One of the biggest surprises for my husband and me, when we entered parenthood, was the sticker shock of the cost of daycare. Nobody warned us that we would be paying almost the equivalent to a second mortgage for childcare, and now with becoming a family of four, we have spent a great deal of time looking at ways to save in order to afford daycare for two kids. Before parenthood, we often indulged in dining out and happy hours. These outings were filled with friends, date nights, and served as a rewarding relaxation from long workdays. There is no denying that we had blinders on as to how things would change upon becoming parents. While we still love eating out and meeting up with our friends for happy hours, we now approach these outings with how we can best save money while eating out and with our budget at the front of our minds.
I’ll be the first to admit when I spend money I rationalize spending in one of two ways:
- Cost per use – If I find the perfect dress at a price point that seems high I will consider how many wears I need to get out of it in order for it to cost less than $5 per wear. $60 dress needs to be worn at least 12 times in my book to be worth its value.
- Daycare equivalency – If I am about to spend money on something that I will only get one use out of, such as a dinner out, I scrutinize the cost by calculating how many days of daycare would this cover? Daycare for my oldest is about $50 per day. So if happy hour is going to cost $50, is it happening somewhere I love going, with people who I’m excited to see, and will the experience be something I remember? If all these things add up then I am happy to spend the money and enjoy a night out, but if one or more thing is missing then I am much more likely to save my money to stay in and spend quality time with my son and husband.
I have always had a knack for finding great deals and motherhood has only increased my desire to strengthen this skill set. Over the past few years these are some of the best tips and tricks I’ve discovered for how to save money while eating out:
- Utilize gift cards that were received as gifts – each year when family or friends inevitably ask what is a good gift for you or your partner for an upcoming holiday or celebration, let people know what your favorite restaurants are and indicate that a gift card to one of those places would be the perfect treat. Then when you go out using those gift cards it’s like a free date night. Earn bonus points with the gift giver taking a photo of your experience and sharing it with them to say thank you and show that it has been put to use.
- Purchase discounted gift cards – Costco has a great display of discounted gift cards for restaurants that typically provide a 20% savings. If there is a location you frequent, be sure to consider picking up one of these gift card packs. Not finding what you want at Costco or spending $80 upfront for gift cards that you may be using over 5 months is too much right now? Check out sites like Gift Card Granny; you can purchase other people’s unused gift cards at a discounted rate and in a variety of denominations. Finally, don’t forget to keep an eye out for gift card discounts/bonuses offered directly through your favorite restaurants; these usually appear most often around the holidays in November and December.
- Research kids eat free offers – North Phoenix Moms Blog has a great Kids Eat Free Guide, use this resource to help you find a location you can take the whole family to and only have to worry about paying for the adult meals.
- Clip those coupons – I don’t know anyone who enjoys junk mail, but if you take an extra minute to sort your mail you might find some great restaurant discount offers for places you frequent or new places opening near you. Another great resource outside of your mailbox is the old fundraising favorite – an Entertainment Book. These coupon books can be purchased online for your local area or somewhere you’re going on vacation for typically $35 or less. Entertainment Book has an app so for some places you don’t even need to clip the physical coupons you can show the discount from your phone!
- Join loyalty programs – Spam e-mail is just as bad as physical junk mail, but when the results of one more company emailing me may be a free margarita or half-off dinner, I find that it’s worth the risk to sign up for loyalty programs that deliver discounts via email. If in addition to a promise of coupons the restaurant offers points or credits based on your total purchases be sure to utilize those opportunities. I like to get the most out of loyalty programs by having both my husband and I sign up to ensure if coupons come out we get two of each, but when it comes to gaining points or credits based on purchases we always use my account so things add up quicker.
- If no discounts are available, it’s time for take-out – Sometimes you are craving something specific and a discount won’t be available, take out to the rescue. Take out can save money in so many ways:
- No up-charges for condiments/sides you already have at home – why pay an up-charge of $1.25 for a side of sour cream when you already have a tub of it in your fridge.
- No additional charges for drinks – and if even if you choose to pick up a six pack of adult beverages or bottle of wine at the grocery store you will save by avoiding paying the restaurant markup on drinks.
- Skip the kid’s meals – if you have young children they are not going to realize you didn’t get their meal from the restaurant, save a few dollars by preparing them something at home you know they love.
- Service charges are less – since you’ll be setting the table and busing the dishes you will not be adding an additional 15-20% to your bill to tip out the waitstaff.
What is your favorite way to save when eating out? Let us know in the comments below. And if you find yourself a great deal be sure to share it on social media and use the hashtag #nphxmoms so we can all take advantage!