Save money while eating out

The thing about the whole saving money thing is that it is not just saving money for the sake of saving it. We save money in order that we can have some to spend on things we would like. Each person has his or her areas that they prefer to spend their money on. For some people it is clothes, others really like traveling, and some like to golf. For my wife and I it is eating out.

Eating out is a bad investment

Financially speaking, eating out is a bad investment. It costs a lot more than making food at home, and that is why we have worked hard to discipline ourselves not to do it very often. The beauty of this is that we actually enjoy it more since we don’t go out to dinner every other day, or even every week. Even the fun things in life can become boring when you do them everyday.

Tools to help save money when eating out

Since going out to dinner is something that we love to do, we work to find ways to make it possible. One of the best tools we have found has been the Entertainment Book. I believe they are sold in every major city in the U.S. – if not, you are missing out! ;)

The Entertainment Book

The Entertainment Book is filled with coupons for any and every kind of restaurant, grocery store, movie theaters, dry-cleaners, and a bunch more. Most of the coupons for restaurants offer buy-one-get-one-free meals. This almost cuts our bill in half. Saving this much money makes it a lot easier to justify going out to eat!

Another great thing about this book is that since a lot of the restaurants are smaller “mom-and-pop” type places or new ones it helps to try out restaurants that we otherwise might not have known about.

Restaurant.com

You should also consider Groupon or  Restaurant.com who sells $25 gift certificates (with some restrictions) for $5-$10 to thousands of restaurants across the country.

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Do you have any tips on how you save money eating out?

This article was originally published on November 11, 2008.












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19 Comments
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  1. Sign up for birthday/anniversary clubs! Everywhere from expensive places like the Melting Pot to fast food places like Arbys have clubs where you can have free food on special events, and sometimes you’ll receive coupons at other times as well.

  2. We have been eating out much less as well. We actually got take out food today, as it was a time issue. I ended up spending $45.00 for take out, and quite honestly, I felt ripped off! Since I have begun keeping track of my money, and really paying attention, I look for maximum value when I spend money. I just didn’t feel that I got it today. Lessons learned.

  3. @Mama
    Good idea – I have never really done that, but why not sign up?

  4. The entertainment book is great. Not just for restaurants but they have deals for events, entertainments, etc. Restaurants.com has good deals as well although not as many restaurants are on it. Do you feel that is because of the economy right now?

    Craig

  5. Great ideas! Very interesting website!

    Pascale

  6. Great ideas!

  7. I recently wrote an article on my blog about Restaurant.com. After a bit of research, I found that a number of Restaurant.com users were dissatisfied with it, because the restrictions were unusually excessive, and in some cases, not clearly defined to the purchaser prior to the purchase.

    Occasionally, though, Restaurant.com offers bonus codes that allow you to purchase the gift cards at a deeper discount than normal, sometimes as much as 80% off. Getting a $25 gift card for as little as $2 or $3 really takes the sting out of the inconvenient restrictions.

    -Callie Lorentson

  8. Matthew

    Group deal sites like Groupon and LivingSocial are also usually pretty good deals. We actually prefer them to Restaurant.com since we tend to spend more when using Restaurant.com certificates than we would if we just went to the restaurant on with the certificate.

  9. On top of using the coupons for eating out, I like to dine at places that give me enough food for leftovers. I judge the value partially on how many meals that I can get out of it.

    One exteme example is with a couple of local Chinese restaurants. One has meals that average around $7 while the other averages $9. Well, the $9 one is actually the better deal because I can get three meals out of one order, while I only get one meal from the $7 order.

