Finances 101: How to Save on Dining Out & Dates

Hello Readers!  I know that we moms are always looking on ways to save money, yet we still want to have fun as well.  It can be tricky to balance things like dates and dining out while still maintaining your budget, especially if you have just one income like I do.  So, today I want to talk about how we save on dining out and dates.

First things first: my family and I strictly adhere to a dining out policy.  We only dine out once or twice per week.  Every other meal- from breakfast to dessert- is served in our home except for no more than two per week.  I bring this up because we know what it’s like to be on a tight budget; it’s fantastic that we save and scrimp as much as we can so that I can stay at home, but we do get burnt out if we can’t go have fun.  Yet, we also know that it can be expensive to go out or dine out.  So, we balance this out by eating out or going on dates twice per week.

But to save money, we’ve figured out how to score on the deals for those.  To start with, we typically dine out only once with our son Sean.  Even though he is a year old and is eating solid food, we still try to dine at home for many reasons.  First of all, it can be expensive to feed a kid in a restaurant, even with a kid’s meal.  And at this age, he isn’t able to eat a full meal, which means we often bring home his meal from the restaurant or we throw the money away.  Secondly, and most important, we want to teach Sean the importance of cooking and eating at home since the same meal at a restaurant, that can go for $20 per serving easily, can be made at home for one quarter of the price or less.  It’s important to us that we teach him how to save money by cooking at home now so that it becomes an everyday experience as he gets older and moves out on his own.

Now, when we do dine out with Sean, we tend to eat breakfast or lunch.  These meals at restaurants tend to be less expensive, and we rather enjoy having a meal in a restaurant and spending time as a family in the afternoons.  Also, restaurants tend to be busy at night, and that can make meals take longer which can be a nuisance with little kids.  If you don’t want to try  that, or you still want to eat out with kids, I recommend looking for places that have a “kids eat free” policy.  Not every place offers this, but there are many restaurants that offer this special throughout the week.  The Krazy Coupon Lady gifts a fairly comprehensive list of some great restaurants that offer this special on her post about it, which can be found here.

Another way that we save money in our household while still having fun is that we do “date days” rather than “date nights”.  For Christmas this last year, my in-laws asked what I wanted for the holiday from them.  My wish: a free babysitter for dates with my husband Ryan every week as long as it fit their schedule, for they do take trips throughout the year.  And they agreed, and it was a fantastic gift for us!  Once a week, for at least two weeks per month, they will watch Sean for us while we go out and spend time together.  This one act has saved us about $1,200 in babysitting costs, so I highly recommend asking for this gift or setting up a babysitting exchange with a friend.  You can rotate with them to watch each other’s kids for free one or two nights per month each, which should save you and your friends the added expense of hiring a babysitter.

Now, Ryan and I have actually found that we prefer to do date days rather than date nights for several reasons.  As I mentioned before, restaurants are more expensive at night than they are during the day, typically, so it’s best to save our money by going during the day.  Secondly, they aren’t as crowded during the day as they are at night.  Also, Ryan’s days off happen to be mid week, since our city and state are open 24/7 and businesses are no exceptions to that.  Therefore, we are often able to cash in on the happy hour and lunchtime specials that some restaurants have on the weekdays.

We also discovered a few months ago that our movie theaters offer a weekday special.  Tuesdays are “Five Dollar Days”; for the entire day, all movie tickets are $5 instead of the usual $7.50 a piece.  This savings may not seem like much, but we have saved ourselves about $50 this year in movie prices.  On other days, where we may have missed the movie specials, we’ve used our gift tickets to see movies.

That’s right.  Gift tickets to the theater, which never expire.  When Ryan and I worked for the same company, where we met years ago, we often won movie tickets in random sales contests that they had about once per week.  Though there were several movies that we wanted to see, our work schedules prevented us from going to the theaters for a long time.  As a result, we racked up a lot of tickets to the theaters.  We still have a few tickets, and I highly recommend asking for gift cards or gift tickets to the theater when asked for gift ideas.  Most theaters are offering these items as ways to get more people into the theaters nowadays, and this makes for a great gift idea for people.  As a bonus, the theater gift cards can be used in the concession stands.

We also often use gift cards to restaurants, which gives us an opportunity to try out new places.  Ryan’s family, because of the many family members and various interests, often gifts cards for everyone.  As new parents, these have really come in handy for our dates, and even my family has started doing this for us.  This last Christmas we received roughly $150 in gift cards to various restaurants alone, and each holiday–Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and our birthdays–we have received more gift cards. And we have enjoyed trying out new places or going to old favorites.  While the gift cards may not cover everything at the restaurant, we often end up paying no more than ten dollars with the tip (and we tend to tip 20%).  Without cards, we could wind up spending $35-50 in some of these places, which can really add up over the weeks.  But, we’ve managed to save ourselves a conservative estimate of $950 this past year, and that’s taking our usual $10 now spent per visit into account.  As you can see, this is a fantastic saving technique for us.

So, we have discovered the best technique for saving on our dates is to ask for gift cards or free babysitting for holidays.  Not only is it an extremely easy gift option for others, it’s a gift that can keep on giving later on, as such with the babysitting.  I highly recommend asking for these options from now on.  Not only will it be fun for you, it can save you a lot in the future.  For us, we’ve seen a savings of about $2,200 this last year with these money saving tips for our date days and date nights.  I hope you can also enjoy savings like these yourself by trying these out!

Until next time,

-BBM

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