- Personal Finance
Saving Money When Eating Out!
No one will ever convince me that eating out will be cheaper than "Brown Bagging" or cooking at home, but lets face it, we all eat out. Depending on where you live as well as your lifestyle, you might even dine out more than once a week. This can add up especially if you have a family of four and go at least once a week for dinner. Besides coupling, there are a few ways you can still save some cash when you decide to frequent your local dining establishment. You don't have to use the below tips just for a specific meal, try them out at all times of the day so maximize your savings!
Isn't the best part of waking up the coffee in your cup? (Sorry I won't shamelessly plug a coffee brand here). I usually have one or two cups before I head out the door in the morning, maybe even more if I really need a pick me up. I choose to brew my own coffee at home instead of heading out to my local StarBucks or even the gas station. With all the variety in pre-ground beans, and even the K-Cup machines available on the market, the flavors and aromas often times beat out my local baristas, and the best part is, you won't be spending $4.00 on a designer cup of coffee. Line your own pockets with savings, not Seattle's. Don't forget to take it with you in a reusable cup when you go to work.
When it comes to breakfast, I'm usually the cereal guy, but in some cases I just want a nice awesome breakfast that will get me going. I try very hard to avoid drive through locations. Not only is the food pretty sub standard, but I always seemed to get suckers into the extras. "Would you like to try our super expensive item of the week?" - As a matter of fact, I would! As long as I have the time, I like to check out my local mom and pop restaurants and stay away from the chains. One in my area has an Early Bird special that is $1.99 and concludes eggs, home fries, and toast. Or I can spend an extra buck and get some biscuits and gravy. It's hard to compete tight the prices. Granted, I will get a cup of coffee there, and have a tip to leave, but early in the morning, they know I need to get in and out, they are fast, and my wife and I can eat there for under $10 out the door. SInce they are locally owned businesses, they have the power to change their prices based on customer demand, and aren't corporate slaves. Your hard earned dollars seems to go much farther at these locations. In addition, you are helping to build your local economy. In some cases local restaurants even buy local produce, eggs, and other items which is even better for the environment. Don't forget to ask for a cup of coffee to go, they generally don't charge any extra for it, and you have another reason to skip StarBucks.
Didn't have time to stop? A really quick and easy idea for cheap breakfast that you can make at the office is an egg in a coffee cup. Just crack the egg on the cup. stir it with a fork or spoon and microwave for a minute or so in the microwave. Presto instant scrambled eggs!
Lunch, the very best meal of the day! For me at least. When I start dragging, lunch is a great pick me up but it can be very expensive to get a burger or sandwich on the run. Although I have been bringing my own lunch lately, when I do finally break down and eat out for lunch, I often times find myself getting soup. I work at a location that has a cafeteria, and after the employee discount, it's actually cheaper than buying a can of Progresso soup or even the Campbell's thick and chunky varieties. It's already hot, and usually tends to fill me up. I realize not everyone has access to a cafeteria, but soups are generally cheaper in restaurants as well. Save a few bucks and order a cup or bowl of soup.
May restaurants realize that the key to their business is repeat business. If you decide to dine out frequently for lunch, be sure to select locations that have loyalty rewards. Remember the subway sub club stamps years ago? Many locations offer punch cards that will either give you a deep discount after "X" number of visits or even a free meal. Many sub sops such as Jimmy Johns, and even Red Robin have loyalty programs that can help you save on at least a meal or two in the future. Boston Market for example, requests your email address and they will email you coupons, sometimes on a weekly basis to drive you into their location. If you decide to dine at a chain restaurant for lunch, be sure to checkout their website for easily printable coupons. Have a co worker that is going to one of these locations but doesn't want to deal with the loyalty program? Give them your punch cards or point cards to quickly gain more rewards without having to shell out cash.
