How To Eat Cheaply While Living In The City

how to eat out cheaply in the cityYesterday I had a conversation with a friend who was trying to figure out why she couldn’t save money. she felt so broke even though she make a decent amount of money for our city.

Turns out, she was eating her paycheck.

When she looked at her month expenses, she was spending almost $700 on food. That included weekday lunches every day, some weekday breakfasts, some weeknights out, and weekend lunches and dinners. Oh yes, she eats out quite a bit!

As a foodie myself, I love going out to eat. I also have a decent food budget so I can eat healthy foods. I’m a great chef but I love the experience of eating out at a restaurant. However, I also love my budget and retirement savings so I’ve found ways to keep my food budget under control.

It’s a constant battle between my desire to eat out all the time and my desire to save money, but the following tips are how I make it work.

Tips for eating cheaply in the city!

Go to happy hour. Just changing up the time you go to eat and drink can make a huge difference. I go to happy hours often so my drinks and food are half the cost of what it would be a couple hours later. Eating earlier can save you a bundle at the cheaper rates.

Look for coupons. Visit the restaurant website and see if they have coupons available or if there is a coupon elsewhere. Check newspapers, local magazines, and even on social media. I’ve found coupons for restaurants in all these places. Saving $5 here and 20% there can really help keep eating out less expensive.

Use Groupon. While Groupon can lead to overspending, it can also be a source of great deals. Restaurants often run a Groupon to drum up business so take advantage of the ones you’ll actually use and enjoy.

Ask for gift cards. If you’re in a family or friend group that does gifts, ask for restaurant gift cards! It’s an easy present for the gift-giver and can be used for multiple meals eating out depending on the restaurant. It will cut down on your food expenses but let you enjoy restaurants more.

Save your leftovers. It is easy to get caught up in eating a meal so you finish it all in one sitting. But restaurant portions often are large enough for two servings (with the calories to match), so you can save money by boxing up half your meal to take home for lunch the next day.

Get a coupon book. You know those coupon books sold by sports teams and schools and the like? In our area they often have a ton of restaurant coupons that can save you money on your meals. I’ve used them every year for years now for free and cheap meals. It’s definitely a great way to snag deals.

Order appetizers. If you want to save money then order an appetizer. You will usually get enough food for one and it’s several dollars cheaper. Ordering an appetizer for a meal works well for many of the girls in my friend circle.

Skip the extras. This is my least favorite way to save money when eating out, but you can skip things like alcohol and dessert. Save your money for the main course and forgo the extra items before and after it. (I for one, enjoy an adult beverage and save my money in other ways!)

Focus on good food, not big costs. When people pick a restaurant to visit, steer the conversation to good but cheap places to eat. There is often really good food at reasonable prices at non-fancy restaurants. Try to frequent these places more often if you want to eat out more often.

Skip convenience stores. It’s really tempting to visit convenience stores when you work in a downtown area without grocery stores nearby. However, skip these if at all possible! Go to the grocery store beforehand, stock up on cheap snacks, and get creative rather than paying way too much for food at a convenience store. I order some items I eat a lot at work off Amazon because even this is cheaper than the convenience stores.

Host rotating dinners with friends. Part of why going out is awesome is because you are sharing meals with friends. You can save money on this by hosting dinner at your home and then rotating dinner parties with a group of friends. You can all eat relatively cheaply

Those are a few of the ways I’ve been keeping my food budget down recently while still eating out quite a bit!

How do you keep your food costs down while living in a city and still having a social life that includes food?

Bits & Pieces

Online income: Despite really being a slacker with blogging, I’m still bringing in over $500 a month with blogging. This online income is really helping my gigs for goals setup. The great thing about blogging is that each post is creating a small part of a bigger asset that will work for you over time. You can take some time off or spend time on other projects and your blog keeps working for you to some extent. Cool, right? If you don’t have a blog yet, what are you waiting for?

Roth IRA: Since I’ve been making money from jobs, businesses, blogging, and more, I’ve been funneling extra money into my Roth IRA. Saving money in my retirement account is a luxury that gets cut immediately when I’m unemployed, so I’m now making up for lost time. It actually feels fun to save money in there because I love looking at the rising balances. I think if I contribute my max allowed this year I’ll be able to hit my retirement savings goal.


Couple savings: My boyfriend has jumped onto the savings train with me. I previously was more of the saver in our relationship but he is doing great things with his income. He recently got a raise and put all that extra money towards savings. I’m pretty excited that he is saving $1,000+ a month and sometimes even per paycheck. That’s a huge amount and will really benefit us when we go to buy a house together next year.

Budgeting: I’ve been slashing my budget a lot lately! I’ve changed to a prepaid phone model that took my bill from $90+ to just $45 each month. I’ve also switched car insurance companies, dropping my monthly bill from $106 per month to just $75 per month. All these little savings are adding up and making it a lot easier to create and stick to my budget for the month. I’m also trying to save money monthly by cooking more at home but that has been the one budget struggle I keep losing.


