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The Dollar Menu Trap

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The Dollar Menu – A Pricey Trap


Above: Egg Salad is an inexpensive lunch alternative!


The odds are high that you or someone you know frequently uses the dollar menu at fast food restaurants and thinks it’s a smokin’ deal.  After all – you can get a burger, fries and drink for three bucks plus tax.  Sa-weeet! Right?  Or wrong?

I’m going to show you that indeed, it’s wrong. 

Let’s say you handled all of your meals that way.  That’s $9.00 plus tax per day, so let’s round it up to $10.00.  So for you alone you are paying approximately $300.00 per month on food.  For one person.

Now say that you’re a family of four eating that way.  That’s $1200.00 per month to feed your household!  Ouch.  That’s a mortgage payment, right there!

Smart and frugal shopping can feed a family of four for $300.00 per month or less.  I shop every other week and routinely hit three stores: Dollar Tree, Farmer’s Market, and Albertson’s.  Here’s how to save a big chunk of change on your food bill (for four):

Keep a running tally

Adding up your purchases as you go along keeps you on budget!  If you spend less than your budget, that money can go towards savings or a fun treat!

Set a dinner meat budget of $6.00 or less per night.  (Albertson’s for me)

Even at such a small price, it will take up a lot of your food budget ($84.00 for every two weeks).  But, yes, it can be done.  One pound of hamburger is plenty for a family of four.  I pay between $3.00 and $4.00 per pound for hamburgers, tacos, meatloaf, etc.  Within that budget I can usually find small whole chickens, 2 boneless chicken breasts (pounded out will make chicken sandwiches, fajitas or cubed over rice), small pork roasts or pork chops. You have to look for the deals.  My favorite is getting smoked sausage for under $2.00 and adding it to a pasta dish! Super cheap and yummy!  And since you spent so much less on that meal, you can spend extra on another dinner or put it in your savings!

Plan a menu based upon your meat purchases

Since you know what meats you have you can plan on side dishes and veggies.  It’s not always fun to make a menu but it will help you to not buy the things that you wind up not using.

Shop at home first

This is where you are going to save some money.  If spaghetti is on your menu for the next two weeks and you already have two packages of pasta, you can scratch it off the list!

Buy generic brands

I can buy a loaf of Albertson’s wheat bread for .99 – no, it’s not fancy but it makes a yummy sandwich, grilled cheese or toast.  Check out the differences on name brand cereals vs. the store brand.  It’s often a $3.00 difference per box!  On a great shopping day, I can pick up 1.5 lbs of pasta (not always available), a 3 liter bottle of soda, chips, crackers, spices, hot chocolate packets and million other things at Dollar Tree for you betcha - $1 each. (this is where I also get my aluminum foil, baggies and cleaning supplies that are not included in the food budget)


Cut back on the high dollar items

Paying $5 or more per steak per person is ridiculous unless it’s a special occasion or a treat.  Cut back on the coffee?! Yep.  Don’t make a full pot every morning.  Start drinking water all day long instead of coffee, milk and soda.  It’s not only healthier, it’s a lot cheaper! 

Pack your lunch

Sandwich (bread at .99) is a very cost effective lunch.  I’m not a big fan of cup of noodle ramen type soups but my kids like them.  And at 3 or 4 for $1, I like them more.  (Don’t yell about the ramen.  I’m not telling you to eat it.)  Salad is a super cheap, super healthy lunch!


Above: Spinach salad

Shop Smart

Pay close attention to prices.  If you need a pound of cheese and it costs 5.99 for a pound but you can buy two 8 oz blocks for less, go that route! Buy produce that is in season, when it’s abundant and less expensive!  Yogurt is often less expensive when you buy the 2 lb tub instead of individual cups.  When you are on a pay-check to pay-check basis, it’s better to not buy in bulk.  Yes, you can get 3 ketchup bottles or 6 tubes of toothpaste for a great price but you can’t feed your family on it for a month.  Again, it’s smarter to buy the $1 ketchup that is going to take care of your needs for the month.  You also don’t want to buy your ramen noodles at the Dollar Tree.  One for a $1 or 3 to 4 for a $1 at the grocery store is a no-brainer.

Hopefully I’ve convinced you that the Dollar Menu is no money saver!  Eating at home is not only healthier; it will save you gobs of money month after month!

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