I’ll admit it. We eat out way too much. We’re busy teachers and coaches, and we have two boys in school who participate in extra-curriculars. So, sometimes it’s just easier and faster to pick up some food on the way home from wherever we are. Of course, it is usually cheaper to cook at home, but I at least try to save some money when we dine out. Many people don’t even realize all the ways you can save while dining out, so here are just a few of those ways.

1. Quad-City Times Get It Today coupons

I regularly receive emails for local deals on http://qctimes.nimbledeals.com to purchase a variety of discounts from activities to home services to dining. When I see a place I like or am interested in trying, I buy the voucher to save for future use. For example, I have $20 worth of Happy Joe’s vouchers I purchased for $10, as well as $20 for Fuji Sushi Grill for $10.

2. Fundraising coupon books and cards

As teachers, we tend to get hit up for all the fundraising the teams and clubs do at school, and the ones that I usually purchase are the coupon books and cards. Though as an upfront cost it can seem like a lot, ranging from $15 to $35, you can save so much more than that cost. Plus, a good portion of your purchase goes to a really great cause. I just purchased a Save Around coupon book that will benefit the Student Hunger Drive. My favorite is the Quad-City Dining Tour book that has more than 140 restaurants with buy one get one free coupons that you can buy from a variety of organizations; we love to try new restaurants with this book. The coupons in these books are good for more than a year, so plenty of time to have the book pay for itself.

3. Kids Eat Free (or cheaper) nights

Kid meals can be a little expensive, especially when your kids don’t even finish half of the meal (like one of mine). If you ask my children where their favorite place to eat is, they’ll probably say Applebee’s. Now this is mostly because they have devices with games at the table that we let them play (hey, for $1.99 to play games that gives us a more quiet meal out on occasion, we’re totally cool with paying that), but they also like the variety of food. I like that we can go on a night where the kids meals are discounted. Plenty of places in the QCA offer a discounted kids meal on certain nights, so call your favorite places to see if they have that option. Some that we have used are Applebee’s, Chili’s, Azteca and Pizza Ranch.

4. Email or mobile clubs and apps

Many chain restaurants offer some sort of promotional email or mobile programs that you can receive coupons and special offers. Some restaurants also send you a free appetizer or dessert coupon just for signing up, or a little something special for your birthday. A few places use apps for deals, like Starbucks, McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A and Steak ‘n Shake. The other day, I had a “just because” free salad on Chick-Fil-A’s app, which I happily enjoyed while my son got to have fun in the playground after he ate his nuggets. 

5. Newspaper coupon inserts

Don’t toss those coupon inserts until you’ve taken a look at the coupons. Restaurants put coupons in the Sunday newspaper inserts, like Olive Garden, Outback, Denny’s and IHOP. The coupons may range from $5 off to a buy one, get one free offer. I always figure even the $5 coupon is good, because that at least pays for part of the tip. Any savings is good savings.

The biggest thing I hear about coupons like these is that people forget to use them. We keep the coupon books in our car and the cards in our wallets. Print local coupon deals you purchase or cut out the coupon inserts, and keep them in an envelope in the car. If we know we’re grabbing food on the way home, we check through the coupons we have and try to find a deal. Of course, we won’t always find a deal, but we try. Using some of these savings at least helps us feel a little less guilty on dining out.

Maggie Hensler is a teacher living the frugal life in Davenport with her husband and two boys. Her column runs every Saturday in the Quad-City Times.