5 Tips for Spending Smarter–Eating Out Edition

November 15, 2016

Eating out is a luxury that’s gotten more commonplace for seemingly everyone even in my lifetime and it’s one I along with most y’all quite enjoy. I particularly like ethnic food and pizza – kind of opposite ends of the spectrum, especially considering I really enjoy non-artisan, Americanized pizza. Sharing a meal with friends or family and lingering over it is one of my favorite ways to spend an evening, especially if the ambiance is cozy and I’m not cold:) But as I’ve put myself on this blessed budget I’ve learned a couple things that have made dining out more budget-friendly. Some of those, along with one already-established habit, are below for your perusing pleasure.

1. Don’t pay for soda or “pop” as I grew up calling it in Montana. We ate out so infrequently as kids that each occasion was a very big deal. “What’s our limit?” was the kickoff question, to which Dad would respond with a modest dollar amount. Our quest then became finding an entree under that amount. We never resented it since we were busy being happy to be eating out at such meccas of fine dining as…Perkin’s. Or JB’s. Or North’s Buffet in Idaho Falls. Mostly teasing we would sometimes ask if we could order a drink with the most common answer being a grin and a “no”. That was a good thing then and it’s a good practice now. It’s good not just for your budget to have beverages be the exception. One of those big exceptions for me is root beer with pizza. They just go.

2. If you know you’re prone to overspend on meals out or in certain situations, review the menu online beforehand to determine what you will order that keeps you within budget. Does this make me sound like an extreme planner? I don’t do this all the time, but if I’m going to an unfamiliar restaurant or am out with an unfamiliar group I tend to do this to reduce the chances of over-ordering when I’m feeling on the spot. It’s no fun spending your whole restaurant budget on the first day of a new budget!

Lucy Kelson in 2 Weeks Notice Enjoying Chinese Take-out
Lucy enjoying her Chinese. I feel like her every single time I eat out of a to-go carton.

3. Eat something a bit before so you don’t order food like Lucy Kelson. She is the main character in Two Weeks Notice and orders 5+ entrees at a time from Mr. Wong’s Chinese restaurant. You can still be hungry but you’ll order more rationally if you’re not starving. Actually, let me rephrase that so I’m not telling YOU what YOU tend to do:) I know for sure I order more rationally and in line with my financial goals if I’ve eaten something like America’s Favorite Vegetable (the green or red pepper) or a granola bar a bit beforehand.

4. Be content with “good enough”. A favorite book (neatly summarized in this TED talk) is Paradox of Choice. In it Barry Schwartz makes the case that Satisficers (those that are content with “good enough”) are happier than those (Maximizers) who try to maximize every single decision, including trying to pick THE BEST NOVEL thing on the menu. A Satisficer will choose something she knows she’s enjoyed before even if it’s not THE SINGLE BEST thing on the menu.

5. Along the same vein as #3, have a strategy for unfamiliar situations. If you are doing a meal out with a new group, make sure you communicate beforehand whether you need to watch expenses at this meal so you’re not pressured at the last minute to nod your head when someone suggests the group just split the hefty bill evenly. Too many checks have been split at the instigation of well-meaning people who forgot they ordered a much more expensive meal+appetizer+drink+dessert than the others:) It’s cool to do this sometimes and I’m all for being generous, but it is more frivolous or peer-pressurey to “go with the flow” when you know you can’t afford it the same way the others can.

I have no clever ending to this post, except to inform you that, sadly, North’s Buffet in Idaho Falls is no more. I’m sorry.