The following is a guest post by Lisa at Wallet Watcher, an Australian personal finance blog created to help readers figure out how to save money and watch your own spending habits.
I love eating out. What more can I say? I’m a great cook (or so I’m told) but over all, there’s nothing like sitting down to eat a meal – that I didn’t have to cook – which has been prepared just for me! Eating out comes with one unsavory factor: the check. I’ve recently stumbled upon a great way to save money while dining out – and in the process I’ve been able to experience restaurants and venues I would have probably never frequented in the past.
Eat for Free
OK, the few totally free meals I’ve had in my lifetime have come from poor service – which I’m not afraid to point out to the management, generally resulting in the meal being free. However, we all know that making a practice of this is wrong – and it gives you a bad reputation within the city you live in. There are still solid ways to get parts of your meal for free, if you know where to look and how to ask. With the economic downturn, more restaurants are offering “Kids eat free” specials with purchase of an adult meal. Some restaurants have taken to giving free sodas or iced tea with the purchase of an entrÃ©e. Applebee’s 2-For-$20 menu allows for several choices of appetizers, main entrÃ©es like Chicken Fettuccine Carbonara, a 7 oz. House Sirloin and more, drinks and dessert for two people, for $20. Although I, personally, find $20 to be an extravagance when dining out, knowing about a deal like this one can come in handy for birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions.
Daily Deals and Special Savings
Once popular in the early 90’s, there has been a resurgence of buy-one-get-one offers, as well as “Early Bird” specials, which can cut costs dramatically when dining out. The very best way I have found to save money when eating out is by taking advantage of daily deals. Providers like Living Social, Groupon, and the Customer Advantage offer daily specials like 50% off your meal, vouchers for discounted meals – there’s no catch, except that the deal usually has to be purchased within the day or a specified time period. I have learned that if I’m planning a thrifty vacation, I can search these websites within the postal code area I plan to visit, and have often found deals for dining out which I can purchase now and use when I arrive at my destination.
Another outlet for saving when I eat out comes through the Demand Deals program – a corporate buying/rewards program offered by a company I occasionally write for as a freelancer. After 6 months of writing for Demand Media, I was sent an invitation to join the Demand Deals program. On any given day, I have the opportunity to purchase meal vouchers good at local restaurants, with savings of up to 80 percent. For example, last week I purchased a restaurant voucher for a new Asian restaurant – $25 gift certificate for $2! While there is a minimum order amount – in this case, the check had to be $35 or more – we ate there last night and had Sushi appetizers, an entrÃ©e each for our party of four, and beverages: the tab was $54. With the voucher, we paid $19.00. Figure in the $2 I paid for the certificate, and I saved over 60%. And the bargain don’t stop there – from trips and airfare, to computers and running shoes, I have saved at least $450 over retail pricing, over the past two months.
In my household, budgeting for restaurant meals was been something which was nearly cut out of the “big picture” three years ago. With my personal finances in a bind, entertainment was the first thing to go. However, living a frugal lifestyle has helped me learn how to accomplish two important things: I’ve made it a point to acquire the skills necessary to live within a budget, and I’ve learned that good times can still be had while saving for retirement or putting a child through college… as long as I am willing to do the footwork, buckle down and make it happen.