Thursday, July 14, 2011

Eating Out Without Breaking the Bank

"You eat out a lot, doesn't that cost a lot?"

A friend of mine asked me that the other day. I admit, I do have a tendency to eat out a lot mainly when I'm working and going to classes, but that doesn't mean my whole paycheck goes to restaurants.

Now, of course, most people would say "You should just bring dinner/lunch with you, it'll save the most money". Is it true? Of course it is. I'm just not always the best at following it. Now there are days (like this week) where I have class from 8:30am-3:30pm and in those cases, I usually bring some food from home to munch on throughout the day.

But the gist of it is; I know myself very well and if I know that I'm going from work straight to class in the evening, I would much rather just pick up something and take it to school with me. It's fast, easy, and believe it or not, not that expensive. I have learned over the past couple years how to eat out (for me about 2-3 times a week on average) without draining my bank account.

And of course for those of us that are weight conscious, most places do have healthier options available now, too. I am someone who tries to be as health conscious as I can and I still eat out, but I've also still lost about 8 pounds in the past month and a half. So eating out doesn't necessarily have to mean it's not healthy either.

Tip # 1 Plan for it.

I personally take $20 cash out of my checking account every week for eating out. For some people that might be too much and that's fine. You do what would work for you. Honestly, I rarely use the entire amount and if I don't then the money goes to something else. For instance this week, I used $5 for lunch on Tuesday (during a 7 hour class like I mentioned above) and $4 last night for dinner after class on the way home. That's only $9 out of the $20, and in fact I can probably just save the other $11 for next weeks outings.

There is also gift cards. You can use a site like where you can get gift cards to your favorite restaurants inexpensively. You can also get gift cards from survey sites (see my link above for some survey company ideas). I loooooove Subway, anyone that knows me well is very aware of this. I am also a member of ZoomPanel surveys. What do the two have to do with each other? Well I can use the ZoomPanel points I use from Surveys towards gift cards, and I usually get a $10 Subway gift card (their gift cards unfortunately are down until August 1st, for the record) with 1,000 points. There are other gift card options, but I know I'll get the most beneficial use out of Subway, so I always redeem for those as soon as I hit 1,000 points. I haven't paid for Subway in a long time, and this makes me happy.

Tip # 2 Subscribe to emails

Find your favorite and most frequented restaurants online. There is probably somewhere on their website where you can sign up for their emails. Take a couple minutes and put in your email address (I recommend a deals-only email address so that your personal email isn't bombarded) to all your restaurants. Sometimes they will send you a special offer immediately just for signing up for their email list.

Let's use Arby's as an example (mainly just because that's where I stopped for dinner last night). Sign up for Arby's Extras, which is their email subscription list, and you will be sent a coupon for a free roast beef sandwich within 24 hours, but it's usually almost immediately. That right there is a free lunch, or almost free if you buy a drink with it.

Plus, being on their email list, not only will you get occasional coupons in your email but you'll also find out about upcoming specials that they might be having. You'll also find out about new products they might be promoting. So it's a win all the way around!

Tip # 3 Use online coupons

A lot of restaurants, especially chains and quick-service ones, have coupons on their website under a "Special Offers" tab or you can find them online by an internet search (That is if you couldn't find them on my blog, of course!). This is good if you don't really want to subscribe to their emails, or you just plan on going once, or something like that.

Tip #4 Check Newspapers

There have been a lot of restaurant coupons in the paper lately. There have always been a few here and there, but lately they seem to be full of restaurant coupons. Dunkin Donuts is one I see often. Recently they've had coupons for free small Frozen Hot Chocolate drinks (which I took full advantage of) and a Free Bagel Sandwich with the purchase of a drink. Most locations will accept these coupons and stores usually have a sign up if they don't. There are also more sit-down type restaurants, like Olive Garden that have coupons in the newspapers from time to time as well.

Tip #5 Check out the value menu

A lot of restaurants these days have some sort of a value menu so take advantage of it. And before you all start giving me that look, there are some healthier options on a lot of value menus. The Wendy's in my area have $1 side salads and things like that, so you don't have to break your pant size either. You can usually get a full meal from the value menus for just a couple dollars. Like at Wendy's there is a value menu meal I usually get that costs me about $3.50 a sandwich, medium fries and medium drink. Not bad at all.

These are mainly what I use when I go out to eat. If anyone has any other ideas feel free to leave them in the comments or email me.

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