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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
For more deals in your area, we recommend consulting KidsMealsDeals. If you live in Chicagoland, check out Kidwinks.
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.
What tips do you have for saving money when dining out? Did we miss any deals? Do you use Groupon and Restaurant.com?
Jon @ Be Net Worthy saysJuly 27, 2016 at 7:08 AM
These are great tips for having fun on a budget and a good reminder that just because you are saving aggressively, that you have to live a little too! I need to sign-up for Groupon again, I haven’t used it in years…
Love the tag-team approach to the article and the pics!
Hero saysJuly 27, 2016 at 9:49 AM
Thanks, Jon. We had a lot of fun writing this article together!
Groupon has its pros and cons. We have to be very mindful of not being drawn in by daily deals on items that we don’t even want or need.
The Green Swan saysJuly 27, 2016 at 7:19 AM
I love the kids eat free list! As a parent of a growing boy, scoping out these restaurants is key. Especially since he basically eats as much as we do. I’ve been amazed by how he’ll finish his kid meal and then demand the food of my plate. No joke! Thanks for the tips!
Hero saysJuly 27, 2016 at 9:48 AM
I see this frequently with my growing cousins and nephew, JW. If my future kids have an appetite like their father, I’m going to be in trouble! Though I eat much less than I used to, I could really throw down the meals when I was a teen. I miss my super-fast metabolism.
[email protected] Smarter Decisions saysJuly 27, 2016 at 7:26 AM
These are super helpful! (Especially the list for those of us who do have kids!) We are not huge on going out to eat. We try to go to our local pubs and restaurants to support them. It is amazing how much work they put in – especially on nights and weekends, when everyone else wants to be out. I worked in a restaurant for years – so definitely appreciate them! My elderly parents always split meals or bring home part for lunch the next day too!
Hero saysJuly 27, 2016 at 9:47 AM
I never worked at a restaurant, Vicki, but I did work at a large movie theater for several years in high school and college. It wasn’t much fun to be working every Friday/Saturday night while my friends were out having fun, but it afforded me proper perspective and a healthy appreciation for the work which servers and other food service employees put in on a nightly basis.
Dollar Engineer saysJuly 27, 2016 at 8:08 AM
The quality over quantity definitely resonates with me. I have no problem paying more for an amazing meal and also customer service. Poor customer service can be so aggravating and really can put a damper on an any occasion.
Hero saysJuly 27, 2016 at 9:44 AM
Value is important to me, too, DE. I am usually glad to pay a slight premium for quality service.
Frugal Familia saysJuly 27, 2016 at 8:35 AM
Great list! I’ve never heard of Montara Grill but seeing that it’s not too far from us, I may have to check it out. A couple other suggestions;
-Mystery Diner – several years back my wife and I did this, but basically you get your entire meal comped and in return you have to rate your dining experience.
– Join Frequent Diner Clubs – My wife and I joined the lettuce entertain you frequent diner club. They send us coupons for b-days and anniversaries and you also get points for every dollar you spend which can be used towards your next meal.
Hero saysJuly 27, 2016 at 9:43 AM
Good ideas, FF! We dine at Lettuce Entertain You restaurants several times each year, so I’ll have to look into the club. I will add these ideas to the list today!
Latoya @ Life and a Budget saysJuly 27, 2016 at 12:41 PM
These are some awesome tips. We recently tried Salsarita’s and the food was amazing. I had no idea that kids could eat free on Thurs so we will definitely use this to our advantage!
Being a tightwad that I am, spending money on dining out is one area I find the hardest to deal with. I’ve gone months where I forced myself to no dining out completely. Other months I tried to limit our spending to $25 only (for a family of 4). When that didn’t work, we upped it to $50 a month.
Needless to say, we’re in need of some better strategies so I’m sure some of these will help. I haven’t really utilized Restaurant.com or Groupon since getting married, but it may be wise to take a second look – at least for my budget’s sake.
Thanks for sharing these!
Hero saysJuly 28, 2016 at 10:40 AM
Depending on the deals in your area, Restaurant.com and Groupon can offer really great deals, Latoya. I hope you have good luck checking them out!
Thias @It Pays Dividends saysJuly 27, 2016 at 12:46 PM
We try to utilize gift cards and coupons as much as possible. However, I would say that having our daughter has been the biggest reason our dining bill has gone down over the last year. We really don’t eat out as much right now, opting for home meals instead. I know this will change a bit as she gets older but then we will start going after those kids eat free deals you mentioned!
Hero saysJuly 28, 2016 at 10:36 AM
I can see that having a child changes things significantly, Thias. Carry out is always an option!
