Make eating out the exception, not the rule

Who doesn’t love going out to dinner? Unfortunately, frequent dinners out are not part of a frugal lifestyle. It’s expensive and usually leads to weight gain.

Before I found a full-time job, we avoided restaurants for months. We just couldn’t afford to eat out. Only on very special occasions, like birthdays and anniversaries, did we opt to eat at a restaurant. The rest of the time, we cooked our meals at home.

When I was hired and we found ourselves with more wiggle room in the budget, we decided to cut ourselves some slack. However, I still didn’t want to make it a habit. In the past we ate at restaurants at least once a week. That was costing us over $100 a month!

Our compromise? We eat at restaurants only once a month. On the last weekend of the month, we look at our budget, and if we have room for a restaurant meal, we treat ourselves.

This weekend will be the third month that we’ve followed this rule. So far it’s worked out well, and it’s been a lot of fun. We can afford to fit $30 into our monthly budget for a meal out, and I enjoy it a lot more now that we don’t go out frequently. It’s a fun way to celebrate a successful month and a great incentive to stay on track to make sure there’s room in our budget for it.

We carefully select a local restaurant that we’ve never tried before instead of settling on a chain. In fact, I think we’re more likely to try new things now that we only go out once a month. We were more likely to be complacent about our restaurant choices when we ate out frequently. After all, why not make things easy and pick a chain when we know we’ll have the opportunity to try something new later? Now that we only get to pick one restaurant a month, we choose carefully and try something new.

It’s also a lot easier for us to choose an expensive restaurant if there’s room in the budget, because it’s only a once-a-month expense.

The best part? It’s a lot easier to manage a $30 restaurant budget than $100+.