Frequent pizza nights can take a huge slice out of the family budget. Pizza costs $2.50 to $3 a slice on average, according to a variety of industry sources. A weekly diet of restaurant pizza can deliver extra costs of up to $100 a month or $1,300 a year for a family of four.
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In contrast, low-cost substitutes can be prepared for less than 50 cents a serving. With some planning and imagination, anyone can afford gourmet eating on a small budget. Here are a few alternatives for take-out pizza.
• Baked potatoes: You don’t need dough to serve pizza. A baked potato can provide a perfect platform for pizza sauce, shredded mozzarella and assorted toppings.
• Pasta substitutes: Ziti, spaghetti and other noodles can be baked, sauced and seasoned with layers of pizza fixings. For an authentic pizzeria flavor, boil the noodles in water, olive oil and oregano. Likewise, rice can provide an ideal bed for pizza sauce and toppings.
• Pie shells: For the price of a single large restaurant pizza pie, you can purchase several pizza pie shells from the bread or frozen sections of the grocery store. Other do-it-yourself options include making pizza on French bread, bagels or your homemade dough.
• Tacos, tortillas and pitas: Use pita bread, soft taco shells and tortillas as frugal substitutes for standard pizza dough. A package of 25 to 30 small tortillas can be purchased for less than $4, and each shell can be used to make individual pizza servings.
• Discounts and family specials: Use coupons and special promotions to cut costs. Track down coupons for restaurants, frozen pizza and other pizza supplies from a variety of sources, including newspapers, websites and direct mail offers. Pizzerias, cafes and restaurants also offer periodic specials. For example, our neighborhood pizza shop offers a $20 family special, which includes a large pie, a basket of fries and bottomless soft drinks for the entire family. (See also: How to get half-price dining at local hot spots.) Additionally, there are financial recipes for preserving cash on pizza night.
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• Soup kitchen duties: Instead of driving to the pizzeria, volunteer at a soup kitchen. Serving dinner to the homeless could provide your family with new appreciation for home cooking. What’s more, the kids could earn community service hours from while serving dinner.
• Petty cash savings: Strike a financial bargain with your family members. Establish a shared goal—a special family vacation, new sports equipment or some other perk. Then each week, deposit the cost of a pizza dinner into a jar or a traditional goal.
• Matching funds: Share the cost of weekly pizza night with the kids. Calculate the per-person cost of pizza, fries and beverages. Require each kid to pay their share or a portion of the total costs using allowance, babysitting money or other earnings. Prompted to use their own money, the kids will either veto pizza night or share a well-earned slice of financial reality.
Sharon Harvey-Rosenberg is a special financial news contributor for Wise Bread. She is the author of "Frugal Duchess: How to Live Well and Save Money” and a contributing author to ”10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget.”