Dining Out on a Tight Budget: Five Tips to Save Money

dining out on a tight budget tips to save money

Are you on a tight budget but love dining out with your friends and family? Instead of dining out on a regular basis, especially on the spur of the moment, view dining out as something that you only do once in a while; perhaps for a special occasion. Plan out in advance when you will go out for lunch or dinner and choose your locations wisely. Make sure you are going to a restaurant that you truly enjoy instead of just going somewhere to eat because you do not feel like cooking.

Dining out on impulse, as many of us do, will kill your budget in an instant and at the end of the month you will be very upset with yourself for not monitoring your spending more closely. However, by planning things out in advance and allocating some cash from your budget for your dinner or lunch out, you will feel in control of your spending and your budget will balance out at the end of the month.

The trick to being able to go out for lunch or dinner without spending a lot of cash is to find great deals and to pay close attention to what you order.

Frequent Small Diners

Quite often you will find the most delicious food at small local diners, and usually their prices are a third of what you would pay at a big chain restaurant. Local diners enjoy cooking from scratch with very fresh ingredients. And it is always good to support your local business community.

Order Ice Water

When you dine out do you typically order a soda or a mixed drink? My husband and I use to and when the bill came the cost of our drinks alone came to $10 or $20. Ever since we seriously started watching our spending, we save that money by simply ordering ice water. It’s free and it is much better for us.

Kids Eat Free

If you have a house full of kids, dining out can quickly become very expensive. A good way to save some cash is to look for restaurants that have a “kids eat free” menu. Some restaurants may offer this everyday and some may only offer it one night a week. Do some quick searches online or in your local newspaper to see what you come up with.

Share an Entrée

Meal portions tend to be quite large in restaurants these days, so if there are only two of you, consider ordering one meal and sharing it. You can ask for two dinner plates and split up your meal when it arrives. Will doing this make you look cheap? Not at all. It will keep your wallet fat, and help keep your waistline slim.

Skip Desserts

Have you looked at the price of desserts lately? Many restaurants charge $8.00 or more for a slice of cheesecake or an ice cream sundae. For $8.00 you can get a large tub of ice cream at the grocery store and eat it every night after dinner for a week if you wanted too.

But by skipping dessert altogether you save more money and your body will thank you too.

Over to You

Do you dine out frequently or do you prefer to wait for a special occasion? What are your tips for dining out without spending a lot of money?


    • Ryan Biddulph

      Ryan Biddulph 06/04/2014 12:21 a.m. #

      Smart tips Sicorra! I'd add, move to Thailand or travel there. I eat a large plate of vegetarian each day, stacked 1-2 inches high, a BIG old plate, for $2 lol....would cost $10 to $20 at various veggie restaurants in NJ. Thanks!

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 06/04/2014 5:11 p.m. #

        Yes, moving to Thailand...that is quick and easy to do :-)

        I'm sure you do find excellent deals at local restaurants there which makes it so much easier to live on a low budget.

    • Shannon @ The Heavy Purse

      Shannon @ The Heavy Purse 06/04/2014 10:48 a.m. #

      Great tips, Sicorra. We do enjoy eating out but we try to go overboard. Not only because of the cost, but also the cost to our waistlines! We try to keep eating out a treat, so it feels more special. Otherwise it would get old fast.

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 06/04/2014 5:13 p.m. #

        Keeping dining out as a treat is a great idea, esp while your kids are young. That way they do not get into the habit of constantly going out for meals whenever they are hungry and instead they learn how to make their meals at home.

    • Tanya @ Eat Laugh Purr

      Tanya @ Eat Laugh Purr 06/04/2014 2:33 p.m. #

      I have been guilty of eating out for the sake of eating too many times for me to remember. I remember sitting in a restaurant that wasn't very good, asking myself what the heck was doing. If I was going to spending money dining out - at least do it at decent places! I agree Mom and Pop places are the best. I still love to eat out and especially try new places but I try to keep it within my budget.

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 06/04/2014 5:15 p.m. #

        Tanya, we are guilty of having eaten at places we didn't even really enjoy either. We walk out and I usually end up saying something like I could make that at home for a fraction of the price.

    • Uplifting Families

      Uplifting Families 06/04/2014 7:56 p.m. #

      Depending on the restaurant, we will order meals that we can split. This works out well for our family and we all walk away full. We also look for coupons too.

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 06/05/2014 4:02 p.m. #

        Heading to places that offer coupons for dining is a great tip!

    • Naomi @ Rising Net Worth

      Naomi @ Rising Net Worth 06/04/2014 7:58 p.m. #

      I love that you mentioned ordering ice waters. I remember as a kid we were only allowed to get ice water at a restaurant and my parents would as for lemons so that we could make "lemonade" at the table. Those sodas add up in cost, you've got to save where you can! I can totally see myself doing that if I have kids one day!

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 06/05/2014 4:05 p.m. #

        That is so smart that your parents did that with the water and lemons.
        I saw on Undercover Boss that restaurants have a very high markup on their drinks and so they encourage their staff to sell as much as possible. But it ends up costing us, the consumer, so much extra money that is better spent on something else.

    • Natalie @ Financegirl

      Natalie @ Financegirl 06/05/2014 6 p.m. #

      I try to order water when I go out to eat. It's amazing how drinks can really add up on your bill. Great tips!

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 06/11/2014 2:32 p.m. #

        Drinks add up so quickly and water is so much better for us anyways, right :-)

    • Eva

      Eva 06/11/2014 2:02 p.m. #

      My mom and I almost always share an entree - it's a great way to save money and keep our portion sizes reasonable! I love the ice water idea because sodas are so expensive. Thanks!

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 06/11/2014 2:33 p.m. #

        Sharing works out well, doesn't it Eva. And since you are saving money, if you really want to, you can dine out a little more often.

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