How to save money while eating out? Just don’t go.
I’m kidding. We enjoy eating out occasionally, but not nearly as often as the average American household.
The average American household spends over $150 per week on food. For many, half of that is spent on eating out. That’s more than we spend in an entire month, and we eat extremely well.
After writing about how to save money on groceries and we’ve decided to tackle eating out the Cash Cow Couple way.
Like I said, Vanessa and I like to eat out on occasion. We typically go out to celebrate something special or take advantage of an excellent deal. It can be a nice way to have alone time and avoid doing dishes ( as we both loathe doing the dishes). We almost always plan eating out around other errands to avoid excessive driving.
We strongly believe that eating out should be a special treat. You know, something that happens once in a while. Reason being; it takes forever (drive time, wait time, order time), it’s often unhealthy (unknown quality, quantity, ingredients) and to top it all off, it’s extremely expensive (compared with buying groceries on sale).
Because we don’t believe in blowing cash, (even while treating yourself) here are ten ways to spend less while eating out:
- Half Price Deals: You can immediately cut your food bill by around 50% by utilizing online group buy sites. Options like Restaurant.com, Groupon, Living Social and other related sites offer big discounts, often something like $20 of food for $10. Be sure that you check for local discount sites as well. Every city we’ve lived in so far has a discount program for local restaurants and businesses.
- Coupons and Discounts: You don’t have to have a full binder of coupons to save money (But if you do, more power to you!). Instead, like your favorite local restaurants on Facebook and sign up for their free online email list. Many restaurants send free birthday meals, Buy 1 – Get 1 Free offers, and other promotions directly to your email inbox. Other decent restaurant offers still come in the mail, so make sure to scan the ads.
- Freebie: Drink water instead of soda, tea, or alcohol. A soda costs $2 at most places, and a beer or wine closer to $4. That’s insane! Have some self control and wait an hour to indulge at your home.
- Avoid Tipping: Yes, I mean it. Go to a restaurant that doesn’t expect you to tip. Excellent examples would be Chipotle, Qdoba, Panera Bread Co, Subway, etc. You can still get good food, avoid doing dishes, and save 15-20% on the tip.
- Do the Research: Do a Google search for restaurants online. Look at the menu and the pricing before you show up. This way, you’ll not only get to spend the time at the restaurant actually talking to your family or friends instead of staring at a menu, but you’ll also have a plan in place. With a plan, you will already know the cheapest option and you’ll avoid being tempted to over-indulge. When Vanessa was younger, her family would discuss what they were allowed to order before going into a restaurant. It was clear that the children were not to order a soft drink, or an item that was more than $6. They had a family plan to avoid awkward situations in front of friends. Everyone was on the same page as far as what was acceptable to order, and what was frivolous. Planning and choosing casual dining options, and making sure that you decide what you want to eat ahead of time can save a lot of time, and of course, a lot of money.
- Do Lunch: Often, lunch menu items are virtually identical to their dinner counterpart. The difference? Dinner is much more expensive simply because it’s past 6 p.m. Some restaurants even post the two right next to each other in the menu. Try dining out for lunch, then cooking for dinner.
- Sharing: Consider sharing with someone, like a spouse. Instead of ordering two small dishes, order a large dish and share. You can often save 30% or more by sharing a big entrée. If you are still hungry, sometimes side dishes are unusually cheap to add-on, so that’s always something to check.
- Cash Back: Take advantage of the cash back credit cards available. You can sometimes find up to 5% cash back for dining out. Heck, even 1% beats nothing.
- Skip out on dessert and appetizers: Appetizers are a big waste of your money. Unless you’re eating an appetizer as a meal to spend less, then avoid the add-on. Speaking of add-ons, don’t even get me started on dessert. You can make dessert at home for a fraction of the cost of eating out. I’m talking a whole pie for the price of one slice.
- Get a doggy bag: You paid good money for that meal. Don’t you dare leave without the leftovers. Not taking the leftovers home makes an expensive (relative to the cost of eating at home) meal even more expensive. And taking it home won’t do you any good if you don’t actually finish it. So, take the extras home and make sure they are consumed.
So, how do you save money while eating out? Do you eat out on the cheap?