With some planning, you can spend less eating out and still have fun family time.
By Danielle Tate, Contributing Writer
Going out to eat is often a fun family activity. Yet the goal to spend less to eat out is one of the top budgeting issues I hear about as a budget coach.
In 2014 the cost of eating out was over $214 a month and the price tag is growing. In fact, in January of 2016, restaurant prices rose 2.7% on average. Many of my clients, at the start our coaching, spend upwards of $500 eating out a month with a family size of roughly 3 to 5 people. That’s $6,000 a year!
Even if you don’t spend that much you can still reduce your eating out expense by being smart, savvy, and intentional.
So how do we spend less eating out without limiting ourselves to cheap dollar menus? Eating out doesn’t have to break the bank. With some planning and intentionality, you can spend less eating out and still have fun family time.
8 Tips to Spend Less Eating Out
1. Set a monthly eating out budget
One of the first things I have clients do is create a household budget based on income. Eating out is always a category. How much does your income support for eating out expense? Set a number and stick to it. If you want to spend $200 a month that means you could go out four nights a month and spend $50. The secret to spending less is having a limit and sticking to it.
2. Determine eating out triggers
Many times we eat on the go or in restaurants merely out of convenience and busyness. What triggers you to say “Let’s go out tonight,” instead of cooking a meal at home? Creating a meal plan, making crockpot meals, skillet dishes, and freezer cooking are all easy ways to make a quick meal at home even when you don’t feel like it. Knowing your triggers and planning ahead will help you avoid eating out on the fly.
3. Don’t buy kids meals
Have you seen the cost of kids meals? They’re insane at some restaurants. We were recently out to eat and it was $5.50 for a grilled cheese, a side and a drink. Not to mention kids menus are almost always “kiddie food,” which isn’t worth $5 anyway. Order something your child can share with you or, if you have multiple kids, let them take turns picking a meal they will share. It’s often cheaper to do this and order an extra side instead of ordering two kids meals.
4. Split meals
Portion sizes is exaggerated so much that most meals can serve two people; we just don’t realize we’re overeating. When we go out, I like to look for larger meals that my husband and I can split. There’s one chain restaurant that offers a 2 for $25 menu. He was able to get a half-rack of ribs with two sides and I got chicken and two sides for $25. Not only does splitting meals help you save money, but it’s better for the waistline when you have a smaller portion of food.
5. Skip drinks
So you don’t drink alcohol? This tip is still for you! Sodas and teas are still an expensive add-on to your meal. If you really want to spend less eating out, stick with water. While I admit water isn’t my favorite eating out beverage, I order water with lemon and save up to $2.50 each visit. If you eat out four times a month that can add up to $120 a year saved. My only exception is pizza, because pizza and a pop is the best!
And if you’re a die-hard wine with dinner kinda gal, look for restaurants that allow you to BYOB.
6. Be a coupon clipper
I’m surprised at how many of my clients don’t realize there are coupons for restaurants. Besides sites like Groupon, many newspapers and coupon mailers have deals for restaurants in your area. Valpak sends a packet of coupons in the mail to us and there are often restaurant coupons in it. Another great site is Restaurant.com
Plus, it’s the App Age – everyone has an app, even our local pizza shop. You can save money eating out when you download the apps of your favorite restaurants. Often there are “app exclusive” offers available to you.
7. Eat early
Lunch is almost always cheaper than dinner. If you can, have a lunch date with your friends or meet your spouse for a lunch break. Even if this isn’t possible, many restaurants extend lunch prices into the afternoon and early evening plus, happy hour rates let you get food at a cheaper price than a 6 p.m. dinner.
8. Get smart with gift cards
During the holidays you often can get a bonus card just for buying gift cards. If your budget will allow it, buy yourself a gift card for the restaurants you love and cash in on the extra savings with the bonus cards. You can also find unwanted gift cards for sale on Ebay on online yard sale sites. People will often sell the gift card at less than face value because they want the cash.
Staying within your budget doesn’t mean you must give up eating out. If you’re strategic, you can spend less eating out and still enjoy the fun of a family dinner in your favorite restaurant.
How do you save money and spend less when eating out?