How to Budget for Dining Out

How to Budget for Dining Out

One of my favorite things about living in New York is that every time I read the NYTimes Dining section, or see an Eater list of top restaurants, almost every restaurant is within a subway ride away. Since moving to New York, I’ve been to four out of five of Eater’s “hottest” restaurants and eaten at some of the best restaurants in the world, even though chances are my salary isn’t a third of the size of those dining on either side of me. One of the most common questions I get when I tell people about the fantastic meal I’ve eaten the night before, is “How did you afford that?” The short answer is that food is something I care about and make an effort to prioritize, but here are some tips I’ve adopted for being able to eat out at an amazing restaurant at least twice a month!

Have drinks at home. While having a glass of wine is sometimes a necessary part of a meal (Say Yes to the wine pairing at Noma, say No to the wine pairing at the new trendy place down the block), whenever you feel that the cocktail or wine list won’t enhance the food, skip it and look forward to the bottle of 2 Buck Chuck you have waiting at home for you! Another tip: my boyfriend and I have a deal that if one of us is taking the other out, the other person will pay for all of the drinks.

When you eat out, make sure it’s somewhere special. Don’t eat out (or order in) just to eat out. On nights where I’m too exhausted to cook, and just don’t have it in me to make anything for dinner, I stay away from the Take Out menu drawer in my apartment and head to the grocery store. If necessary, lots of stores have great ready-made options that are a fraction of the price of take-out. Trader Joe’s has great frozen foods that (while not nearly as delicious as anything home made) cost $8 instead of the $20 that China Palace will cost you.

Bring lunch to work. Never, ever eat lunch out. Think of it this way: if you spend $10 per workday on lunch, then that’s $50 per week and $200 a month. That’s an entire twenty-course tasting menu at 11 Madison Park or Sushi Nakazawa, or a dinner for two with all the drinks you want at Pok Pok. Chances are you won’t remember the fried chicken you bought last Thursday, but I can still describe in detail every piece of tuna Mr. Nakazawa served me two months ago.

Ditch your gym membership. A gym can cost upwards of $80 per month. Instead of spending your money on treadmills and barbells, try running and working out outside (it’s a better workout anyways)!