It's getting to that time of year where social gatherings and meals out become more frequent.
Wining and dining gets expensive fast, so I try to do most of mine on someone else's credit card.
But with a seemingly endless stream of birthdays, celebrations and get-togethers, I still end up flexing my own plastic on a fairly regular basis.
Constantly finding excuses to bail, or vaguely mentioning you have "plans", doesn't work if there's social or work pressure to show up.
If you ever find yourself musing whether you could make an escape through the restaurant's toilet window, you know things have gone too far.
Same goes for pilfering food from other people's plates, or accidentally-on-purpose "forgetting" your wallet.
It is possible to dine out on the cheap without being a cheapskate.
One of the key factors is the choice of restaurant. Sometimes this is outside of your control, but it's worth putting your hand up to actually organise the shindig.
That way you can suggest a venue with a price range that doesn't give you heart palpitations, and check whether you can pay individually.
You can also be cunning and schedule the meal at one of many fine BYO establishments.
You're not only guaranteed a rowdy and rambunctious night, you'll cut your alcohol spending in half by nipping to the bottle store beforehand.
Check the corkage charge beforehand - some joints are actually free.
Drinks are marked up hugely and will probably make up 20-30 per cent of the bill during a boozy dinner, so it's an obvious area to tackle.
If BYO's not on the table, the next best thing is to simply cut back.
Think about having a dry night, volunteering to sober drive, or just nursing the one drink.
If you are stuck eating at a flashy joint, don't tuck in your napkin and resign yourself to having a blowout.
You could easily end up forking out $30 on drinks, $20 on an entrée, $30 on the main and $15 on dessert - or $95 all up.
You'll end up shuffling out the door sideways, half-cut, stuffed to burst, and quite possibly feeling more than a faint tinge of regret.
Sharing an entrée with a friend saves you $10. Skipping dessert and taking a walk instead saves not only your waistline, but another $15.
Unless you're at a restaurant that serves artfully arranged morsels on a giant white plate in place of actual food, there's no way you'll go hungry.
Cut back to one drink, and you've already slashed your bill to $50, while still having a pleasant night out.
That's only the start. The dedicated budget buster will combine these strategies with coupon mastery, hunting out half-price deals for their favourite joints.
The Restaurant Association might not thank you for it, but your wallet certainly will.
It's a sad life if you can't afford to go out for an occasional flashy feed every once in a while.
Just be sensible about it, plan ahead, and don't let your stomach take over from your brain.
- © Fairfax NZ News
The 50c increase in the miminum wage is:Related story: Minimum wage up 50c