A 2014 study found that people spend over 40% of their food budget on eating out, and the rate is increasing. In fact, just recently, the amount spent at restaurants exceeded that spent at grocery stores for the first time in decades. While eating out is a wonderful way to spend time together, experience new cuisine, and participate in the community, it can also be a major drain on the wallet. The truth is that each meal that you eat out costs about twice as much (or often much more) than a meal cooked and eaten at home.
That’s why one of the most important things to look at when you’re writing out your household budget is how much you spend on eating out. It’s a flexible cost, which can save you hundreds of dollars each month when it’s trimmed back. Here are some tips that will help you save on your “eating out” budget.
Better Eating at Home
- Take one day a week to cook and prep in bulk: Cooking for yourself doesn’t have to take extra time if you just plan ahead a little bit. Make a large salad that will last through the week, or perhaps a pasta dish that will make great leftovers. Cut fruits and veggies in bulk so they’re readily available as snacks or additions to the meals you cook.
- Try something new and special and make it an activity: Often, the thing we miss most about eating out is making a special event out of our meals. Well, meals at home can easily be special too. Look up a new recipe and take the time to cook together with your family or significant other.
- If you want to include friends and extended family to the event, have a special dinner at your house. The cost is minimal when you have a potluck.
- Always prep at-work lunches ahead of time: Eating out for lunch during your day job is one of the biggest wastes of money. The meal isn’t special and it’s twice as expensive (at least) as a homemade meal. If you have a hard time preparing work lunches, consider leaving things at the office that will allow you to make your own lunch just by slapping together a sandwich or heating something up in the microwave.
When You Do Eat Out…
- Go during lunch: Lunch prices can be 10-30% cheaper, so if you’re planning to eat somewhere nice, you’ll get exactly the same food for much cheaper if you make it a lunch date instead of a dinner one.
- Split a plate: Restaurants almost always, as a rule, give you more food than you should eat in one sitting. There’s nothing wrong with splitting the meal. Sometimes restaurants will charge you a little extra to put it on two plates instead, but it will still be cheaper than two entrees.
- Occupy yourself with an app or side: Out with friends or coworkers? You don’t want to be the killjoy who decides to ditch everyone just because you can’t afford dinner. Instead, order an appetizer or side, usually much less money than an entree.
Get the special: Most of the time, a restaurant will have a special of the day that’s cheaper than other meals on the menu. Often, this is because there was a surplus of supplies, or because the chef is trying something new.
Set a limit on eating out spending: The best way to limit the amount that you spend on eating out is to set a specific limit. Once you’ve passed that limit, you’re cut off for the rest of the month.