Americans eat 20 percent of their meals in commercial establishments. If you are among the 50 percent or so of Americans who eat out that much or more, consider the following tips to cut back and save money.
1. Wait for Special occasions
There's nothing wrong with wanting to celebrate important events. After all, who wants to cook their own Birthday dinner? The problems start when we begin to dine out almost every night. If you try to eat meals at home and save dining out for special occasions, then not only will you save money, but you'll also enjoy the dining experience more.
2. Buy frozen dinners
Many frozen dinners offer the convenience of a meal out at lower prices. Additionally, frozen meals will allow you to better monitor your calorie and sugar intake. It’s harder to eat healthily in a restaurant. Even if the nutritional information is posted, most restaurants tend to lean more toward tasty than towards healthy.
3. Learn to cook the foods you like
If you find that you don’t enjoy the food you cook at home as much as you enjoy the food you eat in restaurants, then take a cooking class. If you're going to be happy eating at home, you'll need to learn to cook the food you really love. Most people grow up eating and learning to cook what their parents eat. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean that they necessarily likethe food that their parents eat. If you love a specific type of food but have no idea how to make it, then do yourself a favor and learn. Most foods can be made at home for a fraction of what it cost to order them in a restaurant.
4. Invest in your kitchen
A few handy items for the kitchen to make food preparation easier and faster could be money well spent. The most used appliance (apart from the fridge) in my kitchen is a $50 mixer that gets used virtually every day. No more overpriced smoothies at the mall for us!
5. Have a meal marathon
Prepare dishes on the weekend that can then be frozen and used for meals later in the week. You might find that cooking is easier and more enjoyable if you do it all at once.
6. Use Coupons
Aside from the coupons you can find in magazines and mailers, you can also sign up for deal-of-the-day websites such as Groupon or LivingSocial. Be disciplined about it. Make sure that you're using the coupons to save money, not to try fancy new restaurants.
If you have a favorite restaurant, check online to see if they offer special deals on their website. Many establishments also offer coupons or discounts for "liking" them on Facebook.
8. Drink Water
You might be surprised to see how much a couple of fountain drinks add to your bill. Soft drinks that you purchase in a restaurant can cost ten times as much as what you'd pay for them in the grocery store. If you want to save money, drink water. If you really want carbonation, check with your server to see if you can get seltzer water. It will still have the fizz you crave, but it won't cost you anything (and it's better for you).
9. Be familiar with the specials
There are two types of specials in restaurants — good ones and bad ones. The good ones are often regular menu items discounted. The bad ones are dishes the chef thought would be nice to try that are often more expensive than other menu options. Make sure you know the difference when you’re dining on a budget.
10. Pass the valet
Whenever possible, park your car yourself. Save your money for the food!
By dining out less often and with a keen eye on the budget, you can still enjoy the restaurant experience without wasting so much money each month.
Devin Thorpe, husband, father, author of Your Mark On The World and a popular guest speaker, is a Forbes Contributor. Building on a twenty-five year career in finance and entrepreneurship that included $500 million in completed transactions, he now champions social good full time, seeking to help others succeed in their efforts to make the world a better place.