When my husband and I go out together, we like to take the opportunity to go to a restaurant.
Partly because it’s nice to be able to sit and talk while someone else makes your food, but mostly because I like to try new things – I don’t think I’ve ever ordered the same thing twice at a restaurant, and I try to go to new restaurants as often as possible.
Are you surprised? I admit this hasn’t always been the case. Back when we were dirt broke and simply didn’t have any money, we obviously didn’t go restauranting (is that a word?), and when we were living on less than $2,000 a month, we only went out rarely preferring (obviously) cheap or free date night ideas.
But as our finances have gotten better, as life has gotten busier, and it’s harder to hear ourselves over the shouts of our kids, we’ve gotten a lot more dedicated to the occasional outing as just us, a couple.
So it only makes sense to find frugal ways to fit going to restaurants into our budget – and it’s not as hard as you think!
Here are a few tricks I use to make eating out affordable and downright cheap!
By far, my #1 pick. I stock up as many Swagbucks as I can and trade them in for restaurant gift cards when I get enough. At first. I was skeptical that it would work, so I cautiously traded in 2,200 Swagbucks for a printable $25 Olive Garden gift card, and voila! Never looked back. Since then, I’ve successfully redeemed gift cards to multiple restaurants and steak houses, gotten restaurant.com cards, and if I still can’t find a card for the restaurant I want, prepaid Visa cards to fund our restaurant habit.
So how does Swagbucks work, you wonder? It’s pretty simple. Use their search bar instead of Google when you need to look something up and get randomly rewarded with “Swagbucks” to redeem. You can also take surveys, print coupons, and redeem friends. Honestly, I don’t remember all the ways to redeem them (the ways I listed are the ones I use). Read more here, or go here to sign up for your own account.
Shop through eBates
Admittedly, eBates doesn’t deal in a lot of food, but you can earn up to 10% cash back by going to Restaurant.com through them. Now THAT’s a worthwhile extra click on your way to score restaurant gift cards. In addition, you can do a lot of your other shopping through eBates to earn cash back and use those checks when you cash them (because, oh yes, they send you real checks to cash into real money at your bank) to fund your restaurant trips.
There are a LOT of Groupon deals for chain restaurants to be found, but also a surprising number of local restaurants – at least in our area – with Groupon deals. Although I do my best to cover our restaurant adventures with Swagbucks, Groupon is my second choice (only because I use eBates to cover birthdays and Christmas instead of dates).
Sign up for Groupon’s email list, so you get alerts to great deals.
With all three of these options, you need to plan ahead. It takes about a week from the time you order it to get a Swagbucks gift card.
Other ways to save money at restaurants
We all have our own preferences as to what’s worth spending money on, so take these with a grain of salt – they’re just ideas!
- Don’t order drinks. Drinks, in my opinion, are overpriced and not worth it. You can enjoy a drink when you get home and don’t have to drive anywhere.
- And that includes coke/soda. It’s just a lot of calories for what? I’d rather get my calories in food and have soda another time.
- Order half entrées if you’re a light eater. No reason to spring for a whole entrée you’re not going to eat and be stuck with sub-par leftovers to heat up later.
- Only get dessert if it’s really, really worth it. If you’re at a nice restaurant where you know the dessert it good, that’s one thing, but in my experience, a lot of restaurants just don’t do dessert well, and I’m better off making my own at home. I have yet to experience a restaurant dessert that beats homemade gluten-free pumpkin crunch cake in the Fall or gluten-free lemon bars in the summer… except maybe Pucket’s Pecan Cobbler.
On these last four, I totally believe it’s a “to each their own” thing as long as it fits your budget. If it saves money but sucks the fun out of doing it, it’s not a great solution. But if you use the first three – Swagbucks, eBates, and Groupon – wisely, your restaurant dates will be surprisingly frugal.
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