In 2015, we’re putting extra emphasis on budgeting since it’s a must for financial success. Each month, we tackle a different category, and by years’ end, we’ll have one big resource for maximizing your entire budget.
It seems like a nice dinner out is almost mandatory on Valentine’s Day. Johnny and I typically buck the system and have a nice dinner at home (this one!). But this year we’re going out… tonight, actually, to avoid the Valentine’s Day crowds. And so, as we all prepare for a dinner out this month, we thought it’d be a good time to talk about the Eating Out category of your budget.
Of all the categories of budgeting, Food tends to be the most troublesome. It’s a necessary category for obvious reasons, and it’s fairly consistent. We all need a certain amount of food each day — that never changes. But sticking to the money we’ve allotted ourselves for food from month to month is always a struggle. Johnny and I struggle more with groceries than eating out, but if you’re the opposite, we wanted to share our tips and tricks for keeping your Eating Out category under wraps.
Eat out at home.
Johnny and I do this about 90% of the time we “eat out.” To avoid paying for everything that goes with a sit-down restaurant, as well as a babysitter, we usually grab takeout for our date night. We have a movie, a yummy treat, and good food from a local restaurant. And we do all of this once Sally’s in bed, so we still get that quality one-on-one time that a night out brings.
Cut back somewhere else.
If eating out is your thang and you just can’t live without it, that’s fine! Just find another area of your budget where you can cut back. Everyone should be able to indulge somewhere, so if you’re a foodie or if eating out is how you tend to socialize, don’t give it up. Instead of dinner AND a movie, catch a flick at home. Or cut back your cable plan, your clothing budget, your pedicure budget, etc. There’s usually somewhere else you can cut back.
Start meal planning.
On months when eating out has been a trouble area, it’s usually been because we didn’t plan our meals in advance. I’d realize our dinner option was either one-eyed-jacks (toast with egg in the center, what’s your name for it?) or eating out, and we’d opt for the latter. Currently, we plan at least a week’s worth of meals at a time and buy all the items with one big trip to the grocery store. That way, there’s no question of “What should we eat tonight?” when dinner rolls around — and no temptation from the cheap Chinese joint down the street.
Know the prices.
Another common eating out pitfall is not realizing how expensive a restaurant is until you’ve already committed to it. If this is a weak spot, it’s time to familiarize yourself with Yelp. Beyond offering restaurant reviews and meal photos, they also offer a price estimate from $ to $$$$. Before we pick up the phone to place an order or step foot in an eatery, you better believe we’ve taken a peek at their price rating. Johnny and I have a range we’ve talked about and that we try to stick to, save for special occasions like International Lefthanders Day. Take the time to decide on your price range now to help you stick to a price point you can afford in the future.
Designate an “eating out” night.
Along with meal planning, Johnny and I plan a night each week designated to eating out. It’s almost always Friday, but occasionally we switch it up. On nights when I really don’t feel like cooking or when nothing in our fridge sounds appetizing, it’s really helps us resist eating out if we know we have an “eating out” night coming up.
Don’t be afraid to say “No.”
One of the hardest aspects of being on a strict budget when we were paying down our debt was having to say “No” when people invited us to dinner. Of course, we didn’t say it like that. It was more of a, “We’d love to, but [insert excuse here].” or “We already have dinner plans, but [offer another idea here].” It wasn’t hard because our friends actually cared (they didn’t), but because we cared about being lame friends to our friends. Looking back, though, it really wasn’t a big deal. Was saying “No” sometimes worth taking control of our finances? Heck yes! It’s all about keeping a big-picture perspective.
Throw all those together, and that’s how we’ve kept our Eating Out category in check. And now I’m hungry. Any tips you’d add to this list?