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Video:Eating Out in Style on a Budget

with Jonathon E. Stewart

Eating out doesn't have to cost a fortune, and doesn't have to be fast food, either. Learn how to plan ahead and make the most of your thrifty night out.See Transcript

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Transcript:Eating Out in Style on a Budget

Eating out is one of life's great pleasures, but can often cost many times what you'd pay to have a similar meal at home. But with just a little planning, you can have all that wonderful ambiance and someone else doing the cooking, even on the tightest of budgets.

How to Save When Dining Out

Paying for food at restaurants can be one of the most highly marked up items in your budget. Simple entrees like pasta and rice dishes may be only pennies to make, but can cost several dollars or more at a restaurant. A big key here is to minimize this restaurant mark-up, so you can enjoy being out and about without sweating the check. Remember to keep it fun and enjoyable as you go––think of the following tips as expanding your palate of mealtime options, not limiting what you can or can't pick from a variety of menus.

Tip One: Pick Your Dining Time Wisely

Going out for lunch instead of dinner can net similar or even the exact same food choices for a fraction of the price, and breakfast is even better. Look for early bird or kids' night specials, especially on evenings when dinner patronage is typically lower, like Mondays and Tuesdays. Surprising the family with a pancake breakfast out can be a great way to start of the day. It's not only relatively inexpensive, but it can fill you and your family up early, allowing for more modest meals later in the day.

Tip Two: Do Your Research

The internet is full of dining review sites that provide pricing guidelines, as well as complete menus for your perusal. Many sites offer coupons and discounts, which can make an otherwise exorbitant meal more affordable.

All you can eat options are obviously enticing, but just be sure you know ahead of time what you're getting into. Often these kinds of deals feature food that is super-cheap, and not always the most nutritious for you and your family. Remember that bigger, doesn't always mean better.

Tip Three: Mind Your Beverages

Alcohol is the number one check-inflator for out-of-the-house meals, which can literally double your bill if you're not careful. Expensive coffee drinks and even sodas can add up quickly for very little health benefit. Look instead for restaurants that allow you to bring your own, and save more for your meal.

Share a Meal to Save

And finally, you might try sharing with your partner or family. Getting a meal of less-expensive appetizers or small plates and eating a little from each is a great way to experience a variety of flavors for a fraction of the price. Splitting one dessert for the table is a nice way to wrap up your meal with something sweet, without blowing up the tab, or your waistline.

I'm Jonathon Stewart with About.com.
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