Dining Out On a Dime – 10 Money-Saving Tips
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Today’s post is a collaborative effort between me, FinanceSuperhero, and my talented wife, Mrs. Superhero. In case you missed her recent article, 10 Tips for Self-Starter Entrepreneurs, I highly recommend it, as it remains one of the most-viewed articles on this website.
Within the article below, my thoughts and comments will be denoted by my traditional Gravatar, while Mrs. Superhero’s thoughts will be denoted by a similar Gravatar, as seen below.
Now, onto today’s post. Take it away, Mrs. Superhero!
Okay, I am just going to say it: adulting is hard! For most people, a big part of adulting is sticking to a budget. However, a budget shouldn’t mean that you can’t go out or you can’t have fun; a budget simply requires that you plan for these events.
As you grow in managing your finances, you will still want to go out on dates and have fun with your spouse or significant other! I am definitely the “deal finder” of the family and have enjoyed this skill since I was a young child. Finding a good bargain feels so good and rewarding. I absolutely LOVE that feeling!
I, too, happen to love that feeling, but Mrs. Superhero is almost certainly a better bargainer. She manages to find great deals on a monthly basis, which allows us to satisfy our urge to dine out semi-frequently without breaking the bank.
An example of Mrs. Superhero’s bargaining ability: As a college junior, Mrs. Superhero negotiated $1,000 off the sale price of a used vehicle by playing hard ball in negotiations with the seller. I thought for sure that she would lose the vehicle entirely, but the owner relented.
Here are some tips Mr. Superhero and I use for dining out:
1. Make the Most of Gift Cards – Aren’t they the best? Because we are both teachers, we are fortunate to receive many gift cards throughout the school year, particularly in December. We save these gift cards for months in which we are surprised by unexpected expenses. By shifting our budgeted dining funds to cover those unexpected expenses and using gift cards, we are able to avoid tapping into our emergency fund.
For example, today I actually used a gift card at Panera and had a wonderful Greek Goddess Salad – if you haven’t tried it, stop what you are doing, get in the car and go to Panera!
Mrs. Superhero and I have also had good experiences converting our credit card reward points into restaurant gift cards. I am careful to wait until a specific discount on desirable gift cards is offered before I redeem points.
2. Value Quality Over Quantity – Our favorite restaurant in the world (no exaggeration) is Montarra Grill in Algonquin, Illinois. It has been rated the number one non-Chicago restaurant in Illinois. Needless to say, Montarra is amazing but pricey.
When we dine here, we are making a choice. If we choose to open up the pursue strings and spend a significant sum on one meal, that means no more dinner dates for the rest of the month. Typically, we save dates like this for a special occasion like a birthday or anniversary.
Always save money in your budget to splurge for special occasions. Life is too short not to celebrate special occasions with your loved ones.
Be sure to inquire about possible deals and discounts when planning meals for special occasions. Because I made a reservation via e-mail for our recent anniversary dinner, Montarra provided a complimentary small plate.
Similarly, another local restaurant offers complimentary entrees to all members of their e-mail list during the two weeks before and after a member’s birthday. This is a great value which we took advantage of on the eve of my 30th birthday last month!
3. Enjoy a Coffee Date – Sticking to an agreed-upon budget can be difficult, especially when you have spent that allotted figure early in the month. When that happens, we resort to inexpensive coffee dates, as the next best thing to food is coffee.
Let’s just be real. Especially if you are a parent or work with children, coffee is a necessity in life. From 3-5 PM it is Happy Hour at Dunkin’ Donuts here in Chicagoland, and during this time, you can get an iced coffee or iced tea for only a dollar! (Mrs. Superhero is currently enjoying this deal!)
Not to be outdone, Starbucks is the mecca of coffee shops. I have never had a Starbucks mess up my order. So yes, they are more expensive than other places, but they provide much better service. Starbucks often offers half-priced Frappuccinos from 3-5 PM; unfortunately, they have not found a way to make them with half of the calories though! To figure out when the next deal will occur, you can sign up on Starbucks’ website to be ensured that you are receiving updates on the next deal.
4. Kids Eat Free – While Mr. Superhero and I are proud MINKs, we recognize that our friends who have children still enjoy dining out from time to time. Below you will find a list of kids-related dining deals (highly-discounted or free meals) sorted by day of the week.
*Please be sure to check with your local establishment, as there may be restrictions on some of these deals.*
Red Robin (kids 10 and under eat free)
Fuddruckers (4-9 PM – Kids 12 and under eat for $.99)
UNO Chicago Grill (One free kids meal with purchase of an adult entrée)
Chic-Fil-A (5:30-7:30 PM – Kids receive a free kids meal)
Qdoba Grill (All Day – Kids receive a free kids meal)
Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina
No deals to report – let us know in the comments below if you know of a great Friday deal!
Steak and Shake
No deals to report
On the Border
With all these great kids meal deals, I’m not sure what we’re waiting for in the family department, Mrs. Superhero!
Editorial note: I may or may not get smacked for this comment!
5. Look for Local Deals – I am constantly amazed by the number and variety of local deals which pop up during the week. One of my favorites is Mandiles in nearby Algonquin. On Tuesday’s, Mandile’s offers a great entrée for only $10: chicken parmesan, a side of pasta, and bread. The deal is available via dine-in or carry-out.
I recommend asking your friends and family about similar deals in your area. I’m the type of person who tells people in line about deals so they can get their meal cheaper. The last time I did this, the manager shot me a funny look, but that doesn’t deter me from helping others.
6. To Go Deals When In a Pinch – When time is precious or plans change in a hurry, pizza is our go-to meal.
For only $5, the Little Caesar’s Hot-N-Ready Pizza represents one of the best values on the market. My mom, who is the ultimate bargain hunter, can make amazing food on a low budget, but she calculated that it is cheaper to order a Hot-N-Ready Pizza than it is to bake her own at home.
Similarly, Domino’s currently offers three medium pizzas for $5.99 each. Despite Mr. Superhero’s nearly-insatiable appetite, we are able to order three pizzas and freeze several left over portions for days in which we don’t feel like cooking. This also saves us time, and as we all know, time is money!
7. Get Your Groupon – All of my friends know I have a slight obsession with Groupon, but it has saved us lots of money and has allowed us to do things that we normally would not have the money to do in our budget.
Within Groupon, you are able to search for restaurant deals in your particular location. However, always read the fine print; recently, I purchased a deal only to find out you could only use it on weekends. Fortunately, we still had a lovely night out during the week!
If you haven’t signed-up for Groupon yet, please sign-up using our referral link.
8. Utilize Restaurant.com – This amazing website helps you find deals for restaurants in your local area. Their app is very user-friendly, which eliminates the need to print certificates. By using this app, we have found fabulous deals at local steakhouses and other fine dining establishments, allowing us to dine like kings while paying pauper-like prices. The most common Restaurant.com offer is $10 for a $25 gift certificate. Check out the Restaurant.com offerings in your area by following the link and entering your zip code.
9. Ask About Specials – When arriving at a restaurant or calling in a carry out order, always be sure to ask about specials. Servers often forget to mention specials, and you may miss out on a great deal if you don’t ask.
10. Share, Share, Share – Mr. Superhero is not a big fan of sharing his food, but many of our couple friends go to Panera, order the Take Two option, and share their meal as a couple. We definitely did this at times during college when we were young and broke.
Special thanks to Mrs. Superhero for putting together these 10 tips for dining on a dime, allowing me to order my own meals, and making sure I don’t starve!
If you missed Mrs. Superhero’s last post, be sure to check out 10 Tips for Self-Starter Entrepreneurs.
Note: This article contains affiliate links.