Monday, November 17, 2008

Frugal Fast Food

Tip #28 - Frugal Fast Food. Fast Food is generally not healthy and it's more expensive than eating at home. But there are sometimes when nothing else will do. You can't be the perfect planner all of the time. Sometimes you have few other choices, and fast food is the best option. Or perhaps as in our family, fast food is a treat - planned to be eaten occasionally when on long car trips.

Even fast food can be expensive if you order the "wrong" way. With three kids, you can order 3 happy meals and a meal for yourself and your husband and easily spend $20. Or you can order frugally and spend half that. Almost all of the fast food places have a value menu or dollar menu in place. These are pretty good deals. It's generally a hamburger, cheeseburger, and chicken option for $1 or a little more. A side of fries and a small drink are usually the same. A few places such as McDonald's and Wendy's often have double cheeseburgers on the value menu or on special for $1. If you find yourself in need of eating fast food, then order from the dollar menus. If someone wants a cheeseburger, get the double cheeseburger for the same price. For the sides, buy the largest size fries for everyone to split. Get water to drink or get the largest drink for everyone to split. Both McDonald's and Wendy's have small "courtesy" cups that the children can use to have a drink poured into. For a family of five, the entrees off the dollar menu should cost $5 (or $6 if your husband likes to eat 2 of them like mine does). The largest fries and largest drink would cost about $2 each. So for $10 the whole family can eat a fast food meal. Of course it's not the healthiest or the cheapest meal, but if you find yourself needing to eat at a fast food place, you do the best you can.

Stay away from happy meals. The fun from those toys lasts less than a day. And by buying individual drinks and fries for your kids you end up spending more than necessary. If you are frugal to begin with and health conscious in any way, eating fast food should be the treat, not the toy at the restaurant.

Restaurants generally prohibit bringing in outside food. But I find that they are lenient with children. Most people bring food for a baby such as baby food, milk or formula, and cheerios. I have brought small sides into fast food places with no one ever having a problem with it. We generally have string cheese or yogurt or grapes with us in our small cooler in our car. This makes meals more complete, health-wise and filling wise as well as cheaper.

So next time you find yourself in need of fast food, don't blow your budget just because you're eating out anyway. Order wisely. Figure out the best value for your money. And eating fast food can be frugal.

In Real Life (IRL). Fast food is a treat for my family. We do not eat it on a regular basis. It is not our everyday dinner or lunch ever. We save eating fast food for when we are on car trips. They are the perfect place to stop - there are relatively clean bathrooms, sometimes a play area for the kdis, and fairly cheap and fast food to eat.

We visit our parents a few times a year and do a car trip to Florida about every other year to visit family. And we go to the beach every summer for a week. This is when we eat fast food. It makes it a treat for our children and gives them somthing to look forward to on a long car ride. The only other time we eat it is if we visit my old place of employment which is about 30 minutes away from my home. About once or twice a year I visit my former co-workers and bring some of the kids. We often make an afternoon of it and go to a Burger King with a big play area near by. On average, I'd guess we eat fast food once per month at most based on how often we travel.

It is not usually a spur-of-the moment decision. And since we are usually eating it on long car rides, we often have other snacks including drinks in our car. Because of this, we don't usually order drinks in the restaurant. We stick to a main meal and fries.

This past weekend, we had to go to New Jersey for an event. We left on a Friday afternoon and knew that we'd be on the road for dinner. We stopped at a Wendy's to eat. Stressed out mommy forgot to pack drinks for the car (except for baby's bottle). I did have a yogurt for the baby to eat. We studied the menu. Hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and chicken nuggets were $1.29 each. A double cheeseburger was a special for 99 cents. My husband ordered two double cheeseburgers - one and 1/2 for him and 1/2 of one of our younger daughter. My older daughter got chicken nuggets. And I ordered a baked potato for $1.49. We bought the largest packet of fries for $1.99. (A small was $1.29) and we got the largest Frosty for $1.99. I asked for two courtesy cups. When we were almost finished, my girls wanted some more nuggets and my husband wanted another double cheeseburger since he gave some to the 15-month old. Baby and younger daughter also split the yogurt I brought. Overall, we spent about $11 for our dinner. Truthfully, that's not much more than we spend on some of our dinners at home. Plus, it's in our budget to eat out once a week. For the children it was fun even without a play area there. We got to all use the rest room and stretch our legs. After driving on I-95 on a dark, rainy heavily trafficed Friday evening, the meal was worth every penny!

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