11 Ways My Family Saves at Restaurants

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I’m a busy mom of seven children, who has also been married for 20 years. We have experienced times in our family when money was scarce and times when money was more abundant. Normally, I prefer to cook at home using crockpot freezer meals, but sometimes it’s nice to take everyone out for a little change of pace.

Because we have a large family and it can be quite costly to eat out, I learned how to shave money off of our restaurant bills. We do take the time to splurge every now and then, but when we are on a tight budget, we’ve learned several tips to help us save money when we eat out.

1. Share a Meal

Many restaurants serve large enough portions for two meals. In order to save money, sometimes my husband and I will split a meal that we’re sure we’d both like. Some restaurants do charge a fee if you plan to split your plate, but many do not. Be sure to ask your waiter or waitress if you think this is something you’d like to try to make sure you’re not in for a surprise when you go to pay the bill.

Tip: Choose a meal that is typically larger than most, or one that you’ve seen served before, to be sure you’ll have enough food.

2. Order à la Carte

At my favorite Mexican restaurant, I can order a chile relleno off of the dinner menu, or I can order the chile relleno “à la carte” (with no sides). On this particular meal, I save myself $5 over the meal option, and it’s usually just the amount of food that I need. Mexican restaurants are the perfect place to order à la carte, because you can fill up on chips and salsa if it’s not quite enough. Of course, you can try this at other styles of restaurants, too.

Tip: On days when you have a larger appetite, you may want to try another money-saving technique.

3. Subscribe to Restaurant Email Lists

This is one of my favorite ways to save money on restaurant bills. If I know that I will be traveling to a certain town that has a certain restaurant, I will find their website and sign up for their email list. Many restaurants will give you coupons toward your next visit. They will also send you coupons for your birthday. Some of these coupons you may find worthless, but many of them are “buy one, get one free entree” coupons that you can use to save $10 or more. Be careful, though, the coupons that they email out do expire, so be sure to watch those expiration dates.

4. Order Off the Lunch Menu

Ask if you can order off of the lunch menu. Some restaurants will allow it and some won’t. In my experience, the restaurant I do this at charges an extra dollar if you do, but I feel the extra dollar is still more than worth it in the long run.

5. Only Go Out at Lunch Time

It is a well-known fact that most restaurants will charge less at lunchtime than dinnertime. Typically this is because the portion size is smaller. We have found that if we save our eating-out time for lunch, we spend less.

6. Don’t Order Appetizers

Ordering an appetizer is a great way to kill a restaurant budget. While it can be fun to indulge occasionally, it is best to leave these money-grubbing foods alone if you’re trying to spend less.

7. Drink Water

If we were to buy a soft drink for each person in our family when eating out, we would spend over $18 on drinks alone. Drinking water saves you at least $2 per drink in most restaurants. It would save you even more if you typically order wine or other alcoholic beverages.

8. No Dessert

Desserts add up quickly. Save your dessert purchases for very special occasions with your significant other. Not only will this help your final bill, it could help with weight loss, too.

9. Have Kids Share an Adult Meal

A friend of mine orders one large adult meal for two to three of her kids to eat at a time. It ends up saving them several dollars per order and they typically have more than enough to eat as well.

10. Plan Ahead

If I know I want to eat out but don’t know where I want to go exactly, I will map out my route and look at the restaurant websites in the area to get a bit familiar with the menu. Recently, I was on a trip to San Diego. My husband and I were planning to eat at a nearby restaurant, but when I looked at their online menu, I discovered that the prices were double what I had originally thought. We quickly changed our direction and found a much lower-priced restaurant by using the same tactic.

11. Seek Out ‘Kids Eat Free’ Restaurants

On one of our last vacations, this was a great way to eat cheap while traveling. If you are eating out with kids, this is an awesome way to save some money! Do an internet search for “Kids Eat Free (City and State)” and see what comes up. We found a different restaurant to do this at every day. Some restaurants let you get one kids meal for each adult entree you’re paying for and some even let you get two.

[Editor’s Note; Eating out too often can certainly break your budget if you’re not careful. You can monitor your financial goals, like building a good credit score, each month on Credit.com.]

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Lunch Is More Expensive Than Ever. Here’s the Easy Way to Save

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Are you taking your lunch to work? Good. You’re probably saving a lot of money, and very likely calories as well. You’re also part of a growing movement.

It turns out that people aren’t eating lunch at restaurants as often as they used to, according to recent data from NPD Group, a global research firm. Lunch visits to restaurants, which represent 33% of U.S. restaurant traffic during the day, were down by 4% percent in the second quarter of this year compared to the same period last year, according to NPD.

Part of the reason is the rise in the number of people working at home, the research firm said. Add to that more shopping online, which cuts down on foodservice meals and snack breaks, and increases in menu prices, and you get less overall lunch traffic.

