You don’t have to go broke to chase after that Michelin star
If you’re a hardcore foodie, then dining is your life. But more than that, dining is expensive. With a bit of clever budgeting however, those pricey Michelin-star restaurants might still be within reach. Here are some tips on how to build a budget when good food = life:
Building a foodie budget
There are seven elements that foodies should incorporate in their budget, to make fine dining accessible to them:
- Use a values-based budget
- Maximise rebates and discounts
- Team up with other foodies
- Plan off-peak visits for restaurants abroad
- Minimise use of credit
- Manage alcohol costs
- As a last resort, plan for lunches
1. Use a values-based budget
A values-based budget ensures that you spend on what’s important to you, while cutting away frivolous costs.
It may seem counterintuitive to you, but many people spend on things they don’t actually want. For example, trying out a new S$125 meal may be important to a foodie – but that same person might, over the course of the month, spend S$125 on a handphone cover that’s used for a week, a movie she only watched because of friends, a bag she could frankly do without, etc.
If you track your spending over a month or three, you’ll realise this isn’t uncommon. Many of us give up the things we care about, because we impulsively spend on distractions.
A values-based budget does away with all this, by planning hobby and lifestyle costs. For example, say the estimated cost of each meal is S$125. You would plan for this to be around 30 per cent higher (S$162.50). If you intend four such meals a year (S$650), you could set aside around S$55 to S$60 per month in a separate “dining” account.
You would pay into this account the moment you get your paycheck, so it’s not wasted on something else.
2. Maximise rebates and discounts
The best restaurants seldom give out rebates and discounts (they don’t need to, they have enough customers). However, you can try to gain benefits through booking apps and modes of payment.
For example, the Chope app gives you chope-dollars, which can be exchanged for discounts. You can also pay through credit cards that give you cashback, air miles, or reward points. Check out SingSaver, to find a credit card that works with the restaurant you’re visiting.
However, always remember to pay back the credit card in full, before the next billing cycle. This will prevent you from having to pay interest.
3. Team up with other foodies
A good way to save money, and still sample a wide range of food, is to visit top restaurants with other foodies. This way, you can order a mix of menu items and then split the overall cost.
You can also sneak a taste of another menu item, without having to order a plate yourself.
Make sure you’re going with another gourmand however – people who aren’t foodies tend to complain forever about pricey meals (there’s limited appreciation for culinary art sometimes).
4. Plan off-peak visits for restaurants abroad
Check out the off-peak period for the country you’re visiting. This is often the middle of the year, around May to July (but it differs between countries). As far as possible, try to travel during off-peak periods.
First, the famous restaurant you’re visiting is more likely to have room for reservations; although you may still need to book months in advance. Second, the prices of flight tickets and hotel rooms tend to be cheaper during off-peak periods.
While some places are always crowded with tourists (e.g. Paris or New York), you can still minimise the brunt of it by travelling off-peak.
5. Minimise use of credit
It can be tempting to use loans, or have rollover debt on your credit card, to have a good meal. However, avoid it at all costs. This is because over the long term, the interest repayments will deprive you of more dining opportunities. Also, the interest repayments will negate any savings that you get from cashback or rewards.
If you must use credit, always compare the interest rates to get the cheapest deal. You can find the lowest rates on SingSaver (but again, we advise you never to take a loan for non-essentials).
6. Manage alcohol costs
The simplest way to make dining affordable is to avoid alcohol. Either bring your own wine (if corkage charges are acceptable), or go somewhere else to drink after the meal. Stick to non-alcoholic beverages while in the restaurant.
Also, you’re not likely to appreciate the food if you’ve had too much to drink.
7. As a last resort, plan for lunches
A low-cost way to dine at good restaurants is to go for lunch, not dinner. Prices tend to be lower because, during lunch hour, restaurants often compete for a share of the lucrative office crowd. This can result in set meals that are considerably cheaper.
Note, however, that the menu may be different at lunch. Also, the head chef may not always be around until dinner.
By Ryan Ong
Ryan has been writing about finance for the last 10 years. He also has his fingers in a lot of other pies, having written for publications such as Men’s Health, Her World, Esquire, and Yahoo! Finance.