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Do we have to be rich to be chowhounds? How do you manage your budget?

Ok. This might be a weird question, but I was thinking about the "How many times a week do you eat out" thread...and I was wondering how most of chowhound budget themselves to be able to eat out as much as they do. I just started my career so I don't make a huge salary, but since I love restaurants and food in general, that's where most of my monthly "spending money" goes. But how do people in my situation manage? How do you eat out that much and still manage to buy nice clothes to wear when you eat out? ;-)

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  1. The same way French women don't get fat. Eat often, but eat little.

    You don't HAVE to eat a 10 course tasting menu every night of the week. You can go and have drinks only, hit a place at Happy Hour, or go and have dessert or coffee only. You still get to sample the ambiance, but at a significant saving.

    Increasingly, many places have HH specials or free buffets which helps a lot! Then there're deals to be had, like the one at this bar where they serve complimentary warm-roasted rosemary nuts, cheese straws, and marinated olives. All you do is order a drink (about $10) and that's a meal!

    And if you simply MUST eat, pick a few of the cheapest things on the menu and make a meal out of those!

    Finally, look out for "restaurant week" or other event deals where, once again, you get to sample a place at a reduced cost. Remember, every little helps!

    TT

    1. I think a lot of it depends on where one thinks they will find "chow." I spend about 50% of my income eating out (er... eating in general, actually).

      I have found some of the best chow in little Mexican dives in old strip malls in Phoenix, as well at some of the finer restaurants in the metro area.

      If I am a little tight on money due to other financial obligations, then I focus on those little Mom & Pop places that serve great ethnic food for very little pocket money.

      Having eaten at quite a few restaurants in Phoenix and Southern California, I can attest to the fact that there are some small, cheap places that serve much better chow than many fine dining establishments.

      1. Most of my spending money goes to food and clothes. The more I spend on one, the more I have to spend on the other. Oh yeah, and running clothes/shoes and race entry fees, which is also directly related to food consumption!
        My eating habits do not match my income. My food choices way out-spend my salary....

        2 Replies
        1. re: thenurse

          Exactly like me!!! But I find myself to be broke all the time! How do you manage?

          1. re: Frenchie

            I have no expense account. I guess I'm just used to being broke - and happy!!! It helps that I'm a good cook and some friends aren't. I make them a good meal, then they take me out (but this is not a formal agreement).
            I pick and choose when, and where I want to spend my money on eating out/$$$ food. I don't waste it on junk food, esp. if my fridge is full.

          1. re: ipsedixit

            Well that's what I was GONNA say, but it doesn't help the OP much.

            TT

          2. I stopped buying new clothes or expensive toys years ago so that I could spend my money on the things that make me happy. Food and travel. I also do not drink that much when eating out unless there is a special wine that will complement the food. I find it absurd that a cocktail can cost as much as an entree.

            2 Replies
            1. re: lazysue

              I think you hit the target on this little tidbit. Drinks can easily blow your budget. It is so tempting to try new exotic mixtures, but my SO & I restrain ourselves so we can afford to eat out MUCH more cheaply. To 'reward' ourselves for such restraint, we buy really good alcohol to have at home so we can mix our own (we've become quite adept at finding amazing recipes online of our favourites)...and then there's no need for one of us to be 'designated driver'.

              Drinks can double your bill in a jiffy. If I want to *splurge* on an appetizer or dessert, it's usually the same or cheaper than the cost of a single frozen mixed drink...so it's all in how you look at things. Knock out the booze and you'll find a lot more $$ in your budget to invest in your chowhound addiction.

              1. re: debrolex

                Mme ZoeZ and I rarely drink when we are out - Mme.might have a glass of wine but I only want to order a shot of Stoly and THAT might be $12.00. Don't want it - not only that the 'shot' may be the size of a bucket and I don't want to drink all that and still be able to stand. That said, we often go to good/more $ restaurants and don't spend a fortune. We were recently at L'Atelier in Las Vegas (great decor, food and service) and our bill for two was just over $100 including tax and we had plenty to eat. Sharing is the key and haunting a few low cost ChowDives the rest of the time. If you love food, there's a way.