Going Out On A Budget
Even when you’re living on a tight budget, it’s important to carve out some money that’s just for some fun. Whether it’s $25 a week or $25 a month, a little “going out” money can go a long way.
Budgets and financial hardship put a strain on relationships. Because of this, it’s so important to make some time to get out of the house and let loose a little with your husband.
Back when my family of four lived on $17,000, we barely had enough money to go out once a month. But we pinched every last penny that we could just to be able to get out for a treat. That’s how important it was to us.
A “treat” for us sometimes meant taking the kids and going to Panera. The luxury for us was not having to cook and clean up, and that was enough!
We often waited until we had a gift card to go to a restaurant, but even when we did that, I always made sure to stretch every penny as much as I could. Here’s how we made the most of our monthly “dates.”
Secret Shop and get your dinner paid in full!
Bad frugalista moment, guys. I didn’t know that this was even a thing until a few weeks ago. This is my new favorite thing. Bestmark is an amazing secret shopper company that offers between $50-80 reimbursement at restaurants. They usually require that you get 1 appetizer, 2 entrees, a dessert, and one drink per person. But they’ll fully reimburse you for up to a specific amount.
This is the only way that my husband and I will go out to get dinner from now on! You can’t beat free, right?! I love Bestmark for a bunch of other reasons that you can check out more HERE.
Shop for coupons
If you have place in mind where you’d like to eat, check online for coupons. A lot of restaurants have deals when you sign up for their email list, you get a free dessert or appetizer. Some places offer weekly deals as well once they have you on their email list. I know that Chili’s has a weekly deal that rotates between a free kids’ meal, appetizer, or dessert. There are plenty others that do similar deals!
Groupon and LivingSocial both offer discounts on gift cards to local restaurants, which are fantastic. With both sites, you can get a gift card to a restaurant for half the price. You can even maximize your savings by using Ebates, where you can get 6% or more cashback.
Go out for lunch instead of dinner
A rule of thumb is that lunch is always less expensive than dinner for the same items. Plus, a lot of coupons and deals that you’ll find are only for lunch hours during the week. If you can be flexible with when you go out, it will save you a lot of money! Plus, I hate being in a packed restaurant. Going out during off-peak hours is a great way to make sure that you can get seated and fed fairly quickly.
Go where kids eat free
A lot of times, the only “date” that my husband and I get to have involves us bringing the boys with us. And we can’t just go and get food for the two of us; it’s not fair to the restaurant for us to bring in outside food for them. “Kids eat free” places are my favorite since my kids eat a LOT. Even kids meals are pretty expensive. Some places require that for each free kids meal you buy an entree, but for two adults, that’s usually not usually a problem and it still winds up saving money buying two entrees instead of having to buy 2 additional kids meals.
Here’s a really great list of places where kids eat free! You can always use Google to see if there are any local places near you that offer this type of deal.
Go out for free on your birthday
If you love food, then you’ll want to make sure you check to see if your favorite restaurants give out freebies for your birthday! So many different places give you free dinners, appetizers, desserts and more just for being born! You can’t beat free, right?
Order appetizers instead of entrees
A lot of times, appetizers are big enough for a meal. What my husband and I started to do is ordering a variety of appetizers to share and try instead of each getting a full entree. I usually wind up getting a bowl of soup and a salad (which usually totals around $7 or so at lunch) and my husband and I wind up splitting 2 appetizers. Sometimes it winds up costing the same as the entrees, but the variety is more fun!
Stick with water
Skipping the soda, iced tea, beer, or wine saves SO much money. You could buy an appetizer for the price of 2 sodas. And we won’t even go there with how expensive some beers and other bar drinks can get! But when budgeting is an issue, stick to the free water. Ask for extra lemon if you’d like something to drink with a little more flavor.
Here’s the number one rule about going out on a budget:
If you can’t afford to tip between 15-20% on the original bill (not the coupon-ed or discounted amount), you shouldn’t go out.
Servers work hard and get paid almost nothing. If you can’t pay a fair amount for a tip, you should skip going out and stick to carry-out (where you should still tip) or just make it yourself. If I ever splurge on anything, it’s on the tip when we go out. For average service, I tip 20% (it’s an easy number to figure out the tip: multiply the first number by 2 and always round up). I won’t belabor the point, just NEVER skimp on the tip.
What do you do to save money when you go out?
Drinking water is a huge money saver when eating out! When our kids were younger we always knew which places had kids eat free and which night. It worked out great! You had some great tips for those trying to save money but still eating out. A lot of times you can share an entree and still get full, especially at Mexican restaurants that have free chips and salsa.
karyl henry says
Have you used restaurant.com? You buy say a $10 certificate, spend $20 at the restaurant and get half off your meal. But they always have certificates on sale, so you can get a $10 cert for $4. You can even often find restaurant.com bulk certificates on LivingSocial and Groupon. I got one that gave me $400 of certificates for $40
Cristina Mandeville says
Thank you for sharing this over at #bloggerspotlight. Pinned! Hope to see you again!
Jamie @ Medium Sized Family says
I always say that my favorite meal is one that I don’t have to cook or clean! So I don’t care that much where we eat when we go out. Makes it easier to find deals, too. 🙂
Jamie, isn’t that the truth!
Caroline, you are a girl after my own heart. I’ve worked in the serving, catering, food industry world for more than 30 years. I always love it when the restaurant I work at offer someone a coupon or a deal because I know it can get expensive and everyone deserves a treat once in awhile. But when we would work really hard for someone who had a buy one get one free dinner and drank water and they would leave without tipping, that meant I had to pay the government 8% of the sale in taxes whether I made 8% percent or not. I love to hear you say that although you may not be able to afford much you still tip. This is definitely something that I do, and I hope others do also.
Oh my goodness, Nikki, that was always a pet peeve of mine going out with cheap friends: “I have a coupon here so my meal is free!” Ok, but are you going to tip the server…? No matter how much you paid, ALWAYS tip your server generously! 9 times out of 10, it’s not even their fault if the order is late or wrong, too.
Yes, I do utilize Groupon and Living Social for date nights. It saves us a ton of money and lately we have ran into a few great restaurants we would have never discovered.
I am a server and I cannot thank you enough for your last suggestion. You can see I don’t make much money just by me reading this article. Times are tough, for everyone. But I really appreciate you incorporating the tipping bit!
I work at Olive Garden. Endless all you can eat soup and salad for 7.99 + a water= me running around 50 times as much for a normal table just for them to skip the tip. Very frustrating.
Anyway, Happy saving! God Bless!