A pricing analysis done by NPD Group found that the price point where consumers are most satisfied and most likely to visit is when they feel it is “affordable to eat there often” and “good value for the money.” Average lunch checks in the second quarter of 2016 have increased by as much as 5% compared to the same quarter a year ago. NPD Group said that has also moved them beyond consumers’ “sweet spot” price.

“Simply said, who can afford to go out to lunch on a regular basis when checks have risen for some as much as they have recently,” says Bonnie Riggs, NPD Group, restaurant industry analyst, in a press release. “Historically, foodservice lunch has been the occasion where consumers didn’t want to invest a lot time, money or energy into this meal. It’s apparent by the drop in lunch traffic that the current value proposition isn’t meeting these needs.”

How to Spend Less Than $2 a Day on Lunch

If you’re still buying your lunch most days, chances are you could experience some significant savings with just a little bit of advance planning. In fact, it’s possible to spend less than $2 on lunch every day by making it yourself. You can see how the savings can quickly add up, especially if you’re currently spending $10 or more each time you eat lunch.

That extra money can go toward saving for a dream vacation or a new car. You could even pay down your student loans or credit card debt, which can dramatically improve your credit scores. You can see how your spending habits and debt are impacting your credit by viewing your free credit report summary, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

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Americans Will Eat 28 Billion Chicken Wings This Year

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Football season is upon us, and that means it’s also pizza, beer and chicken wing season for a lot of folks.

Americans are expected to eat 28 billion – yes, BILLION – chicken wings this year, and more than 1 billion of those were consumed on Super Bowl Sunday alone. That’s according to the National Chicken Council, and that huge number got us thinking: What does 28 billion of something even look like? We were curious, so we sat down with a calculator and did some math. Here’s what we found.

28 billion chicken wings …

  • Is enough for every American to have nearly 90 wings each. And it’s enough for every man, woman and child on Earth to have four wings each. It might be time to change those song lyrics to “I’d like to teach the world to wing …”
  • Is enough to wrap around the world at the equator more than 44 times (I told you we did math …).
  • Would cover every single NFL football field with an 8-inch stack of wings. So, um, who’s bringing the blue cheese dressing?
  • Weigh approximately 5.25 billion pounds. That’s the equivalent of 17,500 blue whales, the largest animals on the planet. (By the way, there may or may not actually be enough blue whales in existence to match the weight of America’s chicken wing consumption this year. Scientists put their population numbers somewhere between 10,000 and 25,000.)
  • Will cost Americans as much as $36 billion this year. That’s more than residents of Arizona paid in federal income taxes in 2012, and it’s on par with the estimated GDP of Serbia this year.

If you love going out for wings, especially during football season, we hear you. There’s little that goes better with a couple of beers and your favorite team on the big screen. But it’s good to keep in mind, especially if saving money is important to you, that eating out a lot can really eat into your budget (yeah, pun intended).

Seriously, Americans spend a lot of money eating out, evidenced in part by the massive amount of junk food we eat every year. (You can check out this round up to find out how much beer, pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs potato chips and more we consume.) It’s even worse if you’re splurging to eat out and using your credit card, especially if you can’t pay it off every month. High levels of debt can seriously damage your credit score. You can see where yours currently stands by viewing your two free credit scores, updated each month, on Credit.com.

If your credit is in rough shape, you might be able to improve your scores by paying down high credit card balances, disputing errors on your credit reports and limiting new credit inquiries while your numbers start to come back up.

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How Much Junk Food Do Americans Really Eat?

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7 Ways to Save at Wegmans

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Several years ago, while driving through upstate New York, we stopped at a grocery store my friend from the area absolutely raved about. I had never heard of Wegmans and was a little surprised we were stopping there because it was lunchtime.

Little did I know what was in store for me!

In the years since, and after a Wegmans opened near my home in Maryland, I’ve come to appreciate how well they run and how it’s a pleasure to shop there.

If you’re a fan and looking to save money at Wegmans, here are my best tips.

1. Coupon Doubling Up to 99 Cents

Wegmans has some of the most competitive prices, but did you know they will also double coupons with a face value up to 99 cents? There are a few rules to keep in mind, such as the doubling or face value of the coupon cannot exceed retail price and you can only use four manufacturer’s coupons on four of the same product per day.

If the coupon’s face value is $1.00 or more, it will be redeemed at face value (no doubling).

2. Join the Shoppers Club!

Wegmans has a Shoppers Club, like many other stores, but not only do you get discounts in the store, you’ll be sent mailers that often include more coupons. You will also receive the Wegmans Menu Magazine which often has great recipes and other fun educational articles.

3. Use the Wegmans App

The Wegmans App is a rich-featured shopping-list app that integrates nicely with your local store. You can create your shopping list at home and it will give you your total, pulling prices from the store. This can be very helpful if you’re on a tight budget and help you plan your trip better.