Job stability: I’ve mentioned a job several times on the blog because I’ve been working one for the last few months. However, the stability and long term prospects for this particular job are very low. It’s a small business startup type of a deal and the money that is used to pay employees is drying up. I don’t know why I continually end up working for companies that can’t make payroll but it seems to be my professional curse. The money hasn’t disappeared yet but it feels inevitable so it’s time to start looking for my next gig. Anyone hiring?

Gigs for Goals

At this point in my life I have a lot of savings goals.

In fact it feels like I have more savings goals than I have money to save. At any given moment I’m trying to save for multiple things:

  • Emergency Fund
  • House Downpayment Savings
  • Eventual Wedding Savings
  • Retirement Savings
  • Travel/Specific Trips Savings

That’s a lot of different savings goals! That’s in addition to trying to save up for every day life things like when my car needs repairs or when my dog has to go to the vet. There are definitely more goals to save for than money to save on some days.

I’ve started instituted the idea of using specific gigs to earn the money for these savings goals. I think the Gigs for Goals idea came from J. Money in his post about this mindset.  A little quote from that post:

The idea that you could knock off each of your expenses by tying it to a certain gig or revenue stream is extremely fascinating! In theory you’d only need a set number of jobs to break even until you wanted to bring on something new, or perhaps start saving for something specific (at which point you’d have to add in a new hustle to account for it).

You could have a whole line-by-line list that kinda looks like this:

gigs for goals

Basically it’s using a specific job or side gig to pay for one specific goal or thing.

In my case I’m trying to make sure each savings goal gets paid for by one of my multiple income streams.

  • Blogging income generated from this blog is going toward my retirement savings. I always felt like I couldn’t save much in my Roth IRA every year after paying everything else from my day jobs. Now I’m using all of my blog earnings to max it out instead. It feels great to send all of my blogging income toward a big goal like this instead of letting it flitter away.
  • Dog sitting income is all getting put towards my house down payment fund. Sure it’s a small amount but over time those small amounts are really adding up! I had no idea when I started dog sitting I would make thousands of dollars in a year. By saving all those dollars from gigs in one place I’m making steady progress toward the bigger goal of buying a house.
  • Small side business income is going to pay for different trips I’m already planning next year. Travel is very important to me so it’s something that will always be in my budget. But now I have a business that covers those trips and makes them feel almost guilt free.

The rest of my goals are supplied by my main day job income for now, but obviously that might change in the future!

I’m loving the gigs for goals concept. It feels really good to know things are being taken care of and not slipping through the cracks.

It also feels great to pool the money from all these separate smaller income sources so they make a difference toward my goals! For instance, it never feels like I make enough money blogging when I compare my blog to others. But then I realize I make enough to max out my Roth IRA and do a few other things and that feels great! It definitely feels bigger when you look at the results pooled together rather than monthly blog income.

If you have some extra income side gigs but haven’t tried a similar gigs for goals concept, give it a go! It’s a pretty awesome way to organize yourself with multiple income streams and it also feels great to accomplish goals this way!

What I Paid, Saved, and Bought on Pay Day

It’s been several months since I did a What I Paid, Saved, and Bought on Pay Day post so today on this glorious payday, I’m bringing it back! Pay day is usually my most active spending day of the month so it’s fun to share what I’m doing with my money on this super active money days.

What I Paid On Pay Day

  • Rent. First paycheck of the month means it’s rent time! I’m lucky that my new rent is not even a quarter of my monthly income so it doesn’t hurt as much to pay it as it did when it was over 50% of my monthly income.
  • Health insurance. I have health insurance through the government marketplace and I pay full price for it. So $150 for bare minimum coverage each month. At least I won’t go bankrupt if I get hurt, right?
  • Electric Bill – I paid $85 for my electric bill. It was due today so it’s lucky that pay day coincided with this due date.

What I Saved On Pay Day

  • Roth IRA. I put $100 toward my Roth IRA today. I plan to put away at least $100 each pay check and last month I put in an extra $100.
  • Emergency fund. I moved $250 over to my emergency fund savings account from checking. This account is still not where it needs to be at but I’m happy that it’s at least big enough to cover rent and utilities and such for a few months.

What I Bought On Pay Day

  • Lunch. Though I haven’t done it yet, I’m planning to go out to eat for lunch today. I usually always bring my lunch if it’s not a company paid for lunch, but today felt like a good time to treat myself. Buying lunch out if definitely a luxury.
  • Coffee. I’ve got a Starbucks habit and I’m not planning to apologize for it or give it up. Coffee makes me happy and brightens my day and mood so it’s well worth the expense each month. The first paycheck of the month means it’s Starbucks card top up time!
  • Groceries. It’s grocery day! It’s a good thing too because my pantry was getting pretty bare in there. I’m planning to stock up on some frozen veggies and staples that won’t go bad quickly. It’s also the shopping trip where I get fresh fruit and vegetables for this week. I’ll be cooking dinner at home tonight and it will be so nice to have everything I need!

So that’s what I’ve paid, saved, and bought today! It’s a pretty average first of the month payday. The second check of the month is much more fun for me because I get to save more and spend more on fun stuff. It’s definitely a lot more fun when I don’t have to pay rent or bigger insurance bills!