Saturday, October 13, 2007

Go Less, Enjoy More

Stick around here very long and you'll see my weekly menus almost never show us going out to eat. When Shane and I were growing up, going out was a very rare occasion. Not only were there few restaurant choices in each of our hometowns, but it was just not something that our families did on a regular basis. Eating in a restaurant, or even at a fast food place, was a treat.

It wasn't always that way. Back in my single-mom days, I cooked sometimes, but Jean and I went out a lot. There were periods when I worked a lot of overtime and it just seemed easier to go to a restaurant or fast food place. Or we'd be out doing something else and get hungry, so we'd grab a bite somewhere. A lot of times it was something to do when we were bored.

When Shane and I got married, I somehow ended up cooking more and we went out to eat more. Often it was for the same reasons -- we were out doing other things and got hungry, or it was something to do for fun. I'd say we had a meal out, on average, three times a week.

Over time, we started enjoying it less. Maybe we were going out too often or something, but it lost it's charm. I began duplicating some restaurant dishes at home and we found they were always cheaper and often tasted better. After a time, we couldn't justify going out nearly as often as we did.

Now we go out once or twice a month. We've made it a tradition to go out for birthdays, to where ever the birthday girl or guy wants to go regardless of expense. When it's not a birthday or other special occasion, we try to take turns picking out the restaurant and try to keep the prices more moderate. Shane's a big eater, so he likes to hit a good buffet when it's his turn to pick. I like variety, so we usually try someplace new when it's my choice.

If you look around at other frugal sites, you'll see a lot of suggestions on how to save money when you go out to eat. Among these are drinking water instead of a soft drink or cocktail, splitting orders, using coupons, going out at lunch time or during "early bird" hours, taking leftovers home for another meal, and buying large entrees and sharing some with your kids instead of ordering them a meal of their own.

I've even heard of people going so far as buying a hamburger instead of a cheeseburger because they don't want to pay the extra 30¢ for a slice of cheese...or even bringing their own cheese from home! I think that's taking frugality just a little too far. If the budget is that tight, they probably shouldn't be going out at all.

Now, except for the cheap cheese tip, we think these are all great ideas, and we'll practice them IF they fit in with what we want to do. If we have a coupon to the place we'd like to go, we'll use it, but a coupon alone won't determine where we go. We'll drink water if that's what we really want, but if we want a soda or a beer, we'll get one. We usually do end up going out at lunch time, but that's more coincidence than planning. And we think it's just wasteful to not take your leftovers home with you.

In general, we don't stress much about dining out. We get whatever we like and enjoy the experience more fully, knowing it's a somewhat rare occasion for us. That's probably the best value of all.

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