If you're struggling to stay within your monthly food budget, you may not be alone. Americans spend as much as a third of their food dollars on eating out, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. The permanent solution to an inflated food budget is to learn how to cook for yourself. However, if you must eat out, at least make sure you are getting all the possible savings with the right coupon and restaurant apps.
Check out these dining apps that can save you money every time you eat out:
1. Spotluck. You can make dining out a mystery game with this app that helps you discover new restaurants in your local area. Spin the wheel every day to win a bonus discount at a randomly selected restaurant and share the results with the restaurant as you check out. None of the discounts end up being chain eateries, so you can venture off to a new local restaurant each time you play. This can be a fun way to find some new favorite dining hot spots around town while saving some money on your food bill.
2. LivingSocial Restaurants Plus. As one of the newer apps to enter the market, this app from LivingSocial lets you earn up to 30 percent cash back on every purchase made at a participating restaurant. All you need to do is activate your account using a credit card, choose from one of the restaurants in your city, then pay with your linked card to register your meal. The app is active in a few major cities right now and includes cash-back opportunities at bars and cafes.
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3. OpenTable. If you dine out at least a few times per month and prefer to make reservations, you could be rewarded for your efforts by using the OpenTable app. You'll earn points every time you use the website, mobile site or app -- up to 1,000 points if you catch any of the special reservations -- and can redeem those points for a gift card at a participating restaurant or an Amazon Gift Card. Checking the app regularly for the latest bonus points reservations can help you earn those rewards faster.
4. Restaurant.com. This is another app that lets you save at local restaurants -- not chains -- and you can scope out verified reviews from fellow diners before you go ahead and make the reservation. The app promises to deliver the best deal on every meal, and you can also purchase eGift cards at a deeply discounted rate, which can help you save even more at participating restaurants.
5. Coupon Sherpa. From a free appetizer or dessert at Red Lobster to a few dollars off at Papa Murphy's, you can find digital coupons and special offers at dozens of chain restaurants and popular eateries to keep your budget on track. The mobile app uses GPS to find coupons for restaurants in the area, so you don't have to do too much digging.
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6. Valpak. Another way to find some great local deals and discover new dining spots around town is with the Valpak app. You can get exclusive coupons at participating restaurants and use the built-in passbook to keep track of available coupons. If you're feeling generous, you can even share coupons via email or Facebook with some of your fellow bargain hunters. The restaurant just needs to see the coupon on your smartphone to complete the transaction.
7. Forks. If you want an easy way to see the latest mobile offers and discounts across several discounts sites, such as Groupon, LivingSocial, Valpak and Restaurant.com, use this app to scroll through the latest offers in a few screen swipes and taps. You can find the latest deals in one place and then earn your rewards or discounts through the site you chose.
Sabah Karimi is a columnist for the blog Wise Bread, where you can find consumer tips like how to select the best balance transfer credit cards.