Eating out is one of those pleasures that pretty much everyone enjoys. Many years ago and many years in the past, this was a rare and special occasion or treat to go out to eat. However, times have changed so much that the need for budgeting for eating out is a near necessity for most households.
We admit that eating out without paying attention to the actual cost ended up costing us big time as this was a big contributor to our debt load. We still enjoy and go out to eat, but with an entirely different plan and outlook! It is first allotted in our budget, then we try to save before going to the restaurant (the tips we are going to share in this article) and finally, the ways to stretch the budget for when we are actually at the restaurant. Most of the time, our family 0f 7 can eat for the cost of 2-4 people depending on the savings raked in before arriving and the strategic ordering while we are there. This allows us to enjoy eating out and not eating our budget!
A few years ago, we discovered some ways to stretch our eating out budget that often meant an extra meal out per month! That’s actually a great amount of savings on eating out! There are tricks for the local restaurants, so this tip is going to only work on the chain restaurants, which most visit anyway.
Here’s that easy, big, money, saving trick!
Simply use your eating out budget to purchase discounted gift cards before you ever hit a restaurant! We can almost always get at least 10% discount on the gift cards, but quite frequently, 15%, 20%, 25%, even….free. That means we can walk into any restaurant with a $25 gift card that we paid less than that for and then stretch the budget even further with coupons to that chain restaurant AND the tips we share in the How To Save Money At a Restaurant Without Coupons. Our goal is to feed whomever is with us with the entirety of the gift card. We can’t even count the number of times we have eaten at places like Outback, Olive Garden, Chilis, Applebees and more with a discounted gift card and the other tips and paid for it all with a gift card… that we also got on discount!
How to get these discounted gift cards on a regular basis
There are several places to get gift cards and different varying degrees of discounts as well as availability. We are going to list the places we get ours and the pros/cons of each!
First suggestion is Swagbucks! We LOVE swagbucks! It’s been quite a while since we have mentioned Swagbucks, but it is an easy place to earn points (aka, swagbucks) and then those points can be redeemed for rewards of all kinds…including gift cards. We have been using swagbucks for many years now and have earned quite a few gift cards….too many to count! We also pay for Christmas with our Swagbucks by getting Amazon gift cards. Swagbucks is really easy to use. In a nutshell, it is a search engine alternative to google. By using their search engine, you get points for each search. Note: It’s NOT surveys. We laid all of this out in detail in our previous post called What is all this Swag About?
Cons: It’s not immediate. If you want to eat out for free, it takes time to build up your swagbucks, then redeem them for your gift card. Your gift card does arrive via email right away (and then print off to use at the restaurant). Truthfully, it takes a couple of weeks for each one, but every couple of weeks (with diligent Swagbucks usage by using Swagbucks instead of google when you do your internet searches) you get a free night out!
Pros: Which brings us to the pros of this option – the gift cards are FREE! The best discount on our list! Here’s an example from dozens of options – the Darden gift card is our favorite as it is for any Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, Bahama Breeze and Seasons 52 restaurant in the U.S.
Next on our list is purchasing discounted gift cards from a reputable company. The only company that we have purchased discount gift cards through is Cardpool. The reason why is because we got an extra $5 discount (on top of the discounted prices) on any gift card – so a FREE $5 to spend – because we were referred to Cardpool from a friend. Once we tried it, it worked, made sense, is easy, is reliable and has become our “go-to” spot for gift cards!
How it works in a nutshell: you can check their inventory for current gift cards (they have gift cards for everything, not just restaurants) and their restaurant gift cards are 5% – 20% off, with sales making them even lower at times. The you choose the place, then the denomination and make your purchase!
We have written a full article on Cardpool in our previous post for even more details.
Cons: Many of the gift cards are physical gift cards mailed to you (free shipping) and some are egift cards that send the information to your email and you print it off and use it. The con about this is that you do need to pay attention to which one you are buying. If you want to use it immediately and accidentally buy the physical one – then you have to wait for it to come in the mail.
Another con is that there inventory is always changing and so you can’t ever be certain that you will be able to get a gift card to where you want at any time. I check it often to see what inventory they have and if it’s on our list. Also, if we decide to go out to dinner that night, I will check here to see what’s available for egift card and that helps make our decision.
Here’s an example of some of their restaurant inventory at the time of writing this:
Pros: This is the #1 place we get them and there are no limits to how many we can get! They are the second cheapest option (as opposed to #1 – FREE above :)) and a great way to always get a 10%+ discount always. They are reliable and popular!
You can also get a $5 additional discount on any gift card by being referred from a current user. You can use this referral link from us and get that $5 discount. Then, share with your friends so they can get a discount and you also will receive coupon codes for $5 off your future orders too! Just an additional way to save even more!
3. Kroger and Kroger Sister Stores Nationwide
When we are in a total bind, we will use this option. Basically, by purchasing your gift card at any Kroger or Kroger Affiliate (Sister) stores nationwide, you can earn points to get gas discounts and more.
If you simply do not want to buy your gift card for a discount online, or you happen to be in the grocery store and are heading out to dinner, ALWAYS, at the very least, get your gift card at these stores or other stores that offer rewards and points for the more you spend at their store.
By purchasing gift cards at our local Kroger affiliate store (Smiths), we can earn some good gas discounts – which means an extra money off the next time we fill up- with a minivan and 20+ gallons, if we get an extra .10 off per gallon, that’s an easy $2 savings! That’s the bear minimum discount!
On top of this, they will often have bonus points and most recently in our coupon mailer from Kroger, we actually had 2 coupons – one for $5 off an Applebees gift card and another for $5 off an Olive Garden gift card – THAT’S HUGE!
Cons: It’s not that big of a discount, but the rewards do add up and so it just makes sense to grab one here and there with your eating out budget when you grocery shop.
Pros: It’s immediate, it’s easy when you are grocery shopping.
4. The Seasonal Gift Card Sales at The Restaurant Itself
Yes, we are talking about the ones that historically happen during the winter months right before Christmas. You know, the promotion like “buy a $25 gift card and get a bonus $5 gift card.” Those are certainly a deal and one to not miss!
Cons: Some promotions are better than others as the real deal is in the details. Most often, we find that these “bonus gift cards” have quite a few restrictions and almost always an expiration date like: must spend at least $30, or can only be redeemed the first two weeks of January, etc. So they really are not a true gift card, but rather a nice coupon! Also, you can only get these during the promotion period, which is usually just November and December each year.
Pros: If the promotion details fits within your plans anyway, then these are a great deal.
Well, that about covers it! BUT…we did want to point out that a gift card is just like cash, therefore you can also combine the gift cards with coupons! Stacked savings are the best and the food seems to taste better when it costs less. 🙂
These are tips for saving at the CHAIN Restaurants – we have another list on how to save at the local places too!