In the store, there are signs throughout that, when scanned with the Wegmans app, reveal videos, recipes, and product information. The app also gives you access to the Wegmans Menu magazine and can pull recipe ingredients from the recipes.

If you have a favorite money saving app, you may want to stick with it. If you don’t and go to Wegmans often, consider using theirs.

4. Create a Shopping List Online

If you don’t have a smartphone, or don’t want another app, you can always create your shopping list on the Wegmans website. Afterwards, you can print it out and see exactly how much the trip will cost you.

The list will organize ingredients based on the store’s aisles, which can save you a ton of time in the store.

5. Consider Wegmans Brand

Most stores’ generic brands are mediocre but not Wegmans – some of their products rival the brand names in quality. Nearly every category of product, from frozen pizza to sauces and packaged baked goods, has a Wegmans brand and they’re usually good and well-priced. At my local Wegmans in Maryland, a 29 oz. can of tomato sauce will cost you just $0.79 versus big brand name tomato sauce priced at $1.69.

6. Don’t Miss the Hot Food

Most grocery store hot food bars can be depressing affairs of overcooked food that’s overpriced. Wegmans has an impressive food bar with nearly every kind of food imaginable, but where they really shine is in two areas — sushi and the burger bar.

The sushi is delicious, fresh, and well-priced, especially if you compare it with a sushi restaurant. If you don’t see what you like, you can make special requests and they are happy to make a roll or package you want. The burger bar is a full-fledged restaurant and they offer a variety of great burgers and sandwiches that are also well-priced.

7. Personal Shopping

If you are short on time, Wegmans offer “personal shopping” where they will get everything on your shopping list and deliver it to your car. You need to place the order online the day before but you pay for it without ever having to leave your car. It costs just $5.95 with no minimum order. It’s not available at every store though, sadly. It is available only in three locations – the flagship store in Pittsford, New York, and the stores in Bridgewater and Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

Finally, if you live in a state where grocery stores can sell beer and wine, give their bargain wines a shot (just remember to drink responsibly). At just a few bucks a bottle, what do you have to lose?

[Editor’s Note: You can monitor your financial goals, like building a good credit score, each month on Credit.com.]

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Is This the Laziest Way Ever to Order Pizza?

Pizza delivery has long been the lazy man’s solution to dinner, so it’s only appropriate that it seems to have brought us the latest innovation designed to phase out effort: No-click purchasing.

Yes, you can now order pizza by doing practically nothing. This gem of effortless consumption comes to you from a longtime industry titan, Domino’s Pizza, which introduced its Zero Click app in early April.

“Zero-click ordering is as easy as it sounds,” according to a Domino’s press release.. Before you get too excited about mindlessly ordering your next cheesy pie, you should know that you will have to do a teensy bit of leg work. (Finger work? You can do it all from your smartphone or computer.)

First, you need to create a Domino’s Pizza profile and set an Easy Order. Once you’ve downloaded the Zero Click app and linked it to your profile, you can place an order merely by opening the app. You’ll see a timer, which counts down the 10 seconds you have to stop the order before it is placed. You can pause the timer if you want some extra time to think, and if you leave the app before the timer expires, your order will not be placed. The timer will restart upon opening the app.

As an online demonstration of the app says: “It’s easy. Maybe too easy. You’ve been warned.”

It’s a Ninja Turtle’s dream.

It could also be a financial nightmare, if you aren’t careful. On this app, the barrier to ordering is so thin that it seems like you could easily place an order you don’t actually want. (An image of a small child, sitting in front of a towering stack of pizza boxes, playing with Dad’s smartphone, comes to mind.)

Of course, anything that makes it easy to buy something can be dangerous, so it’s on you to have some self control. Think about it: Do you want to be that person who goes into credit card debt because you couldn’t stop ordering pizza? Didn’t think so.

On a more serious note, just because it’s easy to spend money without thinking about it doesn’t mean you it’s a good idea to ignore your finances as a whole. Seemingly small, habitual purchases can quickly add up (especially on a credit card), so you should take care in budgeting and tracking your spending. Those are helpful practices if you’re working toward goals like saving for retirement or good credit. You can track your financial goals, like improving your credit scores, for free on Credit.com.

More on Credit Cards:

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5 Tricks That Could Fool Your Kids Into Eating More Veggies

If you have young kids, you’ve probably been ’round and ’round with them multiple times about eating a balanced diet. The “good eater” is a rare thing, after all, with most kids preferring french fries to broccoli any day.

You’ve probably also read all of the tips on how to be a “good example” by eating your own vegetables, enforcing the “one-bite rule,” “making food fun” and getting kids to choose their own vegetables at the grocery store (is this something super moms have time to do?). Instead of tips on how to make vegetables more exciting, what you really need are some recipe ideas that will make your kids crave the cauliflower, beg for the beans and ask when you’re going to make that pasta with all the pretty colors again.

