Whether you're a regular restaurant goer or consider meals out a special occasion, it's tough to watch your monthly budget get devoured – literally – by your decision to dine out. Fortunately, these budget-friendly tips have your wallet and your taste buds in mind. So no matter if you're headed for a carefully-planned night out or simply aren't prepared to cook a full meal, these seven ideas will help cut costs and make that restaurant bill a little easier on your bank account without sending you back to your own kitchen.
Who doesn't love happy hour? By showing up just a little bit earlier, you can take advantage of discounted rates for drinks and even food. Plus, depending on the restaurant, an early dinner may actually leave you ordering from the lunch menu which nearly guarantees lower prices and equally tasty fare.
Coupon (or Groupon) Saving
It's never too late to start hoarding coupons – especially if that means getting a favorite meal for less. Start scanning for coupons on a site or app like Valpak or sign up for Groupon and Living Social to hone in on restaurant deals that can save you up to 50 percent.
It's not unusual for an appetizer or dessert to cost nearly as much as your entree, so for a quick and easy budget cut, skip the additions altogether. Although it's fun to sample the additional fare, odds are your main course will be large enough to sate your appetite so focus on savoring it instead.
Hydrate for Free
While alcoholic beverages can send your total expenses skyrocketing quickly, even the addition of a soft drink or other libation adds up quickly. Swap out your cocktail for a glass of good old H2O and save the adult beverages for later when you get home. A glass of wine with your Netflix session sounds just about perfect anyway.
Take it Out
This particular piece of advice may not scale back on the cost of your food – but it will help keep you from adding on to that amount. By grabbing takeout instead of sitting down to eat you'll eliminate that sometimes-costly tip (yet Emily Post suggests tipping on takeout when your order is especially large or complicated, or comes with curbside service). Plus, you can always plan an impromptu picnic in a nearby park if you really don't want to head home to eat.
Save Some Food
Do you know for a fact your serving will be more than you need to feel full? Plan ahead and decide to take your leftovers home in advance. If you need a helping hand to keep you from devouring the whole entree anyway (guilty as charged!), set aside part of your meal when it arrives so you won't be tempted. Voila! Two meals out of one.
Go for Gift Cards
Keep an eye out for gift cards that can be purchased at a discounted rate to get more bang for your buck. Local businesses may offer discounted cards on their social media channels and sites like eBay or Restaurants.com are other excellent sources. Just be sure to double-check for expiration dates and restrictions.
Have you tried any of these tips to save your food budget? Which is your favorite?