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Frugal Living
Eating Out On A Budget
By Amy Allen Clark 
Mar 3, 2005, 12:54

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Eating a meal out can be a really expensive event, but it really does not have to be. Ideally, we would all eat our meals at home and save ourselves the expense of having someone else prepare a meal for us, but I admit that there are just those nights where I do not feel like cooking. When you find yourself having one of these nights, keep in mind these tips for saving money on your dinner bill.

1) Lunches are always cheaper than dinners. If you have a choice between a Saturday lunch or a Saturday dinner, choose the lunch option. If lunch is not an option that day, ask if you can order a lunch portion of the meal. The portion will be smaller, but more waist-friendly as well as budget- friendly. Keep in mind that on Sundays many restaurants will not offer a lunch portion let alone a lunch during that day.

2) You can save a lot of money by simply not ordering any beverages. If you have a toddler that uses a sippy cup, fill this before going to the restaurant. Water is better for you, and a soda fountain drink can be $1.50 or more compared to a free glass of ice water. I usually order water when we eat out and then if I am still craving a soda, I just have one when I get home.

3) Many restaurants offer carry-out and this is definitely something to take advantage of. The reason you should take advantage of this is that you don t have to tip a waitress and you can have your beverage of choice at home. Outback Steakhouse, for example, offers curbside dining. You can call ahead and order from their menu (which you can find on their website) and they will tell you the time to come pick your meal up. They bring the meal out to your car and will even include your silverware. We had this nice dinner with a bottle of wine we got from Aldi's Supermarket, which cost less than one glass of wine at their restaurant, had the great food, and missed the hour wait, and the fifteen percent tip.

4) Buying an Entertainment Book is a great idea if you eat out a lot. Right now they are selling Entertainment Books for only ten dollars! By using just one coupon you will have paid for the book. You can order these through We used this book for our
Outback dinner and we paid $12.49 for two steak dinners- you really can t beat that price, even if I had made all of that food at home. A good place to put this book is in your car because you will have it every time you need it. The main complaint that people have with coupons is that they forget to bring them with them when they go places. By storing an envelope with all of your coupons to restaurants and your Entertainment Book in the car, you will hopefully run into that problem a lot less frequently.

5) Sharing a meal with a loved one is also a great way to save on your bills. Some restaurants offer large or smalls on their dishes so order the large and ask for two plates. If you have a small child who isn't going to be eating a lot, share your meal with them or order a side dish to feed them. At many restaurants you can order sides of pasta or potatoes and for a small child that side will be plenty for them. Sides are much cheaper than the children's meal and less goes to waste.

6) Ask about the specials of the night. Sometimes chefs are trying out new dishes and they will offer them at a bargain price to see if they are well-received or not. Don't limit yourself to just the specials on the food- ask if they have specials on a particular wine that they offer. We went to one local Italian place and asked about the wine and the waitress shared with us that the owner made his own wine and we could have a glass of that for two dollars cheaper than their lowest priced wine. You can really save by asking on this.

7) Look out of the ordinary for meals out. Sam s Club, for example, offers a huge slice of pizza with a soda for under $2.50. My son and I can split this because the portions are warehouse size and it is a cheap date for the two of us to get out of the house for a little bit while doing our monthly shopping trip.

8) Take advantage of the Kid s Eat Free nights at many local restaurants. If you have a coupon for the meal, that will be double the savings for a huge amount of food. If your child does not finish his meal, have the waitress box up half of the meal for you and use it for the next day's lunch.

9) If you know that you are planning to eat out in the evening, but don't want to pay full price for the meals, then get your food to go in the afternoon. Put the food in the fridge, and zap it in the microwave later- you will be paying a lot less for the exact same meal.

10) If you are a light eater or are watching your weight, check out the children's menu for yourself. The portions are smaller as is the price, and you can leave the restaurant feeling proud of yourself for sticking to your diet and your budget.

11) Don't forget to check your restaurant s website for printable coupons to put towards your meal. Red Lobster, for example, has an email club called, The Overboard Club. By signing up to receive email alerts on their specials, they email you a printable coupon towards a free dessert or appetizer.

12) Appetizers can be just as filling as meals. Opt to get a couple of appetizers to split rather than a full meal and your bill can be considerably less. Add a side salad to your appetizer and you will feel like you had a dinner portion.

Amy Clark is a stay-at-home mother of a one year old son. She is founder and creator of Her web site is geared towards mothers who are seeking advice on staying organized, living on a budget, and for those seeking work-at-home employment. The author resides in Granger, Indiana and her hobbies include reading, writing, cooking and cake decorating. Please visit her web site for more information on these various topics for mothers and be sure to join the forum where your opinions and ideas count.

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