Dining Out

When you're on a limited budget, one of the first things to look at when trying to cut your expenses should be the amount you spend on eating out every month. Challenge yourself to eat out less frequently, or to spend less while you're out.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to order water instead of soft drinks. If you're out with a significant other or a friend, this will cut your bill by about $5. Another thing my boyfriend and I have been trying lately is to split an appetizer and an entree, instead of each ordering our own entrees. Since most restaurant servings are enough for you to hybernate for winter, this works out pretty well for us. Also, since most entrees vary in price from $10-18, while appetizers usually only run from $6 to $12, this is also saving on your meal.

Also, try to use coupons when going out. A lot of national chains are currently offering BOGO meals, or free appetizers or desserts. Look into the restaurants you visit frequently and see what kind of rewards they offer. My friends and I go to T.G.I. Friday's often for Happy Hour (do not judge us), so I signed up for their rewards program. Every couple of weeks, I get a coupon via email for free appetizers or BOGO entrees. Plus, for every $100 you spend on food, you get an $8 gift certificate for your next visit. When you're going out in a big group, this will add up quickly.

While we're on the subject of Happy Hour, this is a great way to get together with friends and not overspend. More upscale places have started doing happy hours if a bar & grill won't cut it for your group. P.F. Chang's offers happy hour from 3-6PM everyday at certain locations where everything on the bar menu ranges from $3-$6. Fleming's Steakhouse also has happy hour everyday until 7PM with 5 wines, well drinks and food items for under $6. Remember to call the location nearest you because these deals vary. Also, be adventurous and try some new places around your neighborhood - you'd be surprised at the deals you'll find.

One thing I beg of you is to never cheat your server on their tip to save money. Just because you're on a budget doesn't mean you have to be a Scrooge! Always mentally calculate what your budget is going to be for your meal before you leave the house and don't forget to include tax and tip because I know this usually creeps up on people. Standard is 15% of the total, however, if I've had a really unpleasant experience and it's the server's fault, then it's perfectly acceptable (in my opinion, at least) to leave 10% or less. If I have an awesome experience and it's mostly because of who waited on me, then I tip 18-20%.

I love dining out, mostly because I'm one of those people who prefer to spend my money on experiences rather than material things. The most important thing to remember is to budget out what you can afford and don't go past that. Plus, why spend $8 on one beer when you can get 2 for the same price :)