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Ultimate Money Saving Guide for Eating Out

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Ultimate Guide to Eating Out for Less

Do you ever feel a little guilty when you eat out because of the extra cost? Not anymore. I’m going to teach you how to make eating out work with your budget.

There are so many tricks out there to save money at restaurants that it has become more affordable than ever. But it’s hard to find all the tips, one at a time, by searching the Internet for advice. So I assembled all of the best advice from all across the web. Now it’s all in one place for you to choose the best strategy for your budget.

23 Ways to Save When Eating Out

  1. Get discounted gift certificates. Before heading to the restaurant, check the site called restaurants.com for half priced gift certificates for local restaurants.
  2. Buy discounted gift card. Many sites sell discounted gift cards to a variety of restaurants. Use the site Cardpool, or Raise. See this post for more info.
  3. Use a coupon. Go to Valpak.com or Coupons.com to find coupons for additional money off restaurants. Entertainment books usually have restaurant coupons.
  4. Get a rebate. Use Ebates, MrRebates, or Ibotta for cash rebates after eating out.
  5. Order water. Ordering water instead of other drinks can save a bundle of cash. Water is always free. If you eat out once per week, you could save $300 per year per person by ordering water instead.
  6. Split a meal. At most restaurants, it’s ok to order one meal and split it between two plates. This will cut your restaurant bill in half when there are two of you. Besides, the amount of food served per person is usually way too much for one person to eat anyway.
  7. Eat an appetizer or side. You can often fill up on the cheaper appetizer or side and skip the main meal. This works especially well if you are eating out for the social aspect, rather than filling up.
  8. Be selective on where you eat out. Casual dining, where you don’t have a server, often can be 1/3 more expensive plus you end up leaving a bigger tip. Or you can order your meal to go and avoid a tip altogether.
  9. Pick a better time to eat. If you go during lunch instead of dinner, you can save anywhere from $10 to $30 a person.
  10. Use your reward credit cards. Use your rewards credit card to pay for the meal, but only if you plan on paying it off right away. Some cards give you up to 3% back on restaurants. Just be sure to pay it before the next billing cycle so you don’t pay interest on it.
  11. Use a loyalty card. Many restaurants will give you free meals after so many visits. All you have to do is sign up for their loyalty card and have them scan it before you pay. Some will email you special offers.
  12. Use a restaurant club. There are several programs that give you rewards for eating at any restaurant on their list. You can register your credit card (or your cash back credit card) at iDine and get rewards if you write a review of the restaurant later. Others restaurant clubs include American Airlines AAdvantage Dining and Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining.
  13. Make an online reservation. If you reserve your table through Reservation Genie or Open Table, you can get rewards in the form of gift certificates.
  14. Find local deals. You can often get amazing offers at Groupon, Amazon Local, Scoutmob, or Living Social for local restaurants in your area.
  15. Go to a buffet. For a small price, you can eat all you want at a buffet. This might save you money depending on how much you normally eat.
  16. Order the daily special. Some restaurants offer better prices on their daily special and it is usually one of their better tasting meals.
  17. Order kid size. If you are not a big eater, try ordering off the kids’ menu for savings.
  18. Go on Monday or Tuesday. Many restaurants offer specials on Mondays and Tuesdays because these are typically their slowest days. Avoid holidays though. They often up their prices on holidays.
  19. Make use of kids eat for free offers. Hundreds of restaurants have days of the week when kids can eat free with a paying adult. Go here to look up specific restaurants.
  20. Get freebies on your birthday. Many places have special they will email out to you on your birthday, but some are just available when you request it. Here’s a current list of what’s out there.
  21. Find report card freebies. When your kids do well in school, it’s fun to take them out for a free treat. Try these favorites.
  22. Check the restaurant’s Facebook page. Many restaurants use social media to offer specials deals and coupons that you can’t get anywhere else.
  23. Use a status discount. Tons of restaurants offer senior discounts, AAA discounts, student discounts, teacher discounts, military discounts.

Strategy

The best way to save is to combine multiple strategies into one. I’ll show you with some recent examples when I went out to eat.

Example 1:  e want to go to a local restaurant. We went to restaurants.com and found a $25 gift certificate to a local restaurant for $10. They were running a special where you would also get 2 free movie tickets with the purchase. Then I went to a coupon site and found a promo code for 50% off of the purchase. So I bought the gift cert for $5. I bought it through my Ebates portal and got 10% back. I used my cash back rewards credit card and got 3% back. So the gift certificate for $25 only cost $4.35.