Martin - Get FIRE'd asap saysJuly 27, 2016 at 5:59 PM
I love it, tag team blog writing. With all due respect to those who take advantage of dining out specials, my experience has been thet the type of places that offer specials generally aren’t the sort of establishments that I want eat at. I am a bit fussy when it comes to dining out as i set very high standards for my own cooking which are often not met in mid to low range restaurants. In fact, i have found that even many more expensive restaurants done live up to their reputation. That’s why we eat in most nights and I cook which I also love. Keeps costs down, we know what we’re eating and can control that, and, I have to say, the meals are superb. Table for sir?
Hero saysJuly 28, 2016 at 10:36 AM
You raise an important point, Martin. It’s not really a “deal” if you’re dining out on a ho-hum meal. We have been burned on that a few times, but fortunately at a low cost.
I, too, love to cook and even bake, but time rarely allows me to do so these days. Weekends are my go-to cooking days.
Nancy saysJuly 27, 2016 at 8:16 PM
My absolute favorite: Go for lunch. I’m going to New Orleans in two weeks with My Favorite Sister; we’re eating at one of the Must Go But Bring A Pile Of Dough restaurants. Not doing dinner, though–we’ll be there for lunch. Same good food, lower price. Bragging rights, if you’re into that kind of thing.
Hero saysJuly 28, 2016 at 10:33 AM
Great tip, Nancy. Lunch deals offer a great value, as you said. Another benefit: if you’re taking in high-calorie food at lunch, you have much more time to burn it off.
Finance Solver saysJuly 30, 2016 at 12:15 AM
With food budget being a huge factor in my expense category (it’s almost half my all-in rent cost!) these are great tips. I like the groupon tip, I haven’t used it yet but I’m going to use it in the next couple of days and try it out. I would love to pay $35 to get $50 worth of food to try a restaurant so why not?!
Hero saysJuly 30, 2016 at 10:04 AM
You’ll have to let us know how it works out for you, Finance Solver. Happy eating!
ZJ Thorne saysJuly 30, 2016 at 12:18 PM
I love happy hour deals and splitting entrees with my girlfriend. So many places offer such big portions, that two women can eat the meal and be full.
MMD saysAugust 1, 2016 at 8:50 AM
Restaurant.com was our go-to for years to get awesome 50% dishes. Unfortunately, a lot of the good local restaurants no longer participate.
Our trick is to simply always order water for our drink. Saves our family of 4 at least $10 on just soft drinks!
Mike @ Blogsofstuff saysAugust 20, 2016 at 11:00 AM
1) Don’t be embarrassed to share meals.
2) Only drink water.
3) No appetizers and no desserts.
4) Join customer club or use coupons.
5) But… tip based upon full value of the meal.
Hero saysAugust 20, 2016 at 11:34 AM
Thanks for sharing some really useful tips, Mike. They are great suggestions to enjoy a satisfying experience that doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Drinks and dessert can be enjoyed later at home, if desired, for a fraction of the cost.
TJ saysSeptember 28, 2016 at 10:32 AM
I have to assume that your mother’s homemade pizza tastes better than Little Caesars or Dominos. 😀
I’ve been known to eat out fairly cheaply. There also tends to be a lot of deals at lunch time and the portions aren’t necessarily smaller.
I actually used to eat out every meal…basically from college through last month, but now I’m only eating out at lunch during the week.
I picked up a lot of frozen beef and turkey burger patties at Trader Joes and I can cook and eat and clean up generally in 30 to 40 minutes which is less time than it takes for me to drive somewhere else, wait fort he food to cook, eat it and come back. Eggs and potatoes for breakfast. Super easy. Huge money saver too.
But i’m only 1 person. I can see why cooking for a family would feel exhausting. I don’t know how my dad do it in addition to his career.
I’d recommend taking a look at the RewardsNetwork such as IDine or the affiliated airline and hotel point dining services. You can usually stack those with any of the other discounts you’re already getting.
Penny deSaver saysDecember 2, 2016 at 7:22 AM
I’m so hungry now! These are great tips. I need to get better at following the daily specials around town. One of our favorite restaurants doesn’t post them on their website and, you’d think we’d remember over time since they haven’t changed in forever, yet it’s always a surprise for us when we get there. Sighs.
Another tip I think is worth sharing is using the Entertainment book. What I like about it is that for the cost of 1 book (which goes on sale all the time) you can get a ton of high-value restaurant coupons – along with other services and retailers. When we vacation I’ll usually order one for the area we’ll be visiting so that we have it handy then too. Anyways, something to consider.