Eating out without breaking the family budget

Note: This post was written by Tony Scataglia, senior vice president of agency services for Money Management International.

Eating out at a favorite restaurant is a traditional family activity for families everywhere. Whether it’s visiting an old favorite or trying out a new place, eating out is something families can look forward to as a real treat and an opportunity to get out of the house and break from the weekly routine. Dining out is also one of the first areas discussed when it comes time to tighten the budget – and one of the first to get the proverbial axe.

Brown bagging lunches and eating more meals at home will certainly help save money. However, it doesn’t mean you have to completely give up this opportunity to spend quality time together and experience new things.

Eating out is an escape that can make sense – and “cents” – if you spend a little time looking for discounts before heading out for that weekend dinner with the family. Why not allow yourself and your family a few escapes from the budget-cutting grind to enjoy what you’ve worked hard for while maintaining the overall budget.

The question: How do you accomplish this without breaking that budget you’ve worked so hard to develop? The answer: Look for deals and don’t be afraid to ask for discounts.

Utilize coupons

My family really enjoys eating out on Saturday nights when we have the time, and we nearly always have a coupon on hand when we do. For example, our favorite local Mexican restaurant offers a $5 discount coupon on their website for anyone to print out and use. It’s as simple as printing one off before heading out. They also have kid’s specials on the weekend to further reduce the cost of eating out.

Many of your local restaurants likely do the same. Pick out some of your favorites and search their websites as a start. Check the back of your local grocery store receipts – many feature discount coupons from local eateries. And take some time to look through that “junk” mail. Many restaurants send direct mail coupons out to their local areas.

If all else fails and you can’t find coupons for your favorite local restaurant, don’t be afraid to tear out and present a competitor’s coupon. Ask the proprietor if they will honor it … I think you’ll be surprised at how many will do so.

Search the Web

Other sources of dine-out discounts include popular websites that offer online pre-purchases on dining coupons. These sites include: Livingsocial.com, Groupon.com and DealOn.com – among many others. As an example, you can purchase $20 of restaurant credit for $10 with popular restaurants in your area. In addition, many travel and credit card rewards programs offer pretty good deals if you trade in your points for restaurant gift certificates.

Hungry for more frugal food ideas? Download our free eBook: Cheap Eats.

Kim McGrigg is the former Manager of Community and Media Relations for MMI.

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