Then we went to the restaurant and the deal required that we had to spend $50 to use the gift certificate. This was no problem for 4 people. Our bill came to slightly over $61.20 after tax and tip. We used our $25 gift certificate to pay for part. Then we paid the remainder with our 3% back credit card, bringing the total down to $30.27. Total spent = $30.27 + $4.35= $34.62 for $61.20 value. Total savings = $26.58 or 43.4% off (plus 2 free movie tickets).

Example 2: We wanted to eat at Applebee’s. So first we checked Raise for a discount gift card. We found a $50 gift card to Applebee’s for $43.99 or 13.2% off. We used our Ebates account to click over and buy it and got a rebate of 1%.  Then, we used our cash back rewards credit card for 3% back. Then we went to Coupons.com and got a deal for 1 free appetizer and 2 entrees at Applebee’s for $20. There were 4 of us, so we used 2 of the deals. Then we got a free dessert for an anniversary coupon that Applebee’s emailed us for being on their list.

At the restaurant, our meal cost $40 plus tax and tip for 4 people including 4 meals, 2 appetizers, and a dessert. We paid for this with our $50 gift card. Total cost $42.23 for $50 value or 15.5% off.

Wasn’t that cheap? You can do it too! Add some fun by making it a challenge to see how much you can save!

Final Word

Now that you have all kinds of strategies available to make your restaurant experience cheaper, let me just throw in a little word to the wise. When I worked as an accountant, many of my clients that struggled the most with money were the ones that ate out the most.

Going out to restaurants is always going to be more expensive than making your own food at home. So if you are living paycheck to paycheck, you might want to avoid eating out at all until you are able to change your financial situation.

For help on creating a budget and sticking to it, see this post. Also get your free copy of The Modern Mom’s EPIC Guide to Easy Budgeting .

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a small referral credit at no cost to you while still providing you the best offer I’m aware of.  Please read my disclosure page for more information.

 

5 Unusual Grilled Cheese Sandwich Recipes That Will Make Your Mouth Water! (Plus Free Educational Printables)

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Grilled Cheese Sandwich Recipes

(This post may contain affiliate links.) Top 5 Grilled Cheese Sandwich Recipes: April 12th is National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day and the month of April is National Grilled Cheese Month. In honor of the holiday, we’ve rounded up the top 5 Grilled Cheese Sandwich recipes.  Each recipe is sure to please. Plus, see below for bonus free printable educational activities and games!

Recipe 1: Grilled Cheese with avocado, bacon, and cheese at Seriouseats.com

Sandwich

Fun Fact 1: The Golden Palace online casino once paid $28,000 for a partially eaten grilled cheese sandwich that had a burn pattern with the likeness of the Virgin Mary. Although the purchase was in 2004, the sandwich had already been preserved for 10 years before that.

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7 Fruitalicious Dessert Recipes For Vitamin C Day

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Fruit Desserts

There are plenty of unusual holidays on the calendar, but this one is the fruitiest. Tuesday, April 4th is Vitamin C Day! Who knew?

Why is Vitamin C so important?

Basically, without any Vitamin C, you would get scurvy like the pirates and sailors in the 1700’s and 1800’s. Well, matey, what be scurvy? With scurvy, your gums would bleed, and you would experience any of the following: fatigue, red spots on your skin, pain in your limbs, shortness of breath, lose teeth, and bruising. While some of these symptoms may also be symptoms of parenting a crazy child, it is easy to avoid scurvy.  Just eat fruit.

Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is found in fruit and is necessary for normal growth and development. It is also a powerful antioxidant.  It helps repair tissue, helps with iron absorption, protects against heart disease, and helps decrease your LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Vitamin C can even help neutralize the effect of harmful food preservatives. But the best part of all is that if you make a dessert with fruit in it, you can call it healthy because it will give you vitamins!

7 Fruitalicious Dessert Recipes (try not to drool):

1. Strawberry Shortcake Kabob recipe from SugarApron.com

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3 Fun Valentine Treats You Can Make With Your Kids

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This year we kept Valentine’s Day simple by limiting our treat making to only 3 things.  (Sometimes I go a little overboard and try to make everything I see online.)

My kids just love, love, love helping make treats.  My daughter Aria helped me make these 3 delicious treats for our family Valentine’s Day party.  See below for step-by-step instructions.  And as usual, these are all real photos of the actual treat making process so that you can tell that we aren’t perfect and you don’t have to be either!  (All those posts online with perfect crafts and recipes in the perfectly decorated houses aren’t what real life is about.)

Real + Family = Happy!

