• Put that Dining Out Dollar to Work

    Everyone is busy and most family cooks find it daunting to produce three meals a day. With a full-time career, I end up spending a lot of time on weekends prepping and preparing food to be available for brown bag lunches and for quick meals on busy evenings. I confess that we end up eating out more than I care to admit. I just prefer to be served than to be the server. I also get tired of my own cooking. Once I accepted that eating out is part of our "normal," I decided to focus on eating out for less. Here are some of my tricks. Feel free to add your tricks too.

    Discount/Free Gift Cards
    Discount gift cards can easily reduce the dining bill by 15-20%. I am now in the habit of keeping discounted gift cards on hand for our regular haunts. Here is how I get them.

    • Purchase outright from a gift card reseller like giftcardgranny.com. People receive gift cards they won't use so they sell them to resellers for less than face value. People like me buy those cards at a discounted price.
    • Free restaurant gift cards from rewards points from credit cards.
    • Holiday BOGO gift cards. Buy $50 and get a $10 gift card.

    Birthday Club Discounts
    Sign up for birthday club freebies and BOGOs. Houlihan's offers a free entree to birthday club members. My coworker and I have birthdays two days apart and we head to Houlihan's for lunch to celebrate it. Our meal is free since we both use our birthday coupon. We enjoy leaving a lavish tip for the server. Hip2Save does a nice job providing a list of birthday freebies. http://hip2save.com/category/freebie...hday-freebies/ Sign up for the ones you can use.

    QR Code Notifications
    Many restaurants have tent cards on their tables with QR codes. Scan them and join their notification system. If you don't see a QR code, check out the restaurants website and see if you can join their electronic mailing list. If it is a local establishment, ask them if they have an email list. We get weekly emails from restaurants touting their Happy Hour specials, free appetizers, or a weekly BOGO.

    Happy Hour
    Some restaurants have happy hours that last later into the evening than others. On the Border appetizers and happy hour drinks can make a cheap dinner out. Familiarize yourself with the best happy hours in town and make note of when they end so you don't miss them.

    Groupon/Living Social
    Groupon and LivingSocial offer steep discounts on restaurants. Blanc Burgers is one of my favorites and we routinely buy a Groupon BOGO offer. Couple this with a discounted gift card and you are eating out at 30% of retail.

    Loyalty Card Credits
    Panera makes my husband happy when he hears he qualifies for a free pastry. My grocery store offers a free salad bar or deli sandwich after 10 have been purchased. Be aware of the options around you. You might find you like the salad bar salad as much as the one at the local pub.

    I have purchased some incredible deals here. I just looked up some deals and saw $25 cards for $10. Years ago I bought $100 worth of gift cards for $11. Yes, you read that right. I stacked some deals. I did not get around to using one of the restaurant gift cards. I believe it was 2 or 3 years later that Restaurants.com emailed me to let me know that the restaurant had closed and I could exchange my coupon for another restaurant. To say I was shocked and pleased was an understatement. We used up the coupon soon thereafter. Restaurants are limited in my area but when there is one we like, the deal is usually the best around.

    Pizza Hut still delivers coupons with their pizzas. Some restaurants have ongoing coupons like Bucca di Beppo and Olive Garden. Others have inserts in the Sunday paper. Most of these coupons can be found online. Investing a little time with a coupon search before heading out often means a free appetizer or at least, a $5 savings.

    Check In
    Book reservations on Open Table and earn points that lead to gift cards. The restaurant checks us in when they seat us. After a few check-ins, you get a $20 to apply to your next meal out. Other apps like Foursquare will pop up deals like free appetizers when you check into a place on your first visit.

    Warehouse Club

    We belong to Costco and they sell several restaurant gift cards at 20% discounts. One of our daughters likes to go to PF Changs on her birthday. We make sure to pick up the Costco cards before heading there.

    Let others know restaurant gift cards are your gift of choice. Our financial adviser has sent us a couple of nice steakhouse gift cards after landing a new client with our recommendation. My sister knows my husband's favorite BBQ place so when she wants to thank him, she buys him a gift card to that place.

    Misc. Rewards
    Check your phone points. We accumulate Verizon points. At first, I thought the points were fairly worthless until I realized they offered discounts at restaurants. I can use points to purchase a coupon for 25% off our favorite burger place. I just used some points to get a BOGO from Planet Sub which DH hits for lunch. The expiration dates are fairly short on these so keep that in mind when ordering discounts.

    Lunch Deals
    My husband loves ordering the $10 lunch deal from Macaroni Grill and then use our discounted gift card to pay for it. He gets, at least, two meals out of it. Sometimes he gets two entrees and we heat them up for dinner plus we each have enough leftover for lunch the next day.

    Don't forget the "To Go" Box
    Most restaurants give you more than you can eat for one meal. We ask for to pack up the leftovers and enjoy getting two meals out of one order.

    Supplement Your Homemade Meal with that ONE Special Thing

    Whenever I order my favorite salad from our local pub, I ask for two sides of dressing. Their Asian dressing is my favorite and I can cover two salads with one container. I now have enough extra dressing for three more salads that I make myself. It isn't quite the same but it is close. I make decent BBQ ribs but cannot duplicate the baked beans at one of our BBQ places in town. I often pick up a quart of beans to go with a homemade meal. I will do the same with onions rings or fries if we want to grill burgers. We don't eat onion rings or fries often but when we do, we want them to be good. Adding a carryout item to a meal can make it a bit special and saves the cook some work.

    With a little practice and forethought, I have our dining out dollars working harder than ever. Once you get the hang of this, you can reduce the dining out budget and throw a bigger snowball. Keep in mind your tips should be based on the full meal price and not on your discounted price. We don't want servers dreading those of us who take advantage of the discounts.

    If you are new to Debt Free Fanatics, and want to learn more about techniques for getting out of debt, we encourage you to register and participate in our forums. Our members have been managing their money for years and are happy to offer advice and instruction on how you can manage your money better and get out of debt.
  • Want to learn more?

    If you are new to Debt Free Fanatics, and want to learn more about techniques for getting out of debt, we encourage you to register and participate in our forums. Our members have been managing their money for years and are happy to offer advice and instruction on how you can manage your money better and get out of debt.