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Eating Out Without Breaking Your Budget

Written by Laura Martinez - 13 Comments

Being frugal doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy yourself. Believe it or not, you can still go out and have a good time. In fact, there are plenty of ways to cut costs while still being able to join friends for an occasional restaurant meal.

The first step is to know exactly how much money you have to spend, and to take that amount with you in cash. If you instead rely on a debit or credit card, you might be tempted to spend more than you’ve allotted.

Another important point: Don’t skimp on the tip! Be sure to include both the tax and tip when you’re setting your budget. Beyond that…

How to save money when eating out

  • Ask around to find local spots. We asked some friends for suggestions when we first moved to the area and discovered a fantastic Cuban place in the area. Their lunch specials (entree and two sides) start at $5.95, and their dinners start at $7.95. The portions are great, and I usually end up with a to-go box. Plus, they even have a live band on the weekends.
  • Make sure you have leftovers. Be sure to take advantage of whatever freebies the restaurant offers. For example, you can take the edge off your appetite with chips or bread. Also, if your dinner includes a salad, then you should eat that before starting on your entree. I usually end up having plenty of leftovers to take home. Two meals for the price of one!
  • Go out for lunch instead of dinner. Most restaurants offer better prices at lunch vs. dinner. Yes, the portions are typically smaller, but you can save a good bit of money by doing this.
  • Skip the appetizers. Instead of ordering an appetizer, just go straight to the main course. Appetizers are often overpriced, and most restaurants provide large enough portions that they’re really not necessary.
  • Mix appetizers. If you don’t want to skip the appetizers entirely, you can often save money by ordering two appetizers instead of an appetizer and an entree.
  • Skip dessert. Another great way to slice a decent amount off the bill is to skip dessert. Like appetizers, desserts are often overpriced. Not only will your wallet thank you, but so will your waistline.
  • Get a discount. Take advantage of weekday dinner specials, use coupons (e.g., the Entertainment book , and/or use a site like Restaurant.com to get gift certificates on the cheap.

Now it’s your turn…

Do you have any tips for saving money when you eat out?

Published on June 30th, 2009 - 13 Comments
Filed under: Frugality

About the author: helps families achieve financial freedom by sharing tips for reducing debt and building freelance income over at Couple Money.

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13 Responses to “Eating Out Without Breaking Your Budget”

  1. 1
    kev Says:

    Don’t leave a tip – lol.

  2. 2
    Heather Says:

    Get water to drink!

  3. 3
    Lysle Says:

    Also avoid the fancy drinks that are little more than juice and tea.

    I’d say water is generally good if you really want to be frugal. Some fancy sit down places charge as much as $2.99! for your drink and other than being a bottom less tank of soda only adds to the cost. I’ve always been tempted to take in a 2 liter just to see what people would say.

  4. 4
    Arvin Says:

    We’ve found it worthwhile, after gauging the atmosphere of the place, to split an appetizer as well as split an entree, and oftentimes split a drink. My girlfriend and I oftentimes can’t finish a lot of the large servings, so this saves us time, as well as the waste of packaging for takeout.

    Oftentimes my girlfriend and I would arrive at a restaurant, order a full meal to sample the food, and, if we care to go back, but we’d ordered too much, we would say “We learned our lesson, we know how much to order next time.”

    Besides, while you save a bit by taking out that food, its cost was probably still more than it would’ve had you made your own food, so skim the money off the bill first by ordering less.

  5. 5
    nbjork Says:

    Many chain restaurants have rewards programs you can sign up for. About once a month we get e-mailed coupons for free entrees, half-price appetizers, etc.. Also, we always sit in the bar area because it is usually first come first serve, and there are usually happy hour deals that only apply to the bar.

  6. 6
    Ann Says:

    Breakfast is also a good time to go out, especially on the weekend when you can relax and enjoy that second cup of coffee/tea & read the morning paper.

  7. 7
    Heather Says:

    I’m just going to come out and say it…splitting a drink that has free refills is not frugal, it’s just cheap, plus a little immoral. I take issue with a store charging me to split a meal with my hubby but I certainly understand them not wanting us to share a drink.

  8. 8
    MoneyEnergy Says:

    I tend not to order any drinks when going out for dinner – water and lemon is just fine (and usually healthier). Ditto on the desserts, save for very, very special occasions – and even then I usually split them.

  9. 9
    Laura Says:

    If we have dessert we split it, with the exception of tiramisu.

  10. 10
    Retireby35 Says:

    Check check check. Good info, I generally do all of these.

    Yelp.com is pretty good in finding good tasting local spots. And I find Chinese food is usually much cheaper than American/Korean/Japanese food.

    Also I try to save coupons in one stack so that whenever I get hungry for food, I just rummage through that stack and pick a place to eat.

  11. 11
    Bradley Jones Says:

    @kev – That’s just mean.

    @post – I’ve always been one to eat out quite a bit. Even grab just a “snack” at the supermarket or gas station every day.

    Well, a few months ago I was researching what all I was spending money on because I just could not figure out where all my money was going.

    As I’m sure you can see where this is going, I tallied up the amount of money I spent on eating out on a daily basis. My daily total averaged around $8/day. Doesn’t sound like a whole lot does it?

    Think about it in a monthly perspective, though. $8/day times 31 days = $248/month. That’s a good chunk of change lost each month. Needless to say, I’ve pretty much cut eating out OUT.

  12. 12
    DDFD at DivorcedDadFrugalDad Says:

    Nice tips. Ice water with a slice of lemon saves me a small fortune.

  13. 13
    FrugalCat Says:

    I bring a Rubbermaid platic container with Lid-lock latches. As soon as the entree arrives, I divide it in half and put the container away. Out of sight, out of mind. Yes, most restaurants have to go containers, but I prefer my washable, microwaveable, non-spill, neat one. Plus this keeps Styrofoam out of the landfill. Wait staff has generally been like “what a good idea”. Occasionally one will sneer- “we have containers you know.” and I just say I am “going green.”

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