Treat #1. Chocolate Dipped Strawberries Instructions

Step 1.  Pick out some fresh strawberries from the grocery store and wash them.  It was kind of tough this year trying to find some good berries (especially in NC).  The place that had the best berries was Costco, but with any batch you have a few ugly ones.  That’s OK.  It makes it real.  Be sure to dry the berries thoroughly with a paper towel so the chocolate will adhere properly.  Wet berries don’t work as well. Keep the leaves on. (I always get enough berries to make sure that I can snack on a few as I go and also for the little people hands that pop up out of nowhere and snatch a few off the plate when I turn my back.)

Step 2.  Melt some chocolate candy melts in microwaveable glass cups.  Sometimes I melt chocolate in a special chocolate melting device, but since I don’t need the chocolate to stay warm for very long, I opted for the quick route. When you are a busy mom, the microwave is your best friend!

The chocolate I use is Wilton Candy Melts.  The trick I use is to take a full cup of chocolate wafers and microwave at 60% power for 1 minute, then 80% power for 30 seconds, then stir, if needed microwave at regular power for additional 15 second intervals.  Don’t overheat or it will burn and stink up the kitchen.

Step 3.  Dip the berries in the chocolate and place on wax paper or Utopia Kitchen Silicone Baking Mats to harden. I use Utopia Kitchen Mat in place of wax paper.  It is such a great mat! I use it all the time for cooking.  Nothing ever sticks to it and it is easy to clean.  Once the chocolate is hardened you can serve or refrigerate to serve later.  I try to keep them out of the fridge if I can so that moisture they aren’t cold when you bite into them.  Enjoy!

Treat #2. Chocolate Dipped Wafers Instructions

Step 1.  Melt some chocolate wafers in microwaveable glass cups (same as step 2 above).  The chocolate I use is Wilton Candy Melts.  The trick I use is to take a full cup of chocolate wafers and microwave at 60% power for 1 minute, then 80% power for 30 seconds, then stir, if needed microwave at regular power for additional 15 second intervals.  Don’t overheat or it will burn and stink up the kitchen.

Step 2.  Dip the Wafers and place on wax paper or Utopia Kitchen Silicone Baking Mats to harden.  I used vanilla and strawberry wafers but you could also use chocolate.  Only dip halfway and then place on the mat to harden.  There will be some spreading of the chocolate around the wafers, but don’t worry, you can trim this off later. (It doesn’t have to be perfect.  The kids will eat it no matter what it looks like.)

Step 3. Use piping bags to drizzle stripes of chocolate and then place sprinkles on the stripes.  If your original chocolate cups have already hardened then just add more chocolate wafers to each cup and follow step 1 again.  Fill a piping bag with your color choice of chocolate or multiple bags for several colors.  Then cut a very small opening on the tip of the piping bag and drizzle stripes across the wafers.  Immediately place any sprinkles you want to use in order to get them on while the chocolate is still warm. If you wait too long the chocolate will harden and the sprinkles won’t stick.

Step 4. Trim off extra chocolate with a knife and then place dipped wafers on serving plate.  When you trim the excess, but careful not to break the wafers.  I usually don’t even pick up the wafer to trim.  I just leave it on the mat and press down with a knife to break off the excess.  Once you place it on a plate, don’t refrigerate.  Just keep it out of the fridge until serving.  If you plan to wait until the next day to serve then just place the wafers in a zip lock bag overnight.  Enjoy!

Treat #3. Cheesecake Filled Strawberries Instructions

Step 1.  Prep the Strawberry cups.  Clean and top your berries.  Be sure they are dry.  Then take a melon baller and cut a small hole out of the top of each berry.  Be sure not to go too deep or there will be a hole all the way through the berry where the filling can leak out.  Next cut the bottom tip off in a straight line so that the berry will sit flat without tipping.  Line them up inside a glass cake pan.

Step 2.  Mix the instant cheese cake filling per instructions on the box and fill berries.  I use Jello Cheesecake Mix, but I mix it for a couple of minutes longer than suggested just to make sure it is thick enough. (You don’t need the graham cracker mix so you can set it aside for a later project.) Then scoop the filling into a piping bag.  You can use it with or without a tip depending on how fancy you want it to look.  Pipe the filling into the hole in each berry.

(Yes, sometimes we play Upwords while cooking cause we are a tad bit nerdy.)

Step 3. Refrigerate until serving.  The berries need to chill for at least a half hour for the filling to set.  When you serve these be prepared for compliments. They are delicious! Enjoy!

It doesn’t have to be Valentine’s Day to make these treats.  They taste amazing any time.  Be sure to sign up for more posts like this one!

Thanks for stopping by.  Be happy.  Keep it real!

-Julie