The Cost of Dining Out & Ways to Save

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American spends $3,008 per year on dining out. At the same time, nearly half of Americans don’t have $500 saved for a financial emergency. I’ll be the first to admit, I love a good date night at a fancy restaurant and dining out is a major social activity for my friend group. But, all that money is money spent, not saved and most Americans can’t afford such a huge chunk of our budget in the dining out category, especially if that spending is happening on credit cards. How can we find a balance between treating ourselves to a meal out and building savings? I’ve got a few ideas to bring on the dining out savings:

First, save dining out for special occasions. There are lots of alternatives that can still allow you to socialize with friends and eat delicious food.

  • Have a potluck-Invite your friends over and have everyone bring a dish. This keeps you from having to cook the whole meal and gives others the opportunity to show off their signature dishes.
  • Start a rotating monthly dinner party- take turns hosting your friends with a monthly dinner party. Each month the host can choose the meal theme and guests can bring the refreshments.
  • Soup swap- A great way to learn some new recipes and stock up on soup you can eat for the coming weeks. Gather a group of friends and have each bring several quarts of soup. One quart from each person gets heated and sampled that night and then everyone trades soups to take home!

Second, start meal prepping. Convenience leads us to lots of poor food decisions, both physically unhealthy and financially unhealthy. If you are prepared, you won’t fall prey to the quick fast food option as often.

  • Plan your meals on Sunday- having a general idea of your meals for the week will help you avoid an impulsive meal out. You can choose five meals and then cook them based on how you are feeling each evening.
  • Have an “easy” drawer- some mornings, your plans just don’t work out. Have an easy drawer of pre-made sandwiches, salads or soups that you can easily grab and go. You can also have an “easy” snack drawer with protein bars, chips and nuts to satisfy your snack cravings throughout the day.
  • Utilize a meal delivery service- there is no shortage of meal delivery services these days and many of them are really affordable. This can be a great way to try new, easy recipes without heading to a restaurant.

Third, find small ways to save money when you do go out. It’s easy to overpay and overeat, there are some simple things you can do to cut the bill.

  • Drink water- it’s free, it’s healthy and there are serious upcharges on drinks at restaurants. If you want a soda later—treat yourself when you get home.
  • Share a meal- Portions at most restaurants are huge! Share with a friend and split the bill.
  • Skip dessert- You’re probably full anyway. Avoid the dessert menu and save yourself the money and the guilt 🙂
  • Hit up lunch or happy hour- If you want to try a restaurant that is on the high end, go for lunch or happy hour. They likely have many of their signature dishes available for lower prices.

The real key to dining out savings is to be aware of how much you are spending and making small changes to save big money! How much are you spending? What other ways do you save when dining out? Share your dining out savings tips in the comments.

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