Yesterday I had a conversation with a friend who was trying to figure out why she couldn’t save money. she felt so broke even though she make a decent amount of money for our city.
Turns out, she was eating her paycheck.
Eating Out Is Expensive
When my friend looked at her month expenses, she was spending almost $700 on food. That included weekday lunches every day, some weekday breakfasts, some weeknights out, and weekend lunches and dinners. Oh yes, she eats out quite a bit!
As a foodie myself, I love going out to eat. Eating out at restaurants is something I love.
There is just one problem.
Eating out is expensive!
I have a decent food budget so I can eat healthy foods. I’m a great chef and loving making healthy food at home, but I love the experience of eating out at a restaurant. However, I also love my budget and retirement savings so I’ve found ways to keep my food budget under control.
It’s a constant battle between my desire to eat out all the time and my desire to save money. Dining out every night might not be possible but we all deserve a treat we love now and again!
16 Tips For Eating Out On A Budget
The following tips are how I make it work eating out on a budget without breaking the bank. Pinching pennies so you can enjoy meals out via a cheap dining experience is one of the best options to enjoy restaurants and stay on budget!
- Go to happy hour. Just changing up the time you go to eat and drink can make a huge difference. I go to happy hours often so my drinks and food are half the cost of what it would be a couple hours later. Eating earlier can save you a bundle at the cheaper rates.
- Look for coupons. Visit the restaurant website and see if they have coupons available or if there is a coupon elsewhere. Check newspapers, local magazines, and even on social media. I’ve found coupons for restaurants in all these places. Saving $5 here and 20% there can really help keep eating out less expensive.
- Use Groupon. While Groupon can lead to overspending, it can also be a source of great deals. Restaurants often run a Groupon to drum up business so take advantage of the ones you’ll actually use and enjoy.
- Ask for gift cards. If you’re in a family or friend group that does gifts, ask for restaurant gift cards! It’s an easy present for the gift-giver and can be used for multiple meals eating out depending on the restaurant. It will cut down on your food expenses but let you enjoy restaurants more.
- Save your leftovers. It is easy to get caught up in eating a meal so you finish it all in one sitting. But restaurant portions often are large enough for two servings (with the calories to match), so you can save money by boxing up half your meal to take home for lunch the next day.
- Get a coupon book. You know those coupon books sold by sports teams and schools and the like? In our area they often have a ton of restaurant coupons that can save you money on your meals. I’ve used them every year for years now for free and cheap meals. It’s definitely a great way to snag deals.
- Order appetizers. If you want to save money then order an appetizer. You will usually get enough food for one and it’s several dollars cheaper. Ordering an appetizer for a meal works well for many of the girls in my friend circle.
- Skip the extras. This is my least favorite way to save money when eating out, but you can skip things like appetizers and dessert. Save your money for the main course and forgo the extra items before and after it.
- Say no to drinks. Drinks add up to the cost of your meal in incredible ways. Stick to water for your meal and skip soft drinks and alcoholic beverages if you’re on a budget. Or arrive earlier for happy hour for drinks at a discounted price before your meal.
- Try a BYOB restaurant. Some restaurants allow you to bring in your own booze which helps cut costs since you can get discounted alcohol to bring with you. Usually these are restaurants without a full liquor license or newer restaurants. You can usually find this on their website for the full policy and find out what the corkage fees are if any.
- Focus on good food, not big costs. When people pick a restaurant to visit, steer the conversation to good but cheap places to eat. There is often really good food at reasonable prices at non-fancy restaurants. Try to frequent these places more often if you want to eat out more often.
- Skip convenience stores. It’s really tempting to visit convenience stores when you work in a downtown area without grocery stores nearby. However, skip these if at all possible! Go to the grocery store beforehand, stock up on cheap snacks, and get creative rather than paying way too much for food at a convenience store. I order some items I eat a lot at work off Amazon because even this is cheaper than the convenience stores.
- Try a buffet. Not every meal out needs to be at a fancy restaurant. Often buffets offer a fantastic deal for getting your money’s worth when eating out. If you have a big appetite and small budget then you might want to consider a buffet!
- Host rotating dinners with friends. Part of why going out is awesome is because you are sharing meals with friends. You can save money on this by hosting dinner at your home with restaurant takeaway and then rotating dinner parties with a group of friends. You can all eat relatively cheaply but you are still “eating out”.
- Take advantage of age discounts. Are you a student? Pull out your student id and see if you can get a college discount. Over the age of 55? Chances are good that you can get a discounted meal as a senior. If your age allows you to get cheaper meals then take advantage of it! If you’ve got kids, then visit restaurants when they are offering free kids meals.
- Become a mystery shopper diner. If you want a completely free meal you can sign up to be a mystery shopper and earn cash on top of your free food. In exchange for the free meal you have to complete a report on your experience about the service, staff, cleanliness, and other important factors.
Those are a few of the ways I’ve been keeping my food budget down recently while still eating out quite a bit!