If you embark on a journey to learn more about saving money and improving your financial situation, one of the first things you may hear is that you should stop dining out or limit your dining out excursions and use strategies like drinking water and ordering off the appetizer menu to go out as cheaply as possible.  Yet not everyone is willing to give up dining out.  Eating out with family and friends is a social experience and can offer you several social benefits.  Surprisingly, eating out may also help you stretch your grocery budget.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that dining out can always help you stretch your grocery budget.  If you order a plate of sushi and spend $25, you will probably eat it all in one meal.  While it may be an enjoyable dining out experience, it is definitely not budget conscious.

One Strategy to Make Dining Out Affordable

However, if you head out to a Chinese restaurant and order a stir-fry dish for $7.95 and order water, you may be able to make a budget-conscious choice.  I find many meals are so large they easily make two or three meals for me.  If I get beef and broccoli and turn it into three meals for myself, one at the restaurant and two at home or at work, I am now paying $2.66 per serving.  That is not a bad price.  In fact, many famous chefs such as Melissa d’Arabian, who is the host of Ten Dollar Dinners, make names for themselves by creating meals that break down to $2.50 to $5 per person per meal.  Actually, with the current price of beef, making beef and broccoli at home may cost as much as, or slightly less than, the restaurant cost.

Of course, this strategy only works if you eat smaller meals.  My husband, no matter where we go or how hungry he is, always finishes his restaurant meal.  For him, eating out is a social experience, and he definitely doesn’t save money while doing it.  Yet, if you can stretch your meal, you don’t need to feel so guilty about spending money dining out.

Cost-Effective Doesn’t Mean You Should Go Out All the Time

Let me be clear, though, I am not advocating dining out as an alternative to cooking.  Dining out exclusively or frequently can be hard on the budget, even when you are stretching the meal to serve you two or three times.  In addition, eating out frequently can take a toll on your health.  With so many strategies to make basic cooking easy, there is no reason why you shouldn’t cook some meals at home.

If you are trying to tighten your budget to save more or pay down debt, contrary to what many may say, you don’t have to completely abandon dining out.  If you are willing to dine out at modest restaurants and are able to stretch your meal into two or even three meals, you can easily fit dining out once a week or so into your budget without negatively affecting your monetary goals or your social life.

Melissa Batai

Melissa Batai

Melissa, a mom to three little ones (ages 7, 3 and 1), blogs at both Mom’s Plans where she writes about living a fulfilling life on less and paying down debt, and Fiscal Phoenix where she writes about rising from the ashes of your financial mistakes.