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Beyond Pizza and Fast Food: Dining Out on a Budget

11 October 2020 296 views 5 Comments

During college, your dining out experiences may have been limited to Papa John’s and Burger King, and who can blame you? Dinging out is hella ‘spensive. Sure, we all splurged occasionally for a nice dinner with a significant other, but in general, a college budget doesn’t allow five-star dining often. Of course, your budget probably hasn’t changed all that much, but your tastes probably have. You don’t have a cafeteria anymore for “slightly-better-than-fast-food” meals. Your girlfriend or boyfriend is probably asking for more serious dates. Your work colleagues may want to have dinner together. So, how do you deal with dining out when you’re living on a shoestring?

  • Budget for it. As strange as it may seem, writing down a concrete budget can help you stay on track so that you actually have enough money for rent this month. List all of your bills and subtract that from your monthly income. The money you have left over is the money you have to play. Of course, you should put at least some of that into a savings account, but at the very least, don’t overspend and have to put your tab on your credit card.

  • Get to know your local restaurants. It is a good idea to gather menus if possible or to at least call and get an idea of what different restaurants in your area cost. That way, when you have to go out with someone, you can make a good suggestion for a place that is a bit less pricey. It is better than showing up and finding out that your meal will cost $70.

  • Check out websites for coupons. Many of your local restaurants will have printable coupons on their website for money off your total bill. Check it out! You might have to spend over a certain amount, but if you are going out with others, that should not be a problem.

  • Have dessert at home. Those slices of pie and chocolate fudge sundaes may look good right now, but they’ll add at least $5 to your bill. Stop by the grocery store on the way home. You can buy two pints of ice cream or a whole pie for less than that and it tastes just as yummy.

  • Lay off the drinks. When you go out, get a water instead of a soft drink and forget about the beer and mixed drinks. It may not seem like a big deal, but by the end of the month, all of those drinks can really add up. If you must get alcohol, ask what drinks are on special and stick to just that. Remember to ask about prices, as they usually won’t be printed in the menu.

There are alternatives to eating out. Instead of treating your significant other to a fancy dinner, make dinner at home and eat by candlelight. Instead of going out to eat with friends or co-workers, plan a small party at your house where everyone brings a dish. If you must have dinner out, remember to stick to your budget. Go for the low-ticket items and you should be able to afford eating out more often.

Picture via sxc.hu.

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  • PisecoMom said:

    In high school & college, my sister’s boyfriend would agree to cook a special & fancy dinner at their apartment for me & a date - for prom, etc. It was a great way to feel pampered without blowing a budget.

  • bren j. said:

    I never thought of budgeting for things like that in college but in retrospect it sure would’ve been a good idea! I like the idea of pooling money, hitting the grocery store and picking up food for a picnic. Eating out with the eating out price.

  • Kathy said:

    Here are two suggestions for dining on a budget…
    check out http://www.restaurant.com for dining establishments in your area. I just purchased four gife certificates for restaurants totaling $100 but I only paid $20. They were running a special which they do periodically. These are not fast-food places, they are nicer places so they are a little more expensive, but for a nice date out, it’s a great idea.
    Also, I like to send gift cards to the college-age children of my friends who are away and could use the extra help with food money. I just sent a Wendy’s gift card to a friend in Lakeland. She has a meal plan at the cafeteria, but they don’t serve meals on Sunday night so she will use it for times like that. Plus, I sent her a booklet of those Junior Frosty coupons - you get 10 for $1.00. Can’t beat that.
    bigfamily8 (at) yahoo. com

  • Dani said:

    I never really had the extra money to eat out while in college. I always ate in the cafeteria. When I did go out, I would go with friends to a pizza place or somewhere that you could share the food. That way you could also share the bill!

    daniwilliams30 AT gmail DOT com

  • Jackie said:

    We used to get $5 pizzas from Papa Johns when we were undergrads. *sigh* I miss those days, but it does explain the extra weight I now carry…

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