Generally speaking, one of the biggest problems people face, when they’re having problems budgeting, is that they eat out too often. We advise our clients to cut way down on their spending by purchasing as much of their food as possible from a grocery store and preparing it at home.
Sometimes, however, you simply have to get out of the house. Under these circumstances, going out to dinner can be very relaxing. Still, you can spend money responsibly, even when going out to your favorite restaurant.
Remember that dining out is a treat, and never a convenience. You pay a small fortune for the service provided to you by a restaurant in terms of preparing the food, serving it and cleaning up after you. When you go out and spend $50, you’ve likely bought about $10 worth of food. The rest of that goes to the intangibles, such as paying people to wait on you.
Second, when you eat out, always pay cash. Never put your meal on a credit card. At Springboard, we advise our clients to use credit cards as sparingly as possible, and to never use them to buy consumables, such as food, theater tickets, dry cleaning, and gas. The reason we advise this is that, when you put a dinner on your credit card, you have nothing but debt to show for it the next day. At least if you had bought a piece of furniture, you would still have the furniture while you were paying off the debt, and that makes a huge difference psychologically.
Accomplishing these two points can make a noticeable difference in your finances right away. Another way to save money is to look for specials and coupons. You probably receive at least one or two mailers a week stuffed with coupons, and quite a few of those coupons are likely for restaurants. Don’t be afraid to use them because you can save between ten and twenty percent on the total bill.
And avoid alcoholic beverages. The mark-up on bar items is pretty steep and can cost an additional $10 to $15 for two people, when compared to the cost of soft drinks. You can also save quite a bit by ordering off the appetizer menu, which works well when you aren’t very hungry. Or, consider eating out for lunch, instead of dinner. After all, the lunch menu is usually about half the cost of the dinner menu.
Granted, many people feel that a night out to dinner is something they’ve earned, so the last thing they want to do is think about how much it costs. And that’s fine. Just remember, if you spend an extra $50 at a restaurant, that’s $50 you can’t put toward your credit card debt or into a savings account.
By all means, enjoy yourself from time to time with an evening out for dinner. Just remember, you can still be budget smart, even in a restaurant.