*From time to time I will have really smart people (often much smarter than I am) write a guest post for this blog. Today, we have Adriana over at Money Journey Today. Adriana has an excellent post on how to save money when you are eating out (something we do too much of in the ROB household).
Saving money and trying to be as frugal as possible on a daily basis can be a good thing. However, frugality can take a toll when you’re unable to find the right balance between having a social life and your finances in order at the same time.
For many, eating out is a regular, maybe even an everyday habit. When you put in long hours at work, the last thing on your mind is coming home to “slave over the stove”.
Others prefer eating out often simply because it’s easier. It’s a great way to interact with others and catch up with friends over a restaurant meal, rather than cook at home and invite them or yourself over when you feel the need to chat.
There are people who prefer enjoying a restaurant meal on special occasions, just like there are those who seem to find a way to celebrate something every day.
Although cooking at home is a huge money saver, two distinctive facts are certain.
On one hand, eating out is a huge budget buster. You can save hundreds by doing your own grocery shopping and cooking in the comfort of your own kitchen.
On the other hand, we’re only human and social contact is a necessary part of our lives.
So how can you balance both your social life and finances, and find ways to save money when eating out?
Here are a few ‘tricks’ I personally find helpful. Although I rarely eat out, I always try to stick to certain affordable eating out habits.
- Select affordable restaurants
Although eating exquisite, fancy meals is tempting, it’s not exactly healthy for a budget.
When possible, opt for a restaurant you know you can afford. It doesn’t have the be the cheapest fast food joint, but a place where you can enjoy you meal and not break the bank while you’re at it.
- Opt for a picnic instead of a restaurant
If you’re into it, why not grab an ol’ picnic basket and enjoy a frugal meal outside?
All you need to ‘cook’ at home are a few sandwiches. And maybe shop for some frugal snacks and whatnot.
Instead of spending top dollar on a meal, you can take your family or friends out, for a fun day at the park.
- Eat at home before eating out
This does make sense, if you think about it.
Instead of going out hungry, you can have a light snack at home before leaving. This way, you’ll order less food at the restaurant, instead of an abundant meal!
By not going out hungry, you can at least avoid paying for the appetizer. Or better yet, skip the main dish altogether and order the appetizer instead. This way, you get to both eat out and save money, by ordering the less expensive dish.
- Plan ahead and check out the menu
Before heading out, check out what the restaurant of your choosing has on the menu.
By planning ahead, you can make sure you stay within budget and won’t be tempted to order the most expensive meal they have.
Having a ‘backup’ plan helps as well. Often times, restaurants may run out of the necessary ingredients to prep the meal you wanted. It helps to have a ‘plan B’ instead of ordering something else out of the blue.
- Consider an early dinner
Are you a fan of Happy Hour? You could take advantage of it and have an early bird dinner!
With drinks, restaurants usually offer food as well. Although it’s unusual to opt for early evening meals, it’s a great way go out, eat on a budget and worry less about spending money on food, yet again.
- Order water instead if alcohol
I have yet to see a restaurant that charges an affordable price for 1 glass of wine.
Since one drink usually costs more than the bottle itself, try to opt for water. Having a glass of good wine to go with your meal is tempting, but if you’re looking at the frugal picture, alcoholic drinks are often more expensive than the meal itself.
- Coupons and rewards
Couponing isn’t something to be ashamed of! On the contrary, if you’re looking to save when eating out, taking advantage of places that allow you to use coupons is a good idea.
You can sign up for your favorite restaurant’s newsletter and get discount deals or loyalty rewards directly in your inbox. If you go out often, this can be a huge financial advantage.
- Split your meal
Since many restaurants serve portions larger than life, chances are you won’t be able to lick your plate clean.
In this case, you could consider splitting the meal with someone. It’s not unusual for people to order 1 meal and 2 separate plates.
- Order meals you can take home as leftovers
What better way to avoid spending money on food the next day, than to have tasty leftovers in the fridge?
Letting food go to waste is an absolute shame. Besides, you did pay for it. Opting for meals that are good the next day is a smart idea.
- Avoid the Holidays
While, however briefly, I was waiting tables at a small restaurant in my town, I’ve noticed first-hand how the Holidays are the perfect occasion to serve clients something special. Something that’s not usually on the menu. Something you can charge a lot for!
Not only that, but during major Holidays, many restaurants offer a fixed price meal that’s – again – more expensive than usual.
If possible, try to avoid eating out during major Holidays. You’ll definitely thank yourself later!
(Bonus) 11. Skip dessert
Wait, what? Dessert is the most interesting part! Let me explain.
Ordering dessert in a restaurant will probably cost an arm and a leg. Unless you’re at your friendly fast food joint where a slice of pie cost less than a buck, you’re probably be sorry when the bill comes.
Instead, you could save money and have your cake too! Opt for eating dessert somewhere else. Maybe have a gelato or a sweet treat on the go.
Eating out is fun and sometimes even necessary. However, there are plenty ways you can balance your social life and finances at the same time!
By following a few tips and tricks, you can definitely enjoy your time eating out without stressing too much about your budget.
Adriana is an experienced web content writer, passionate about everything personal finance. She blogs about the topic over at moneyjourneytoday.com, where she covers everything from saving money and frugal living tips, to real estate and investing.