Have you ever stopped to take a look at your lunch bill? Did you realize that some places charge up to $2.50 for drinks? Sometimes you just NEED to have a sweet tea, and yes I realize you'll probably drink a half gallon of the stuff, but your drink can be a huge percentage of your overall lunch costs. Don't hesitate to bring in your own bottle of soda, to many quick service locations like Subway or other semi-fast food joints. You might have a bit more resistance from the staff at a nice dine in location though. My big secret is to drink water. There usually isn't a charge associated with it, and will save you a fortune. Don't like water? No problem, there are multiple drink enhancers you can purchase and bring with you. Crystal light makes single server flavors you add to your water, or you can bring Mio with you. This liquid additive is available in multiple flavors and dissolves easily with just a simple stir. If you bring your own water additive, just be sure you didn't get charged for a drink, sometimes the wait staff will slip it in there when they see something other than clear liquid in your glass.
Don't want to pay for the single serve Crystal Light drink mixes? You can actually buy the mixes in large jars for a fairly reasonable price at the grocery stores. You usually scoop out enough to make a few quarts at a time, but instead scoop some into a camping style salt and pepper shaker and slip it in your pocket before you go in. These shakers are usually about a buck at your local Wal-Mart and can really save you money. Remember that family of four that you are taking out to dinner? At $2.00 each, you will save at least $8.00 but using this method, and you can even bring two flavors with you if you use the salt and pepper shaker idea.
Do you recall how I mentioned the early bird special at the breakfast joint? Most restaurants have similar specials that are designed to get you in and out before their actual dinner rush starts, usually from 4 to 6 PM. (Incidentally usually the same time as happy hour!) You would be surprised at what discounts you can get just by selecting the time that you choose to dine. I'll admit sometimes eating around someone else's schedule can be a bit frustrating, but I have seen buy one get one free deals for meals, as well as free items such as sides and desserts if you can bend your schedule to their will. The major negative aspect to this though, is that you just might happen to be the youngest one in the restaurant. Many seniors use this method to save on dining expenses.
Did you want to have a very fancy night out on the town? Ready to blow your entire month's salary on that mouth watering, dry aged steak and lobster dinner? Despite my habit of being frugal when it comes to eating out, I will occasionally treat myself and my wife to a beautiful fancy dinner out. Although we are certainly not "wine-o-s" by any means, we do enjoy a nice glass of wine or two while in a fancy dining establishment. We always seem to spend way too much on wine though. Usually with the per glass price, if you order more than two glasses, you're probably better off buying the bottle. "Would you like to super size your order?" - As a matter of fact, Yes I would!. If you don't want to spend a huge amount on wine, be sure to request a sampling of their house wine. It's usually much cheaper and could probably suit the bill so to speak. Another trick to fancy dining is that often times you can bring your own bottle. Be sure to phone ahead with this one to see if they will let you do it, but in many cases you can bring your own bottle of wine with you. Swing by a local liquor store and rack up the savings. I will warn you though, many restaurants have a "bottle" or "corking" fee, if you bring your own wine. It's a way for them to charge you without actually selling you anything. Even with the corking fee, our $6.00 bottle of Lakeridge Wine goes with just about anything we would order!
Ok so back to the family dining. Odds are you won't be bringing your unruly children out to Ruth Chris' steak house, but did you know many restaurants offer a family night? I have seen at many locations: "Kids Eat Free With The Purchase of An Adult Entree". Depending on your area, you could easily plan your schedule around the local restaurant offerings. I wouldn't expect to use any coupons on the adult entrees, as most consider the free kids meals a coupon in itself, but it's always worth a try. Bundle in the free water or flavor your own water trick and you could easily feed a family of four for around $20. Take a look around the next time you go to your local restaurants to see if they have a deal like this, it just requires some advanced planning.
If you have a small appetite, many restaurants offer a reduced portion size for a savings. they usually don't advertise this on the menu, and you may have to ask, but if you wouldn't finish your entire meal anyway, why pay more money just to have them throw it away? On the flip side, if you order a large meal and only finish half, you could easily share with your spouse or even take the left overs home for lunch the next day. If you spread the cost of your dining experience across two meals, you get a better deal as well. This works well with many of the Mexican restaurants that we frequent. If you order a large portion and decide to share, be on the lookout for "plate charges" on your bill. It's the restaurant's way to charge you for sharing.
Believe it or not, you can actually save some money while dining out! With just a few changes to your habits you can save a bundle. How do you save on expenses while dining out? I would live to hear more ideas in your comments!