One of the first things you learn when going on a budget, is to quit going out to eat. While that is great advice, it is not always practical for families that do not have the time to make dinner every night and who may not always have time on the weekends to prepare food ahead of time.
Let’s face it, there are going to be times when going out to eat makes the most sense, and it does not have to destroy your budget. Believe it or not there are ways to eat out that can be cheaper than eating at home when the need is there. And while you won’t get away with doing that every night, nor should you try because it would not be good your family’s health, you can enjoy away from the kitchen without guilt.
1) Clip those Coupons….. SELECTIVELY – Every week or two we get a pile of coupons in the mail, and invariably there are coupons for local restaurants. Most common are sandwich shops, burger joints, and pizza places but every now and then you will also find coupons for some of the nicer places as well.
The trick here is to look through the coupons and clip the ones that are actually good deals and that will help you to feed your size family. Look for Buy one get one free coupons these are usually the best deals. We get buy one get one free sub sandwiches, buy the LARGE sandwiches and split them up for the entire family. We can get 3 meals this way. BOGO meals are getting more and more common and you can also get BOGO Sandwiches.
Check the pizza coupons too, these are often some of the best, and let you feed your family for a very reasonable cost.
We frequently feed ourselves and one hungry teen for $8 to $12 depending on where we go.
2) Contact the restaurants via Email – Most people do not know this, but if you contact restaurants directly they will often send you coupons for free meals or buy one get one free. You can also go to their websites and see if they have any coupons there, and search for coupons at other sites. Mobile coupons are becoming more and more popular because they are harder to forge. Look to see if your favorite restaurants have an app, and if that app gives them access to coupons.
3) Join E Clubs – More restaurants are starting to turn to apps and eclubs to draw in more customers. These clubs have perks such as members only specials, one time we were able get $5 large subs from one sub shop that were big enough to feed two people comfortably. These clubs also often give out a frequent shoppers perk, the same sub shop gives us $5 off after we buy 5 sandwiches. There are a number of pizza places that also offer frequent buyers discounts.
4) Sign up for Bday perks – The list of restaurants that offer Bday perks is very long, and yet few people take advantage of them. From coupons in the mail to bogo, and free meals, you should be taking advantage of these deals.
5) Share Meals – How often do you go into a restaurant and order a meal only to find out that it is bigger than you can eat? Make a mental note of that and the next time you need a fast meal, order that same meal for two. We have several Mexican restaurants that serve huge burritos that are big enough for two or three people. They are typically around $10 so we order one of those, 2 or 3 plates and we all walk out full. This is a great strategy for kids as well. If you can get an adult meal for less than the cost of 2 or 3 kids meals, order the adult meal and a couple of extra plates.
6) Use more than One coupon – If the coupon does not say one coupon per family you can actually use that to your advantage. Send in two people to buy the Bogo meals and now you have enough to feed 4. It is perfectly OK to do this, as long as the coupon does not specifically state one coupon per family. I have actually asked about this before and they do not care as long as you used two different sales and 2 different debit cards if you are not paying cash. If you are concerned ask the restaurant first.
7) Ask Friends, Family, and Neighbors for Coupons – If you find some really good coupons ask around, see if anyone has coupons they are not going to use.
8) Forgo Restaurant Extras – Skip the soda, cookies, and chips in the restaurant unless they specifically come as part of the deal, these are very expensive and one of the ways that these restaurants upsell. Stick with the basics, and drink water, you will be surprised at how much money that will save.
9) Supplement the Meal with something simple – If you or your family must have extras, take the meals to go, stop by the local store and buy a bag of chips or some bread rolls or bread sticks. It is much cheaper at the grocery store, and you usually end up with extras.
Above all else do not forget that not all coupons are deals, take the time to do the math so you know exactly what you are paying per meal, what you are getting, and if there is enough food. Only keep those coupons that are a good deal. It is quite possible to eat out on the cheap if you take advantage of the resources available to you.