Food for Thought: How to save money at restaurants

If you had to pick one spot, one location or one place of business or service you spend most of your extra income, what would you choose?
The shoppers of the world might select malls, department stores and other places that do an outstanding job marketing their clothing to you as if you can’t live without it. Others might opt for most of their disposable income finding its way right to your stomach.

And by that, you’re talking about the propensity to spend money eating out at restaurants, something that can account for thousands of dollars in money spent that you wish you could have back the moment that last bite or sip is taken.

The truth is most financial experts and advocates will tell you that you should eating out at all costs, and the numbers certainly suggest that. If you eat dinner out, just yourself, three times per week and the average check is $20, you’re likely to spend nearly $3,000 per year just on restaurant dining. When you add that to your grocery bill, you are essentially paying for food twice: the food in your fridge and the food you’re ordering in or taking out, for starters.

Now as much as you want to say so long to restaurant or fast food dining for good, that isn’t realistic, and those same experts that tell you to give eating out the boot are the ones that also will suggest that budgeting should be realistic.

So, now what?

You might want to think about limiting the amount of time you spend eating out at restaurants, but if you must eat out for lunch or dinner, then you certainly can do so with saving money in mind. There are plenty of ways to save money on food in restaurants, starting with promotional sites and other online forums that give you a special two for $20 or some other dining experience where the pricing is cut in half.

Even better is skipping the expensive drink or dessert, and instead focusing the meal itself. And, as much as you’re in the restaurant because you’re hungry, you’re also inclined to visit that spot for socialization as well. So if you’re just tagging along after work or with a group of friends, you might want to consider eating before you go. That way, you’re inclined to get a drink, small appetizer rather than break the bank on the dinner menu.

Eating out is convenient, but doesn’t have to be completely off limits due to its cost. It can be done without spending a small fortune if you’re making it part of your budget or doing so with frugality in mind.

Tip-Jarred: How to save money without breaking sweat

From consolidation to cutting expenses, everyone is trying to save money.

Saving money is unique in a lot of ways, mostly because everyone wants to do it, few are good at it, and there really isn’t any way to get around the fact that having it is going to make your financial future brighter and, in turn, easier to manage.

And that goes for simple, day-to-day expenses or the much anticipated retirement.

Simply put, everything revolves around saving money.

And with good reason: you have to budget your money, make sure you’re spending less then you make (a fact lost on most of us) and that your planning of how, when and why your money is being put into play is constantly questioned and can change on a whim based on your financial need.

But why do you tend to make saving money so hard? Is it because we want things we can’t afford or don’t need (vacation, abundance of clothes, second homes, etc.) and we decide that we’d rather have them and borrow money we don’t have to ensure that these things are taking over and our financial goals of saving and securing retirement funds fall by the wayside?

The truth is we make money, saving it, more difficult then it needs. The truth of the matter is your budget and how you look at money needs to start with a stripped down budget and a not being afraid to cut as needed.

You can save money by doing one of the two things: cutting expenses or increasing income. Both can be done without much heartburn if you know where to look. The two biggest money pitfalls are food and unused goods or services. The food one is easy, as many eat out at restaurants for lunch or dinner on a weekly basis, yet we can still spend hundreds of dollars a week at the grocery store. Seems like we’re double dipping on that line item. Taking the time to meal prep and pack lunches is going to save you thousands each year.

As for the unused items, look around your house or consider the services you employ and never use. Gym and tanning spa memberships come to mind immediately, as well as things such as cell phones and cable television. Your phone and cable (with internet) is likely costing you upwards of $300 per month, when a Netflix account and a phone on a lesser, yet reliable network (Sprint, T Mobile, Boost, etc.) is all you’ll need to cut that previous bill in half.

Saving isn’t about working your fingers to the bone at five jobs but more about knowing your financial limitations and not being afraid to save when you least expected it.

Spend Undone: Bad spending hurts your debt situation

Do you know how to spend correctly?

Now, the definition of “correctly” is what get most of us in trouble when you’re talking about debt as some might deem that sports car a correct way of spending, while others think of more astute and more intelligent ways to spend their money, such as that pesky 401K contribution or setting aside five to 10 percent of every paycheck into their savings account.

Bad spending can be identified as what not to do with your money or habits that are going to lead to a lack of money saved or a financial standing filled with debt, among other money faux pas that could be in your not so distant future.

