Spending Shakedown – Dining, Bars & Cafes

Eating out is a popular past time for many people, but it can become very expensive, very quickly. This guide will help you keep a lid on the costs.

Restaurants & Dining

If you eat out with friends and/or family, there are lots of fun (and cheaper) things you can do and still be social:

  • Progressive dinner – get together a group of friends and do a moving dinner party. Entrée at one person’s house, mains elsewhere & dessert at a third place. It spreads the cost, the mess and is incredibly fun.
  • Gourmet picnic in the park – stock up at the local deli or grocery store, pack an esky and go wild. Don’t forget your picnic blanket and something nice to drink!
  • Take turns hosting a dinner party – depending on numbers the guests might take care of dessert and drinks while the host does mains

For those who want some tips to spend less when still eating out, we have those covered for you too:

  • Eat less! Consider sharing entrees or desserts or even dropping a course. This is often an easy savings of at least $10 per person
  • Find BYO restaurants but be sure to check the corkage fee – if you only have one glass, it might not be worth taking your own bottle
  • Set a budget limit for the period & tally as you go. Once you hit your limit – no more eating out!
  • Look for discounts – there are so many sites where you can find discounts at really nice restaurants. To name a few – The Entertainment Book, Groupon, Scoopon & the Fork

Bars & Pubs

Like other Lifestyle categories, you have the option of taking a hiatus from Bars & Pubs. If that’s not you, the next best thing is going home with as much money as you can. Here are our top tips to avoid spending regret in the morning:

  • Don’t be in a rush! Check out the menu prices before you purchase and see if it’s less expensive to buy a bottle of wine rather than 3 or 4 glasses.
  • Suss out Happy Hour. Lots of places have an hour or more where the drinks are cheap. Why not get there in time to have your first drink or 2 for sometimes half the price
  • Set yourself a limit for the night, bring cash & leave your card at home. When it’s all gone switch to water
  • Don’t get caught up in rounds. Make a choice early on – you’re either in or out. If there are more than a couple of people – we suggest out. Be proud, say you’re on a budget or saving for something, and you’ll buy your own tonight

Coffee Shops

To minimise your spending in this category you can take a break and pocket the money, or you can find ways to spend less when you go.

Some food for thought:

  • Calculate the annual cost of your coffee habit – is purchasing a coffee machine for the home something you want to consider?
  • Can you cut down on 1 cup per day or a certain number per week? How much will that save you?
  • Is it time to check out different coffee shops – in some places the price of coffee varies by up to $2 per cup (or $3 if you count 7-11)?
  • Do the cafes in your area have Happy Hour? Shifting your break by an hour or 2 may save you $10 over the week.
  • If you’re eating coffee and cake, check out vouchers in the Entertainment book and just general specials around the area
  • If you’re eating a meal, take a look at Groupon & Scoopon and see what is cheap in the area


You can probably reduce your spending in this category by taking your lunch just a few days a week.

If we conservatively assume a modest lunch of $10 per day, that equates to $50 per week and about $2,500 per year. Preparing lunch at home can quite easily be a third of that cost making a savings of about $1,650 over the course of the year.

The techniques we suggest for reducing your lunch spend are –

  • Reducing the number of days you buy lunch – you may find preparing 3 or 4 days lunches on a Sunday is convenient, leaving you with Thursday and/or Friday to continue having lunch out
  • Stopping buying lunch out altogether and taking food from home – making larger dinners and taking leftovers may be worth trying
  • If you are still keen to buy your lunch but spend less, another option is to do some legwork and find the less costly options close to you – for example options like sushi, rice paper rolls, and salad sandwiches can sometimes be found for around $6
  • If you have the Entertainment book, consider sharing lunch with a colleague. Often the coupons for everyday lunch places are 2 for 1, so go halves and be social at the same time!  


Similar to Lunches, regularly buying breakfast out is a real drain on your bank balance. Breakfast is often one of the easiest meals of the day to prepare – with simple options like fruit and yogurt, a toasted sandwich or a muffin (prepared earlier) easy to eat before work, on the run or at your desk.

Given the cafe culture in Australia, particularly in the cities, it’s fairly common for people to stop for a coffee and a bite to eat on the way to work. Kicking this habit, whether by having a coffee at home before you leave and bringing your breakfast is an easy way to save a lot more dollars.

Things we suggest you try –

  • Know how much you spend in this category to see how much you can potentially save
  • If coffee is your weakness, have one at home before work – do the calculations – if you don’t have one would buying a coffee machine be worth it? Would you use it?
  • Prepare – make some muffins and freeze them or make sandwiches that you can put in the toasted sandwich maker before or at work
  • Commit – decide on a reasonable amount to spend in this category and plan accordingly
  • Do the maths – for example, a sourdough or Turkish breadroll toasted with avocado would cost approximately $3.00 (breadroll $1.50 + 1/2 avocado $1.50) versus $8 to $12 from your local cafe

Takeaway & Fast Food

We always pay a price for convenience. There is nothing like a night in, no dishes, a movie and a drink from your own fridge. The perfect night! However, all takeaway nights aren’t like this. When it’s pure convenience and lack of time, there are strategies you can put in place to help. When you’re frequently spending in this category it will add up fast!

Things we suggest you try –

  • Know how much you spend in this category to see how much you can potentially save
  • Set a reasonable budget and commit to it
  • Find a strategy to suit you – if it’s purely for weeknight convenience consider preparing some meals in bulk on the weekend that you can freeze and easily heat on those nights when cooking is too difficult

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