What's cheaper: Eating in or dining out?

The taco crunch is a familiar sound for the Gownley family. 

There are four people to feed, including two growing, athletic girls; Carlie, 7, and Nellie, 9.

The family typically eats dinner at home. But on a recent night, a restaurant invited them in to compare their restaurant prices to a grocery store in the same shopping center. 

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Eating in versus dining out?

That's the question Deanna Booker with Consumer Credit Counseling Service will help hash out.

"We're just running constantly, every single day of the week, everyday we're running," said Nicole Gownley, mother of two.           

If you have a family with young kids, you can relate. The girls have soccer, lacrosse, and after-school activities several times a week. 

Getting dinner in comes down to time, not just money. Four taco platters cost about $36 at the restaurant. So before grabbing a grocery cart, there's a guess.

"I'm guessing that it's going to be less expensive to go grocery shopping," said Gownley. 

Booker and the Gownley family tried to pick up the same ingredients found at the restaurant - tomatoes, taco shells, rice and beans, ground chicken, tortilla chips and salsa. 

Booker says saving money starts with planning and a well-thought out budget.

"It really is about the trade-offs. What is it that you're really trying to save? Are you trying to save money? Are you trying to save time," said Booker. "I recommend that they make sure that the planning is done as much as possible, that they are very certain about what that next week is going to bring." 

In the end, Gownley was right. The savings was at the store.

"$27.06 versus $36 for that meal in the restaurant," said Booker.     

There is less money on the credit card, but more time invested at the store and in Gownley's own kitchen.

"On occasion, I think it's still worth the $10," said Gownley.    

On this night, $10 didn't add up to the time spent at the store and in the kitchen, so eating out makes sense. 

Deanna Booker says to stay within budget. Write down how much you can spend at the grocery store, check the weekly sales ad and make a list.

But also look into restaurant deals. This particular restaurant makes eating out more affordable on Tuesdays for taco night, and that beefs up the competition with the grocery store.

If you would like tips for saving on food from the Consumer Credit Counseling Service, go to http://bit.ly/cccstips

Also, there is a toll-free number: 1-800-642-2777.

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