If you’re not careful, grabbing a pizza on the way home from work or ordering Chinese delivery can wreak more havoc on your budget than even on your waistline. The average American spends 5% of his take-home pay, or $2,668 each year, on dining out.
Sure, the best restaurant deals can often be had for a sit-down meal — think Restaurant Week, happy hour, Foursquare freebies. But take-out and delivery don’t have to be a splurge, either.
Here are seven ways to cut your bill:
1. Pick up discount restaurant gift cards
You can save up to 30% on the face value of gift cards to chains like Applebee’s and California Pizza Kitchen by buying them via discounters such as PlasticJungle.com, says Andrea Woroch, a consumer savings expert with The Frugals. Another discount gift card website is GiftCardGranny.com, part of The Frugals network of sites and smart phone apps. The cards are good on curbside service.
2. Order online
Delivery.com awards 25 points per dollar spent on your takeout orders; Foodler.com, three points per dollar, plus extra for rating the foods you tried. Both reward programs let you redeem for discounts on future orders. If you’re not much on delayed gratification, look for specials. Foodler.com and CampusMenus.com both have exclusive deals with their partner restaurants, like 25% off your total bill at Margarita’s Cantina in Wichita, Kansas.
3. Split meals
Order strategically so that you have leftovers for another meal, be it tomorrow’s work lunch or another night’s dinner, suggests registered dietician Mary Hartley, a nutritionist for Calorie Count. Put that meal’s worth of food away as soon as the order arrives so that you don’t overindulge.
4. Supplement your order
Use takeout night as a way to clean a little extra out of your fridge. That will help avoid waste from food going bad and keep you from ordering unhealthy extras, Hartley says. In other words, skip the cheese-slathered breadsticks with that pizza and make a salad, or whip up a fruit-based dessert.
5. Look for coupons
“Since my family is on a budget, we do take-out based on the coupons available weekly,” says Lorneth Fahie-Peters of Clarksville, Tenn. “If we are interested in eating at a certain restaurant we can only do so if someone in the family can find a coupon for that particular restaurant.” Her go-to spots: the Sunday paper, local newsletters and mailed booklets like Valpak. Your local Entertainment Book can also be a good resource. Just remember to mention the coupon when you’re calling in your order.
6. Peruse coupon codes, too
If a restaurant lets you order online, it may offer its own codes, too. Boston Market, for example, currently has one — 37821 — good for $1 off a $10 purchase through April 20. Online ordering hubs also have codes. Use “EATNOW” at SeamlessWeb.com for $5 off.
7. Grab your phone
Apps like CouponSherpa and MobiQpons find coupons near you, which can be presented at the register for deals. Godfather’s Pizza locations, for example, are currently offering $1 off a small pie, and $3 off a large pie, via CouponSherpa. Scott Gamm, the founder of HelpSaveMyDollars.com, also likes time-saver app Snapfinger, which lets you peruse menus and order via phone where available.
Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie.