Many people are astonished when they realize how much they spend on food, especially meals eaten away from home. Although a few $5 hamburgers or $20 dinners rarely seem like much at the time, they add up quickly. The average person spends over $200 a month on eating out in addition to around $300 or more for groceries, and some families can easily double this figure. If you’re looking for a way to cut costs on your household budget, food costs are a great place to start, and eating out should be the first thing that you tackle.
You don’t have to remove eating out from your schedule altogether, however, as long as you’re willing to compromise. Meals away from home can serve a valuable purpose; they help break up your routine and give you a fun way to mingle with family and friends. The key is to scale back on dining out and always treat it like a special event. When you make your budget, choose a specific amount that you want to spend on meals away from home, and stick to that figure.
The easiest way to make sure you won’t go over is to plan your meal in advance. It may also help to carry cash with you when you go to the restaurant to discourage over-spending. Just make sure you bring enough to cover the cost of a tip.
Here are a few more tips for decreasing the amount you spend on restaurant meals:
1.) Have an easy meal ready for home
Many times, people go out for dinner because they had nothing readily accessible at home. They may be tired from a long day or the kitchen may be messy, making cooking too much of a hassle. In order to avoid these situations, it helps to have a few simple meals on hand that can be assembled with very little effort. You can make casseroles or soups in advance and freeze them so that you just have to heat them through for dinner, or you can keep some convenience foods like instant soup on hand for these emergencies.
2.) Eat what you’re craving
When you do go out, it’s better to go to the restaurant you really wanted, even if it costs slightly more than any alternatives. It’s better to have a single satisfying meal out in a week than eat something of lesser quality and feel deprived. If you do that, you’re more likely to binge on multiple meals throughout a week instead of being satisfied with a single dinner.
3.) Don’t order drinks
You can save $2 or more per person every time you eat out if you order water instead of soda or tea. Beverages are nutritionally empty and they line the pockets of restaurants: They’re cheap to produce and fill you up quickly. If you don’t like the taste of your water, you can always add lemon or lime to jazz it up.
4.) Take advantage of special offers
Most restaurants have a mailing list that you can join that will provide you with special deals and coupons. You can receive these over email or text messages in some cases, and they’re a good idea to join for any restaurant you frequent. You can also keep an eye out in your Sunday paper or weekly ad circular for coupons and promotions. By knowing in advance when a special event happens, such as half-price appetizers or free kids meals, you can plan your week around it and save money.
5.) Order wisely
Sometimes it’s cheaper to buy items a la carte than ordering a specific meal. Restaurants also sometimes serve appetizer portions of some of their dishes for a reduced price, so you can save some money that way. Depending on the restaurant and your appetite, you may be able to order off of the children’s menu for yourself. You can also save money by sharing an entree, since most restaurant portions are very large. Avoid appetizers and desserts; they’re usually overpriced.
Eating out can be a part of a healthy budget if you’re careful about your spending. By selecting a single satisfying destination and maximizing your experience, you can cut down the cost of unnecessary meals away from home without sacrificing the entertainment value of a visit to a restaurant.
As you wean yourself off of restaurant food, you may discover that you actually prefer the taste of home cooking; it’s healthier, faster and much cheaper than eating out, and it’s usually much fresher as well.