Extra expenses like dining out, a gym membership, and subscriptions are often the first to go when you’re on a budget or trying to pay off debt.
But, if you enjoy dining out, stopping it completely can be a tough call to make. Personally, I enjoy the social aspect that come with dining out and I love trying new foods.
When I set a goal to pay off debt and save for my first house, my husband and I didn’t necessarily give up dining out. We actually did it somewhat regularly – at least once a week.
At the end of the day, we still hit out goals. Yes, dining out will cost money, but here are some budget-friendly ways to dine out regularly and still keep your finances intact.
1. Know When the Specials Are
If you’re going to spend money at restaurants, it only make sense that you do a little research to find out when the deals and specials are offered.
Your favorite restaurant may have happy hour each weekday where half-off appetizers are served. Or, you can score a great 2 for $20 deal for date night.
I’m obsessed with sushi but I found out one of my favorite places offers 50% off chef specialty rolls on Sunday. I wouldn’t be able to eat there often if I didn’t take advantage of these deals.
2. Use Coupons
Another one of my favorite budget-friendly ways to dine out is to take advantage of coupons. Restaurants offer them all the time. Sometimes you can find them online while other times you can simply ask.
Keep a lookout for coupons that get mailed to your home too along with ones that are attached to your takeout receipts. Make note of the ones you want to use before they expire.
I recently took my sister out for sushi for her birthday, and I used a coupon to get 50% off everything. When we mentioned it was her birthday we also got free cake so it was definitely a win-win.
Don’t make the mistake of feeling like coupons are tacky. They are a legitimate way to save money when you dine out.
3. Join a Loyalty Rewards Program
Joining rewards programs can help you save big when you dine out. It’s free to sign up and you will likely receive offers and coupons via email as well. I’ve joined a few programs for restaurants I enjoy and they usually provide me with a free appetizer or half-off an entree to start. One restaurant even gave me a 20% discount on my entire check even though it was a limited time offer.
Don’t feel pressured to dine out excessively in order to earn rewards. Just be strategic and take advantage of whatever you do earn over time.
4. Kids Eat Free
If you have kids, be sure to make use of kids eat free deals at restaurants. Many places have them on select weeknights and even weekends.
Usually, you have to buy an adult entree to get the deal, but it’s still worth it because you get a free kids meal.
5. Go Out For Dessert
Sometimes my family and I just like to go out for dessert. Grabbing some ice cream is much cheaper than dining out and having a 3-course meal.
Still, it allows us to get out of the house and indulge a little bit. One of the ice cream shops we like to visit has board games available for customers to play along with a free weekly magic show for kids.
6. Split a Meal or Go For Lunch
Not really hungry or does the restaurant you’re visiting serve huge portions? Consider splitting a meal to spend less while dining out.
My husband and I do this all the time when we both want to eat the same thing but know that the restaurant portions are huge. Be careful though because restaurants in some areas may charge you extra.
When I visited New York City, I was shocked to see that most places charged a ridiculous fee to anyone who wanted to split a meal.
Lunch specials are another popular budget-friendly way to dine out regularly. Restaurants that tend to offer pricey dinner may charge $5 – $7 for a filling lunch. In that case, you can eat dinner at home and take advantage of a lunch special once or twice per week.
Saving in Other Areas of Your Budget
Realize that every spending choice is a tradeoff. If you want to still dine out but stick to your budget and meet your financial goals, consider saving in other areas.
We don’t dine out daily by any means. However, we still budget for the days that we do and we focus on saving in other spending categories.
If you’re still looking to save money in your budget, here are some things you can do:
- Lower your phone bill
- Rent movies instead of going to the theater often
- Ditch cable for Netflix or Hulu
- Drive an older, paid-off car
- Shop around for better auto insurance rates
- DIY your landscaping and gardening
- Find free events and entertainment
- Buy used stuff and shop the clearance racks
- Cut and style your own hair
- Get rid of subscriptions
There you have it – 6 budget-friendly ways to dine out regularly plus a ton of other ways to cut your expenses so you can still make progress.
I hope these strategies help you just as much as they’ve helped me. Feel free to combine them as well to maximize savings. However, I’d encourage you to still set a monthly budget for dining out and still track your spending in this area.