Going out to eat can be an expensive endeavor and even though it’s generally cheaper to eat fast food, even that can get expensive if you are feeding more than one person. While it seems that the days of getting a complete fast food meal (sandwich, side and drink) for under $4 are gone, there are still some ways to put less strain on your wallet when eating out.
The Dollar Menu
I have to admit that this is the main menu that I order food from when I eat out. The biggest reason I like the dollar menu is that the portions are smaller and I’ve taught myself to eat less than the typical fast food portion, thus also reducing my calorie intake. It can be argued that items on the dollar menu tend to be the unhealthiest, but the dollar menu offerings usually have less calories than larger sandwiches and sides merely because of the fact that the portions are a lot smaller. I personally find myself satisfied after eating smaller portions, versus feeling extremely full and almost sick after eating “normal” portions.
Ordering a kid’s meal is a great way to get a smaller portion if such isn’t available on a dollar menu. Sometimes if I want an order of chicken strips, the smallest portion offered is 5 strips, which is more than I can (and want to) eat. If I can order a kid’s meal, I can usually get an order of 2 or 3, which is more of the size I want. I recommend comparing the cost of kid’s meals to the price of ordering off of the dollar menu because some restaurants will raise the price of the kid’s meal (even though it comes with less food) because they know the toy and the packaging appeals most to children, therefore many parents will spend more for it.
Split Large Items
Many fast food restaurants offer sandwiches and items that are substantially larger than a normal healthy portion. These items may be unhealthy (and expensive) to eat whole, but can be easily shared with another person. For instance Arby’s has toasted sub sandwiches that are pretty large. My husband and I once split one sandwich and an order of fries and both ate for the price of one.
Order Water Instead of Soda
I hardly ever order soda or any kind of drink besides water when eating out. Not only is water better for you, but it’s also free. You can usually save around $2 a person by ordering water instead of soda.
Many fast food restaurants give you an option to sign up for their e-mail list on their website and when you sign up many of those restaurants will periodically send you coupons for certain menu items. Local fast food restaurants also often send out coupons in the mail, so check your mailbox for money saving opportunities.
Eat at Home Before or After
If you can, filling up on a healthy snack before or after you eat out will help you eat less at the actual fast food restaurant. If there is no way you can be filled from a couple dollar menu items, then try eating something smaller before going to the restaurant. That way you get the taste of the fast food, without having to purchase a large meal at an expensive price.
Bring a Snack
Eating fast food is often done when people have little time or are traveling on a time constraint. If this is the case, and you don’t have time or it just isn’t feasible to pack a meal ahead of time, consider at least packing a snack or a side item to eat with the fast food. My husband and I travel across the state quite often to visit my family and, if we happen to be travelling at a meal time, our only option is usually fast food. This saves us the trouble of packing a meal and silverware and plates and napkins and everything that goes with it. But instead of purchasing a full meal on our stop, we’ll try to pack snacks from home like chips, string cheese, fruit, a can of soda or a bottle of water. That way, the only thing we have to order from fast food is a sandwich because we already have a side and a drink.
Despite rising costs these days, it is still possible to eat at fast food restaurants and still save money. Obviously the key is to do so sparingly and try to avoid eating out multiples times per week because with that frequency, it will quickly add up no matter how cheap you eat. But once in a while it’s ok to treat yourself to a fast food meal and hopefully some of these tips can help you do so for less money.
Image courtesy of Steve Crane