Do you fear going to restaurants with your not-broke friends?

“Can you go out to the restaurant with us?” Normal people answer yes or no depending on if they’re busy.  Broke teachers always say no…because they’re broke.

Broke teachers don’t go to fancy restaurants…

“Can you go out to eat?” It’s the broke teacher’s nightmare invitation.

I want to go.  But the last time I went to that restaurant the garnish was fifty bucks.

Fake excuse in hand we sit home grading papers on a Friday night.  There isn’t even any good Netflix on Friday nights.  “Sorry,” the error message says, “The system’s down because you need to be out on a Friday night.”

There’s a secret to being social when you’re a broke teacher with not-so-broke friends.  The secret is finding balance.

If you keep blowing everyone off, they’ll stop reaching out to you.  There’s a danger to saying yes, too.  There’s a real temptation to keep up with your friends who have a bigger budget than you.

Stretching your budget beyond the healthy zone is always a bad idea.

If you’re a broke teacher with not-broke friends who know you’re broke…that’s can be even worse.  You feel bad when they always try to pick up the bill, even though they genuinely want to do something nice for you.

What if you really want to go out? You can!

Broke teachers shouldn’t have to sit home and watch TV chefs.  With a few BrokeTeacher hints, you can go out to eat, too.  You just have to do it cleverly to survive.

Here’s how:

Go to lunch instead of dinner

Restaurants are much cheaper at lunch.  They have a lunch portions and specials.  Steer the invite to earlier in the day.

“I’m booked for dinner, but I have tomorrow lunch free.  I’d really love to see you!”  That works better than, “Nah…I’m broke,” which will only make your friends feel bad and stay away.  A few Hollywood lines make all the difference in the world.

Look for specials

Restaurants often run specials on certain less busy days of the week.  If Tuesday’s Two-for-One night with a bottle of wine, go on Tuesday.

Again, you steer the date and time.  Your non-teacher-non-broke friends are used to living and dying by their calendar, so they won’t be suspicious at all.  “Sorry, Friday’s booked solid.”  After all, who’d even guess you stay home on Fridays correcting. “How about Tuesday at (insert fancy joint with sale here).”

Find a dive

There’s always a favorite dive in town.  In the town I used to live in, there was Dave’s Bar and Grill–a cross between a high school reunion and Cheers.  Everyone in town was there, and no one ever seemed to leave.   Prices were low, but you  could just grab a beer,  and come or go as you pleased.

Ask for a separate check

Ask the server ahead of time for a separate check.  If this isn’t a separate-check group of friends, make a joke.  “I’m going to deduct this under my consulting business.”  I often do have legitimate tax deductions and so do your corporate friends, so this is a real thing.

After you have the separate check arranged, you can relax and eat what you can afford.

Go for the appetizers

Appetizers are often full meals in themselves, and much cheaper.  I’m a vegetarian, so I often pick through the salad and app menus to get something I’ll eat, saving money at the same time.  After you’ve got your separate check arranged, go right to this section of the menu.

Don’t drink

It takes time to build a reputation for not drinking in public, but as more and more people go Paleo, water fast, juice fast, and generally have really freaky diets, you can get away with not drinking with a few nutrition-based vocab words.

Also in your favor: happy hour culture is changing.  Drinking and driving is not cool.  Say, “I’m driving,” as you order water with a lemon.

I once had someone tell me, “You only live a mile down the road…you can drink.”  Nope. Not cool.  Don’t cave to peer pressure, whether it’s because of your budget or the fiesta mood.  It’s not worth it.

Skipping drinks in restaraunts knocks ten to fifty dollars off your bill right there.

Pick up the check first and carry small bills

Don’t panic if you failed to get a separate check and your part of a five-way split will cost you a car payment.

Simply pick up the check first.  Scan for your items and pay, including a generous tip.  Others will follow cue rather than simply dividing by the number of people at the table.

This used to happen to me all the time.  I’d go out with friends who ordered several rounds of drinks, appetizers, full meals, and dessert running up a hundred-dollar tab each.  I had an appetizer, salad and a cup of tea.  I’d pick up the bill first–mine was twelve bucks, but I’d leave a twenty.  When the others were scratching their heads over the math, I’d say, “Mine was twelve so I put in twenty” and I’d go to the bathroom, leaving them to figure out the math.

The key to this is two things…getting to the bill first, and having small denominations of cash.  If you can quickly put down tens, fives, and ones without making a scene, this trick works like a charm.  If you’ve got to go to the bar for change it’ll look clunky, or worse yet, if you only have a card, you could end up footing the whole bill because it’s probably your turn. “Thanks,” your friends will say and you’ll wonder why you didn’t stay home and correct papers.

Use payment apps

If you live in a big city like New York, LA, or San Francisco, there are apps like Cover that will find you places to eat and split the bill.  Try these out!  Chances are you live somewhere else, but as more and more apps emerge to fill these needs, one will be there for you soon.

Skip the restaurant entirely

Call up your friends and say, “I’m having a dinner party at my house.” Make it all fancy, and host on a regular basis.  Use the “food” section of and have a blast with good food, drinks, friends, and conversation–all for a fraction of the cost of restaurants!

Go! Be Social!

You only need three things to paint the town red with your non-broke friends: prior planning, small bills in your pocket, and some convincing Hollywood lines.  If you’ve got those things, your friends will never feel pity hanging out with a broke teacher.

And remember…the goal here isn’t to be a broke teacher, it’s to get through the broke teacher period and be a formerly broke teacher as soon as humanly possible!  When that happens, you’ll be buying the round of champagne for everyone.