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Enjoy Eating Out without Busting the Budget

Black Belt Shopper (featured column)
by Larry Wiener

Let's eat out!  That's the cry of many a family at the end of a busy day.  And who wouldn't want to eat out?  Someone else does the cooking and, more importantly, the cleaning up.  You may eat a type of food you ordinarily don't get to have and you get out of the house.

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But eating out can also be a budget buster.  A $35 restaurant bill for a family of four can feed that family for several days.  More importantly, if you are in debt or otherwise tight, eating out too much can suck up money that you can use to work toward financial freedom.

Still, eating out is enjoyable.  It is part of the American way of socializing and can contribute a great deal to a couple or family's communication by getting them out of the house.

So, the question is, how can you enjoy eating out without busting the budget?

Here are some tips that may help:

Kick the fast food habit

While I enjoy eating out, stopping at a fast food outlet on the fly is not my idea of a good time.  Still, I know plenty of broke people who live on fast food.  When I travel, I often see people getting their breakfast at the convenience stores that are part of gas stations.  Eating these simple meals at home can allow you to eat out in a real restaurant and enjoy yourself.

Consider lunch rather than dinner

At many restaurants, lunch is considerably less expensive than dinner.  Many of us tend to buy smaller and less expensive entrees.

Look for restaurant coupons

You'll find these in the same places that you'll find grocery coupons-Sunday supplements, online, etc. You'll also find them in the entertainment section and on the backs of register receipts.

Get an entertainment book

Sold by local nonprofit organizations, these books contain coupons for restaurants, entertainment facilities, travel, and a host of other offerings.  If your local Boy Scouts or church group doesn't have entertainment books available, you can also order online.

Join a dining program

Dining programs such as offer rebates, either in cash or in airline miles.  If you eat out a lot, particularly on business, check out these programs.  Be careful, though, that you don't rationalize eating out more than your budget allows you to because you're getting a rebate.

Skip the expensive drinks

If you are a wine drinker, know that buying drinks at a restaurant is the most expensive way to drink.  You may want to consider skipping the drinks at the restaurant and buying good wine to drink with a meal at home.  Or, some restaurants for a nominal charge will let you bring your own wine.

Picnic with takeout

During good weather, you may want to consider going to a local deli, getting some sandwiches and salads, and eating in the park.  This is usually less expensive than a fill-blown restaurant and you still get the feel of eating out.  This is also great if you have kids because they can run around.  Use paper plates and you don't have to worry about cleanup.

Form a supper club

A friend of mine who loves to eat out organized a supper club with several of her friends.  They meet once a month or so at one person's house.  Each family brings a special dish and they have a great time.  They all get an evening out and great food at a fraction of the price.

Eating out is a great part of the American tradition.  It can be expensive, but with a little forethought, it doesn't have to be as expensive as it seems.

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