I wouldn’t be writing about money saving tips when eating out few years ago, when my husband and I both were working and earned really well. We loved eating out most of the week and never bothered about budgeting.
When I decided to stay / work from home after our little bundle of joy was born, we made sure to track our expenses every month and see if we could live the same lifestyle we enjoyed before but by spending less. Both of us agreed that we did not want to compromise our lifestyle but if we could save a few bucks from here and there, why not!
While tracking our expenses few months ago, we figured out that we ate out quite a lot. We decided to curb our habit for mainly two reasons.
a) It is not healthy for our wallet;
b) it is not healthy for our waistline.
I guess these are pretty strong enough reasons to reduce our outings that included mainly food!
As much as we love to cook at home, we also try to implement some of these strategies into our eating out plan. I am happy to report that we have been able to save a significant amount of money as compared to the months before we started budgeting.
Here are 12 simple ways to save money when eating out at restaurants!
#1: Weekly Discount Coupons and Deals
Who doesn’t love pizza or burger any time of the day? We are huge pizza and burger fans and whenever we felt like it, we would go out and grab a couple of combos or large pizza. But lately we have been paying attention to weekly discounts where certain menu items are available at discount prices.
For example, we have $10 pizza (any size) at Pizza Hut if you order online. There is different variety available each day for the whole week. Veggie Delite, our first choice, is available on Saturday for $10 + tax. We get to enjoy large veggie pizza for $10, compared to over $25 on any other day, which is a great deal in my opinion.
Similarly, we love Harvey’s burger. From time to time they deliver these coupons for combo deals where you can order burger combo that includes a burger, fries and a drink. It’s a pretty good size and very filling. We enjoy burger for $11.85 whenever we receive these coupons in mail, which is quite frequently. Compare this with $17.50 without coupons and you save over $20 per month if you eat out weekly.
We receive coupons from Valpak and SmartSource from time to time. Many restaurants have listed the deals on their menu for the week. It makes it easier for us to pick the eatery we wish to eat at that week.
#2: Group Buying Sites
I am a member of group buying sites like Groupon and Living Social. They send emails regularly notifying about the deals available at particular restaurant. Some of the times deals go up to over 50% off or so. We have been able to save a lot when we buy through these group buying sites. We just have to make sure that there are certain terms and conditions like the deals expiring by certain date or the condition is good if you make a certain purchase.
#3: Gift Certificates
Checkout sites like Restaurant.com and Cardpool.com. They offer gift cards at discounted rates. You can save up to 10%, 20% or even 50%. Just make sure to read their terms and conditions because sometimes they ask to make a minimum purchase before applying that coupon and you may end up spending more than you actually intended to.
#4: Skip the drinks
We came across this little trick by accident. My sister and I were out for lunch one fine day. She was trying to lose weight at the time by skipping sugary snacks and drinks. So instead of ordering soft drinks with her meal, she asked for tap water.
I followed in her suit and ordered the same. We were surprised to see the huge difference in the bill. A can of soda or a glass of wine cost us way more than if we’d just ordered the entrees and tap water. Make sure to particularly ask for tap water because a water bottle may cost you close to $3.
Surprisingly we didn’t feel overly full after finishing our meals. Aftertaste of water feels much better on the palette than after taste of soda. I enjoyed my meals a lot better than drinking soda with them. So, this little trick is not only going to be good on your wallet but also good on your health.
#5: Skip the Dessert
Just like drinks, desserts are also overpriced. Instead of ordering dessert at the restaurant after meal, eat a bowl or cone of homemade ice cream at home. It will cost you so much less than what you’d be paying at a restaurant.
#6: Eat at “Kids Eat Free” Restaurants
There are many family friendly restaurants that offer “kids eat free” meal for a night of a week. When we visit such restaurants, we end up saving $10 – $15 per night. It’s mostly on Tuesdays in our town at our favorite restaurant. We try to take advantage of this as much as possible since it makes a huge difference to our monthly dining out budget.
#7: Utilize Envelope Budgeting
We have been allotting a set amount of budget that we use for our restaurant outings. Envelope budgeting works great because we already know how much we are going to spend when eating out. We also are able to pick a restaurant depending on our budget.
We know if we pick a fancier restaurant at the start of the month, we are going to spend all of our allotted money pretty quickly. If we pick a casual one, we can stretch our dollar. So we do splurge sometimes on a date night, but the next month we balance out by eating out at casual restaurants.
#8: Split your Entrée
Most of the restaurants we have been to offer big portions of meals. We used to find it difficult to finish the whole entrée and ended up wasting the food. Then we started to order one entrée for two people. That worked out well both for our wallets and our health.
We ended up saving significant amount of money by sharing a plate. We were also not overeating. I have been doing the same when I am out with friends. We split our meals and save money. Or one of us orders appetizers and other orders entrees and we split each.
#9: Eat Lunch rather than Dinner
Crave to eat out often? Make it for lunch instead of dinner. When I worked full time, we‘d usually go for group lunches. It was way less expensive than if we went for dinner. Lunch buffets are also served at much lesser cost than dinner buffets. So go out for a lunch instead of dinner.
#10: Use Cash Back Credit Card
Many credit card companies offer 1% – 5% cash back when you use them anywhere. Some offer deeper discounts on certain categories including restaurants. We have been using our Mastercard for such outings and end up with cash back of 1.25%. If you know of a better priced credit card, please feel free to share in the comments below.
There’s a nice program called iDine where you can register your credit card or debit card. When you visit or carry out from one of the 11000 participating restaurants or clubs and pay with your registered card, you can receive up to 15% back in American Express Reward Cards from iDine. I haven’t used this program myself because it is not available in my area. But if you happen to use it, please let me know if you liked it.
#11: Follow Local Restaurant’s Social Media Accounts
Follow your favorite restaurants on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. They post their special deals on their social media account regularly. For example, I love Starbucks but find it a little expensive. So whenever they have special deals going on at half price off or buy 1 get 1 free and post on their Facebook or Twitter page, I instantly get notification and I go ahead ordering my favorite beverage.
Sometimes local restaurants ask to “follow” or “like” their page and you can buy drinks or a snack at discounted price. They promote their business through social media and want more people to follow so they are more likely to offer discounts for new members.
#12: Sign up for Restaurant Newsletter
You can also sign up for their newsletters where they send you weekly deals and you can enjoy an inexpensive meal. Some restaurants offer freebies for the birthday month. You can get a free dessert or drink for your birthday and other freebies for your entire birthday month.
Looking for More Money Saving Tips?
- 7 Ways you can Save this Week
- How to Save Money on Grocery Shopping
- Simple Way to Keep your Budget under Control
- How I Saved over $480 on my Internet, Cable and Phone Bill
There’s been a tremendous difference in our dining out experience since we started implementing these changes. Have you been trying to save money when eating out? Please share your tips and tricks in the comments box below!