There’s no way around it — dining out adds up quickly. If you’re watching your spending, cooking for yourself is an easy way to save. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a nice meal out every now and then and stick to your financial goals. These simple tricks will help you eat out on a budget without draining your wallet.

What Not to Do When Eating Out on a Budget

Don’t Go Overboard

Forget about ordering a drink, appetizer, main course and dessert all in one go when you’re eating out on a budget (yes, even if it’s date night). That’s a surefire way to end up with a huge bill. Instead, order only what you’re most excited for on the menu. None of the entrees strike your fancy? Make a meal out of an appetizer and side dish. If dessert is your favorite part of a meal, skip the appetizer.

Don’t Pay Full Price

Meal deals aren’t just for chain restaurants. Browse Restaurant.com and Groupon to find savings at your favorite local restaurants. If you’ve got a certain spot in mind, go straight to the source. Restaurant websites and social media accounts can clue you in on special offers, and you can often score a bonus like a coupon or free item if you sign up for the company’s email list or check in on Yelp.

Don’t Leave Cash on the Table

If you’re spending money, you might as well get something back. Many credit cards offer cash back, often at higher percentages, when you spend at restaurants and bars. Check the rates on your cards and dine out using the one with the best rewards. Next time you enjoy a meal with a big group, offer to pay for the meal on your card — and you’ll get cash back on everyone’s order. Just be sure your friends pay you back (and you pay the card’s balance).

What to Do When Eating Out on a Budget

Do Stick With Water — or BYOB

Beer, wine and cocktails are an easy way to blow your dining budget. If you don’t want to skip your favorite wine with dinner, stick to just one glass (a bottle of wine probably isn’t worth the splurge unless you’re dining with a big group). Better yet, see if the restaurant you’re visiting allows you to bring your own beverages. For a small fee, or sometimes for free, you can enjoy a bottle of wine without the restaurant markup. 

Do Think Beyond Traditional Dinnertime

Want to try a cool new restaurant but the prices are out of your price range? Specials are the way to go when you’re eating out on a budget. Happy hour, a late lunch or even reverse happy hour are great ways to try upscale food at a discount.

Do Go Casual

Fast food and full-service restaurants aren’t your only dining options for an evening out. More and more fast casual options are popping up around the country, and they’re a perfect way to get delicious, high-quality food at affordable prices. You won’t get the attention of a waiter, but you will save by ordering at a counter and bussing your own table.­­

Do Share

Let’s be honest — most restaurants serve portions that are too large for one person to eat in one sitting. Instead of leaving the restaurant clutching your stomach, and with a big bill, share! An appetizer and entrée are often enough for two. If you’re still hungry, add a side and you’ve got a great meal for a lot less. Splitting a few different items also lets you taste more on the menu. Win, win.

Ready to Take Control of Your Money?

Don’t do it alone. Contact a Farm Bureau agent today for more tips and smart budgeting tools that make it easy to take control of your finances.