So, if you’re tired of the cajoling, the whining and wasting money on food your kids refuse to eat, here are five menu ideas that will have your kids coming back for seconds.

1. Spinach & Artichoke Lasagna

This smooth and cheesy recipe is perfect paired with a simple salad and also makes for great leftovers. Try doubling up on the spinach for a greener and more healthful meal. It’s so delicious, your kids won’t even notice the vegetables inside.

2. Cauliflower Bechamel

This recipe is great because you can get an entire head of cauliflower into a highly versatile sauce and no one is the wiser. Your kids like mac & cheese? Slowly melt cheese into this sauce, mix with macaroni, top with more cheese and bake. Want to add some extra veggies into the mix? Add some finely chopped broccoli, spinach or peas so your kids can pick out the green stuff if they want, without realizing they’re getting vegetables anyway. This sauce freezes well and can be used anywhere you’d use a cream sauce. (Pro tip: For a richer sauce, use milk instead of broth or water.)

3. Pot Pies

They’re easy, comforting and so, so yummy. Whether you use chicken, turkey, tofu or some other protein, be sure to throw in lots of healthy veggies. By chopping the vegetables very small, kids will be less likely to notice they’re eating something good for them.

4. Fruit & Veggie Popsicles

Here’s an easy way to get more vegetables in your kids’ diets. Combine kale, spinach, peas or even sweet potatoes with fruits and a bit of sweetener, and then run it all through a quick blend. Take that concoction and freeze it and you’ve got a wholesome summer snack your kids will love and you’ll feel good about.

5. Bacon!

As the saying goes, everything’s better with bacon, so if you and your kid eat it, try adding bacon to vegetable recipes to coax them into eating. One example are these zucchini boats with bacon gremolata.

If grocery costs are a concern for you, try these tips on how to eat for less than $6 a day. Saving money on food can help you stick to a budget plan, pay down billsconsolidate debt and reach your financial goals. A sound management plan can also efficiently subsidize your food budget plan for alleviating debt.

More Money-Saving Reads:

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11 Easy, Tasty Lunches Under $2

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The 16-Cent Breakfast That Will Satisfy You for Hours

oatmeal

If you like oatmeal, you’re going to love this: You can eat breakfast for less than 16 cents every day. Yes, 16 cents. So, if you’re stopping for oatmeal at, say, McDonald’s a few times a week and paying $1.99 a pop (national average) — or at Starbucks, where you’re shelling out $3.45 for your oats (suggested retail price, and you know you’re also buying coffee) that’s an annual savings of somewhere between $285.48 and $513.24 on oatmeal alone.

You can find the full recipe for 16-cent oatmeal here. Below is the breakdown for the cost of oats three times a week (156 days a year):

$24.96: Oatmeal at home (oats at 12 cents, milk at 3 cents, sugar at less than 1 cent)

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Oatmeal might be the cheapest healthy breakfast option around.
Photo: Diane Labombarbe

$310.44: Oatmeal at McDonald’s

$538.20: Oatmeal at Starbucks

Increase those oats to five days a week (260 days), and the savings start looking like an extra car payment (or two), a sweet new barbecue grill or a weekend getaway — between $475.80 and $855.40.

$41.60: Oatmeal at home

$517.40: Oatmeal at McDonald’s

$897.00: Oatmeal at Starbucks

Beyond the financial factor, oatmeal at home is just healthier for you. McDonald’s fruit and maple oatmeal has 290 calories, 4.5 grams of fat, and 32 grams of sugar, while Starbucks blueberry oatmeal has 220 calories, 2.5 grams of fat and 13 grams of sugar.

If you make your oatmeal at home, you can closely control how much fat and sugar are in it, but you can expect that a single serving of oatmeal with blueberries will have roughly 161 calories, 1.6 grams of fat and 14 grams of sugar. (The blueberries are going to tack on additional cost per serving, but you’re still looking at HUGE savings.)

You Have Time to Make Breakfast. Here’s How

Don’t think you have time to make oatmeal every morning? Make it ahead. Get bored eating the same thing every day? Mix it up a bit with different fruits and nuts. Try some bircher muesli. It’s delicious, and you can store it in the refrigerator for a quick grab-and-go breakfast that’s especially good in warmer months.

There are plenty of ways to save tons of money on food, especially if you’re willing to cook a little. You’ll find that planning ahead is key, as is using some smart shopping techniques.

Your credit score is also a huge deal when it comes to saving money over your lifetime. If you’d like to see how, check out Credit.com’s lifetime cost of debt calculator. You can also check your free credit scores, updated monthly, to see where you can make improvements on your credit report.

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