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Dining Out on a Budget

Published on Friday, October 9, 2009 Email To Friend    Print Version

People examining their monthly budgets often find that dining out is one of the main sources of excessive spending. Many are quick to think a healthy budgeting remedy is to cease dining out completely. This doesn’t have to be the case; it’s possible to dine out even if you’re keeping your budget in check. It simply takes some planning and a few minor adjustments.

Discounts and Coupons
Much in the way you’d clip coupons for grocery shopping, you can check for specials or coupons for favorite restaurants. Newspapers often run coupons for pizza parlors, chain restaurants and local establishments. Check the mail for coupons that come in bulk mailers. Oftentimes, you’ll find there are restaurant coupons inside. Signing up to be on a restaurants’ e-mail or mailing list could also result in special discounts that are not available to the general public.

Early Bird Specials
Many a joke has been made about the senior community dining out early in the evening. But they are on to something -- reduced cost menus. Restaurants may feature a lower-cost lunch menu up until 4 p.m. in the afternoon. Others offer “happy hour” deals that may be discounted menu items, some even half price. Another cost-saving idea is to dine on “off-days.” Restaurants may have lower-priced deals if you visit the establishment on a weekday that is not typically known for dining out, such as a Tuesday.

Family Style Restaurants
Who hasn’t ordered food for the family only to discover one or more of the kids leave most if not all of their food on the plate? Some family-style places offer “kids eat free” nights or enable you to order dishes that are larger in size and can be shared among a few people (without a sharing charge). Other restaurants cater especially to the family crowd, with prices that are generally lower and more accommodating.

Skip the Extras
Appetizers, soft drinks and desserts can add a good deal to the bill. Some restaurants charge $2 to $3 dollars for a glass of soda or iced tea. Multiply that by a family of four and you’ve already added $8 to $12 dollars to the bill. Opt for water, instead. Also, appetizers fill you up and may not be necessary when a good-portioned meal is on the horizon. Pass on the appetizers and save another $10 or more. At the end of the meal -- if you still have room -- dessert can be shared if cost is an issue. This way you watch your wallet and your waistline.

Prix Fixe vs. a la Carte
Some restaurants give the option of a packaged meal at a set price or several items that can be ordered separately. If you have big eaters who are looking for quantity, prix fixe may prove the better bargain. If you only want to sample one or two items, then a la carte could be the way to go.

Special Occasions
To save money on dining out, save the experience for special occasions or once a month. This way you look forward to the event and reserve extra funds for that evening. Brown-bag lunch for work and resist the urge for afternoon coffee runs. This will pay off when you can sit down to a well-deserved and enjoyable meal.

Playing it smart and exploring different options can be a way for you to continue to dine out in moderation even when keeping expenses under control.

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