Dining Out For Less
Last week we covered how the American food budget is spent. A family will spend 44% of their monthly food budget on eating out. I mentioned that dining out is not only going out for pleasure, but those quick stops for a cup of coffee or a snack at the conveinence store also count into "dining out". It's pretty much any eating or drinking that isn't at home. Part 1 covered how to cut that crap out. If you are going to spend hundreds of dollars a month eating out, at least do it for pleasure, not necessitiy.
If you absolutely love eating out and don't see yourself stopping anytime soon, it doesn't mean you can't save some money. Since the average family spends $350 a month on eating out, there's plenty of room to save some money. Over the years these little savings can add up to big dollar amounts. There's lots of fun stuff you can do in the future with savings like that.
Some of these things are more practical than others. It depends on how determined you are on getting your nest egg eating monster under control. Some of these things may take the "fun" out of eating out for you. What's more fun? Being broke at the end of the month or having some padding in your bank account? Thought so.
**Set Limits and Save Outings for Occasions (This is by far the most effective and important saving strategy)**First decide how much is an acceptable amount to spend every month. A good amount is $100. That's $250 less than the average. That $100 may not seem like alot but it can definitely go a long way or make for a wonderful night out. If you have learned to eat all meals and snacks at home, 100% of that $100 budget can go to pleasure dining. You can now use that money for 1-2 outings. Save those outings for special occasions (mother's day, father's day, valentines...you get the picture) and/or date nights. Don't use up that budget and then also have to take your mom out for lunch. Use that $100 however you want. It can be rigid, or it can be fun. In our home, we make a conscious effort to have one date night, just the two of us. We think it's really important for our relationship.We also have decided that we will only eat out 1-2 nights a month. So, we save our $100 for our "date night". If we end up using that allotment at other times during the night, then date night suffers or we go without eating out for that night (stay in or do something else). You have to be strict about this stuff otherwise you will find that you're not saving at all.
How to Make That $100 go Further...
Use Coupons or Gift CertificatesMake it a rule that when you do eat out, you need a coupon or gift certificate. If you are gifted a gift certificate, don't use it as "extra" dining out money. Use it as part of your $100. That will be all the more money you will be saving with the same amount of enjoyment. Utilize saving websites and blogs. Many blogs out there will post an article around the weekend every week on dining out deals. Many blogs such as Southern Savers and I Heart Saving Money post things almost daily on different restaurant deals, coupons and incentives. Follow blogs such as those on your RSS feed and you can save money on all sorts of stuff (especially around Christmas!). Another totally awesome way to save is using Restaurant.com. They are so awesome! This weekend my husband and I will be going to dinner and a show. We will be eating at House of Blues in Orlando. Thanks to my nifty blog following, I purchased a $25 gift certificate to House of Blues for only $1. Isn't that fantastic? Yes, eating there can be alot more than $25, but think of it as a $25 coupon that you only paid $1 for. You can subscribe to Restaurant.com's emails to know when they have their 80% off sales, that's when you can get them for $1 only. There's tons of places to choose from, but the best stuff is found at the beginning of the month. Don't forget about your good 'ol newspaper. There's usually good dining coupons in there.
Ordering soft drinks can be pricey, if not wasteful. I'm sure you get more than enough of your daily soda intake at home, so just order water. That can save you $5 or more per couple.You'll save money and make a healthier choice (yes, even if it's tap water...they do make your soda with the same water, ya know). Prefer a stiff one? Going out for drinks after dinner at a bar with drink specials can save you a pretty penny. If you haven't noticed, restaurant alcohol usually is really pretty and tasty, but perhaps watered down or light on the actual good stuff. They especially jack the price up for "specialty drinks" and call liquors. So, you're better off getting alcohol at an establishment that specializes in that.
Order an appetizer, or dessert. Not both. Do you really need both?? Probably not. Better yet, find a coupon for a free dessert or appetizer.
So there it is. Do that stuff and you'll have more fun in the long run and have a less sad bank account. Win-win, I say.
Check back next week for Part 3 of this series: Saving on Groceries Without Using Coupons.