Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Eating Out on a Budget

For class, I'm part of a group blog about graduate school problems. It's kind of funny, but my first post is informative, and I think it would be useful here, too. So check out my post "Eating Out on a Budget."

When graduate students’ finances run low, eating out is a quick and easy luxury to toss out the window. Buying groceries and cooking are oftentimes better options. But depriving yourself of all dining out festivities isn’t any fun, either. Instead, cut some corners so you can still get the dining out experience without feeling like you’ll be filling up on Ramen Noodles for the rest of the month.
Here are some basics:

1. Pick up the coupon booklets at the beginning of the semesterCampus Special makes coupon booklets that give local restaurants and businesses the opportunity to advertise to thousands of students, while students get some cheap, or sometimes free, food. Check out the bookstores on campus or head out to the front of the Mountainlair within the first few days of classes each semester, and you’re sure to see some student interns handing them out to all who pass. Who doesn’t want half off some gelato?

2. Order from DubVmenus: DubVmenus has some pretty great deals from time to time. Check them out before you head to the restaurant to see where the best deal would be. And, they’ll have extra promotions around the beginning of the semester or near exams with weeks like “Eat Cheap Week.”

3. Purchase the RubberU bracelet: This program essentially consists of a one-time fee of $10 that gets you discounts almost everywhere in Morgantown. If you tend to eat out a lot, that fee will certainly pay for itself very quickly.

4. Follow your favorite restaurants on Twitter: No, really, do it. And friend them on Facebook, and check in on FourSquare. You’d be surprised at how many places advertise specials on social media. Why? Because you’re becoming an easy word-of-mouth for them. I’ve had a burger named after me at Tailpipes from using Twitter and multiple discounts when when I’ve checked in on FourSquare. In fact, I think that’s the only reason I keep that app around …

Now onto the main course:

1. Drink Water: Not only will this save you calories with a pop or alcohol, but you’ll also get free refills.

2. Pass on the salad: But they’re good for you! They also have large markups. And avoid the appetizers, too. It’s just added money that would be better suited in your pocket.

3. Get the good stuff: While it’s tempting to pick the cheapest item off the menu when you’re trying to save money, it’s not necessarily the wisest. Why? Because you could probably make the pastas, hamburgers, chicken breast dishes more easily and cheaper. The dishes that contain more expensive ingredients or are more complicated to prepare are still more expensive, but the easy dishes’ prices are brought up to reach some sort of median price range. Food costs account for around 18% of the menu price. So those comfort food dishes are where restaurants are making the money. Opt for the red meat or seafood dishes to make your dollar go further and try something different.

4. Take home doggie bags: If you have a delicious meal at a restaurant, what’s better than having that same meal again without paying for it! I never understood people who don’t eat leftovers. You just saved yourself time, energy, and preparation for your next meal because it’s already sitting in your fridge. Don’t forget the extra bread and sides.

Anybody have any other good tips? Share them in the comments below!