Eating Out While Staying On Budget
Eating out while staying on budget can be hard to do every month. I’ve been on a budget for some time now and I’ve done a good job limiting myself from eating out. This has translated into saving me hundreds of dollars a month just from food costs.
But there are times when I don’t feel like cooking or don’t want to eat leftovers. Fortunately, I’ve set up an “Eating Out” budget, that allows me to splurge on a juicy Fatburger or some authentic Pad Thai noodles, without breaking the budget.
Eating out is inevitable. There will be situations when you just don’t have the time to cook or get caught unprepared with no food at home to prepare a meal.
In these instances, eating out for lunch or dinner doesn’t have to break the budget.
Use Yelp Before Eating Out
Yelp is a great resource to find good, cheap food. You don’t always have to eat fast food to get the cheapest meal.
Fortunately, Yelp makes it very easy to determine which restaurants offer the best tasting, inexpensive food in your area. Just look for the $ icons located below the reviews.
$$$$ means it’s super expensive, while only a single $ means it’s a good bet your bill won’t hurt you when you’re done.
Cheap doesn’t always mean low quality. It could be a niche restaurant, like Mediterranean food or a local cafe that just happens to serve good food cheaply.
Avoid Gourmet Restaurants
I love eating hamburgers. I like to consider myself somewhat of a burger connoisseur. So from time to time, I like trying new places that serve unique and creative burgers, which may happen to be found in gourmet restaurants.
Gourmet restaurants are great…if you don’t mind spending extra. But remember, we’re on a budget here. If you eat at a place that serves grass-fed beef with locally grown organic vegetables, know that you’re going to pay a premium for it.
Try The Grocery Store Deli
When Leny had to work out of town for a few days, I was prepared to cook for myself while she was away. When I went to our local grocery store to get food for me to cook for the week, I meandered my way over to the deli section and found a display full of delicious looking food. We’re talking ribs, chicken, beef! Complete side dishes ready to eat, still hot when I get home.
I quickly abandoned my grocery list and grabbed the next ticket stub as I eagerly awaited to be called. When my number came up, I quickly ordered 8 pieces of fried chicken and a side of mash potatoes. Total order $10.35. That order lasted me 4 days worth of food dinner. It was enough to last me the week by the time Leny returned from her trip.
If you’ve never ordered from the grocery deli, don’t underestimate the selection and quality of their food. I live near a local Ralph’s, and their deli is amazing. The selection of food is consistently fresh and fairly inexpensive. And they usually have good deals when you place a big order. Even though I was ordering for just myself, 4 days work of food at a cost of $2.60 per meal is a great deal.
Pick Fast Food That Serves Whole Food
I’ll eat at McDonald’s or Taco Bell from time to time, I admit it. It’s known that many of these fast food franchises serve processed foods.
As an alternative, I choose to eat at some fast food restaurants that serve whole foods. Fast food that sells whole food? What does that mean?
It means eating at fast food restaurants that serve real chicken rather than chicken nuggets or serves real fish instead of filet-o-fish.
In Los Angeles, there’s a chain of Japanese fast food restaurants call Yoshinoya Beef Bowl. They serve what I classify as real whole food. Chicken, beef, fish, rice. I can actually see them preparing food that’s not processed or modified.
There are many types of fast food restaurants that serve whole food quickly and inexpensively. Restaurants like El Pollo Loco, Paquito Mas, Panda Express can easily be found in my local neighborhood to keep me on budget while enjoying delicious, unprocessed food.
Avoid The Extras
When I get really hungry, I literally can’t wait to get my hands on some food? So the first thing to do is order appetizers. Yes! It’s that meal before the meal that’s designed to satiate the hunger pangs while waiting for the main meal to arrive. Can you relate to this? You know what goes great with appetizers? A large coke! I know soda is just empty calories and not good for you, but appetizers just don’t taste good without a tall, cold glass of coke to wash it down.
It can be tempting to want to order everything on the menu, especially when you’re hungry. One way to avoid this is to eat a small snack before going out to eat. Look inside your cabinets or refrigerator for small snacks you can munch on. It could be crackers, nuts, a slice of bread or rice cake.
This sounds counter-intuitive since you’re planning to eat soon anyway, but having a small snack will help curb your hunger when you arrive at the restaurant. At that point, having a main meal will be all you really want to eat.
Who likes dessert? I know I do. Especially after eating a delicious dinner. Depending on where you go, dessert can add an extra $5 to $8 to your total.
If you’re craving for sweets after a meal, wait until you get home and eat the sweets you already have, or make a quick grocery run and get a small pint of ice cream or candy bar. It’s the ultimate delay in gratification, but your budget goals are more important, right?
To stay on budget, remember to avoid getting extras when eating out. Pass on the appetizers, drink water instead of soft drinks, and skip desserts. Your pocket and waistline will thank you for it later.
Going out to eat doesn’t have to be expensive. With a little pre-planning, discipline, and flexibility you can enjoy almost any meal without breaking your budget.