Most people still eat in restaurants on a weekly basis. While I love a good meal out at a nice restaurant it’s often budget busting. Busy lifestyles, dual income families, and our car dependent lifestyle have made dining out way of life for many people. We all know restaurant food isn’t great for our waistline, but what about our wallets?
Most diners don’t have a clue how to save money when eating out, and I’ll admit there are times our family has gone out on a whim and spent $60-$100 for a mediocre meal. Once we got over our heartburn we were faced with the realization that we could have feed our family for a week on that same money.
What’s a family finance blogger to do? Research, of course!
After sorting through a ton of ideas I came up with tried and true tips to help slash your restaurant spending.
Make a Budget
Eating out is fun and can be a special treat especially when you are working to save money or pay off debt, but it is easy to go overboard.
1. Set a budget, but be realistic. Choose an amount within 50% of last month’s restaurant spending.
2. Withdraw cash from the bank. You won’t be tempted to go over budget. You can put the cash on a gift card or in an envelope, but once it’s gone you stop eating out.
3. Get an “allowance.” Set aside fun money for eating out with friends, buying the occasional trinket, and such. This is especially great for couples that have joint finances.
Choose your time wisely.
Choose the time you eat to maximize your savings.
4. Eat out at lunch instead of dinner.
5. Eat at happy hour instead of dinner.
6. Go for the early bird special.
7. Choose appetizers instead of a full meal.
8. Split an entrée, especially great for places with large portions.
9. Ask for a to-go box at the beginning of the meal. Put half your food in it immediately. Now you have lunch or dinner for tomorrow, too!
10. Drink water. It’s better for your waistline and your wallet.
11. Drink something before you eat. You’ll eat less.
12. Eat a mid-day snack so you eyes won’t be bigger than your stomach.
Use coupons and discounts wisely.
These are just some of the places you can find coupons for dining out:
13. Your local Entertainment Book is full of great coupons for local places to eat. There’s a sale now for Entertainment books!
14. Local coupon books like Kid’s Stuff fundraisers are great for local places that won’t be included in larger savings books.
15. Check out yelp, Facebook, twitter, and even Instagram for social media discounts from restaurants. For instance our local froyo place offers a free ounce of froyo for each Facebook checkin.
16.. Sign up for email clubs for your favorite restaurant. Many offer a free or discounted meal on your birthday, and send out reminders when special deals are happening.
17. Use Restaurant.com to buy gift certificates to restaurants all over the US at a fraction of the cost: sign up on their site and you will get regular emails with extra discount codes!
18. For free or cheap kid’s meals try: Kids Meal Deals, Kid’s Eat Free
19. Use your credit cards for extra rewards or cash in reward points for gift cards to your favorite restaurant chain.
21. Look for gift card deals from your favorite local places. Several local restaurants in our area offered extra funds on gift card purchases at the holidays.
Choose alternatives to eating out.
22. Host a potluck for friends or other families.
24. Have date night at home after the kids are in bed.
25. Participate in a progressive dinner. Rotate neighbor’s houses for different courses.
What are ways you save on eating out?