Occasional restaurant visits can fit within a budget
Statistics Canada’s latest report on sales in food and beverage places shows a steady increase over the past several years, with food sales rising to $4.9 billion in March 2015, representing a 2.8 per cent increase compared to March 2014. The numbers are much more dramatic if we go back to March 2010; we see roughly a 20 per cent increase in sales at bars and restaurants over the past five years.
You don’t have to be a personal finance guru to know that bars and restaurant bills should be among the first things to go when you are trying to reign in your spending. Responsible budgeting and spending often boils down to a judgement between wants and needs, and paying huge mark-ups to eat at a restaurant most certainly falls in the “want” category.
But is dining out exclusively a want? There are plenty of foodies out there who think of restaurants as a need, and the stats show that plenty of Canadians are sympathetic.
Jeff Schwartz, executive director of Consolidated Credit Counseling Services of Canada, doesn’t entirely disagree.
“Just as every diet needs a ‘cheat day,’ every budget needs a splurge every now and then,” says Schwartz. “An occasional meal out can be used as a reward and can keep you encouraged and motivated to budget.”
Schwartz points out that restaurants can be part of the entertainment category within a budget, which he recommends takes up no more than 5 per cent of monthly spending.
“A good budget isn’t restrictive,” adds Schwartz. “It actually liberates you because you can spend your money with confidence, knowing that you are meeting all of your financial obligations.”
That said, there are a number of ways to stretch your dollar when dining out. Consolidated Credit put together the following tips for getting more out of your entertainment budget:
- Daily specials – Many restaurants offer specials that could cut your bill in half if you go on the right day. Whether it’s a wing night or half-price appetizers, get to know the weekly schedule at your favourite restaurant and plan to go when it’s cheap.
- Stick to water – When a server asks “can I start you off with drinks?,” they might as well be asking “can I increase your bill by 40 per cent?” Ordering a glass of tap water (with lemon if you want to be elegant) can save you a substantial amount.
- Lunch and happy hour – Use the clock to your advantage. Instead of meeting your friends for dinner and late-night drinks, make a plan to meet for lunch or happy hour, when you can get the same food and drink for much cheaper.
- Go ethnic – Avoid the big Canadian family restaurants and sample some international food in your town or city. A meal in Chinatown will offer more for less, with a side dish of culture and adventure thrown in for free.
- Skip dessert – Though it’s tempting to order something sweet after your meal, avoiding it will benefit both your wallet and your waistband. Desserts are often overpriced and can also leave you feeling over-full. If you really want dessert, wait until you get home or go to an ice cream shop and spend a fraction of the price.
Are you doing your best to save money but you are still falling short of your financial goals? Are hefty debt payments preventing you from being able to treat yourself every once in a while? Call to discuss your budget with a trained credit counsellor, or try a Free Budget Analysis online.