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I’ll admit that I’m a fast-food junkie. My cooking skills are downright unacceptable, and it’s always been easier for me to pull up next to a window and be handed the food that I’m too lazy to cook.
Food alone can suck your bank account dry, but when you’re hungry you don’t always think rationally. I don’t know about you but going home to slave over a stove for hours when my stomach is already singing melodies isn’t exactly enticing.
When I began my debt-free journey, I knew I had to get my spending under control but eating out is one of the hardest habits to break. It seemed as though every post I ran across was advising me to completely cease eating out and make all meals at home. I tried this and failed EVERY.SINGLE.TIME.
Attempting to make all meals at home was like snatching a cup of coffee away from a newborn’s mama first thing in the morning…it was ugly!
Completely miserable, I came up with a few ways to keep my spending under control while still enjoying the ability to eat out.
Tip #1) Designate a specific day or days to treat yourself
I’m sure you know that eating out can add up, especially if you aren’t the only one placing an order. Setting aside a specific day or days to indulge in your made-for-me food obsession keeps you from quickly burning through all available funds.
For example, if you work Monday-Friday then designating every Friday as your ‘eat out day’ will not only save you money but also serve as motivation for getting through the week.
Tip #2) Budget
Include a category for eating out in your budget. By doing this, you’ll know exactly how much money you have to use each month comfortably.
Before I began setting aside a specific amount to use on food outside of the home, I was unknowingly using money that belonged elsewhere. Have you ever experienced those tragic moments when you literally have $2 to your name before payday? That was me.
After subtracting all necessary expenses from your monthly income, such as rent and insurance, determine how much out of your remaining balance you want to use for eating out. I budget $80, or $40 bi-weekly, and once that’s gone it’s back to home-cooked meals.
Don’t have a budget or need help creating one? Check out my post Blogging for Beginners and grab my free budget printable to get you started (sorry guys it’s girly)!
Tip #3) Use cash
If you’ve set aside $40 to use for eating out, withdrawal it instead of trying to keep a mental note of how much money you have left after each purchase. Trust me, this will backfire!
You tend to spend less when you’re using cash. With a card, you’re not seeing the transaction and it’s easier to just swipe blindly than to tell yourself you can’t afford the purchase. Witnessing the $10 bill you handed over to the smiling lady at the drive-thru window turn to nothing but a few cents is painful. Ditching the plastic limits you to the amount of money you have on-hand and may even deter you from eating out for a while.
Tip #4) Complete surveys for free or discounted food
If you trash your receipts then you are seriously throwing away precious treasure! Many restaurants, whether fast food or casual dining, will contain a survey which offers you free or discounted food in exchange for your answers. A popular survey you may know of is for Sonic’s free Route 44 drink.
Some places may require a small purchase, such as a drink, in addition to the free item but hey, better than full price! Other surveys, mostly from sit-down restaurants, offer opportunities to win cash instead of giving free or discounted food. Cha-ching, more milkshakes for you!
Tip #5) Utilize the dollar menu
When you’re on a budget and you’ve got a taste for fast food, you don’t have room to be “bourgeois” okay?
Sticking to the dollar menu can help ensure that you stay within your budget. A regular combo meal can easily cost you around $8-$12, maybe even more. Assuming that you purchase one combo meal per day, you’re coming out over $200 per month! Limiting your purchase to $5 and under can save you over $100.
If nothing on the dollar menu looks appetizing then consider leaving out a drink or a side. For example, if you’re wanting to ‘eat fresh’ at Subway then ditch the chips and drink and just get the sandwich.
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Eating out can be the grim reaper to your finances when you don’t have a plan. Utilizing these five tips will help ensure that you stay on track with your financial goals without having to give up your guilty pleasure.