  10. If you eat at chain restaurants such as Outback or Olive Garden, buy discounted gift cards and use them like cash. These cards are available for fancy-pants restaurants, too, such as Ruth’s Chris Steak House and McCormick & Schmick’s.
    The discounts can range upward of 12%, a noticeable saving. Use the discounted gift-card aggregator GiftCardGranny.com to find the best deal.
    Two more ways to pare down the cost:
    1. Pay for the discounted gift card with a rewards credit card
    2. If the best deal happens to be offered through Cardpool.com, buy it through the cash-back shopping site MrRebates.com (it’s only another 1% off but hey, I’ll take it)
    I wrote an MSN Money column on how to buy discounted gift cards:
    http://money.msn.com/saving-money/useless-groupon-cash-it-in-freedman.aspx
    Incidentally, if you missed a Groupon or Living Social or whatever restaurant deal you may be able to buy it through one of the the secondary-market sites. (The price is usually the same as the initial deal and as a buyer you don’t pay fees.) At one such site you can even post a “wanted” ad. I did a column for MSN Money about this:
    http://money.msn.com/saving-money/useless-groupon-cash-it-in-freedman.aspx
    Bon appetit!

  11. We definitely like to eat out too. The Entertainment Book is something we use quite a bit and it can cut down on costs for sure, especially when going to sit down restaurants.

    We’ve found with our kids that a lot of times, they’d rather have stuff from value menus at fast food places so that saves. Our kids are young enough right now that when we go to restaurants, depending on the size of plate, we may have them share a plate and they end up full. Another little thing to do is order water to drink, instead of the more expensive drinks. It’s not the most exciting thing to drink, but it does a body good :) and drinks can add up on the bill.

  12. @Nate: Maybe bring along some of those water-bottle-sized packets of drink mix and stir them into the water? They make them in lemonade, fruit tea and even Hawaiian Punch flavors.
    And yes, I know that some people think that’s incurably cheapskate. So be it. If you weren’t flavoring the water you’d still be ordering it and not a soda or a beer, right?
    Or you can cop out by saying, “I flavor water all the time; I think our city water has a funny taste. At home we filter it.”

  13. I have a great way to save money while eating out, and lose weight at the same time. My wife and I typically split a meal. If you add a salad or soup for each of us, you will be full and satisifed when you are finished. By splitting an entree, you reduce the number of calories consumed and keep money ($10 – $20) in your pocket. It works for us.

  14. Norman

    Almost everywhere we go anymore, they literally bring a PLATTER of food to the table, so we have starting sharing a meal when we go out. We’ve never had any problem with the waiter bringing us an extra plate. Its saves us money and calories.

  15. One thing we have been fortunate enough to be able to do is trade our services for meals. We have a rental business that restaurants use from time to time and I will trade out our services for gift cards. It has allowed us to enjoy “fancy” meals like at Ruth’s Chris. I know this is not an option for everyone, but if you are creative enough, it might work for a meal here or there. Working with local restaurants where you can get to know the owners helps alot.

    Some other things we do that are more pratical is to order just water and to share meals. Also we love Mexican food and after eating baskets of chips and salsa, you really don’t need a lot for the main course.

  16. Good article. We went to Hawaii several years ago. Food can be very expensive and could play a significant role in the cost of such a vacation. We soon learned if we went to eat between 3:oo PM and 4:30 pm we could get the same meal for much less, many times half price. There are a lot of deals out there we just need to learn to take advantage. By the way, our three week vacation, we came home with $1,200.00 left over, most was savings on food. Another added feature, I lost about 12 pounds. I call that a miracle.

  17. I am a college student and I spend lots of money eating out each year, because the cafeteria food SUCKS. Unfortunately, most college students usually don’t have that much money to spend so freely.

    I know that this is definitely true in my case. I am really trying to save the little bit of money that I do have. I started buying groceries that I could stretch for a couple weeks that beats spending $10 every other day eating out. I have heard a lot about restaurant.com I am going check the site out.

  18. Eating is fast food chains is really expensive and it is one of the things that I am trying to avoid because I know that it is not good. I am trying my best not to go to places that can let me be tempted of their offers. I spends many dollars in just one stop and I hate it.. I pray that God give me the control in doing it and also the discipline, it is what I need.

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