Eating out is one of the most common ways to blow your budget. We all fall victim to this temptation, whether it’s once a month or four times a week. Unfortunately, eating out ain’t cheap. Even a McDonald’s meal can cost you $10, and you can’t enjoy a decent restaurant for less than $50 per person. This explains why the average American family spends about $3,000 a year on eating out. Yikes!
If you want the best of both worlds -– a healthy bank account and a satisfied belly – then start using these five simple hacks to save money when eating out.
Swagbucks is one of the most obvious but underutilized sources of extra pocket money. It literally pays you for surfing the web, so if you use search engines or make online purchases frequently (and who doesn’t!?) you can earn Swagbacks on iOS or Android and exchange them for restaurant gift cards.
100 Swagbucks equal $1.00. Just by signing up for samples and free rewards, taking short surveys, and downloading the Swag button in Chrome, you can earn 5, 10, or 50 Swagbucks at a time. They add up quickly, and you can cash them out in seconds for gift cards to your favorite restaurants (Olive Garden, anyone?).
The bottom line? If you’re crafty with your Swagbucks activity, you can enjoy a Friday night meal for free.
Get Lucky on Groupon
It only takes a simple search on Groupon.com to find incredible deals in your local area. You can also sign up for Groupon’s email list to get customized alerts about deals you’d be interested in using.
Hooters, for example, may offer a free $15 voucher for using their new mobile app to order your meal. Pizza shops frequently offer 30% and 40% off deals as well. The options are endless! Just search your local area to see what you can find.
Ironically, you can get 6% cashback through Swagbucks when you make a purchase on Groupon. Talk about maximizing your rewards!
Restaurants are notorious for overpricing their alcohol. You can cut your bill in half by bringing your own booze along. You can buy an entire bottle of wine for the cost of one glass at dinner.
Even if the place charges you a corkage feel, you’ll still come out way ahead.
Eat with the Early Birds
If your schedule allows, try dining early to take advantage of Early Bird and Happy Hour deals, usually around 4 PM to 6 PM. You might be lucky enough to eat and drink for only a fraction of the price that you would have paid at 8 PM.
Keep it Simple
When all else fails, save money on dinner by declining appetizers and desserts. Those extras are delicious, but they’re also unnecessary. The same goes for drinks. Water is all you really need. Quench your craving for coffee, booze, and cake once you get home instead.
Your entree and the complimentary bread basket are more than enough to help you feel full, and the food will taste even better knowing it won’t cost you a fortune.
The Bottom Line
We all deserve to splurge once in a while, kick our feet back, and enjoy life. But that shouldn’t come at the cost of a balanced budget. With just a little bit of effort, you can enjoy eating out at a fraction of the cost. Apply your savings to pay off debts, build your emergency fund, or plan for a nice vacation.
And one thing is for sure: When you finally pay off that credit card or head off on that dream holiday, you won’t be muttering to yourself, “Jeez, if only I could have ordered that shrimp cocktail at dinner last year!”
Read about micro-investing and how to get started with our complete guide: Micro-Investing: What It Is, Why It’s for You and How to Start.