Budgets: Eating Out and Entertainment

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In our epic quest to tame the budget, we now turn to a couple more of the big targets:  restaurants and entertainment.


Remember that money is a tool.  It is a basic principle that you can spend money for:


  1. Quality
  2. Achieving your goals
  3. Convenience
  4. Fun

Keeping that in mind will help us to allocate our money effectively.


Restaurants are definitely convenient, but the math is just as inconvenient:

Nice dinner for the Hansons at home:  $12
Nice dinner for the Hansons at a restaurant:  $20-$50

So, our first strategy for controlling restaurant spending is to rarely go to restaurants.  This requires planning ahead and self-control.  Planning Ahead:  we often will pack snacks or a lunch so that we won’t be tempted to spend money at a restaurant instead.  See also our post about freezer meals, which take the thinking and some of the work out of the nightly dinner preparation.  Self-Control: When you deeply desire a Chipotle burrito or a Starbucks Creme’ Brule Latte or a slice of pizza, you need to think about the joy of meeting your budget goals instead.  Remember, money is fungible, which means that if you don’t use it for one thing you can use it for another.  Or as Ben Franklin said, “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

But, there are definitely times when a restaurant is necessary, or at least a welcome luxury.  So when we decide to go to a restaurant, we try to cut our costs as much as possible.  We use coupons, seek out special deals for kids, order waters instead of drinks, and split meals.  I’m sure you have ideas about saving money at restaurants too, and we would love for you to share them in the comments below.  (It’s easy!)


Closely related, but slightly different is entertainment.  This is definitely a balancing act!  We believe firmly that it is important to invest in your marriage and in your kids.  This will require a lot of time, and it will often require money.  “It comes in pretty handy down here, bub!” However, it is an area that I call a ‘money sponge.’  A money sponge is something that will absorb more and more money, and will not be satisfied no matter how much you put in it. That’s where creativity comes in.  Anybody can buy some really expensive tickets to an event or fly to Jamaica, but if you work hard and are creative, you can have just as much fun for much less money.  Or no money.  So, like all things budget-related, set a realistic and aggressive budget for entertainment, and creatively stick to it!  Sometimes I take Dana to expensive restaurants to celebrate our anniversary.  (This goes in the entertainment budget, not the restaurant budget, FYI.)  It’s in the budget because it is important, but we don’t want to spend our money on that every time.  Other times are more creative – we use a gift card that someone gave us for Christmas and then just buy dessert to-go at an expensive restaurant.  Or trade babysitting with friends and go out and walk around a park and listen to free music.  There are tons of fun, cheap activities you can do if you just take some time to figure them out.  There are even helpful blog posts to give you ideas and encouragement.  And if you are thinking about entertaining your kids, they seriously have as much fun doing free activities as they do in Disney World.  I mean, Disney is fun and we hope to go there someday, but we have so much fun right here in our town…often at free events!  (Lots of blog posts about those things too!)  Again, spend a little time and creativity so that you will save a lot of money.

Just like most things in life, your money management will be successful if you plan ahead, take the time, work hard, be creative, and exercise self-control.   

We really want your suggestions – how do you save money on restaurants and activities?  We know you have good ideas!  Take time to share, even if they are little.

Other posts about budgeting:

Search for “Budget” in the search box to the right.  You’ll find some posts like these:

Purposeful Budgeting

Budgets?!? WHY???????

Budgets: Grocery Shopping

We want to hear from you!