With everything you have to do during the day, planning and cooking meals aren’t always at the top of your to-do list. Sure, you crave the taste of a home-cooked meal, but sometimes eating out is just more practical.
If this describes your lifestyle, you’re not alone. More than one-third of the U.S. food dollar is spent eating out. In today’s on-demand world, instant access to food (without the fuss of cleaning up) is more common than ever. But this convenience comes with a price – eating out is simply more expensive than making meals at home. If you’re spending too much of your budget on food, here are three ways to save money on eating out.
1. Find Discounts
Coupons are great for grocery shopping, but did you know they can also be used for restaurants? Before going out to eat, search online for discount coupons and gift certificates for your favorite restaurants. At sites like Restaurant.com, you can purchase gift certificates at discounted prices, essentially giving you more meal for your money. Just be sure to read the fine print restrictions and expiration dates. You can also find discounts in the form of group deals at sites like Groupon and coupons at local eateries through Valpak and SmartSource. And when you get to the restaurant, add your name to an email list if you plan to eat there often. Sure, you’ll have a few extra emails to filter every month, but many of them come with money-saving coupons and other discount offers.
2. Skip the Extras
When going out to eat, it can be tempting to splurge on appetizers, sides, drinks, and desserts. But to save money, skip the extras and focus on the main dish. The food you buy at restaurants is already marked up a lot. And the price of extras—especially ones that are easy to prepare on your own, like salads, breads, ice creams, coffees, etc.—are inflated even more. Instead, drink water with your meal and find restaurants that offer free bread or chips and salsa while you wait. If you want to get the most bang for your buck, order meals that are difficult to make at home, either because of specialized cooking processes or the equipment involved. And sometimes the bigger the portion you order, the more money you can save. Instead of eating the entire meal in one sitting, eat half and save the rest for leftovers the next day.
3. Share a Meal
The portion sizes at most restaurants are big enough that a meal can feed more than one person. To save money (and cut down on calories), bring a friend or two to share a meal. Many restaurants will split the meal into smaller, single-plate portions for you and a friend. And splitting the tip two or more ways makes dining at a fancy restaurant with friends even more affordable. By sharing a meal with a friend, you get the best of both worlds – the experience, ambiance, and cuisine of a good restaurant with the price of something much closer to eating at home.
In an ideal world, every meal would be homecooked. But eating out regularly has become a fact of life for most people, and eliminating it altogether is simply unrealistic. By following these three tips, you can have all the convenience of eating out while saving a little money in the process too.
Merrick Bank is not affiliated with Restaurant.com, Groupon, Valpak or SmartSource. Reference of said websites are strictly for informational purposes only. No endorsement or authorization is intended or implied.