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Feel like you're losing your grip on those financial purse strings? (Especially if you've just heard that credit card companies are charging an extra ten cents a gallon at the pump!) Even cereal is higher at the grocery store, as is milk. Everything for the kids is going up, up, up!

But listen. There are still ways you can go out with friends, shop for groceries, make more money, save money as a family project, and plug your financial leaks.

First, let's deal with eating out.

You need adult time, if for no other reason than to have another grown up to bounce kid questions off of.

And if you're hoping to meet a guy, youíre not going to find him in your closet.

Going out doesn't have to take your budget into the red zone.

Here are five ways to eat out without breaking into the kids' piggy bank.

Share an entrée or make a meal out of appetizers

American food portions are so super-sized that the average entrée could feed at least two, sometimes even three people! But if you're going to split an entrée, find out first if the restaurant charges a fee for that. Appetisers, or small plates (tapas), are usually rich in better restaurants, or gigantic in lower priced restaurants, and thus more filling. An appetizer can make a fine meal, and cost half as much as an entrée.

Be sure to ask how much the specials cost

This a major pet peeve. How many times have you been in a restaurant when the waitperson describes a succulent-sounding, special dish-of-the-day? You go for it, and then sit dumbfounded when you see the bill and find out the price. It's a sign of financial self-confidence to nicely ask "and what do those specials run?" so you can make an informed decision.

Soup, it does a body good

A nice bowl of hearty soup (think gumbo, beef stew, tortilla soup, or chili) often costs a lot less, contains healthier ingredients, and fills you up as much as a regular entrée. 

Think before your drink

Beverages — alcoholic and even non — are high-margin items in restaurants. At a minimum, think twice. If you can, savor one drink throughout the meal. If you're really trying to cut back, go to nature's best — an ice-cold glass of tap water. Doing this can easily shave 20 percent to 30 percent off your bill, not to mention your waistline!

Do lunch

If you have a strong urge to meet friends at a fancy restaurant — try doing it at lunchtime. Prices are much lower, portions are more realistic, and you're less likely to run up a costly bill for alcohol. You might even be able to afford some dessert.


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Manisha Thakor is the co-author of On My Own Two Feet. Her next installment will be How to Plump Up Your Pocketbook.

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