Food Away from Home

by Gregory Karp

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Excerpted with permission from The 1-2-3 Money Plan: The Three Most Important Steps to Saving and Spending Smart by Gregory Karp (FT Press; $17.99)

The first rule of dining out for less is to do it infrequently. By all means, go out to celebrate a wedding anniversary or job promotion. But try to avoid loading the family in the car and going to a restaurant because you're a poor meal planner. And when dining out, look for reasonable ways to cut your tab without cutting enjoyment.

Food Away from Home, 1-2-3

  1. Make freezer meals.
  2. Use coupons and discounts.
  3. Skimp on what you don't care about.

1. Make Freezer Meals

We've all done it. Dinnertime sneaks up on us, and we don't have anything planned and don't feel like cooking. The easiest solution is takeout, delivery, or schlepping to the nearest chain restaurant.

The simple solution is freezer meals. It's different from simple leftovers in the fridge. With freezer meals, you make double and triple batches when you cook. Then on those harried evenings, you're only microwave minutes away from a quicker, more healthful, and less-expensive entree than you probably would get dining out. Whip up a few quick sides, and presto! A meal.

A little meal planning goes a long way toward saving money, and not just on dinner. Taking lunch to work instead of buying is, admittedly, obvious and tired advice. But do you brown-bag it every day? Ask yourself why not. And what about that morning latte from Starbucks that every money advice-giver wants to cut from your morning routine? Well, that's up to you, of course. Just make sure it's truly how you want to spend your money. You might have seen the math before, but I'll repeat it here: Cut a $4 coffee and $7 lunch each workday, and you save $2,750 a year. If nearly three grand is no big deal to you and you don't need to spend it on something else, then eat out.

2. Use Coupons and Discounts

Granted, if a man is on a first date, he might not want to whip out coupons when the bill comes, unless he knows his date is of like-minded frugality. But coupons and discounts can save significant money on dining out.

One secret method keeps anyone from knowing you're getting a discount. Sign up at Tell them what credit cards and debit cards you use to pay for meals, and if you dine at a participating restaurant, you get a discount automatically credited to your credit or debit account. You do nothing. Discounts are typically 5 percent to 10 percent.

If you're looking for a cheap way to take the kids out, look for special deals at

3. Skimp on What You Don't Care About

Sometimes, we're on autopilot at a restaurant, ordering a soft drink, appetizer, entree, and dessert. Then we wonder why we're so uncomfortably full when we leave. Cut out what you don't care about. Do you like free water just as well as a $3 soft drink? Can you wait until you get home for a beer or glass of wine? Can you skip the appetizer or eat an appetizer and skip the entree? Are the portions big enough to share an entree? What about skipping the tempting dessert and coming back some other time for dessert only?

This isn't rocket science, but it does take discipline and a willingness to break your routine. Listen to your body about how hungry you actually are and order less. And look for reasonable substitutions that will cut your tab without cutting your enjoyment.

Greg Karp is the author of The 1-2-3 Money Plan. You can learn more from Greg by checking out his blog at

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