Regular get-togethers at various local restaurants with friends was killing our monthly budget. Not only was the price of gas rising, but restaurants were responding to the economic downturn by raising menu prices as well. And as a former waitress, I always felt compelled to leave a 20-30% tip whenever possible.
Soon, it was usual fare to drop $25 for a snack or dessert and $60 for a meal with the gang. I didn’t want to skip out on spending time with some of my favorite people, but this habit was making us all digestively miserable and soaking up all our funds.
Here’s how we solved the dilemma.
1. I volunteer to bring over refreshments to a centrally located friend’s home.
Or invite the whole gang over to my house when someone suggests we go out for a bite to eat or drinks. I keep a few prepared meals in the freezer that can be defrosted or tossed in a crock pot for easy meals or snacks. I stock a few bags of tortilla chips in the pantry at all times, and canned my own salsa this summer for poker nights and informal gatherings. Celery and peanut butter and Trail Mix are also big quick favorites for impromptu gatherings.
2. Instead of heading to a restaurant on nice days, we do covered-dish picnics in the park or at the lake.
These work well for days when you want to get out of the house but don’t want to spend a lot of money.
3. I learned to make gourmet coffees at home.
I received a cappuccino machine as a Christmas gift many years ago and never really used it until recently. I started looking up gourmet coffee recipes and experimented with my own ingredients. One of the more inexpensive books I like to use for recipes is Cappuccino Cocktails & Coffee Martinis – Specialty Coffee Recipes & A-Whole-Latte-More! found on Amazon for $4 (less than the price of a specialty coffee).
4. Because some of my friends are die-hard restaurant lovers, I looked up copycat recipes for a few popular dishes.
Top Secret Recipes is a great free resource for recreating those restaurant favorites at home. We use fresh ingredients prepared in a healthy way, and alter the recipes when needed to avoid ingredients that we know cause our family discomfort, such as MSG. My husband also likes to sneak a dollop of peanut butter into most dishes when I’m not looking so he can claim his own”Top Secret Recipe.” It’s a running joke with our friends and is always a conversation starter when someone new tags along for the first time.