Yesterday 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?