When I’m not staff posting for Broke Professionals, I blog about my journey out of debt full time at So Over Debt. Come visit and read about my successes and failures – lately there are plenty of both!
There are a million articles and posts about saving money by taking your lunch to work. It’s cheaper, often healthier, and saves time during the lunch hour. But what happens if taking your lunch to work just isn’t possible?
I do take my lunch to work most of the time. However, there are days when I have meetings first thing in the morning with no access to a refrigerator. While I do use an insulated lunch bag, between my hour-long commute and an hour or two of meetings, my lunch can get gross and inedible in a hurry. There are also occasions when it would be antisocial not to go to a restaurant, like when it’s my boss’s birthday or a coworker’s retirement party.
All the advice about taking your lunch to work is great, but it doesn’t give you an option if you need to eat at a restaurant for whatever reason. Here are some simple tips for eating out for lunch without breaking your budget.
Drinks are ridiculously overpriced at restaurants. You’re looking at 2 or 3 dollars for a fountain drink that costs 13 cents. I hate water, but I like it better than wasting money on a drink.
Eat a Sandwich
When I go to a decent restaurant, I’m usually tempted to order something awesome (i.e. expensive) like those steak and shrimp combos that are suddenly popular. Those meals can easily cost twice as much as a cheeseburger or chicken sandwich! The sandwiches are also also huge enough that you can save half for later.
Order an Appetizer
A lot of restaurants have appetizer combos, where you can order several small portions together. Instead of $9.99 for a chicken strip meal with fries, you can pay $6 for chicken strips, chips with spinach dip, and mini burgers. Better deal? Um, yeah!
Ask About Half-Size Portions
Salads tend to be absolutely huge, but many restaurants offer a half salad for a reduced price. There are also half-size options for many other meals, but of course the restaurant won’t advertise this. It never hurts to ask!
Look at the Lunch Specials
Lunch menus exist for a reason. These meals are generally faster for the restaurant to make and have the added bonus of being cheaper.
Fast Food? Consider a Kid’s Meal
When I was in high school, I remember buying combos at McDonald’s for less than $4. Now, most meals are more than $6. While that’s not a huge difference, it adds up. I have learned that a Happy Meal is enough to fill me up most of the time – $3 and change for a burger, fries, and a drink. The smaller portions also significantly reduce the number of calories you’re consuming.
I love sweet stuff as much as anyone else, but restaurant desserts are just as overpriced as drinks – sometimes as much as $5 extra for a single serving. If you’re craving something sweet after your meal, go buy a candy bar for 50 cents at a gas station. Or, better yet, keep some snacks in your desk drawer and eat something when you get back to the office.
Don’t Feel Pressured to Leave a Big Tip
I guess some of my coworkers want people to think they’re wealthy, because they’re always volunteering to leave the tip for the entire group. Don’t be one of those people! Leave your own tip based on the cost of your meal – a dollar or two is often plenty, especially if your meal was only $7.
So there you have it – multiple ways to eat out for lunch that don’t cost a ton of money. What other ways have you found to save when you can’t take your lunch?