Eating Out While On a Tight Budget

You can generally prepare a homemade meal for the entire family for the price of one entrée at a restaurant. Subsequently, if you’re on a tight budget, then eating out probably isn’t something you should do very often!

Eating out doesn’t have to cost a fortune. There are a number of strategies we can use to make eating out affordable.

This is a somewhat discouraging reality for many of us. My household is on a tight budget, but we really enjoy getting to eat out on occasion. It provides a change of pace from our typical menus and it gives me a break from cooking and washing dishes.

Thankfully, eating out doesn’t have to cost a fortune. There are a number of strategies we can use to make eating out affordable.

How to save money when eating out

  • Order water to drink. If you order a soda, iced tea, or lemonade while eating out, you’ll likely pay around $2 for your drink. If more than one member of the family orders a drink, then your beverage tab will add up very quickly! Consider ordering water instead. Tap water is a free beverage in most restaurants and most of us need to drink more water anyway!
  • Eat out for lunch. Many restaurants feature lunch menus or lunch specials that are less expensive than their dinner counterparts. You can save a bit of money just by eating out earlier in the day.
  • Share entrees. It’s pretty common for restaurants to provide large servings—large enough that many of us can’t finish them in one sitting! If you are visiting one of these restaurants, then plan on splitting an entrée with another person in your family. If you don’t want to share, then plan on eating half of the entrée now and taking half of it home for lunch tomorrow.
  • Forgo kids’ meals. Though kids’ meals are convenient, they’re often pretty expensive given what they contain. Depending on how much your child eats, it may be a better idea to have him or her share an entrée with an adult or to order a side dish as a meal. Likewise, if you have two or more children, it’s often more affordable to purchase an adult entrée or two for them to share than to purchase each child his or her own kids’ meal.
  • Learn when kids eat free. At some restaurants you don’t have to worry about the cost of feeding your kids if you visit on certain nights. This is because these restaurants have special offers where you can get a free kids’ meal with each adult entrée you purchase. Learn which nights these offers stand and plan to eat out on these days.
  • Take advantage of coupons and dinner for two deals. Restaurants often make coupons available for patrons. Look in your local newspaper, check the coupon bundles you receive in the mail, and search daily deal sites for these. Also, consider following your favorite restaurants on social media because they often make exclusive coupons and specials available on these platforms. Many restaurants offer dinner for two deals (e.g., 2 for $20 appetizer and entrée combos). These may or may not be part of their regular menus, so check the websites of your favorite restaurants to see what they have available.
  • Skip the extras. Appetizers and desserts significantly increase the price of a meal. If you pass on these, it’s easier to keep the price of your meal reasonable. If you really want an appetizer, consider going to a restaurant that offers complimentary chips and salsa, rolls, or something similar that you can munch on while waiting for your meal. If you really want dessert, plan on eating something sweet once you return home.
  • Sign up for birthday freebies. Many restaurants offer free food to patrons on their birthdays. If you don’t mind sharing your birthdate and email address with these restaurants, then you can have access to lots of free food on and around your birthday each year!

What strategies did I miss? What do you do to keep costs down when eating out at restaurants?

Shared at the following link party:

Monday’s Musings, Friday Frivolity, Share the Wealth, Small Victories Sunday, and Tuesday Talk.

Comments

  1. Great ideas for eating out on a tight budget, especially going for the lunch menus, skipping the extras and ordering water. Enjoyed the read Shannon. 🙂

    • Shannon says:

      Hi Joelle,
      I’m glad you enjoyed it. It’s nice to find ways to still get out while pinching pennies!

  2. These are great ideas! I never thought about having kids sharing adult entrees; that’s a good one! I second the “drink water” notion. It’s so much cheaper and healthier! Plus, I find that it helps me focus more on the flavors of the food, since I’m not sugaring up my tastebuds with my beverage.

    One thing that I would add to this list, at least what I’ve done before, is ordering from the a la carte menu, especially if you’re only a little hungry and want to eat with your friends. Instead of paying for an entree, I will sometimes get an item off the a la carte menu, perhaps with a small bowl of soup, and it can be cheaper. Also, going off of what you mention under the “share entrees” idea, most of the times that I go out to restaurants, I walk in with the plan to take leftovers home with me. Usually portions are quite large, and instead of stuffing myself just because the portion is big, it makes much more sense, health-wise, to eat the food the next day. Also, if I have a box to take home my leftovers, I usually snag the extra dinner rolls or chips at the table, since the servers will throw them away anyways 🙂

    • Shannon says:

      Great tip about the a la carte menu, AnneMarie. This is great, especially if you’re not exceptionally hungry. I do love having tons of leftovers when we leave restaurants that serve rolls or tortilla chips. I’m always so full of these that I can barely eat any of my entree!

  3. I just wrote about the suggestion to share entrees! My sisters, mom and I went on a trip to the Grand Canyon and when we ate out, 3 of us shared 2 entrees and it was just the right amount. So often the portions are way too large for one person – we left satisfied but not overfull.

    • Shannon says:

      I really like this idea, Angela, because you can get two different entrees and enjoy some variety (in addition to saving money)!

  4. Fab tips! I’m a massive advocate of the table water one – I’m the type of person who can’t eat without drink to wash it down, so it saves me a fortune! x

    Thanks so much for linking up over at Friday Frivolity too 🙂

  5. Great tips! It is definitely a great idea to look for the coupons for free dinners or even the $5 off coupons. Also, see if your employer has a discount with any local restaurants! And water is a good thing. Sodas are now well over $2-$3 at most restaurants. That adds up when you have multiple people at the table.

  6. Great tips… also, be on the lookout for the restaurants specials, and the deals for 2 that some of them have all the time (they are really great), and, if you decide to get a drink, and the waiter asks if you want a refill, ALWAYS ask if it is a free refill… we got a bad experience with that one. Great post, and great to connect with you though the #STWS!

  7. Great ideas! Sometimes we redeem points for restaurant gift cards to help with the cost (like air miles etc). We also like to go places on our birthdays where we get a free meal or desert.

    • Shannon says:

      Hi Christina,
      I like the idea of redeeming points for restaurant gift cards. We usually use our points to purchase Christmas gifts, but if we have any left this year, we may do this!

  8. These are great tips!

    We’ve recently decided to start getting appetizers and drinks when we go out, then come home and eat something else (or before hand).

    We also love ordering take out sushi. It’s cheaper because we don’t have to tip the waitress.

    Thanks for linking up on Share the Wealth Sunday. I love your site! I’m going to feature this on my blog this week.

    • Shannon says:

      Hi Hannah,
      Great point about takeout saving money because you don’t have to tip. We sometimes choose “fast casual” restaurants instead of “sit down” restaurants for this reason.
      Thanks for letting me know I’ll be featured! How exciting!

  9. The other day I met some colleagues at a local popular Mexican restaurant for a going away party. That day I wasn’t particularly hungry, so I asked the waitress if I could order off the kids’ menu. I ordered quesadillas, (which turned out to be the equivalent of an adult half-order) and included rice and beans, for $6.00 – and it turned out to be just the right amount of food for what I wanted that evening. I’ll look into this more often when we go there again.

    • Shannon says:

      This is a great tip, Karen! I’ve seen some kids’ menus that specify an age limit. However, if there isn’t one, then this is a great option!

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