I like saving money, but I also like enjoying my life. Sometimes it feels like these two goals are at odds. Know what I mean?
Sometimes when we have a big financial goal, we give up something we enjoy for a while so we can prioritize that goal. For example, when my husband and I were saving for the down payment for our house, we basically had to stop going out for a few months. It sucked, but we knew it was only in the short term.
That’s ok sometimes; you can do anything for a little while.
But that’s not really what I’m after when I talk financial freedom. I’m looking for an enjoyable lifestyle that is sustainable.
Whenever you google how to save money, one of the first pieces of advice you see is to stop eating out. There’s no denying it: eating out is expensive. You can buy a week’s worth of groceries for the price of some dinners out. If your goal is to save absolutely every bit of money you can, then eating out is a no-no.
But I know how it is. Eating out isn’t just about not wanting to cook. For a lot of us, it’s what we do when we get together with friends. It’s what we do on date night with our partner. Even though we know we shouldn’t be spending money on restaurants, it’s part of our social lives. I don’t know about you, but with a full-time job and a side hustle, I don’t have the most hoppin’ social life. I don’t really want to tell my friends that our bi-weekly hangouts have to be free activities only.
So how can we include eating out in our budgets without breaking the bank?
Well, you can have some water, but don’t order an alcoholic drink. The mark up on alcohol in restaurants is incredibly steep. The price of two drinks can often buy you an entrée. And unlike the food, which might be a treat that you couldn’t easily prepare at home, the wine the restaurant serves you is the exact same wine you can buy at the liquor store…for half the price.
Admittedly, this is easier for me than for most people, since I never drink alcohol. My sister tells me that having a glass of wine is part of the dinner experience. If you feel the same way, then limit yourself to one. Your wallet will thank you.
Truth be told, when my husband and I go to a restaurant, it’s usually for lunch on a Saturday or Sunday. Maybe we’re old, but we like going out during the day. And as an added bonus, lunch menus are usually cheaper than dinner menus – sometimes for the exact same dishes. Brunch is also a delightful and inexpensive option. You’re also less likely to feel like ordering a drink at breakfast or lunch. (Well, maybe. I’m not judging).
In my opinion, financial and lifestyle habits stick when they are sustainable. It’s not realistic for most people to say that they’re going to cut restaurants out completely. What is realistic is building eating out into your monthly budget. Only you can decide how much you can afford to allocate. I personally try to budget for eating out three times a month, at about $20 a pop.
I can’t stress how important it is to make a realistic budget. The problem most people run into is not necessarily that they are spending too much on a certain thing (like eating out), it’s that they are spending more than they think they are because they don’t track their spending. When you take an honest inventory of your income and expenses, including incidentals, you will get a feel for how much you can afford to budget for “treat” expenses like eating out. Do not cut corners on your budget!
If you make an honest budget and find that you cannot afford eating out right now, then you still have some low-cost options for dates and nights out with friends. Why not suggest a nice coffee shop either mid-afternoon or after dinner? For about $6, you can enjoy a specialty beverage and good conversation in a cozy atmosphere. It’s not going out for sushi (my fave), but it’s still nice!
Eating out is expensive, but if you follow these tips to keep the cost down, you don’t have to take it off the table completely. Building meals out into your budget means you can enjoy a treat without coming up short at the end of the month.
How much money do you spend on eating out? Do you have any hacks for saving money at restaurants?