Friday, September 6, 2013


Giordano's Stuffed Pizza - $35!
Eating out, grabbing fast food and ordering in can "eat up" your funds more quickly than most other categories in your budget.  Why is this?  Fewer of us have time to cook, we are rushing from one activity to the next, and eating out is the most popular, social event in our society. We don't plan for the unexpected and are reluctant to set limits on ourselves.  Some of our typical months look like this:

  • spontaneous dinner with friends 
  • Birthday celebrations or special occasions 
  • Lunch with co-workers 
  • Pizza after a long day 
  • Fast Food or Coffee on the Go 
  • Planning Meetings over a Meal 
  • Networking Lunch with a Colleague
  • Picking up a dessert to bring to an event
and on and on it goes.
Suddenly you've spent $400-500 on restaurants or extra food costs in 1 month and you can't remember how it happened or what you have to show for it.
High Tea at the Holidays when I went with my Mom and Grandmother

So how can you save money but still enjoy eating out?  The trick to saving money is: planning ahead, being intentional, setting limits on yourself, and saying no to others.   At the start of the month I tried to plan ahead:
  • Any birthdays or special occasions this month?
  • Any busy weeknights we can't eat dinner at home?
  • Any work luncheons?
  • Decide how many times I'm going to go out to eat with friends and how much I'll spend each time. 
  • Let my friends know in advance that I am on a budget and won't be able to split a bottle of wine or appetizers, and suggest budget friendly places to eat 
  • If something unexpectedly comes up, I either decide how I can lower the cost of spending time wth my friend (do something together which doesn't cost money, or meet for coffee, or go to a dinner using a coupon).  If need be, I may decline and ask if we can reschedule for the following month.


It's easier to stick within your budget if you have friends in the same boat. But being on a tight budget and hanging around with friends who spend money without a second thought can be tiresome, frustrating and depressing.  Instead of feeling encouraged that you're sticking to your budget, you'll feel like you're missing out on freedom to indulge.  You may need to keep at a distance those friends who will tempt you to spend money.  Intentionally make plans to get together with people who will "root you on" and have similar financial goals.

The other week one of my "budget-friendly" friends (she is also following Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University principles) suggested we meet at a restaurant where we could use a coupon (she got me interested in couponing years ago).  She suggested we eat at Uncle Julio's for dinner and she told me to sign up for their e-club to get the coupon for $10 off.  Our final bill was $22.00.  Eating dinner out for $11 means I can eat out more frequently too!
Myself and my long-time friend Val, standing in front of a pricey restaurant we did NOT eat at! : )


Pre-decide what you'll order at a restaurant.
If you know you are going to a restaurant with friends and you only have $25 to spend, go to that restaurant's website and decide what you can afford to order.  Some people think this takes the fun and spontaneity out of eating out, but think about the satisfaction you'll feel when you stick within your budget.

Be prepared for curve balls.
Decide what will you do BEFOREHAND if:
  • you are asked to go out to a restaurant but your restaurant budget is already spent;
  • the group you're with wants to split a few appetizers but you can only afford a main course;
  • your table wants to split an expensive bottle(s) of wine and you wanted to order by the glass;
  • everyone at your table is ordering 3 courses and you can only afford one
  • everyone wants to split the bill evenly although you spent far less than others
  • and other curve balls, like cash only and no credit card usage!


There are plenty of restaurants trying to gain customers on a weeknight which offer a fixed price (prix fixe) menu.  Go to Yelp and search by typing in "prix fixe menu" and your City and State.
In 2008, we discovered what would become our favorite restaurant in Chicago by trying out their prix fixe Tuesday night deal. La Sardine, an authentic French restaurant, offers a full 3 course meal - anything on their regular menu (not a limited menu) for $27.50 on Tuesday nights.  For the price of an entree, you get 3 courses instead! Try it out for yourself or do your research and you'll discover multiple other options.


It's obviously a better value to pay $7 for an entire bottle rather than $7 for a glass of wine.  So pick a BYOB restaurant and bring your own inexpensive, delicious wine.  Check the website for a corkage fee.


Lots of cities have a "restaurant week" where many restaurants will offer special menus for lower prices all week.  Check into it.  In Chicago, our restaurant week is typically in February.  In 2014, restaurant week in Chicago is from January 24-February 6th.  This is a great time to celebrate Valentine's day on a budget by agreeing to celebrate BEFORE the 14th and save a bunch of cash.


Most restaurants will have a special menu on holidays which come with premium prices. Why fight for a table on a busy day and then end up paying more for it?  Get your loved ones to agree to celebrate before or after the actual Holiday (Mother's Day, Father's Day, New Year's Eve, Valentine's Day, etc.).  You'll feel less rushed and enjoy your meal, and walk away with more money in your pocketbook.


One of my girlfriends is very creative and has outstanding culinary skills.  Whenever they invite us to their home, she prepares a gourmet meal. But it's the special touches she adds which make us feel like we're in a high end restaurant.  She writes our names in chocolate on the dessert plates!  Place chocolate syrup in a squeeze bottle and warm in a pot of warm water or in the microwave. Then write your name or message or design on the plates.  It makes you feel like you're in a fine dining restaurant!


We don't have kids, but I know it can be expensive for our friends and family who have kids to eat out together.  My friend Valerie suggests finding a restaurant where kids eat free but also getting a coupon for that restaurant as well.  For example, she and her husband and kids will go to Chili's and use a coupon for a free appetizer. She'll have the appetizer as her meal, and her husband will order an entree, and the kids can eat free.  So their total bill is his entree and their drinks. Great deal!
For a list of places where kids can eat free, click here:

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