The first rule of thumb when it comes to spending is to actually know what you’re able to spend, and that starts with a budget you actually follow. Otherwise, you’ll be making the one mistake that the majority of people with a plethora of debt do: spend more than you actually make. That means quite simply if you spend $2,000 per month and make $1,700, you’re operating at a deficiency.

As obvious as that should seem, a good portion of the population resides with more than $20,000 in debt on average (per household). The reason most spend this way is because they live beyond their means, and budgeting is something that sounds good in theory, like when someone knows that their car payment is due “around” a certain date, but actually isn’t being practiced the way it should.

Bad spending could also be considered the kind of spending that is done with money that isn’t really even yours. That’s not to suggest theft by any means, but more along the lines of spending money on vacation and charging it on a credit card. Or using that same plastic to charge your way to a new work wardrobe or, even worse, using credit to pay your bills, a sign that again, budgeting isn’t your strong suit.

Debt is meant to be paid in an orderly fashion, so borrowing more to pay off debt is spending that is a totally neutral or lateral move. Now, if you want to lower an interest rate or consolidate so that you only have to pay one payment, so be it. But if you’re paying credit card debt with opening another credit card of the same ilk, you’re not going to get ahead any time soon.

So what exactly is “correct” spending? The kind of spending that allows you to have what you need and put the wants on hold or at least prioritized when you actually have the money.

Credit Downturn: How credit woes are holding you back from borrowing

 

When it comes to money, few things hurt quite as much as hoping to buy a car, a house, do home repairs or anything that would require you to get a loan, only to be turned down with extreme prejudice for a variety of reasons, namely your credit just doesn’t cut it.

Fixing your credit can start with the obvious: pay your bills on time is the easiest and most overlooked ironically piece of credit score monitoring you can do, whether that’s setting up automatic payments or just having a budget that is mapped out so you know what you owe and, most importantly, when it is due.

But sometimes paying in time isn’t enough, as there are other credit woes that are leaving you lacking in the eyes of lenders, as you’re just not cutting it as a safe borrower, one they can trust to get their money back in a timely or orderly fashion.

One element of your credit that can keep you down and truly out is having too high of a balance on a card that only carries so much in the way of a ceiling. For instance, if you have a $5,000 credit card limit and you owe $4900 on that card, your debt to ceiling ratio is going to be frowned upon, essentially telling lenders you max out cards and have little wiggle room in their eyes as it relates to how hard you push your debt to what you can afford, actually.

Your credit score also takes a beating when you apply for a ton of credit as every “hard inquiry,” meaning that you’re applying for one and not just checking your score, leads to a lower total when it comes to credit.

Finally, credit is only as good as the set of eyes that is watching it. If you expect someone to fix your credit or look for issues or mistakes, you’re asking far too much. Sure, you can implement and employ services that are going to watch your score and make sure nothing slips past as far as unusual activity, but you should also be the main person watching your credit score.

Mishaps or credit issues that aren’t of your doing can hurt your score, The average of 1 mistakes for every five consumers is a number that should alarm you into believing that your score isn’t impervious.

Nothing defines a person quite like their credit score, and being able to control it starts with paying attention to what you’re buying and just how much you’re using your credit versus what you actually have available.

Smart Money: How to save in ways you never thought possible

Some will argue that saving money isn’t about spending less or even having a budget that works. Instead, they like to think that they’ll always have a leg up on the saving money mentality simply because they never stop looking for ways to make money.

Of course, you have to have a budget that takes into consideration how much you make and quite simply what you spend as far as expenses. If you’re obviously well over your expense amount versus what you’re taking home, then revenue streams are a moot point.

But if you’re someone who has budget carefully but wants to save more than the amount that is showing in the black, you’re always going to be on the prowl for paying a little more on those credit cards, putting a little more into your savings account and just having that peace of mind that a few hundred dollars can go longer than not having anything at all.

Most assume that making extra money simply means getting a second or even third job, but that isn’t always the case. You might have extra money just lying around and if you’re not adept at seeing it, you might miss cash on hand.

Think about your at home electronics (or even the on the go ones) and you’ll see a boat load of money that can be used to pay bills or put in your savings account. Your old cell phone is just asking to be traded in for cash, and the same goes for old PC’s, tablets and anything else gadget wise that might be considered outdated by those who have to have the latest and greatest but could be seen as valuable by others, yourself included.

