As part of sticking to a monthly budget, my family sets a dollar amount for eating out. We’ve tried avoiding it all together, and it doesn’t work for us. There are inevitably days where life gets chaotic, or we’re on the road, or for some reason we need to eat restaurant food. As much as I enjoy cooking for my family, eating our is a nice break, so we generally eat out about twice a month. To stay on a budget, I use these six strategies:
1.) Avoid paying for drinks: Switch to drinking water at restaurants; besides being better for your health than soda, it saves you $2-5 per meal. If you drink alcohol, consider a BYOB restaurant instead of busting your budget at a restaurant.
2.) Choose Lunch over Dinner: For adults, lunch prices can be much less expensive than dinner. We’ve even left the kids at home and had a nice (quiet) lunch out during the day, just the two of us, which saves even more money.
3.) Have the kids eat free: As a family of five, I appreciate restaurants that offer Kids-Eat-Free nights or send coupons for free kids’ meals. Some even offer up to two free kids’ meals per adult entree, which is great since we have more adults than kids.
4.) Join restaurant rewards programs: Check the website of your favorite restaurants, both local independents and the big chains. Several restaurants we like offer e-newsletters with coupons or rewards programs. Just by signing up, I get coupons for free appetizers or meals, or I earn points per dollars spent which can then be redeemed for savings at another time.
5.) Use discounted gift cards: Consider purchasing gift cards for restaurants you visit regularly at a site like GiftCardRescue. Saving 5-15% on the gift card, you can use it as payment along with any coupons from #4 for extra savings.
6.) Try daily deal or certificate sites: Take a look at Restaurant.com for local restaurants that participate in their program. You can score $25 restaurant certificates from anywhere from $2 – $1- depending on the promo they’re running. Be sure to read the fine print too, since often a $25 certificate must be used on a minimum $35-50 order. Keep an eye on the daily deal sites like Groupon, LivingSocial, and others for restaurants in your area. That has been a new source of savings for my family. Remember to always calculate your server’s tip based on the pre-coupon cost of your meal.
Since eating out is a reality for most people, it’s worth it to put some time and effort into saving money. Try making one or more of these tips a habit, and see how it improves your monthly budget.