Money Crashers

Eating at home is almost always cheaper than eating in a restaurant — especially if you have children. Still, there are times when eating out just makes more sense. Luckily, there are lots of ways for someone on a budget to save a few dollars on restaurant dining.

Here are 5 strategies for eating out, without destroying your monthly budget:

Use loyalty programs to earn rewards

Most restaurants today offer a loyalty program for anyone that wants to sign up. Joining is typically free, and perks can include the ability to earn free food and drinks, the chance to earn rewards for referring others, or even a free meal on your birthday.

If you’re going to grab that coffee every day anyway, why not earn free beverages while you’re at it?

Check the Sunday newspaper for coupons

The Sunday paper is full of goodies and treasures — and they often include coupons for local eateries. Sometimes you’ll even find discounts from big chains. Just be sure to read the fine print — restaurant coupons often stipulate which days you can use them on, or include a minimum purchase amount.

Buy discounted gift cards

There are several websites that sell gift cards or gift certificates at less than face value. Discounts can range anywhere from 20%-50%. That means, for example, that you may be able to get a $50 gift card for the actual price of $25. You can print out the gift code at home, or just display it on your mobile device at the restaurant.

Subscribe to restaurant email lists

Many restaurants have an email list they use to notify subscribers of special discounts and promotions. Sometimes they’ll even email you a special coupon for your birthday or the anniversary of your sign-up.  Look for an opt-in on the company website or ask the waitstaff next time you’re dining out.

Take advantage of “kids eat free” night

If you are a parent, NOTHING is better than “kids eat free” night — and almost all restaurants offer it. Typically, these special evenings are in the middle of the week, but there aren’t any other stipulations. If you’re a family with two children, this could save you up to $15 or more off your check!