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Dining Out On A Budget

Staying on a budget doesn't always have to mean staying in front of your stove.

Dining out is one of the first luxuries people cut back on when finances get tight. But isn’t it nice to give Mom and Dad a night off from cooking and cleaning up? If you have a special occasion coming up like a birthday or a straight-A report card, locate the savings, load the kids in the family car and give Mom and Dad a night off from cooking and cleaning up.

Thanks in part to the Internet, there are some great ways to enjoy a local family night out and still stay within budget. Give one or all of these ideas a try. 

Consult a “kids eat free” site before dining out. MyKidsEatFree.com lets you select the city closest to you and the day of the week, and pulls up all the “kids eat free” deals offered in that area. You can also opt to show all days, if your plans are flexible, to find more specials. If you don’t see your city on this site, try another, like KidsEat4Free.com, where you can search by zip code and radius. 

Buy an Entertainment or KidStuff book. These are often sold for fundraisers, and are a fabulous investment for families. The books are filled with hundreds of pages of coupons, specials and deals, including free kids meals and buy-one-get-one offers. (Bonus: Earn 17.5 percent cash back if you purchase your Entertainment book through Ebates!) 

Check your local Clipper magazine. They come free in the mail about six times a year, packed with savings in your neighborhood. You’ll often see coupons for dollars off or a percentage off your total check for sit-down restaurants, and buy-one-get-one offers for local sandwich shops, take-out places and fast-food joints. If you have a Smartphone, check out the Clipper app for iPhone and Android, which lets you access all those great deals on the go! 

Watch for savings on daily deal sites, like Groupon and LivingSocial. Although these tend to be regional more than hyperlocal, you may occasionally find a deal for a place in your area, like $25 for $50 worth of pizza at your favorite pizzeria. Maybe you’ll spot an offer for a restaurant a few towns over that would make the trip worthwhile. (Groupon is on Ebates, too – earn 3 percent cash back!)

Buy $25 Restaurant.com gift certificates for $10, to be used at lots of local restaurants – more than 18,000 nationwide. Restaurant.com also offers specials all the time, where you can get those $25 gift certificates for as little as $2, a huge savings! The certificates can be mailed, or printed directly from your computer. Just make sure you read all of the fine print before you buy. Many gift certificates have restrictions on when and how they can be used. If your kids are in school and you work full time, a gift certificate that can only be used for lunch, Monday through Friday, is probably not a good buy for your family.

(Earn 15 percent cash back on Restaurant.com gift certificates through Ebates!)

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