Every now and then, it's nice to go out and grab a lunch at a cafe or go out to dinner with a friend and catch up on life. But the one thing that stops people from going out too much is that the costs add up quickly. One year, my husband and I spent over $10,000 at restaurants. My husband is a chef, but still, that's a lot of dough.
After looking at our spending, we had to sit down and create a budget for eating out because we should have saved up some of that money for the kids we have today. We decided that we still wanted to eat out, but we needed to be smart about it. We went to grand openings that offered free food, searched high and low on Groupon (GRPN) and Living Social and opted to try the Happy Hour menu -- something we never considered before.
Once we got familiar with all the ways that we could save money and still indulge in our favorite dishes at local restaurants, we started looking at apps that would cut our time in half while scoring the same discounts. Here are three of our favorite apps:
Savored (savored.com): In recent years, Groupon has led the deal movement by securing incredible discounts at your favorite neighborhood restaurants and other establishments. It only makes sense that the company would come up with an app that would help you save money and make reservations at your local restaurants for free.
My city is Los Angeles which definitely has a happening restaurant scene, but there were only 66 restaurants available (New York City had 360 restaurants and Chicago had 74 available). Savings range from 15 to 50 percent. You pick your party size and date and the discount will be shown. You make the reservation and you just have to show up to the establishment and the rest is taken care of, but make sure you read the fine print because most restaurants will add gratuity automatically.
Scout Mob (scoutmob.com): We all like to save a few bucks here and there, but many of us probably don't carry a coupon with us at all times for a specific establishment. This app allows you to add a deal, which gives you 50 percent off at a participating business. Once you add it, you just have to show your phone screen to get the discount. Most places I looked up had a maximum $10 savings, so to get the best bang for your buck, you would spend a maximum of $20.
While it is easy to use, I was bummed to see that there were only five participating restaurants "near" me, which were all 15 plus miles away. Yes, the deals are amazing, since you get 50 percent off your purchase, but they need to add more places to make it more enticing for people to actually install the app. If you're a New Yorker, there are 149 establishments to choose from, which is a better sell. The app is free so it doesn't hurt to get it since you can save money at a participating business you may already frequent.
Blackboard Eats (blackboardeats.com): If you want a detailed review of a restaurant you want to visit and occasionally get some incredible deals, this app will do that for you. You can login to the app and tap on "Guide" to find restaurants near you. You can scan the list and find the restaurant you would like to visit. Once you open it up, you get a really detailed review of the establishment.
For someone like me who likes to know the 411 before I get to the restaurant, this is perfect. Plus, you can tap on "Specials" to see if there are any current or upcoming specials that you can get. When it's available, you can get a percentage off your bill or get something for free. Like most users on Android, I had an issue logging into the app. Once I reset my password from my computer, I had no issues and it worked nicely for me. The app is free and if you're a foodie who likes to research restaurants beforehand and get an occasional deal, it's is definitely worth it.
Susan Yoo-Lee is the editor of Savings.com personal finance blog and founder of Mommas in the House blog.
12 Ways to Save Money on Food
Restaurant Apps That Will Save You Money
This advice applies to adults and kids alike. Plan out your shopping list before you head to the grocery store so you’re not tempted by impulse buys, and let any children along for the ride know that you plan on sticking with that list. Small expenditures add up to big money, so try to avoid giving in to any last-minute requests.
If your children continue to insist that you purchase their requested items, then ask them to bring their own piggy bank money. Remind your children they are only allowed to pick something they can afford. It's good practice for grown-up budgeting.
You might not have 20 hours a week to scour multiple publications for the best deals, but if you focus on searching for online coupons, you'll end up saving just as much. Search online for products with the word "coupon" afterward. For instance, if you're looking for Cascade dish soap, search for "Cascade dish soap coupons."
To make sure that you don't waste money on impulse buys, schedule your shopping around paydays. The day or day after you get paid should be your shopping day. Before you go shopping, make a list and make sure it has everything you'll need until the next shopping day on it. Now make a commitment to yourself that you will make what you're going to purchase last until the next shopping day.
Stocking your freezer with frozen meals can help you save money on lunch, since they cost just about $5 each. It can even be a healthier option because they help you practice portion control. Just make sure you're purchasing meals that have no preservatives, and watch out for sodium levels.
Don't waste your time making a sack lunch every day. Instead, prepare a week's worth of lunches on Sunday, and your body will thank you for the extra 10 to 30 minutes of sleep you'll gain each night. If you cook one big meal on Sunday, make sure it's easy to change up throughout the week. Chicken, rice and vegetables all cook quickly and taste great with different sauces and cheeses.
Most families throw away so much food on a weekly basis. A better idea is to turn your dinner leftovers into a lunchtime feast. Apps like BigOven help you use your leftovers to make yummy, new dishes. All you have to do is enter the ingredients you have, and the app will show you different recipe options for your leftovers. You'll save money using food that would have been thrown out.
If you know you have $400 to spend per month on your food budget, that's roughly $100 a week. Whether you shop once or twice per week or use cash or credit doesn't matter as long as you stay within your spending limits. Just be sure to only spend the amount you allotted per week.
Keep your shopping list in a set location so all members of the household can access it. Write estimated prices of the items you are going to buy next to each item on the checklist. It can serve a dual purpose as a price book you can use to guess how much you will spend.
If you've ordered from the kids menu at a restaurant recently, then you know how big the meals are – they're almost as big as meals for adults, and they can cost up to $10 each. If you have multiple children, an easy way to cut down on this expense is to have them share a meal. Not only does this lower the cost of feeding everyone, but it also cuts down on food waste.
Most stores are open late, and without the distraction of announcements, people and maybe even your kids, you can have your own Zen moment. When you are clearheaded, you're more likely to zone in on what you really need and leave out what you really don't. Plus, it's easier to give the cashier coupons without causing any delays for the people in line behind you.
We are a society consumed by all sorts of apps, but if you want to grocery shop, save money and still be lazy, let Favado, an app created by Savings.com, do the work for you. The app will tell you about items on sale from different stores, and if there is a store coupon or manufacturer coupon, it will also let you know that too. (Of course, you can just use it to scan the weekly ads to keep things simple.) And if you're already glued to your smartphone, it's easy to incorporate into your shopping routine.