Getting together with friends is always a fun time, but it can also be expensive. When dining out, the cost of food and drinks can quickly add up, leaving you with a hefty bill at the end of the night. If you’re on a strict budget due to income restraints or savings goals, it can be challenging to enjoy a meal out without feeling guilty or stressed about spending too much money.
However, there are ways to eat out with friends on a budget and still have a great time.
1. Plan ahead
Before heading out for a meal, take some time to plan ahead. Look for restaurants that offer affordable menu options or have deals and promotions (happy hour, anyone?). This can help you narrow down your choices and ensure that you stick to your budget.
2. Share a meal
One of the easiest ways to save money when dining out is by sharing a meal with friends. Most restaurant portions are large enough to be split between two people, and this can significantly reduce the cost of your meal. Plus, you can try a variety of dishes without breaking the bank.
3. Skip appetizers and dessert
Instead of ordering appetizers and desserts, opt for an entree or two to share with your friends. Appetizers and desserts may seem like small expenses, but they can quickly add up and significantly increase your bill.
4. Order water
Beverages can be one of the biggest expenses when dining out, especially if you and your friends like to have a few drinks with your meal. Instead of ordering expensive cocktails or sodas, stick to water which is not only better for your health, but also free.
If you’re used to having a drink to “unwind” with friends, this can feel like a depritvation. But, remember, the point of getting together with friends is to enjoy each other’s company and not just the food and drinks. Or perhaps you can set a limite to 1 or 2 budget-friendly drinks (wine or beer is usually chaper than a cocktail, or order whatever the “house” drink is.)
5. Look for discounts and coupons
Keep an eye out for discounts and coupons before heading out. Many restaurants offer deals through their websites or social media accounts, so be sure to check them out before making any plans.
You can also download apps like Groupon or LivingSocial which offer discounted vouchers for various restaurants. Just be sure to read the fine print and understand any restrictions or expiration dates.
6. Eat at off-peak times
Dining out during off-peak hours can often lead to significant savings. Not only are the restaurants less crowded, but they may also have special lunch or early bird menus with lower prices. You could also consider having a late lunch as a meal replacement for dinner, which is typically more expensive.
7. Be mindful of extras
Be aware of any extra charges that may be added to your bill, such as taxes, tips, and additional fees. These can significantly increase the cost of your meal if you’re not careful. To avoid any surprises, calculate the total amount including extras before ordering.
8. Choose the location wisely
Choose your restaurant wisely. Avoid fancy or upscale restaurants, which are usually more expensive, and opt for casual dining options instead. Also, consider trying out new ethnic cuisines that tend to be more affordable and offer unique flavors.
9. Suggest alternative meet-up spots
Eating out doesn’t always have to involve a traditional restaurant setting. Instead, suggest alternative options like having a picnic at the park or bringing homemade dishes to share at a friend’s house. This allows you to still enjoy food and company without breaking the bank.
10. Eat before you go
If you’re truly concerned about the cost of the meal, eating beforehand is a great option. This’ll help you avoid ordering too much (perhaps just an appetizer or soup) while still being able to enjoy the social aspect of dining out with friends.
11. Pregame with friends
Like to drink with your friends? Consider starting your meet-up at someone’s house to have a few drinks before heading out. This way, you can still enjoy the social aspect and save money on expensive restaurant drinks. It might be wise then to also have snacks since alcohol tends to make people hungry too and can lead to overspending on the meal.
12. Bring cash only
Credit cards can be dangerous when it comes to dining out, as they give you the illusion of unlimited funds. To avoid overspending, bring cash only and leave your credit cards at home. This way, you’ll have a physical limit on how much you can spend and won’t be tempted to go over budget.
13. Make different plans
There are plenty of free ways to spend time with friends. Ask them if they’d be up for a hike, bike ride, or having a game night instead. This not only saves money but also allows for different types of activities that can be just as fun and memorable.
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JayDee Vykoukal is a writer, author, mom, and Doctor of Physical Therapy. She has been writing about everything motherhood and health-related since 2018 when her first daughter was born, and she wanted to stay home. She loves to research new topics and fun facts with her kids to teach them about the world.