Dining Out On A Budget

As a couple of foodies, our favorite thing to do when we're out and about is find a great place to eat. The only problem with a hobby like this is the expense - how often can we truly afford to spend so much money on a meal. With prices skyrocketing, we've been eating in more and more...but sometimes you just need the atmosphere (and wait service) of a restaurant.

In 1 Timothy 6:17, Paul writes: "Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy." We are to rejoice in the blessings God has bestowed, which include money and food, but we are to also be stewards of those gifts. So let's look at some ways to make eating out both pleasurable and cost-effective.

Lunchtime is always cheaper than dinner. Plus you get smaller portions. Plan your day around a mid-day meal and you might even have some leftovers to save for supper.

Portion control!
The temptation when you're eating out is to fill up while you can. This is not only expensive, but incredibly unhealthy. One great way to solve this problem is to split a meal with your husband - how romantic...and thrifty! It saves you from spending money on two meals, and you don't feel like you have to eat more than necessary.

Order water instead of another beverage.
I have gotten to the point where I refuse to pay what restaurants think they can charge for soda, tea and other beverages. I now order water with lemon and my thirst is just as satisfied. You can also order hot water in most restaurants and bring your own tea bags. This will save some serious money on after-dinner caffeine fixes.

Check out the restaurant's website before you go.
Lots of national chains (and even some local businesses now) have coupons, discounts and nightly specials on their website. Just print them off, take them in and enjoy your savings. Also ask to be put on the e-mailing list of restaurants you visit all the time. They send updates and specials on a regular basis and you can save even more.

Choose appetizers over entrees.
If you really want to save some money, order a sampler platter or a small-portion plate from the appetizer section of the menu. This is especially great if you're out with friends or going somewhere else after dinner. You can have a great meal without overwhelming your stomach.

Take advantage of take-out service.
You can order the exact same food, dine at home where there's no temptation to buy more, and you don't have to pay the tip. Plus there's next to no cleanup, you don't have to dress special and you're still eating in the comfort of you own home.

Only have dessert on special occasions.
While the picture of that triple-layer chocolate cake may look incredible, it's price is probably pretty incredible, too. You can always find something cheaper at the grocery store during the week and go home after eating out for dessert and coffee.

Look for your city's discount books.
They're everywhere - in your mail, in the newspaper, in the front of grocery stores, at the welcome center. You'll find tons of discounts to places you may not even be familiar with. Some of your new favorite restaurants may have the best coupons.

Don't think you have to eat it all now.
If you're filled to capacity, take the leftovers home for lunch tomorrow. If your spouse does the same thing, you can trade meals tomorrow and get a taste of both. Plus if you've gone out for lunch, you'll have something to share for supper later in the evening.

Be sensible when you're dining out and you can have a fabulous experience. Don't forget that the tip is part of the waiter's income, so don't skimp just to save a dollar or two.

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