Who says you can’t eat out AND be frugal?

Who says you can't eat out AND be frugal? | Leaving the HerdMost of my readers are aware that I became a fan of Dave Ramsey about five years ago and have been paying off debt, intermixed with investing in our dream home, ever since.

It’s difficult to maintain extremely low discretionary spending; one of my weaknesses is eating out at great little restaurants.

Luckily, being frugal is a addicting.

Disregarding debt and savings, there are a million better ways to spend money than on a single meal, like a deck expansion or a greenhouse or retiring early and trekking the Andes.

However, I recently found a way to have my cake and eat it, too…at a restaurant.

While I am logically opposed to the slippery slope of a credit card, I have maintained an American Express card for points/miles. The additional insurance that American Express provides has saved me at least a few times as well.

For example, when I purchased a Bullfrog spa nearly two years ago on my American Express, doubling the manufacturer’s warranty. That’s some nice peace of mind for no extra cost. As long as I pay off my purchase by the end of the billing cycle, no interest is accrued.

These major expenses of course earn me “points” in the American Express rewards program. Before I switched to miles programs, I would log on, carefully evaluate the value of the available gift cards against the number of points required to redeem, and download some get-out-of-the-house cards that I will use throughout the coming year for celebrations or cravings.

This in and of itself seemed like a good way to eat out without spending money.

Christmas 2012 I opted for Groupon gift certificates. The monetary value per point was the same, but when you combine the gift certificate value with the 50% discount of a Groupon, you pretty much double the impact. Plus, I have built-in variety and most of the restaurants featured on Groupon are independent establishments.

A few weeks ago, I purchased a $15 for $30 Groupon for Flavors of India with an AmEx points-purchased gift certificate. I got so much food for $30 that I got a repeat of the butter chicken the next night and incorporated yummy naan bread into yet another meal.

I ended up repeating the process the next weekend for some Indian food downtown prior to attending a really neat vintage market, adding in an extra order of naan bread for dinner that evening.

I even purchased concert tickets last summer with my AmEx points Groupon gift certificates.

Clearly the use of a credit card is a dangerous thing. One must be fully committed to paying off the full balance right after the purchase – as in the money is in the bank and the transfer is already set-up.

But combine self-control with an American Express and you have a pretty tasty deal.

4 Comments
  1. Emily, you seem to have a lot of experience with this. I can’t wait until I’m 5 years into my debt recovery journey. We use reward points too but eat out very infrequently now. I blew my restaurant budget on delivery pizza for a family birthday and take-out chinese for another family celebration. Ouch!

    1. Eating out is certainly an insidious expense! It creeps up and always costs more than you hope. Thank you for joining the discussion. Hopefully at your 5-year mark you’ll be debt free and well on your way to financial freedom!

  2. Hooray for Amex points! Meals out are kind of our weakness, too. I am ashamed of what we spent dining out this past month, as Mrs. DB40 was leaving again and we used that as justification to basically eat out every night we could. Maybe we’ll use your trick to cut down on the costs…

    I’m a big fan of Amex rewards. We use our Amex Preferred Blue card to get 6% back on groceries (when we’re not churning some other card). On the months when we’re not eating out constantly, it really pays off. 🙂

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