Living on a monthly budget typically means watching how and where you spend your hard-earned cash. Dining out may seem like a lavish treat, especially when you are trying to control your spending. While it’s understood that dining in is the most frugal option, there are ways to save money when you go out to eat. You don’t have to sacrifice everything just because you’re trying to stay on a budget – use these tips for saving money while dining out.
- Order appetizers and side dishes as your meal instead of standard entrees. You may be pleasantly surprised at the diverse food options available on the appetizer and side dish menus. In fact, these menu items are often the most imaginative and delicious ones offered in a restaurant. Instead of choosing a pricey entree, order a couple of appetizers or sides to cut your bill.
- Drink water only, or choose places that will let you bring your own beverages. Adding beverages to a meal tab can add up quickly, especially if you’re drinking alcoholic drinks. Instead, order water with a squeeze of lemon with your meal, and enjoy a cocktail at home before or after dinner. Some restaurants allow patrons to bring their own bottle of wine to enjoy with a meal, so you might also want to inquire about bring-your-own-bottle policies.
- Split a meal between diners. Restaurant portions can be massive in many cases. Consider ordering one meal with a salad course, entree, and even dessert, then splitting everything between two people.
- Use coupons and order specials. If a restaurant offers daily specials at cheaper prices, order the special. You can also look for restaurant coupons and discount codes to use for your meal.
- Dine during happy hour. Restaurants with happy hours usually offer discounted appetizers and drink specials. Although you’ll probably have to dine in the bar area, this is a small sacrifice for the cheaper food and drink options. Plus, you may even get immediate seating instead of having to wait for a table.
- Eat at buffet restaurants. An all-you-can-eat buffet gives you an abundance of food for one set meal price. You could also enjoy a large, late buffet lunch and then have a small snack for dinner to save even more money.
- Order from the kids’ menu. Check out the kids’ menu for lighter fare at reduced prices: These meals usually come in smaller portions, so they can be perfect for a light meal. Pay attention to any age restrictions, though, because some establishments may not allow adults to eat like kids.
- Order to-go meals instead. Rather than dining in and having to add a 20 percent tip to your meal, you can get the same food to go. You should still offer a modest tip when you pick up your food, but your overall cost will be less.
- Split a meal with yourself: Order a full meal and plan to eat half of it, then take the other half home for another meal.
- Pay with a cash-back credit card when you eat out. If you can get 1 to 2 percent cash back for your meal by using the right credit card, it’s an easy way to save.
When reviewing your spending, keep in mind that you should also be making an effort to build up a rainy-day fund to cover unexpected financial emergencies, such as accident, injury, or emergent home repair. But, when cutting corners and curbing spending isn’t enough and the rainy-day funds are not enough, it’s important to consider all of your options for financial relief. Personal loans and secured loans may be lending alternatives that would work well for your unique financial situation.