Spending $25 on dinner out is not a difficult feat to accomplish. Afterwards you are full and content—full in the belly and light in the wallet. Unfortunately, unless you have a great job or no expenses or have your damn life together, it is not something you can do every night. So, what if you want to go out all week but you are, for lack of a better word, poor? Can you be a baller on a budget in Richmond? I was determined to find out. I took $25 out of my sad wallet, created some rules, did my online research and formed a plan. Then I recruited some friends and set off to make it rain. Well, sprinkle. Maybe mist? Whatever… TO THE CHALLENGE!!!
First off, the rules:
- You have $25 FOR THE WEEK. Not per day, but for the week. For those playing at home, that is roughly $5 per day. You can carry money over to other days as long as you don’t surpass $25 for the whole week.
- You MUST include all tax and tip in your $25 total.
- This does NOT include alcohol. It does include soft drinks if you get them, but not booze. I did that because I don’t believe booze must be part of a meal.
- You must go to a different place each night. At the end, it is five different types of food from five different restaurants.
- You need to leave fairly full. What’s the point of eating dinner out if you’re just going to go home and eat dinner?
That’s it. Basic, pure, clean and simple. No room for questions or modifications. On to the research.
Finding where to go was the hardest part. Thankfully Richmond has a great resource to help: RVA Specials. This website does an excellent job of listing food and drink specials from across the city in one easy-to-use place. They rely on help from people emailing them confirmation that specials exist and are up to date, so feel free to help them out. I used this website as the basis for crafting our plan and I highly recommend you make it one of your go-to websites before going out. If the folks from RVA Specials see this post, I owe y’all a drink for making this easier. Email me. Seriously.
It took me just over a week of research, scratching math on a pad and readjusting to nail down a fairly comprehensive schedule. Keeping in mind that the combined total of sales and meals tax in Richmond is 11.4% and assuming a $1 tip at each place, that left $3.50 a day to work with. Not a lot of money, but do-able. Now, before people get upset about my $1 tip, I would like to explain quickly. My goal is to have a bill that is less than $5 a day. Tipping $1 is still tipping 20%. I know servers do a lot of work so I hope for these few meals they will forgive me. In the end, here is what I came up with:
- Monday- Station 2 for $1 hot dogs
- Tuesday- Su Casa for $1 tacos
- Wednesday- Curbside Cafe for $3.75 Curb Burgers
- Thursday- Hardywood Food Truck Court
- Friday- Catina for $3.50 Banh Mi sandwiches
I was nervous going into this, but I rallied the troops to complete our mission.
When most people think of Station 2, they think of fancy burgers and adult milkshakes. At least, that’s what I think of. Hence I was very surprised to see them listed on RVA Specials with $1 hot dogs on Monday night during my planning. Still, I was willing to throw caution to the wind and see what they were bringing to the table. According to our server, you could get your hot dogs dressed with any of the burger toppings, of which there were many. In order to be as cautious as possible I ordered just three plain hot dogs. I wanted to ensure that adding toppings didn’t add cost. Plus, there was mustard, hot sauce and mayo available which are excellent hot dog toppings. I was impressed with these dogs. They were grilled perfectly with beautiful grill marks. They weren’t huge, but they were filling. You can’t go wrong for $1 each. Three of them was $3 plus $.34 tax and $1 tip was $4.34 for the night and a full stomach. That leaves $20.66 left for the week.
