I like to eat at home instead of eating at a restaurant.
I know what is in every bite – and what isn’t. Like MSG, hormones, and corn (I am allergic to corn and it is used in hundreds of products).
I can also eat at home and spend less money than if I made a habit of eating out.
Bill Spaid likes to eat out every now and then. And when we visited Toronto over the holidays, we took a cooler but had to eat out for various reasons during the drive, and while we were staying in the city. If you are traveling, you will probably have to make room in the budget for a few restaurants.
And eating out is a social time for some people. I get that. We meet some good friends once or twice a month for dinner. More on that later.
If eating out at restaurants must be done, then how can you make it as painless as possible for the budget?
Have a limit.
Decide just how much you can spend on restaurants or social dining, and factor that number into your budget. You should have a section for entertainment – that is where you will spend money on dining out. If you follow the envelope method, you have an envelope dedicated to entertainment (because all work and no play, you know), where you deposit a specified percentage of your income or leftover cash after monthly expenses, depending on how you have set it up. So, if you have $20 in there, and you want to go out to eat, you have to figure out how to do that for $20. No cheating. You are only hurting yourself if you do.
So now that you have come to grips with the idea that no matter how much you love eating out every day, if you are on the road to financial freedom then you have to smarten up and limit your trips to the local hangout. But here are some ways to get more for your money:
Once you are a “wiser,” you discover that eating early actually has its advantages. You digest things before bedtime, and you tend to sleep better. You also can find some great deals on the menu when you arrive before the dinner rush. Many restaurants have specials from 3pm to 5 pm, to entice diners to come in at a time when tables are often empty. Ask you favorite restaurant if they have any specials for early bird dining.
This is an old tip, but a good one. Beverages can make the cost of dinner climb. Instead of buying a glass of wine for $12, stop on your way home and purchase a great $10 bottle of wine to take home with you.
Share a dessert.
I would never, ever tell you to skip dessert when you are dining out. I think it’s the best course on the menu, and if they have homemade carrot cake I’m digging in. So enjoy. But see if your dinner companion wants to share one dessert with two forks.
Share a meal.
Hey, some of the meals come on platters and could feed an entire family. Ask if you can share a plate – there may be a charge to do so, but determine if it is still a better deal than buying two meals. If you can’t share, then ask for a take-home box at the beginning of the meal and package up half the serving. You will have another meal for later, and you’re cutting calories.
Ask relatives for restaurant gift cards for gifts.
I love getting them as gifts (as well as cards for grocery stores in my area). I enjoy a great meal without thinking of the cost, as the card is not included in my budget. You will appreciate it, and the giver feels good about the giving.
Look for discounts.
The early dinner is one way to find a discount, but also ask about senior discounts or kid’s meals. And don’t hesitate to ask if you can order a kid’s meal – some establishments will gladly serve these smaller meals to older, loyal customers. Check to see if there are discounts for eating in house, or for taking home your order (if so, have a picnic!). Ask the waitress if there are specials, and check the sandwich boards at the front of the restaurant for last-minute specials.
Restaurant.com and Groupon.com has loyal followers who find discount or buy one, get one free dining coupons online. I haven’t had much luck finding restaurants in my area that are on the list, but a local coupon group called Localvoretoday often has discount coupons for locally owned restaurants. It’s a great way to try out a new restaurant or frequent an old favorite.
Ask for a loyalty card or punch card.
I keep a punch card for a local restaurant in my purse. The card has no expiration date, and once my card is punched I receive a free meal.
Get to know your waiters or restaurant owners.
I once went to a favorite coffee shop to meet someone near the end of day. The owner recognized me, and asked if I wanted the leftover muffins from the morning. I went home with a dozen or so muffins and froze them for later meals.
Swap a meal with friends.
Make dinner for them at your home, and then change places the following month. Make a favorite recipe, or try something new. Even a potluck can be fun – we meet friends for dinner each month, and simply cobble together meals from both refrigerators. The meals are always great, and the conversation even better. I used to call this Broke Buddies Night – but we changed it to Fridge Food Nights since the other title seemed so negative. We’re not broke – we’re manifesting millions!