I fully admit that over the summer I may have indulged a little more than I should have regarding eating out, specifically fast food. I know there are health and quality concerns that need to be considered, but I consider it one of my precious few luxuries. Even while indulging, I tried my very best to stick to a reasonable budget. When I was with the missus this was difficult, as when we eat out we tend to make it a full meal. But after a number of hard mornings at the office I became quite adept at satisfying my hunger with minimal damage to my budget.
There are certain places to eat for certain things and while sometimes you have a craving you just can't shake, most often than not you can have a filling lunch for two dollars or so, if you pick your poison wisely.
Some places are better to eat at than others when it comes to a limited budget, as I'll explain below.
- Subway: This popular chain has released a new ad campaign, selling $5 foot long subs. This seems fairly reasonable at first glance and it is in the end of things. But in comparison to a lot of other fast food franchises, it isn't terribly great. You're restricted to a set number of sandwiches, and Subway isn't known for piling on the ingredients. After tax you are probably ringing up a fair bit above the advertised $5, especially if you buy a bag of chips and a fountain drink.
Healthier than most other fast food chains, but by far not the cheapest.
- Dunkin Donuts: Dunkin's has entered the realm of fast food not terribly long ago with their flat bread sandwiches and personal pizzas. But in comparison to other chains they're neither cheap or filling per dollar spent. Delicious? Perhaps. Worth it? Not really.
Money is best spent here with a Munchkin, Small Coffee Combo. Stay far, far away from the budget breaking Coolattas.
- McDonalds: The double cheese burger reigns king at McDonalds when you're looking for the cheapest, best thing on the menu. Typically selling for $1 it's a pretty good deal. Before you unwrap it and sink your teeth into it's greasy, condiment flavored interior. Any given bite of this baby will either taste like beef-like-substance bread or ketchup.
The four piece nugget is quite delicious, but for a $1 you'll need two or three just to satisfy mild hunger.
- Burger King: In my opinion Burger King is superior to McDonalds in all ways. This includes their value menu. The best item for your dollar? Undisputedly the Whopper Jr, of course. This tiny version of the whopper actually contains more than condiments, with the full lettuce, pickle, onion and tomato you'd expect on a cheese burger.
Besides that the value menu is pretty lacking. You have the standard chicken sandwich, fries and onion rings, but they're neither substantial or worth the money in a tight lunch budget.
- Wendy's: Wendy's brings a lot to the table for the cheap grease seeker. It is typically my cheap meal ticket of choice in most situations. Wendy's bread and butter value menu product is the Junior Bacon Cheese Burger. While relatively small, two easily make a filling meal for just over $2.
Several new items to the value menu include a double cheese burger that is fairly decent in comparison to McDonalds and a Crispy Chicken sandwich that is best not discussed.
A small chili without cheese is likely the best value, ringing in at around $1.20.
- Taco Bell: My holy grail for fast, greasy food on the go. The only reason why I'm not constantly shoveling this down my gullet is the lack of establishments in my area. The food is delicious, dirt cheap (likely because the contents are items that are essentially the cheapest on the planet) and quickly prepared.
The undisputed king of Taco Bell's value menu is the simple taco. Soft flour or crunchy corn you're not spending a cent more than $0.89 for this simple cheap meal. The Taco Bell menu is highly modular, so coupling a single taco with say, the $1.00 double beef burrito is quite easy.
That being said it's quite easy to be side tracked into purchasing one of the more expensive items, such as a Crunchwrap (up to $3) or a Gordita (up to $2.50).
Of course I'm in no way suggesting you eat at any of these establishments frequently. I typically limit myself to one excursion a week. Usually to Taco Bell. Used in conjunction with adequate exercise and a bit of self control the value menu at any of these establishments can be a welcome treat to the financially challenged individual.