Did you know that on average, Americans spend more money on eating out than they do on actual groceries? That's some kind of crazy! Don't get me wrong, I enjoy grabbing dinner with friends or ordering pizza as much as the next person, but to spend more on that than on actual groceries seems a little excessive.

That being said, if going out to eat is an absolute staple in your lifestyle, there are some great ways to making it a little more cost effective and leaving more money in your wallet at the end of the month.

1. Order Meals to Share

While restaurants don’t love this tactic, your wallet will definitely appreciate it. You know when you go to certain places where the portions are just too large, and where you always end up taking leftovers home or leaving half of it on your plate? Well, why not just split this massive plate with a friend or partner? Doing this semi-regularly will save you on the cost of the full meal and you will still end up eating what you would most nights anyway.

2. Take Advantage of Kids Specials

If you are a parent or some lucky rugrat’s aunt or uncle and you’re looking for ways to spend time with the little ones in your life withoutbreaking the bank, why not take a look around for "kids eat free" specials? It’s not uncommon for restaurants to offer this once or twice a week. This can make going out to eat as a family MUCH more affordable, and the kids won't know the difference — they will just think that you are awesome for taking them out for dinner.

3. Don't Waste Your Money on Sugary Drinks

I know when you go out to eat, it's almost a given that you’ll order a soda or a cocktail with your food. But do you know how much those drinks are marked up? Soda can cost the restaurant anywhere from $0.05 to $0.25 to produce, yet they will sell it to you for $2.50 or more. Meanwhile, alcohol markups can often exceed the 500% mark! Ordering water is not only healthier, but it's free!

4. Slow Down While You Eat

This relates back to number 1 on this list. Yes, you'll often get a bigger serving portion at a restaurant than you actually need. However, if you make the conscious decision to slow down while you eat, you will not only be able to enjoy your meal more, but you will also make smarter decisions when it comes to listening to your body and stopping when you are full. By doing this, you will be able to take some home and enjoy it later on — getting you two meals out of one. And this tactic will probably prevent you from buying dessert, too!

5. Do Your Research

Pretty much every restaurant has a website, and the majority of them offer online versions of their menus. Take a few minutes to check out the menu online when picking where to eat. That way you will already know, or at least have a general idea of what you want before you arrive. This will help you to not become overwhelmed by lengthy menus. Lengthy menus often cause people to make hasty, expensive decisions. Instead, take the time to scan the menu and prices beforehand so that you know what you are getting yourself into, and so you can go in with a spending plan.

6. Don’t Waste Your Money on Appetizers and Dessert

I know, I love appetizers…they’re so good! But they are also so very bad for your wallet! If you're trying to stick to a budget when going out to eat, and you love ordering an appetizer along with your entrée…you are flat-out wasting your money.

The reality is that if you are so hungry that you need to order more food before you get your meal, you should probably just have a snack before leaving the house. Think about it: you order sweet potato fries, shrimp, or garlic bread, and before your meal even arrives you are half as hungry as you were when you placed your order. Then what happens to your meal? Those massive entrees I keep mentioning become even more wasteful if you leave them to be tossed out. Why spend more money on food that’s going to make it even more difficult to finish your meal? And as for dessert — if you were too full to finish your meal, then why not just buy a tub of ice cream on the way home and eat it while curled up on the sofa later in the evening? These leftovers can go conveniently in the freezer.

Eating out can be one of the greatest pleasures in life — and also one of the most expensive, wasteful, and unhealthy habits to have. That's why it's best to approach restaurants with a plan and a realistic perception of how much food you’re being served. Don’t forget that the plates in restaurants are twice the size of your plates at home, and that the food is piled twice as high, too. Go on, eat out! But keep it real — and keep your money in your wallet, where it belongs.

Do you have a friend who spends a bit too much on eating out? Share these tips to help them make smart choices and use their money to get the best bang for their foodie buck!