I am pleased to announce a new staff writer to Financial Highway, Jana.  Jana blogs at Daily Money Shot, and I am excited to have her here as a writer.  I’ll let her introduce herself:

Hi. I’m Jana. I eat in restaurants. And I’m thrilled to be here, documenting for you my journey from paying close to full price to saving money, lots of money, when I go out to eat.

Going out to eat is something that I’ve done for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, my parents would take us out to eat mainly for special occasions—birthdays, anniversaries, graduations. The normal stuff.  Sometimes we’d go out with other families as something to do, and we typically ate in restaurants when we were on vacation. We would order in pizzas or bring in fast food on Saturday nights before my parents would go out with their friends and before the babysitter got to our house. Bagels and deli platters were common place around certain holidays. My point? Restaurants were not foreign to me.

As I’ve gotten older, I still eat in restaurants. I enjoy it. I like the idea of not having to cook for a night or pack my lunch. I like to eat foods that I typically would not make at home. I love the idea of not having to do my own dishes. What I don’t love is the cost.

With a small child who has fairly…specific eating habits and the fact that I’m a vegetarian makes it a bit of a difficult task to find restaurants that we, as a family, can agree on (on another note, my husband? Will eat anything. Literally, anything. Once, in college, he ate food from a display case). We have managed to find a handful of restaurants in our area that have options for all three of us, and we typically choose between those few places. We know the cost, we know the service, and we know the menu.

Since we eat at only a handful of restaurants, I’ve already learned the ways to save money when we eat there. For instance, our favorite burger place that offers veggie burgers is a local franchise, and we’ve scouted the locations where kids eat free with the purchase of an adult meal. At our regular Chinese food place, we have one of those punch cards that once it gets filled up, we are rewarded with a $20 gift certificate.  We’ve used coupons for our favorite vegetarian restaurant (this one, incidentally, is my favorite place to eat). And I’ve signed up for the rewards card for our favorite chain restaurant.

We’ve already nailed down the money saving techniques at our favorite spots. Unfortunately, beyond those efforts, there’s not much else we can do to save money.  In addition to not being able to save more money, I’m getting bored with the same 4 places. But I’m overly cautious about new restaurants. That caution is making me feel that, sometimes, we’re throwing our money away by not being more open minded. Because if you look, there are lots of great deals on restaurants if you’re just willing to do two main tasks:

  1. Seek out the deals available
  2. Use the deals available, even if they’re to places you wouldn’t ordinarily chose

I am willing to do those! I am willing to put in some time to look for deals and even—gasp—try new places. Sadly, my skills in these areas are seriously lacking. Which why I’m glad I was able to get an advanced reading of Melissa’s book “Mom’s Dining Out Deals”.

As I was reading her guide, I was shocked not only by how good it is (seriously. It’s terrific. You should absolutely buy it. Don’t worry about the money because the money you’ll save from using it is worth the money you’ll pay out) but just how many sources of information there are for saving money on restaurants. There are programs—like the one at Chick-Fil-A where kids can get free food for As and Bs on report cards—that I did not even know existed. I don’t eat meat but my husband and daughter do. And they love Chick-Fil-A! And there’s one 10 minutes from my house! How’s that for an awesome deal (which will come in very handy when my daughter finally starts school)?

I have to admit that while I’m looking forward to implementing strategies outlined in Melissa’s book (and documenting them for you here), the chapter that’s most beneficial to me right now is the about dining out without coupons and deals. Not because I don’t want to save money that way but because I have a horrible problem of forgetting to bring my coupons with me. I start out with good intentions and then, upon arrival of the check, I realize that the coupon is still in my kitchen. If you have any suggestions on how to combat this problem, I’m all ears!

As I challenge myself to become a better steward of my restaurant budget, I’d like for you to think of me as the person who screws up so you don’t have to. I’d like for you to learn from my mistakes and make improvements in your own dining out budget. I’d like for you to teach me some tricks I don’t know.

Let’s do this!

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.