve known about this idea for a little while and wasn’t too excited about it. But that’s when I didn’t know about creme brulee french toast. That changes everything.

    • Lindy

      Yes, creme brulee French toast changes everything, in many, many ways.

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  • Breakfast for dinner is still a treat for me.

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  • Yeah, when you cut things out, you always feel deprived. Adding new habits really works! My spouse and I rarely have dinner out, but we have lunch out occasionally on Saturdays (lunch menu at good restaurants is often the same but with much better prices) or we go to deluxe coffee shops on Saturday mornings and laze around eating croissants :)

    • Lindy

      Sounds delightful. Thanks for sharing!

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