Despite tough economic times, most people still eat in restaurants on a weekly basis. 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 for a mediocre meal. Once we got over our heartburn we were faced with the realization that we could have feed our family for 5-7 days on that same $60!
What’s a family finance blogger to do? Research of course!
After sorting through a ton of scams, and bad ideas I came up with a 4 prong plan to help you have your bread, and eat too.
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.
- Set a budget: Be realistic. Choose an amount within 25% of last month’s restaurant spending.
- 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.
- 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.
Learn more: How To Budget
These guidelines will help you keep money in your pocket, and eat healthier!
- Eat out at lunch instead of dinner
- Eat at happy hour instead of dinner
- Go for the early bird special
- Choose appetizers instead of a full meal
- Split an entree: especially great for places with large portions
- 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!
- Drink water: better for your waistline and your wallet
- Drink something before you eat: you’ll eat less
- Eat a mid-day snack: so you eyes won’t be bigger than your stomach
- Plan ahead: eating out should not be a last resort! Plan ahead so when you do go out you can savor and enjoy it!
Coupons and Discounts
These are just some of the places you can find coupons for dining out:
- Entertainment book (entertainment.com sometimes offers special discounts)
- Local coupon books (Kid’s Stuff fundraisers, mailer, newspaper, etc.)
- 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)
- 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! Discount code: ENJOY for 60% off. That’s a $25 gift certificate for $4! For current code register at restaurant.com or send me an email.
- For free or cheap kid’s meals try: Kids Meal Deals, Kid’s Eat Free
- Use your credit cards for extra rewards!: Proceed with caution, only use this method if you can pay your balance at the end of the month. Discover is giving extra 5% extra cash back on restaurants through December. American Express offers restaurant savings of 20% off in select cities.
- AAA offers discounts to members.
- Buy discounted gift cards through an app like Raise.
- Check with your credit cards, and any memberships you have you may be surprised by the discounts you find!
Alternatives to Eating Out
- Host a potluck for friends or other families
- Make your favorite foods at home, it’s like going to your favorite restaurant
- Have a romantic dinner after the kids are in bed
- Rotate friend’s houses for dessert and drinks or appetizers and drinks
- For those on an extremely tight budget: only eat out on special occasions and use coupons!
What are ways you save on eating out?