When you talk about extra money and the idea of getting another job comes into play, you want to work smarter not harder. All the rage these days is becoming a driver part time and making your own schedule (Uber comes to mind immediately). That, coupled with other making money ideas, should adhere to your schedule, such as being a freelance writer or babysitting a neighboring child so you can walk to work. Furthermore, making money can be just about not spending double, and the easiest and most obvious example are those individuals and families that spend money on groceries and yet eat out at restaurants as well. Why not take the time to meal plan, rather than have that food sit, while you spend $20 on a dinner for one and up to $50 for a family of four.

No one can argue that saving money can be difficult but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep you eyes wide open for even the smallest way to earn just a little more

Retirement Fun: How to save when you’re behind

Preparing for retirement is something we all think about, no matter if you’re 30 something or in your 50s, but the latter demographic tends to think a little longer and harder since calling it quits at work is much closer and at the forefront of their mind.

That said, being a 30 something should signal that retirement comes sooner than you think, and that saving starts from the moment you take that job and you’re asked if you want to pay into some sort of retirement fund, and you decide to jump on it, versus the alternative of letting free money (company match) fall by the wayside.

But those who are in their 50s tend to fret a little more than the 30 something crowd, particularly if you’ve been saving (or not) and are close to retiring but need one last gasp to get to the dollar amount you want and need in order to feel comfortable leaving work once and for all.

Those who want those extra dollars for retirement start by focusing on one huge elephant in the room, and that is paying off what should be very little of your mortgage leftover.

Those payment turn quickly into money saved, and that fact can’t be undersold when you are talking about heaping amount of money in your pocket for retirement.

If you aren’t in a position to pay off your home, consider downsizing your living area, perhaps selling your home for the last five years you plan on working and taking a $2,000 mortgage and turning it into a $800 per month rental in the form of an apartment. That, over the course of five years, means $1,200 per month in your pocket or $72,000 in that time period, for some an entire year of salary.

And as far as that work retirement plan, 401K or IRA, you might want to rethink your contribution there in relationship to your budget at home. That means increasing how much you’re putting toward your retirement and cutting expenses on your budget currently. For example, maybe that $200 per month for cable can be better served going into your retirement account when you change your contribution from the bare minimum, let’s say four percent, to eight percent. Yes, that’s more out of your paycheck but consider where it is going and that you might not miss cable all that much when you’re able to retire at 55 or 60, exactly as planned and without reservations that money is going to be a problem.

Save Bet: Some saving money tips are simple

Anyone who has ever tried to save money knows just how difficult it can be. But why is it so easy for some?

When you talk about “easy,” you have to put that term into perspective. “Easy” might be defined as someone who has money, and the rest of the world sits back in awe and wonders just why you can’t be the same way and how they did it with what seemed to be effortless.

The truth is those who save money with the greatest of ease aren’t supermen or superwomen, but rather have the whole saving money mindset with everything they do, and everything they buy or how they track both of those items.

It begins and ends with a budget, but beyond that they know how to save money in ways that aren’t difficult but common when you dig a little deeper than surface saving.

Food, surprisingly, is a cause for concern and one of the main reasons why you can’t save money. Ironically, it’s one of the easiest ways to save when you start to think about it.

First, you should be planning meals ahead of time and shopping accordingly. The biggest downfall as it relates to saving money and food is that you’re not necessarily overpaying but you’re paying twice.

You’re spending hundreds in groceries, and if you’re not thinking about your meals, you might end up throwing food away and losing hundreds via your garbage can. Furthermore, if you’re eating out at restaurants on top of the groceries, you’re planning and buying food in a store and also out, so what happens to the food in your fridge if you keep eating breakfast, lunch and dinner outside of your house.

In addition to saving money by not eating out, another simple way that the smart money managers use is their acumen and ability to cut out of their budget and modify accordingly. They may cancel cable in exchange for streaming, or make date night an actual night and not something that occurs every single weekend.

They’ll forgo the Starbucks in favor of Maxwell House, and they’ll buy their clothing in the offseason, such as that winter coat in April or the swim trunks in September.

No matter how you slice your savings, you can always do better. The once who do it best are the ones that look at it with a sense of casual common sense and no urgency, just in a way that is cool and calm, while of course they collect that extra money to save.