After my previous dining out success, I was feeling confident about my skills and my ability to repeat the success.  So I stepped it up. I suggested that we go out to dinner.

I feel that I may have jumped the gun a bit. Here’s what happened:

Money saving strategy #1: Have a budget

We did this during our first attempt and it was perfect. We knew exactly how much money we had to spend. We knew that we had to stick to this amount or we were going to have problems (I hate not being able to leave a proper tip and when we go over our budget for food, we have to cut back somewhere. It’s not the server’s fault we can’t pay attention to price. I don’t feel he or she should have to literally pay for our mistake). Since we were going to dinner, we had to up the budget from $30 to $50. For this amount of money, we knew we could go to a few local restaurants. We chose the one that was closest to home due to the time and a very cranky 5 year old in the back seat.

Money saving strategy #2: Select a restaurant that will pay us back

Although the decision to eat at this particular restaurant was made mainly due to time constraints and a need to get food into my child, we also selected it because they have one of those “frequent flyer” cards. You know, the kind where you get a little punch every time you make a purchase. Well, for this restaurant, you get a little stamp marking the amount of money you spent and when the card gets to $200 spent, you receive a $20 gift certificate. We had about $15 left to spend until our card was full so we figured we’d go there, fill the card and get our gift certificate. $20 purchases lunch for my husband and me on another day. So, essentially, we received a free meal by selecting this particular restaurant.

Money saving strategy #3: Share food, pay attention to price and adjust accordingly

We also used this strategy during our first attempt. Since we were eating Chinese food, it was easy to share dishes.  When we looked at the menu, problems set in. I don’t eat most meat (I do eat fish) and the seafood dishes are way too expensive.  After much discussion and back and forth, we settled on one chicken dish and one tofu dish. We also ordered soup for each of us and my husband and I shared spring rolls. The total bill came to $32.50, and we left a $7 tip (we all drank water).  I was elated that we walked out of there with $10 in our pockets plus the $20 gift certificate.

Then my husband announced that he wanted ice cream. We were all set to pick up a pint at the supermarket but, on the way there, he noticed that a local ice cream shop was open. Now, this place has spectacular ice cream but it is expensive. And, of course, my daughter wanted ice cream as well. And, of course, I began to twitch because I knew that I was no longer going to be able to put that $10 back into the restaurant envelope. My husband ordered his waffle cone, my daughter ordered her cone and I didn’t want anything. I was prepared to surrender the remaining $10 but somehow, by daughter’s ice cream wound up being free and we came home with $5. Victory!

Not quite the success I was hoping for but the free ice cream and $20 gift certificate certainly helped ease the pain a bit.  I don’t think I’m quite ready for the challenge of dinner.

Have you had any success saving money on your restaurant dining lately?

Jana Lynch

Jana Lynch