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Five Ways to Save Money While Eating Out

By Erik Folgate

For college aged people and twentysomethings, eating out is the bane of our financial existence. I know for a fact that eating out is a weakness to my generation’s pockets. We love to go out and socialize. We’re also just too lazy to cook. My wife and I are very guilty of going out to grab something to eat even when we have plenty of food at home to cook. Eating out can be extremely expensive if you do all of the things that restaurants want you to do. However, I propose that eating out does not have to be as costly as it may seem. Here are five tips to help you save money while eating out:

  1. There are times when it’s OK to avoid tipping. Before I get a bunch of hate mail, hear me out. I am a strong believer in following the tipping etiquette guidelines, and tipping well. However, a popular trend in the past five years has been sit-down restaurant quality food without the sit-down service. Places like Panera Bread Company, Quizno’s, Moe’s, Chipotle Grille, McAllister’s, and many other restaurants allow customers to order their food at a counter, and pick it up farther down the line. The food is usually as quality as chain restaurants, and you save on the tip! That’s a 15%-20% savings!
  2. Share your food. I know, you don’t want to look like a cheapskate. But, hear me out. This probably won’t work as well if you are single, but if you are married or have a significant other, you can get away with sharing at a restaurant. Sometimes, my wife and I get an appetizer and one entree, and split that. It’s not a huge savings, but it’s usually cheaper than buying two entrees that we will most likely not finish. When we are at Subway, we will buy one foot long sandwich with the combo. That means each person gets a 6″ sandwich, a cookie, and you can share the drink! Also, I eat less doing things this way, which helps prolong the inevitable development of man-boobies (excuse my French).
  3. Don’t buy drinks! This counts for soda and for alcohol. Look, if you are out to have a good time and drink, then go to a bar! Typically, drinking at a bar is much cheaper than drinking at a nice restaurant. Also, stick to water instead of soda or tea. First of all, it’s healthier for you, and now they sell sodas for about $2.00 a pop! That adds up if you have a family of five going out to dinner.
  4. When it comes to eating fast food, Wendy’s is your friend. It’s still not the best food for you, but they have many options other than a burger and fries, and they have the wonderful 99 cent menu. You can get a cup of chili, a side salad, and yogurt with granola for $3.00!!! Now that is a deal. Most fast food joints nowadays won’t let you walk out of there without spending 5 or 6 bucks on a meal that makes you feel sick.
  5. Do not stuff yourself. First of all, overfeeding yourself is how you gain weight. Practice self control and stop eating when you are full. Then, get the food in a doggy bag and you will have lunch for tomorrow! Extending your $15 dollar restaurant into two separate meals is a great way to save money.

I hope these tips help you, and remember to eat out in moderation. There are times to go out and have fun with your friends, and there are other times when you have plenty of food at home to eat! Also, keep in mind that cooking at home is usually always more healthy for you than eating out. Here are some more general tips for eating healthy on a budget, including some additional tips for staying healthy while eating out. Follow all this advice and you will not only save money, but you will save a few pounds on your body.

Do you have any other great tips to add to the discussion that I might have left out?

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

Erik Folgate
Erik and his wife, Lindzee, live in Orlando, Florida with a baby boy on the way. Erik works as an account manager for a marketing company, and considers counseling friends, family and the readers of Money Crashers his personal ministry to others. Erik became passionate about personal finance and helping others make wise financial decisions after racking up over $20k in credit card and student loan debt within the first two years of college.

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  • http://www.moneydummy.net MoneyDummy

    I am guilty as charged on this one (though actually, we’ve been doing much better lately). Anyway, I especially liked your Wendy’s tip. Ironically, although I just ate an enchilada dinner, your post now has me salivating for the Wendy’s meal you just described.

  • Elizabeth I

    The Entertainment Guide has great 2 for 1 specials. Restaurant.com enables you to purchase gift certificates to local restaurants that reduce the costs. Also many cities have “restaurant week” which usually includes a three course meal at a super cheap price.

  • http://madsaver.com Mac

    Here’s an oddball tip…buy more food than you need. If there are different portion sizes (like pizzas), get the larger of the choices. Sure, it’ll cost a few bucks more, but then you have leftovers! It’s like a free meal the next day.

    • Erik Folgate

      Yeah, great tip, Mac. We often do that. We often order more than we know we’ll eat, because it’ll make a great lunch or dinner the next day, too.

  • Maria del Fabro

    Plan to have coffee and dessert at home, or if you must order dessert always share. You have most likely eaten your share of calories for the day so try and remember that. Decide if you really must have coffee. Some expensive restaurants charge $4.50 for a cup of regular coffee, and more for espresso and cappuccino.

    • Erik Folgate

      Another great tip. We hardly ever eat dessert at the place we ate. If we want dessert, we go and split frozen yogurt, which is $3 or $4, instead of $5 or $6, plus more tip.

    • Emoroads

      Im pretty good with Money. Management

  • Nichole

    I do mystery shopping as a way to eat out and save money. I get a nice meal with a friend and for simply writing a report, I get my money back!!

    • Emoroads

      I need money fastt and a large amount. Can u help me out?

  • robespierre

    I absolutely love your tips. My husband and I have two children and the four of us go out to eat two or three times per month. When we do, half of the time it is a place like Chipolte or McAllisters where tipping is unnecessary. However, anytime we eat out, we always have water to drink and do not order dessert.

    My husband orders an entree, I order an entree, my daughter orders soup and my youngest the kid’s meal. Restaurants serve food on platters and usually large portions and when the food comes we ask the waiter for an extra plate and we eat all of our food buffet style. We share all the food between the four of us, have enough to eat without stuffing ourselves.

    Our bill for the four of us is never over 30.00

  • http://www.docstoc.com/docs/110415139/Among-Numerous-Foreign-Currency-Options-You-Will-Find-Options-Known-As-Exotic-Options Forex Analyst

    Great advice! We love eating out and saving money. Depending on the place you go, even the appetizers are enough to split. It’s awesome walking out of a restaurant for $12-15 eating for two. If you learn to not overeat and if you take advantage of oversized portions, splitting a meal is very doable!

  • http://www.docstoc.com/docs/110415139/Among-Numerous-Foreign-Currency-Options-You-Will-Find-Options-Known-As-Exotic-Options Forex Analyst

    Great advice! We love eating out and saving money. Depending on the place you go, even the appetizers are enough to split. It’s awesome walking out of a restaurant for $12-15 eating for two. If you learn to not overeat and if you take advantage of oversized portions, splitting a meal is very doable!

  • Pingback: Guide to Tipping Etiquette – Is 20% the New Standard? | Bitehunter's Blog

  • http://jason-cooke.webnode.com/ Jacob Sandys

    Many restaurants offer free meals to veterans on Veteran’s Day (like T.G.I.Friday’s). This is a great way to say thanks to veterans and earns them repeat business. So think about special events that may earn you a free or reduced cost meal.

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