Just the other day I pondered whether eating out would save me money instead of buying groceries and cooking at home for just two people. The comments I received were a mixed bag; many comments from single people or couples without kids agreed that maybe eating out could be more cost effective. A few mentioned freezing the excess self-prepared food and eating it later, but that takes time and planning something; I haven’t had a lot of lately (oh, and did I mention I don’t cook?)

But if I could save money eating out, which would be more cost effective: eating at a sit-down restaurant or a quasi-fast food joint that offers healthy meal options?

My husband and I wondered this ourselves as we sat down at Chili’s the other night. Chili’s is a chain restaurant that’s definitely middle of the road when it comes to its menu and quality of food choices. It’s not fancy by any means and markets itself as a bar/restaurant. We normally sit in the bar for dinner since it’s much quicker than being seated in the “family” section. Sharing a meal and ordering water as our beverage (because who wants to pay over $2 bucks for a soda?!) our bill came to a little over $12.00. But then we realized we needed to leave a tip! As a former waitress during my college years, I can’t scurry out of a sit-down venue without leaving a decent tip. Per person our meal cost $7.50 per person, not too bad.

Getting out of there for under $16.00 was still a great deal, but right across the street was The Habit, a quasi-fast food joint that offers some similar meal options; mainly burgers/chicken sandwiches and fries. Guess what we ate at Chili’s? We shared a chicken sandwich and fries! We had an epiphany as we were adding the tip onto our Chili’s bill; We could have eaten a similar item at The Habit for less and wouldn’t have had to leave a tip. Does this make us cheap or frugal thinking this way?

Of course McDonald’s would have been even cheaper, but the quality of menu items isn’t comparable to Chili’s or The Habit in my opinion. Next time we decide on a delicious burger and fries, I think we’ll head to The Habit, but not before remembering to bring our own drink! (or settle for water).

How do you save money eating out? Do you drink water or bring your own drink to save a buck or two? Am I a cheap b@st@rd or what?