Spending time out on the town is a satisfying way to relax, unwind, and enjoy some quality time, whether you’re spending the evening with adults or treating the kids. But, it can be stressful if you’re on a shoestring budget like many parents or grandparents nowadays.

Try some of these ideas to stretch your dollar and squeeze a little more out of your night out.

COUPONS – Chain restaurants like Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Pizza Hut, and several others have coupons in the weekend flyers in the newspaper. Some can be as valuable as “buy one, get one free” or “two dinner entrees for $11.99.”
I used to toss those to the trash before I realized how simple it was to save a few bucks.

TIMING – Maybe a night out on the town isn’t in the cards for you. School night activities, early work hours, or lining up a sitter can make it nearly impossible to make evening plans sometimes. Don’t be quick to rule out the lunch menu. Some of those coupons mentioned above offer better deals for the afternoon meal, and your favorite dish could be marked down earlier in the day.

KID’S MEAL SPECIAL – Pay attention to your favorite local eateries. A lot offer a free kid’s meal with the purchase of an adult entrée. These are on my radar all the time, and it’s worked out well for us because my teen’s bigger appetite has qualified us for the discount on the younger sibling’s meals.

APPETIZERS – I learned a tried and true bargain from my sister. She and a close friend plan their “mom time” by watching their local restaurants for two-fer appetizer specials and make their meal from the menu’s pre-dinner options. Their favorite is Applebee’s, which has also recently offered a featured drink for a low price throughout the month.

ALL YOU CAN EAT AND BUFFETS – I know I’m fond of muting the television during commercials, but if you pay attention, you can catch great deals for “unlimited,” “never-ending,” “bottomless” dinner specials. My friends and I rarely get time to go out without the kids, so we mark our calendars for these days and take advantage of as much as our bellies will allow. Buffets are especially convenient if you’re planning to dine with a group of people with different palates and preferences.

APPS AND EMAILS – In the age of smartphones, there is an app for almost everything. My own device has 18 apps for everything from desserts to fast food to nice restaurants. I’ve signed up for notifications and emails from most of them. Some will offer codes or coupons for free food just for joining, having a birthday, or member-exclusive perks. During a recent bridal party outing, I was able to buy lunch for myself and my oldest daughter (and one sinfully delicious drink) at Olive Garden for less than $25, including gratuity.

CARRYOUT – Say you’ve tried, but you just can’t manage to find the time for a sit-down meal inside your favorite place. I never pass up the opportunity to order carry out and take it home. (Any night that I don’t have to cook is a good night!) Ordering your meal to go often saves you more than dining in the restaurant because you’re less likely to order beverages and appetizers, which can add up quickly on your bill.

Sometimes the extra effort and planning pays off, and you can let go of the guilt of spending when you land a great deal on your feast.