Tuesday night was time for tacos!! Not surprisingly Mexican food dominated the majority of specials I found offered during the week. The key was to find a cheap, yet quality special which isn’t always easy. I had heard wonderful things about Su Casa so that is where we went. It is not a big place at all with limited parking, but there was lots of room on the surrounding streets. You can only get hard tacos, but you have a choice of beef or chicken. I went chicken and one beef, which turned out to be a great choice. The tacos all are dressed with lettuce, tomato and cheese. The shells are crunchy and hold up very well to the fillings. I enjoyed the ground beef which had a good texture and was seasoned nicely. The star was the chicken, hands down though. Shredded chicken runs the risk of being very dry. This was not the case here. The chicken had been cooked in a very flavorful tomato-y sauce that clung to it like an oyster does a rock. The sauce wasn’t runny and elevated the taco to a whole new level. I would eat nothing but $1 chicken tacos if they all tasted that good. Totaling things up we had three tacos for $3. Add in $.34 for tax and $1 for tip. Once again we sit at $4.34 on the day. Only three days left and $16.32 to work with.
Wednesday is the day I always tend to panic about. It’s halfway through the week and that total amount of money feels like it’s dwindling quickly. To make it worse, we had a big ole storm whip into town during the early part of the day which knocked power out to The Fan, which is where we were going. Thankfully, it was mostly restored by dinner time, which meant our stop was good to go. I chose Curbside Cafe because the Wednesday special seemed like a dream come true. Their Curb Burger (a half pound cheeseburger with a side of fries) is half price!! All in all this was a great deal as it was quite the filling meal. I have yet to figure out what spices are mixed into the meat to give it its flavor, but I didn’t hate it. The portion size of the fries was a charming surprise as they didn’t skimp out, which you almost expect people to do when they halve their price. This stomach packing meal was $3.75 with an added $.43 in tax. Tipping $1 brought the meal to $5.18 for the night. Three meals down and two to go with $11.14 left in the till.
Thursday rolled in so I rolled over to the one place with rolling meals, Hardywood. I knew hitting the food truck court was going to be my most challenging day because prices there would be above my hopeful $5 a day. The key to success was the standard lap. Check out all the trucks, figure out the price of things and make an educated choice. That choice was the gouda mac & cheese from the Return of the Mac truck. As I had never eaten here, I was worried that the meal wouldn’t satiate my fat man appetite. This bowl of mac was up to the challenge thankfully. The gouda sauce was creamy and smokey. There was a good ratio of macaroni to cheese. The bowl was packed to the brim so by the end I was full. Total cost of the bowl was $6 and I admit that I did not tip. Yes, I’m ashamed of that, but it happened. Let’s move past, shall we? Doing the math gives me $5.14 left for Friday.
Friday is always the toughest day to plan, which is really not surprising. Every place knows that people are ready to go out Friday night after a long week at work, so why discount stuff? Still, I needed to find someplace to go. Then I remembered hearing talk of a cheap bahn mi place in the West End. So, to the internet I went and found Catina. You can find this little Vietnamese sandwich shop over on the corner of Horsepen and Broad in the Tan-A shopping plaza. While it isn’t much to look at, I was more concerned with the food. All of the bahn mi sandwiches are $3.75 each which fit into the budget perfectly. I went with the banh mi thit do, which is pork belly. I was a big fan of this sandwich. The bread was crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle. The pork belly had a nice crisp to the outside yet still had that fatty creamyness. The winner for me was the pickled veggies. They were crisp and tangy which helped balance out the sandwich. I am not a huge fan of cilantro so I took most of it off, but I appreciated its freshness. This was a steal at $3.75. Add in the $.43 in tax for a total of $4.18 and I came in under budget!!
At the end of 5 days of eating out, I managed to come in under my $25 limit. I spent $4.34 on Monday, $4.34 on Tuesday, $5.18 on Wednesday, $6.00 on Thursday and $4.18 on Friday. The grand total all week was $24.04, which is $.96 under budget. Not bad at all, if I do say so myself. So there you have it, my thrifty readers. With the proper amount of planning, it is possible to eat out 5 straight nights on a budget. With the amount of places I left on the table, I could probably do this at least two more weeks and not repeat a location. So get out there and try your own challenge. See if you can beat my $.96 leftover. Bet you can’t. Until next time, my penny pinching readers, may your bellies be full and your budget not busted.