Just How Far Can You Stretch One $25 Takeout Order? These 8 Found Out

"My secret weapon when ordering takeout is to get kids’ meals since they’re cheaper and you still end up with a lot of food, including drinks and sometimes dessert."

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If you’ve ever decided to get serious about saving money, restaurant meals were probably first on your budget chopping block. And for good reason: One 2017 survey found that across every generation, gender and income level, eating out topped people’s list of money wasters. Depending on how often you order, tossing your takeout menus could easily save you hundreds every month.

And yet, there’s something kind of disappointing about that, right? Sometimes you really just need a taco (or pizza or Chinese food) made by somebody else.

To prove that, done right, takeout really can work on a tight budget, Grow challenged me and seven Acorns employees to see how far we could stretch a $25 order from a favorite takeout spot. Here’s how we fared—and what we all agree you should know before trying this yourself—starting with my brief experience as a sandwich artist. 

Related: 10 Cheap (and Healthy) Foods that Last a Long Time

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Subway

Cost: $24.56
Number of meals: 10

I wanted something healthier than $20 of dollar-menu items—which you can do, FYI—so I opted for Subway. Sadly, the $5 footlong deal is no more (!), so instead of the five sandwiches I’d planned on, I got three grilled chicken footlongs.

Feeling creative, I deconstructed the sandwiches to get six wheat rolls, six 4 oz. chicken breasts, shredded lettuce, cucumber, bell pepper, onion and six slices of American cheese. From there, I created one salad using the veggies, three chicken fajita meals (using wraps and seasoning I already had) and six grilled cheese sandwiches that had nowhere near enough cheese on them (supplemented with side salads).

If I did this again...I wouldn’t! Pulling apart sandwiches was unfortunately not the genius plan I’d imagined. Rather, I’d half the footlongs and get six smaller sandwiches—still, not a bad deal, considering that between bread, meat and veggies, I’d easily spend more than $2.45 making those sandwiches myself.

Chinese

Sam Li, senior graphic designer
Cost: $25
Number of meals: 12

Chinese takeout’s pretty cheap already, but I wanted to get even more for my money for this challenge. So I went all in on dumplings. They’re one of the cheapest items on the menu, and I love them. For $25, I ordered 80 dumplings, and the restaurant threw in another 10 for free—how’s that for buying in bulk?—bringing my total order to 90 pork and chive dumplings.

I ate seven or eight dumplings at a time over the course of three or four days, which comes out to 12 whole meals for $2 apiece—which is way less than I’d spend otherwise. (And dumplings can be deceptively filling.) My one regret is not varying my order and adding some sesame or scallion pancakes to the mix. I think I’m done with dumplings for awhile.

Rotisserie Chicken

Neka Allen, analytics director
Cost: $24.20
Number of meals: 7

I picked a rotisserie chicken spot because chicken keeps well, and it’s easy to pair with inexpensive ingredients I’ve already got at home. For $24.20, I bought one whole rotisserie chicken, four tortillas and two large sides of baked black beans and salad.

By portioning out the chicken ahead of time, I guaranteed protein for seven meals over three days: a salad with chicken, chicken and bean burrito, two chicken breakfast burritos (that I added eggs to), a chicken quesadilla (plus cheddar cheese), a chicken sandwich (supplemented with bread and an apple) and a plate of chicken and beans with quinoa, which I had in my cabinet.

Chicken got a little tired after that many consecutive meals, so if I do this again, I’ll try something with different protein options. I’d also order something other than a side salad, since I always have greens at home. The challenge did offer significant savings, though: Had I otherwise bought seven meals out, I could have easily spent $75. 

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May 25, 2018

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